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Shortly after arriving in Paris, France, we headed to the Trocadero to view the Eiffel Tower.  We arrived just a couple minutes after the hourly light show, so we had to battle the huge crowd heading the opposite direction, toward the metro.  From the Trocadero, it is a wonderful view, certainly one of the best locations from which to view the Eiffel Tower.

Then we walked across the river, under the Eiffel and onto the park area on the opposite side.  We watched the beginning of the next light show and then went to get in line for  the Eiffel Tower.  This is the shortest line Dave had ever seen here.   It took us less than ten minutes to get our tickets.  But then we had to go to a different leg of the tower to go up inside, and the wait there was about fifteen minutes.  All the way to the top, enjoying the views and the wind, despite the near freezing temperature.

We had not intended to do the Eiffel that first night, but merely look at it, and then we would arrive first thing one morning to avoid the lines.  But the lines were so short that first night that we couldn't resist.  It was nice seeing all the lights from way up there.

While we were waiting in the line to go from the second level to the top, a guy from the Netherlands named Stephen (left with Andrew) kept talking to us as the waiting line snaked back and forth.  Then, when we were at the top, he followed us around awhile and talked with us.  It turns out that his brother was afraid of heights and wouldn't even go to the lower levels of the Eiffel Tower, while his dad went with Stephen to the second level and then waited for him to finish at the top.

Our first full day in Paris, France, we rode the metro to many sights.  One stop and walk was to see the so-called "Rose Line" in the San Sulpice Chapel, made famous by the book Da Vinci Code, which is actually a gnomon or sundial.  When the movie of that book was made, the Chapel refused entrance to the filming crew.  So, the movie was actually made in a mock up of the Chapel.  In the movie, the Rose Line is near the front altar, whereas in the real Chapel, the gnomon meridian line is just over halfway toward the front.  There are notices posted near the gnomon stating that the way it was portrayed in the book and movie is all wrong, and then explaining what the meridian line truly is.

Paris has many churches and cathedrals, some even more impressive and beautiful than the Notre Dame, but its architectural innovation and the sheer history and stories of the place makes it a tourist magnet.  It really is the center of Paris. 

Behind the Notre Dame, at the island's tip into the River Seine, is a Holocaust memorial.  It remembers the disappearance and murder of millions of Jews, gays, gypsies and "social miscreants" by Hitler's regime.  Stairs descend into a symbolic concentration camp and cells, with poetic phrases on the walls.  Very solemn and memorable.

Our Paris Visite pass gave us a discounted boat trip that started at the base of the Eiffel Tower.  We arrived just in time for the hourly tour, and had great views of the bridges (every conqueror and megalomaniac ruler wanted a new one in their name) and the historic buildings. 

While the views were well worth it, the commentary wasn't.  Introduced by a laissez-faire guide, we had to stick a cold metal plank to our ear with a speaker at the end, to listen to a verbose commentary that either waxed lyrical about how great Paris was, or was silent.  There was no warning when the commentary would start again, either.  It was amusing to watch the passengers putting the plank to their ear every so often in case they missed something.  And of course one person would set off a crowd of others!

We also visited the famous Notre Dame cathedral in the center of Paris.  We lit a candle there (for a 2 euro donation), and joined the throngs who crowded around the interior.  The first time we arrived was just before the start of a free English-speaking tour, and the line of people snaked out and around the plaza outside.  We decided to come back in the morning another day.

When we were in Lyon, our hostess raved about an English bookstore called Shakespeare & Company.  It is her favourite place in Paris.  We asked a bored street pastry seller by Notre Dame if she knew the place, and her face lit up as she said "of course!  I love it!" 

And we fell in love with it as well.  It's a narrow, crowded, wooden, creaky store choc-a-bloc with a huge variety of books: new, old, antique, kids, adult, fiction, non-fiction.  The books continued upstairs, but here they aren't for sale: just for enjoyment.  There are comfy chairs, benches, and even an old-fashioned typewriter to write old-fashioned letters!  It's the perfect place to rekindle a love of reading. 

Andrew tried escargot (snails), beef provencal and a caramel custard.  Dave had onion soup, a main, and creme brulee.  We were so satisfied with the experience, we came back another day as well. 

And the snails drowned in garlic sauce?  Andrew: scrummy.  Dave: blech.

 

As we wandered through the Latin Quarter, we discovered a lot of "French" restaurants, which we assumed were tourist traps at elevated prices.  Actually, they were frequented by Parisians as well, and had very reasonable prices (3 course meals for 10 - 20 euros).

Sacre Coeur cathedral was next on our list.  Is is on top of a hill called Montmartre, and you ride a short funicular up to it.  The cathedral itself was very large, and Andrew's favorite in Paris.  Unfortunately the climb up to the cathedral's upper levels were closed for the night.  Dave enjoyed the view of Paris at night from the steps, and managed to get some good long-exposure shots in.

We walked the Parisian red light district between two metro stations, finishing at the famous Moulin Rouge.  It was nice to see the outside, but neither of us had the inclination to see a show.  The rest of the red light district was the same juxtaposition of light, color and depressiveness as in most red light districts around the world.

We hit the Arc de Triomphe early in the morning, trying (successfully) to miss the crowds.  After checking out the underside, we climbed the stairs to the top and the superb views of Paris via the grand avenues leading to the Arc de Triomphe's traffic circle. 

Afterwards, we strolled down the Champs Elysses, admiring the stores and the people shopping.  It seems that a brand hasn't truly "made it" unless it has a shop on this avenue!

At the end of the Champs is the Jardin des Tuileries, the Concorde, and the modern white ferris wheel.  Who can resist a ferris wheel, really.  After eating our lunch in the park, we enjoyed the views of the surrounding official buildings, museums and apartments.

Our daytime panoramic view of Paris was provided by Montparnasse.  It's an ugly black blot in the cityscape, but the view from the top is magnificent.  The whole roof of the building is open for sightseeing.  The displays on the floor below aren't bad either.

We could see from the eastern Peripherique to La Defense.  The hotel where Dave stayed last time next to the graveyard and catacombs were right below us.

We decided to go to the Louvre for a few hours in the evening, to avoid crowds and get a cheaper ticket.  The metro was crowded.  Dave was shunted on first, with Andrew following in the next one.  The lines in the Louvre were likewise massive.  But here's one of the few times Dave's disability comes in handy - a free wheelchair and bypassing all the lines for tickets, entry, and to see popular exhibits! 

The Opera House and Madeleine Church were also in-and-out visits.  The Opera House had great statues depicting various emotional states and dramatic scenes.  If we come back for another visit, it'd be nice to see a show there. 

The Statue of Liberty, well, the replica in Paris anyway, had pride of place on an island in the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.  We crossed a bridge for a photo of it, but Dave was feeling too sore for us to get up close and personal with Ms. Freedom.

Negotiating an art gallery as large as the Louvre was quite different with a wheelchair.  We had to find back entrances, special lifts, and use the mini-funiculars up small steps - a few of which had to be hammered into obedience by helpful ushers!

The Louvre itself was even more magnificent than we had expected; being the first time for Andrew, and a more relaxing time for Dave.

We made our way to the famous Mona Lisa, bypassed the waiting line by going in the exit, and were directed in front of the prima donna herself!  Sorry to the crowds behind us.

In a quest to hear a pipe organ in a cathedral, we went to a mass in St Gervais.  While the organ wasn't played, the nuns in white and the monks in black gradually lined up at the front and began a service - completely in song.  One song after another, in the darkened cathedral. 

The plan was to go to the Eiffel Tower for New Years Eve to see a one-off lights display.  Three hours would be plenty of time, we thought, to get there.  Our metro station was full of people, trying to get onto metro trains that were traveling extra slow as people were trying to squeeze on board.  The doors couldn't close.  Andrew felt quite nervous in a subway car sardined with drunk football supporters yelling at each other, and pickpockets stealing a lady's train ticket.

We eventually reached the Champs Elysses, and had to transfer to another metro line.  The tunnel to the train were jammed and we knew we'd never make it to the Trocadero before New Years.  So we joined the masses heading out to the Champs Elysses.

The Champs was crowded from Louvre to Arc de Triomphe, and probably beyond.  Around New Years, people cracked champagne, others let off fireworks and rockets, others danced, kids ran around, and the police poised ready in the side streets with riot gear.  Just in case. 

Andrew was not keen to be pushed back along the same metro line, so we flowed with the crowd to a less crowded station, and caught the RER (suburban train) to the other side of downtown and began a 2 1/2 journey through multiple lines (including one that broke down!) back to the host's apartment. 

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Rhine River area of Germany

Lucerne, Switzerland

the Swiss Alps at Murren, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

the French Alps

Geneva, Switzerland

Lyon, France

Paris, France

Rouen, France

Normandy Beaches of France

Brugge, Belgium

 

 

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