Paris: The City of Light




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Paris does not have a wild plethora of neon like Times Square in New York or the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. It’s called the City of Light because of its importance during the Age of Enlightenment and because it was one of the first European cities to get street lighting.

My wife and I spent a week in Paris to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary in 2011. We had never been there before and we were in for a treat. Paris is fabulous.

Today’s post will give you an overview. In future posts I’ll look at the Palais de Versailles, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Eiffel Tower and more. But my very next post will be a bit more risque. I call it Paris: Ooh-la-la!!! Watch for it.

In any event, we flew out in mid-September, arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport around noon on the 17th. Our hotel was on the other side of town, just south of the Bois de Boulogne in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

The Tim Hotel on the Place Marcel-Sembat
The Tim Hotel on the Place Marcel-Sembat

We schlepped our bags across town on Paris’s excellent rail network, changing trains at the huge Gare de Nord. The stations have no escalators so it was a bit of a haul. But finally we arrived at the Marcel-Sembat Station, which conveniently lay just below the Tim Hotel where we were staying. It overlooks Place Marcel-Sembat, one of the busiest intersections in the region with streets emanating like spokes on a wheel – eight of them.

Jet-lagged as we were, we weren’t about to throw away half a day sleeping. After a quick shower we went down and asked the concierge how to get to the Eiffel Tower. He told us to hop the Metro to the Trocadero Station.

Now Paris’s subway system is superb (despite the lack of escalators at stations). We got week-long tickets and hopped on. At the Trocadero Station we got off. Up some steps and we were at the back of the Palais de Chaillot. We hiked up some more steps to the vast Trocadero Plaza and there it was. Magnificent! Absolutely stunning! The Eiffel Tower!

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero Plaza.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero Plaza. In this photo it looks like it is right there on the Plaza, but it is actually across the Seine River.

We walked towards it and found it was across the Seine River from the plaza. We descended the steps to street level and crossed the bridge feeling euphoric that we were actually in Paris.

We decided against going up the tower, opting to take a riverboat cruise on the Seine to give us an overview. The tour guide brought our attention to various points of interest along the way as the boat headed downstream, around Notre Dame Cathedral and back.

One of the many tour boats on the Seine.
One of the many tour boats on the Seine.
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The back of Notre Dame Cathedral with its flying buttresses.

Years ago in Vancouver I used to eat at a little restaurant on Thurlow called Le Bistro. My favorite dish was something called a Croque Monsieur. So I was pleased that food was available on the boat and Croque Monsieur was on the menu. Unfortunately, it did not hold a candle to the one at Le Bistro. In fact, I have yet to find one as good.

Le Pont Alexandre III
Le Pont Alexandre III, one of many bridges across the Seine.

After returning to our starting point we decided to walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We could see it in the distance. Paris is actually a great city for walking. All the major venues are within walking distance and we only used the Metro occasionally. The famous arch was just over two kilometres away, a half hour walk.

The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe

The arch stands in the middle of a large traffic circle at one end of the Champs Elysees. We walked around and under it but did not go to the top. We never did get around to going up to the top – something for our next trip!

At the other end of the Champs Elysées is the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre. The Champs is a huge roadway with four lanes in each direction. We walked by shops and other sites and saw a long lineup at a place across the street. Later we learned it was a new Abercrombie and Fitch store and the lineup was job applicants.

Job seekers outside Abercrombie and Fitch on the Champs Elysees.
Job seekers outside Abercrombie and Fitch on the Champs Elysées.

Among other sites, we passed Le Grand Palais. This is a huge convention center with a massive glass roof. A variety of different trade and other shows are held there. While we were in Paris they had a an exhibition on the history of video games.

Le Grand Palais, Paris's Trade and Convention Centre
Le Grand Palais, Paris’s Trade and Convention Centre.

The Champs Elysees ends at the Place de la Concorde where the giant Luxor Obelisk stands. This is one of the original obelisks from the Luxor Temple in Egypt and was gifted to the people of France by Muhammed Ali, Khedive of Egypt in 1833. It is over 3000 years old and was moved to its current location in 1836.

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The 3000 year old Luxor Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde

But in 1793 this large square was called the Place de la Révolution. Close your eyes and visualize the square filled with throngs of rough-hewn people, milling and jostling for a view of the object in the center. On a platform – the guillotine. Tumbrils roll up carrying their victims for the day. One by one they are led up the steps of the scaffold. They are strapped to a board and tilted into place. The knife drops. The executioner draws the head out of the basket and holds it aloft to show the jeering crowd. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were among its victims. It’s enough to make the blood run cold as an icy finger traces down your spine. Hard to believe that happened here.

Paris is a city of gardens as well as famous buildings, including les Jardins Luxembourg near the Sorbonne University. Along the Champs Elysées we passed a number of beautiful gardens before arriving at the Tuileries, gardens built by Queen Catherine de Medicis in the 1564. She also had a palace built at one end (between the gardens and the Louvre). The palace served as the city residence for the royal family and was burned down by the Paris Commune in 1871.

The Louvre seen from the round pond in the Tuileries Garden
The Louvre seen from the round pond in the Tuileries Garden

The original garden measured 500 meters by 300 meters and was the largest garden in Paris at the time. (It still is.) After it became a public park, many statues were placed here and it is stunning both as a garden and a museum piece.

Staute of Theseus and the Minotaur in the Jardins des Tuileries
Statue of Theseus and the Minotaur in the Jardin des Tuileries

We passed the mini-Arc de Triomphe and headed to the Louvre. This immense art museum used to be a palace before Queen Catherine abandoned it and built the new one. The Louvre was also torched by the Communards in 1871 but miraculously survived.

In a central plaza in the nook formed by the U-shaped Louvre is the famous glass pyramid. We’ll take a closer look at the Louvre in another post.

Yours truly in front of the Louvre
Yours truly in front of the Louvre

We left the Louvre and walked down some steps to the banks of the Seine, walking along its length for a while. On the far side we saw the Musée d’Orsay, which used to be a train station. It is reminiscent of the old Gare Montparnasse shown in the Academy Award winning movie Hugo.

The Musée d'Orsay is housed in a former railroad station.
The Musée d’Orsay is housed in a former railroad station.

Soon we found ourselves back at the Eiffel Tower. We crossed over to the Palais de Challot and the Trocadero Metro station for the short hop back to the hotel. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we hit the hay, looking forward to the rest of our time in Paris. Our appetite had been whetted and we would eat up the city with gusto.

Statue in front of the Palais de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The Palais is also a museum.
Statue in front of the Palais de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The Palais is also a museum. The top of the building directly behind the statue is the Trocadero Plaza. You can see people standing at the edge of it.

Our next post will be Paris: Ooh-la-la. It will tell an amusing story of an unexpected encounter on our first morning in Paris, as well as our visit to the Moulin Rouge on our last evening in Europe. Watch for it!

Meanwhile, check out our photo gallery of additional pictures of Paris. Click on the link below or scroll on down if you are on this website’s main page.



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