We arrived in Paris last Friday afternoon after travelling north from Arles. That trip took about 3 hours to do around 800 kms. It was quite something to be travelling for some of the trip at 300 km per hour on the TGV (France ‘s fast train). I had travelled at that type of speed before on the Bullet Train in Japan and for some reason it seemed that the TGV wasn’t as fast. Perhaps it was that in Japan it is more compact & things are closer, giving a greater impression of speed.
After saying goodbye to everyone, we checked in to our hotel in Paris on the Boulevarde Montmartre. I don’t know Paris well enough to whether this is a good location or not but it seems fairly central (not far from the Opera and close to a Metro station. Paris has a wonderful network of underground trains and it is easy to get to most places. As usual for European hotels, our room was relatively small and we had to almost step over our bags once they were unpacked.
We decided to go to see the Eiffel tower and get a view of the major landmarks of Paris. We caught the Metro from virtually outside our hotel to Trocadero Station. We exited the station and after negotiating the subway steps, turned around the corner to our left – there was the grand site of the tower in front of us. What a view! We found ourselves on an elevated area by a Museum of Monuments, looking right across I’ena Bridge and down the Parc de Champ de Mars behind the towcr.
We waited in a long queue to go up the tower but it moved reasonably quickly and we paid our ticket price of â‚¬7.50 ($15). We went up to the second level of the tower (a little less than half way but certainly high enough to get a great view of the city.
Paris is basically a low rise city. There is one high rise district around the area of L’Defence but virtually all the other buildings are only 5 or 6 floors high. As such there doesn’t really seem to be a ‘downtown’ area – the whole city is one large combination of shopping, restaurant and cultural areas. I think that Parie is certainly the prettiest city that I have been to.
Our first impression from the tower is that the city is essentially white in colour. The buildings are all painted white /cream and the roofs are a grey/black color. The Cathedral of Sacre Coeur stands out clearly on the hill of Mcntmartre and the Seine flows past the tower and through the city. In a number of places we could see domes appearing over the normal height of the rooftops – Hotel des Invalades where Napoleon’s tomb is located and another one or two that we could not recognize. I took a good lot of photos in quick succession hoping to be able to combine them into a panorama when I get home.
From the tower we walked back to the Seine and bought a ticket for a 60 minute boat ride upstream past Notre Dame Cathedral and back. This would give us a quick look at many of the major sites of Paris and help us to get a sense of perspective of the city.
It was a cool evening but we still thought that the best place to sit would be in the open area at the back of the boat because we would avoid having to take photos through the glass covering over the main part of the boat. It was an enjoyable cruise and the music over the PA system with all the well known songs about Paris certainly increased the level of the atmosphere and made it feel as if this is really a romantic city. We left the boat feeling an air of excitement but very cold. By now it was after 7.30 pm and we were also getting hungry. We made our way back to our hotel and found another of the slowest restaurants in France although our later experience showed it to be very good value for money. Perhaps the speed of service ie not everything, although when you are tired and hungry it sure helps.
On Saturday, our second day, we had a tour booked to Monet’s Garden which left at 1.30 pm from a tour office at the Place de Pyramides near where there is a statue of Joan of Arc. We decided that this didn’t look too far according to the map so we decided that we would walk. Initially we set out by going the wrong way. I had myself mentally convinced that our map should have been read upside down (the way that Jill reads a map when she knows where she is). I corrected our mistake after passing the next Metro station and we adjusted our direction towards the Seine from our location near St Denis. It only took me a hundred yards to work out that we were in the middle of a red light district as their were a lot of young women standing around in very short skirts and low cut tops. We walked on assuming that their presence was quite normal and eventually reached a fabulous pedestrian area with a lot of little food shops. They each had an individual specialty and sold everything from cheese to quail, ducks and chickens (some still with heads and feet). There were a number of street people (who looked like they came from some part of Eastern Europe ) trying to make a living out of selling little posies of flowers. We reached the tour office in time to have some lunch and then board the bus.
Monet’s Garden is near the town of Giverny, about 75 km north west of Paris. It took about 60 minutes to get there. Monet was obviously one of the original impressionist painters. He fell in love with the pink & green house when he passed it while travelling by train from Paris to his father’s house at Le Havre. He lived at Giverney for much of his life and developed about 3 acres of gardens where he painted some of his famous paintings of the water lilies, irises and the wisteria covered bridge.
Jill was delighted that we were there in time for the irises and wisteria. They made a fantastic display and even though there were hundreds of people at the garden, it was a very pleasant environment and one that we were certainly pleased to have seen. The irises were just beautiful and the Japanese garden around the lake was very colourful. We were back in Paris by 6.30 pm and walked back to the hotel using a much more direct route than the way we took to get to the tour office.
On Sunday we decided to take a tour to the Palace of Versailles. We could have taken the train but an organized tour not only reduced the hassle, it also saved us from waiting in a long queue when we got there. As luck turned out, we chose just the right day to visit as it is only on occasional Sundays that the fountains in the gardens are operating; and this was one of them.
Prior to the tour we caught the Metro to the Arc de Triumph. This impressive structure was begun in the early 1800’s. Construction stalled for some years, either because they ran out of money, or more likely because Napoleon went through a period around 1820 of not winning many wars. It was finished in the 1830’s.
We had a good look around the arch from the street and asked an Asian couple if they would take our photo. We reciprocated and then found that they came from Melbourne. I climbed to the top of the arch to the war memorial and to the lookout on the roof where there was a great 360 degree view. The view down the grand tree lined boulevarde of the Champs Elysee is wonderful. The tomb of the unknown soldier at street level underneath the arch is quite moving.
From the Arc de Triumph, we walked down the Champs Elysee to the Place de Concord. I have two lasting impressions of this lovely street. The first is the ‘buzz’ of the outdoor life typical of Paris. Restaurants and Bistros can be found all along the length of the street with people sitting under umbrellas drinking coffee or wine. My second impression is the list of famous brand names that you encounter along the way. Almost everyone that you can think of. One of the most impressive was the Louis Vuitton building which was being renovated, so it was wrapped in a four story suit case (Louis Vuitton design obviously). We found one enormous perfume shop that not only did we have to look in but we also bought some new Givenchy perfume for Jill.
Eventually, we reached the Place de la Concord. This is a large square where a 3300 year old granite obelisk from Egypt stands. It is the place where during the French revolution that over 2000 people lost their heads in the guillotine (including King Louis 14th and Marie-Antoinette). Eventually we came to the same tour office as yesterday by walking through the Jardin des Tullieries – a 28 hectare formal garden first laid out in 1650.
Our tour to Versaille took us to the palace of Louis 14th, about 30 km from Paris. This would be the most decadent palace that we have seen on our trip. It is little wonder that the poor starving French people revolted! Our tour took us through the king & queen’s public chambers. Very few of the furnishings are original as 80,000 pieces of furniture were auctioned after the revolution. Even without the furniture, the environment in the palace is simply mind blowing – ceilings painted by the masters; gilt and marble everywhere. The only disappointment was that the hall of mirrors was covered in scaffolding for renovations. In Louis 14th’s days this was a grand ballroom. It was also the place in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 to end WW1.
Our tour included a visit to the gardens and these are not just your back yard type of garden, there are square kilometres of them. The Grand Canal alone in the western part of the gardens is over 1.6 km long. This is where the Royalty played around by navigating in miniature versions of sailing boats. Oh, to have so little to do.
There are a number of elaborate fountains throughout the gardens that were playing during our visit . These only operate on Sunday afternoons during summer and it was just by luck that we timed our tour for this day. There was one fountain in an outdoor ballroom with shells from Mauritius, while others were based around themes of Apollo and other classical figures. The one that was most grand was the fountain of Neptune which plays for just the last 10 minutes of the time that the gardens are open. It is a wonderful display of water jets over a length of perhaps 100 metres. It was certainly a fitting Grand Finale to a day that exceeded all our expectations. It’s just too hard to describe this place in words – you’ll just have to wait for the photos.