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Top 5 “Wooden experiences” in France

Kat and I just returned from France—spent one week biking through Normandy, visiting many World War II battle sites and memorials, then another week taking in the aura, museums, vibe and foods of Paris.

I always keep my eyes wide open for extraordinary uses of wood. Here are five cool things I found:

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We visited Eglise St-Catherine church built in the 15th century—one of the largest wooden churches in the world. Legend has it that masons were in short supply, so the townspeople, primarily shipbuilders, used their boat-building skills to craft a magnificent church. Weird twist: The bell tower is a separate structure perched on the ground—built that way, perhaps, for fire prevention.

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We visited Pegasus Bridge. Seizing it from the Germans was one of the first objectives on D-Day. Six Horsa gliders, made almost entirely from wood and plywood, carried 180 men to the site at midnight; some landing within 50 yards of the target. The mission was a success. Visiting sites like this gives one great appreciation for the troops that put it ALL on the line.

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We biked to a rural chateau that had been in the same family for 250 years. One of the primary products of the area is Calvados—a distilled liquor made from apples. It packs a wallop and every restaurant in the area provides a complimentary glass of the stuff after each meal (except breakfast.) This is the large “smashing” wheel used to crush the apples; goat powered.

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At the D’Orsay Museum I encounter this “chaise” crafted by Arthur Simpson in the early 1900s. The lines and design are so graceful and fluid I wanted to sit in it—but the guards had other ideas. This may be the inspiration I need for my next woodworking project.

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In the D’Orsay Decorative Arts section I also encountered this whimsical nightstand that incorporates mice in various positions of frolic as the drawer pulls. It’s magnificently crafted—and a joy to know woodworkers of all eras have had a sense of humor.