The City of Light ~ Part Trois

The Montmarte neighborhood, in the northern part of Paris, was on our agenda so a Rick Steve-like tour, led by hubby, became our urban exercise for another day of exploration.  For me, the highlight of our visit to Montmarte was a tour of the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, sitting atop Paris’ highest natural point at 420-feet.  On a clear day this five-domed Roman-Byzantine-looking basilica can be seen from many vantage points in the city.

Although this spiritual center has an ancient air to it, it’s only a century old, taking 44 years to build.  We had heard that the views from the tower were not to be missed, so although it was a warm day we decided to tackle the 300 steps up a narrow circular stone staircase, this after climbing the 288 steps up to the door of the basilica. As I wound my way upward, I found myself wondering who else had traversed these worn stone steps over the past 100 years.

Back at ground level, we wandered through a local art fair, down intriguing little roads and alleyways, stopped by the Moulin Rouge nightclub, which has quite its own history, and strolled through Pig Alley, the red-light district. A local creperie became our lunch of choice before we left the Montmartre neighborhood.

After visiting the Louvre Museum we weren’t anxious to rub elbows with thousands of other tourists again, but we also weren’t willing to leave Paris without visiting Versailles, now a wealthy suburb of the City of Light, dating from the 11th century.

Versailles, once a center of government, is now a national landmark.  First built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge and private retreat for his family in 1623, it was later enlarged into a royal palace by Louis XIV.  The Grand Trianon, a smaller château that sits on the grounds and within its own park, was built at the request of Louis XIV, a quiet little place where he and his guests could enjoy light meals.

Although it was interesting to tour the royal palace, we literally walked shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow tourists throughout the château.  It was not surprising that we all breathed a sigh of relief as we moved into the huge gardens.  Although rain was threatening, the groves, gardens, and fountains were delightful.  We visited on one of the Garden of the Spectacles days, when the myriad fountains spout to the rhythm of the classical music being carried through the gardens.

We have found Paris to be magical, filled with romance, culture, beautiful sights, and fabulous foods and wines, but we were anxious to get out into the French countryside and explore some of the small villages. Our five days in the City of Light had come to an end.

Touring the City of Light ~ Part Deux

Gaining a bit of confidence that we could navigate through Paris by foot and metro, we set off to explore the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées.

Planned in the mid-19th century by Baron Haussmann and commissioned by Napoleon, the magnificent 165-foot Arc de Triomphe was built to commemorate Napoleon’s 1805 victory at the Battle of Austerlitz.  At the foot of the arch, two centuries of Parisian history unfold, from the funeral of Napoleon, the arrival of the Nazis, and the triumphant return of Charles de Gaulle after the liberation of the Allies.  Beautiful carvings on the pillars and an eternal flame that marks the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier grace the arch and the base. Once inside we climbed the 284 steps to the observation deck, where we took in the panoramic views of the city and the 12 arteries (roadways) radiating out from the arch.  This is the only place in Paris where, if there is an accident, each driver is considered equally at fault. No matter the circumstances, insurance companies split the costs 50/50.

Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" ~ Orangerie Museum
Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” ~ Orangerie Museum

We took the lift back to the base of the arch and strolled the Champs-Elysées, the internationally famous boulevard that has become Paris’ backbone.  When we entered the Tuileries Garden, we made our way over to the Orangerie Museum, another of our favorite museums in the city.  It is the closest you will come to stepping into an Impressionist painting. Although we enjoyed many of the various artists’ paintings, Monet’s Water Lilies were the most striking.

We had an adventure planned for that evening so decided that a midday rest was in order.  After strolling through the Tuileries Garden we hopped onto the metro, where Terry was to experience a different kind of adventure.

Everywhere we went we heard “beware of pickpockets”, particularly on the trains, metro and other crowded public spaces. While standing next to him on a crowded metro, hubby was suddenly surrounded by three young (12-13 year-old) girls, one making eye contact with him, while another went for his bag. As soon as I noticed the little one maintaining steady eye contact, I heard a very stern “What are you doing?” coming from hubby as he grabbed a little hand.  The one with her hand in his bag scurried away as quickly as she could, not successful on this day.

Before leaving Paris we all decided that an evening Seine River tour was a must.  The company we chose provided a lovely one-hour cruise filled with interesting historical facts.  One of the more interesting facts we learned about the Eiffel Tower was that it initially was intended to last only 20 years.  Since it now has become the symbol of France it is routinely painted every 7 years, requiring 60 tons of paint and 3 years to complete.

This wrapped up another incredible day in the City of Light.

Touring the City of Light

Terry & Frank outside our apartment

After much anticipation we landed in Paris, spent after a very long night, with just our adrenaline to keep us moving.  We hopped on the Easy Bus at Charles de Gaulle airport and, after Elan (our driver) traversed the side streets to avoid rush-hour traffic, we arrived at the apartment we had rented.

In five days we know we will barely scratch the surface here in the City of Lights, the most dense city in all of Europe, (with 20x’s more density than New York City) but we are planning to give it our best shot.  Since we will be on the go so much I have decided to write “mini-posts” while in Europe, then go back and add more detail when we return to the states.

Our first two days in Paris began with a leisurely breakfast at a local boulangerie, where I was able to practice a little of the French language – emphasis on little.  Once fortified we walked along the Seine River to tour Sainte-Chapelle, a royal Gothic-styled chapel, built around 1238, once the residence of the Kings of France.  It houses some of the most extensive stained glass of the 13th century anywhere in the world.

From there it was a short walk to Notre Dame (Our Lady of Paris), a medieval Catholic Cathedral.  It is among the largest and well-known churches in the world.  We had hoped to climb to the top of the tower but the lines were too long and we had much yet to see.

Lunch was in the Latin Quarter at LouLou’s, a must-top for this Lulu…délicieux.

Since we were enjoying the local fare so much, we agreed that walking was needed to burn off the calories  so off we strolled to the Louvre Museum.  Crossing over the Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge across the Seine, we stopped to take a few photos of some Locks of Love before continuing on our journey.

Although we had purchased a 4-day Museum Pass, which allowed us to skip some of the longest lines, once inside the Louvre it is impossible to avoid the crowds.  You’ve got to just shoulder your way through the massive surge. We all agreed that for that reason alone, some of the smaller museums were more to our liking, but the architecture, the paintings, and sculptures were magnifique!

We rounded out our first day with an evening reservation at the Eiffel Tower where the views from above are breathtaking.

Day two took us to the Orsay Museum, which we all agreed was incredible.  Build around 1900 and housed in an old railway station, the architecture and the clock towers are impressive.  It holds the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, including artists such as Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Cézanne.

A walk to the Trocadéro for another view of the Eiffel Tower and a stroll through the Rue Cler market and day two was a success.