Monday, October 21, 2013

Paris: The Sights

Paris, oh Paris.  I already loved Paris before I ever went there, and it did not disappoint.  While my realist husband pointed out the good and not-so-good (“There are cigarette butts everywhere!”), I refused to see it with anything other than rose colored glasses.

I belong in Paris.

In the first of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light, I will share some of the sights that made our trip an unforgettable adventure.

Paris:  The Sights

After landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, figuring out which Metro tickets to purchase, and taking the train into the city, we emerged from the underground mazes and tunnels to a clear blue sky and the Arc de Triomphe in front of our very eyes.  Dragging our luggage against the cobblestone streets, we walked toward the Arc and down one of the many off-shooting streets to our hotel.  As we turned onto our street, I immediately noticed the hotel sign while Jayson, who is blessed to not share my tunnel vision, looked just past the sign to the Eiffel Tower at the end of the street.


We stood in awe for a few minutes, staring at that iconic symbol of Paris, right there, in person, welcoming us – Bienvenue a Paris!

Once we settled into our room (which we changed three times, but that’s another story), we ventured out to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe.  Walking just a couple of blocks, there it was – so close, and yet so far – on an island surrounded by a circular road with racing cars, buses, and motorcycles with seemingly no break.  Hmmm.  How would we get across the moat of traffic to reach the island of the Arc?

Attempting to cross the roundabout directly would have been suicide, so Jayson suggested we walk in a circle, looking for a way across.  We quickly found an underground tunnel – success!  We decided not to go to the top, and instead walked all around it and under it.  This “Triumphal Arch” honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.  Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, and its eternal flame.

One of the many streets shooting off the Arc de Triomphe is the Champs Elysees, one of the world’s most famous streets.  Once known as a high-end shopping destination, it’s lost a lot of its charm to touristy destinations, including H&M, Zara, Adidas and McDonald’s.  However, it still houses Cartier, Hermes, Guerlain, and my favorite, Laduree.

We visited Notre-Dame Cathedral, with its incredible French Gothic architecture, though the gargoyles on the outside of the building really creeped us out.  The line to get in was long but it moved quickly.  We were able to witness a mass in progress as well as communion.  The art was rich and the stained glass incomparable to anything we’ve seen.  It was definitely odd having a gift shop right in the church – exchanging money at the temple, anyone?  But it really was magnificent, inside and out.  As we left, we walked through the gardens along the Seine River and decided to cross one of the many bridges and wander through the streets of the fifth arrondissement.

Much to our amusement, we happened to walk across the Pont de l'Archevêché, one of two “love locks” bridges.  The story goes that a couple writes their names on a padlock and locks it onto one of the bridges.  They then throw the key into the Seine River as a symbol of their undying love.  Yes, we left our names on the bridge.  Come on, it’s Paris!  It was impressive just how many locks were on both sides of the bridge – not something you see every day.

We loved walking through the Latin Quarter, in the fifth and sixth arrondissements.  One day we happened upon a photo shoot right in the street.  We also passed by the Sorbonne University, and from there the Palais du Luxembourg.  We bought ice cream and walked through the gates, seeing children floating sailboats in the fountains and thinking how much fun Silas and James would have here.  We walked around, stopping to look at the many statues.  Finally, we went to the gardens and planted ourselves down, ready for our favorite activity of all time:  people watching.  We observed many groups of students on the lawns, families with young children, professor types, and many young lovers.  They all came equipped with blankets, baguettes of fromage et jambon (ham and cheese), and other treats.  Many were napping.  We could easily tell the European students from the American ones (the French don’t sit criss cross applesauce).  We enjoyed a lazy afternoon until a light sprinkle cleared the lawn.

While Jayson and I aren’t touristy people, we accepted that as first-timers in Paris, we were indeed tourists.  And so we happily made our way to the Louvre, taking the typical photos in front of I. M. Pei’s glass pyramids.  The museum opened in 1793, and the building itself is as much a work of art as the masterpieces it houses.  Our first stop was the Mona Lisa – by far it’s most famous work.  She was encased in glass behind a velvet rope with throngs of visitors physically fighting to get close to her.  I was elbowed by at least two Asian tourists, and I may or may not have elbowed back.  Once that was out of the way, we took our time exploring the rest of the museum.  It was overwhelmingly breathtaking.  Room after room, hall after hall, one work of genius after another.  My absolute favorite was Venus de Milo.  Even armless she was stunning.  After about three hours, Jayson was losing steam.  I would say, “Just one more room!” only to find that the room was actually a wing containing countless more rooms!  During our fourth hour we started getting kooky, as evidenced by some of our photos.

We also visited the Place Vendome, with the Vendome Column, originally erected by Napoleon, in the center of the square.  We sat on the steps in front of the Opera National de Paris, looking out onto the city.  It reminded me a bit of Times Square, but a lot prettier!

We took the Metro to Montmartre, a hill in northern Paris with spectacular views of the city.  It was a really fun area, full of artists.  Dali, Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh used to work or have studios in this area.  We saw the “I Love You:  The Wall” monument in the center of the Abbesses garden. The wall was created by two artists – Frederic Baron and Claire Kito – as a rendezvous location for lovers and a lasting monument to eternal adoration.  It’s over 40 square meters and has 612 tiles of enameled lava.  The phrase “I love you” is written more than a thousand times in over 300 languages, including Armenian!

From there we walked up the countless stairs to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica (Sacred Heart).  It is majestic – white, historic, inviting.  Photographs are not allowed inside the church and they enforced the rule rigorously!  Jayson dared defy it and he got scolded.  There was no service in progress but the gift shop was bustling!  We sat on the steps outside and stared over the hill onto the city.  We caught our breath and then made our way to the steps, which were a lot easier on the way down.

Finally, our sweet Eiffel Tower.  That beautiful, iconic, rusty tower that encapsulates the romance of Paris.  It was walking distance from our hotel and we must have visited it at least ten times during the week – in the morning, in the afternoon while eating a pain au chocolat on the lawn, in the evening to see it lit up up close, again in the evening to watch the lights sparkle on the hour, and again from the day from the Trocadero for a different angle.  Every time it caught our eye – whether walking around, on the Metro, or at another landmark – we stopped and stared.  It never got old.  We also took the tour up to the tippy top of the tower, and it was majestic.  I’m not gonna lie, it was a little scary going up, but despite the overcast weather that day, the peak was perfectly still – not a breeze to be felt.  We walked in circles taking in Paris from all angles, then went down to the lower floor for another spin.

We passed on visiting Versailles because that would have meant leaving the city, and I didn’t want to part from Paris for even a moment.  Seven days was not enough.  We saw plenty but there was certainly more to see.  Alas, next time.

Next up, Paris:  The Food

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun look at Paris through your eyes, Silva. Thanks for sharing!! And we had the same thought about moneychangers in the temple when we visited St. Patricks in NYC a couple of years ago. It just felt wrong to me.