Before we moved across the pond, my friend Mary Anne suggested that we should celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary by being in Paris and in the Eiffel Tower. I become fixated on doing this because I thought it would be a very romantic way to celebrate. I was envisioning eating chocolate and drinking champagne at the top by ourselves – yes, in my mind, all of the other tourists would just not be in the tower with us. Maybe El rented the tower for the day to celebrate. Who knows? It could happen, right? Let’s just say that I can be a little delusional at times!
This was our second holiday (the first being a tour of East Anglia in July), but our first one to “the continent.” By which, I mean continental Europe, which excludes all of the islands that are associated with Europe. In other words, Brits refer to Europe as this other place that excludes them. And while I don’t disagree that British people and their customs are wildly different from other Europeans, I find it strange that the Brits commonly exclude themselves from the rest of Europe. Examples include: UK is the only place in Europe that drives on the left side of the road, thereby needing to have right-side driver seats; the UK is the
only country (edit: one of ten countries, soon to be nine) in the EU that does not use the Euro as currency. The other countries that do not use the Euro are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Lithuania. However, Lithuania is set to start using the Euro in January 2015. (Thanks Nesrin for the information about the EU countries that haven’t adopted the Euro!)
I digress. Back to France! We had an ambitious list of things that we wanted to see and do in Paris, but we’d only be around for two and half days. Therefore, we opted for subway tickets that would let us freely roam within Parisian Zones 1-3 (the main portion of the city) and tried to group together things based on their locations. We still have a few things that we would have liked to do, but we plan to be in France again in the next few years. We envision the possibility of stopping in Paris for another day or two on the way to somewhere else.
Here’s a photo-essay with a sprinkle of information and/or history on what we did for the ~70 hours that we were in Paris:
Musée du Louvre
Famous for the pyramid shaped sculpture and for being the site of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting, the Louvre is a fantastic museum full of sculptures, paintings, and textiles. The museum contains thousands of works of art divided into several departments: Near Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Paintings, Prints, and Drawings. The span of the museum is extensive because it has been so much more than just a museum. In 1190, The Louvre was built as a fortress to protect Parisians from possible invasions from the north (I would have feared Viking attacks too). In the 16th century, the Louvre was reconstructed as a royal palace. And finally, in 1793 the Louvre became a fine art museum.
We roamed through the never-ending hallways and stairwells for hours with Nintendo 3DS consults as our tour guides – they are totally worth the 5 Euro. There is at least one stairwell that goes under the museum, which is pretty interesting to see the foundation of the original building! I was really struck by various artists sitting in front of fantastic pieces of work with their own paintbrushes and canvas, trying to recreate the original. I also found one of my new favorite pieces of artwork by exploring the Louvre.
Fun fact for others (and maybe ourselves): on the first Sunday of the month during off-peak travel season (from October until March), all visitors can access the permanent collections of the museum for free. It is not free between April and September. Also, the museum is closed on Tuesdays year-round.
Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile
This arch monument is not to be confused with the one just outside of the Louvre Museum – that one is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and is about half the size of the one in Place de l’Étoile. This monumental and triumphal arch was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus, which was built in 92 BCE. The construction of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile started in 1806 (completed 30 years later) and is one of the largest triumphal arches in the world, standing at 164 ft (40 meters) in height, 148 ft (45 m) in width, and 72 ft (22 m) deep. To put that into perspective, after the hostilities of World War I ended, Charles Godefoy (aviator in the French Air Force) flew his Nieuport fighter biplane through (THROUGH!) the arc. This event has been captured on film and in photos.
Currently, there are two larger triumphal arches: the Monumento a la Revolución in México, D.F. (Mexico City) standing at 220 ft (67 m) tall, which was built in 1938, and the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea standing at 197 ft (60 m) tall, which was built in 1982. The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary War and in the Napoleonic War. The names of all the French victories and generals on carved into the surface of the arch. Beneath the vault is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider from World War I. Many days, there is also a colossal French flag flying under the archway as well.
As we approached the Arc de Triomphe, we couldn’t figure out how exactly to get there. The Métro (Parisian subway) stop is Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station, which plops you out close, but on one of the adjacent streets coming off of the roundabout. Did I mention this arch happens to be in the center of a roundabout? And this roundabout is at least a few lanes deep and is the intersection of 12 roads! Because of the traffic, it is highly recommended to use the pedestrian underpass (located at Champs Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée). In fact, I don’t think you could make it across the roundabout road without getting injured.
After marveling at the outside design of the Arc de Triomphe, we decided to go to the top. The spiral staircase to the top consists is just shy of 300 steps. At the top you arrive at a small gift shop and exhibition to learn more about the monument’s history. There are about another 50 steps to reach the rooftop of the monument, where you have a panoramic view of Paris. One can see the Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre Museum, the Basilica, and the Eiffel Tower. I personally believe that this is one of the most amazing views of Paris.
The 18th Arrondissement
The 18th arrondissement (district) is on the north side of Paris and is known for a many things. One of which is the Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris). After researching a little bit about what exactly a basilica is, the word has three separate meanings, which is why I’m probably still a little confused. A basilica can be used it to describe a building, usually Roman and an open public court building. Another way it is used is to architecturally describe Christian churches that have a central nave and aisles. The third way specifically describes churches that have Papal rights to perform specific ceremonies. One thing is for sure, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Christian church with a central nave and aisles.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Roman Catholic church at the summit of Montmartre, a 427 ft (130 m) tall hill, which happens to be the tallest point in Paris. Also on this hill is another church; the Saint Pierre de Montmartre, the older of the two churches on the Montmartre hill, which claims to be the location where the Jesuit order of priests was founded.
Montmartre also describes the surrounding neighborhood, which is part of the 18th arrondissement. This area is also known for Moulin Rouge (we only stopped outside of to take a photo or three) and the Place du Tertre, which is a square where some artists make portraits for tourists while other artists are painting landscape scenes of Paris – to sell to tourists. This area is apparently also known for being the night club district and has been the site where many artists have lived in Paris. The museum of Salvador Dalí‘s drawings and sculptures is also within this district. I think our favorite part of this neighborhood was the views of the city and watching a mime entertain the crowd outside of the basilica.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris is a historic Catholic cathedral in the 4th arrondissement of Paris on the eastern part of the Île de la Cité, one of two natural islands* in the Seine River within Paris. The architecture of the cathedral is stunning along with the stained glass and sculptures within the cathedral. It is also the location of the Archdiocese of Paris and contains the treasury notable for its reliquary; it is the home of the Crown of Thorns, part of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails. There are ten bells in the cathedral, which to my amusement are all named. The largest (and oldest), Emmanuel, is original to 1681 and weighs over 13 tons. That’s a BIG bell! It is mostly used to mark the hours of the day. The other nine bells (names are: Marie, Gabriel, Anne Geneviéve, Denis, Marcel, Étienne, Benoît-Joseph, Maurice, and Jean-Marie) were replaced in 2013 and are rung for various festivals or ceremonies. My friend Dan also recently pointed out that just outside of the main entry, there is a small octagonal brass plate set in the ground which marks “Paris Point Zero” – the exact spot from which all distance from Paris are measured. We completely walked by it without noticing it.
*As a side note, there is an artificial island on the Seine River. One of them is Île aux Cygnes, which is where there is a replica of Statue of Liberty. This statue is one quarter of the size of the one located in the USA.
The Eiffel Tower
On to the grand prize of this adventure. The Eiffel Tower happens to have many replicas – one of which we visited in June of this year in Las Vegas, Nevada. But we wanted to see the real thing. Remember? El was to have rented out the tower for a day to celebrate our anniversary without other tourists. The iconic iron lattice tower is located near the Seine River and on the Champ de Mars. It was named after the engineer (Gustave Eiffel) and was constructed to be used as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair. Gustave Eiffel has an impressive list of things he has designed; another popular attraction he designed is the Statue of Liberty.
We first admired the tower from the Champ de Mars, the adjacent park. The park has a lot of history that goes with it. The world’s first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from there in 1783. In 1790, the first “Federation Day” (Bastille Day) celebration was held there. A year later, the massacre on the Champ de Mars also took place. And he first mayor of Paris (Jean Sylvain Bailly) was guillotined there in 1793, becoming a victim of his own revolution. Only the French.
We had a little picnic with some wine and soaked up the sun on the green. Our nearest neighbors in the park were also soaking up the sun in swimsuits, which we found to be pretty awesome since they all looked to be around our grandparents’ ages. We then took a few pictures “with the tower” before climbing all of the stairs. All 704 of them to the second level. There are three levels for visitors – the first two levels have restaurants and gift shops on them. There was also a movie showing the construction of the tower and views of the tower throughout its history; the film ended with panoramic views of fireworks at the tower. One the day that we went, the third and final level was inaccessible by stairs, so we stood in line to take an elevator to the top deck observatory. The top level is 906 ft (276 m) from the ground, making it the highest accessible public platform in the EU.
My thoughts of the City of Lights
From what we did see and experience of the city: the food and culture are nothing like we’ve experienced. Every wine we tasted was fantastic, but I couldn’t tell you what type of wine. The city views from the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Basilica are all very different, but my favorite was from the top of the arc. With an app, the subway system was easy to navigate. The local people (away from the city attractions) were quite friendly – we used an app that had common French phrases, which helped with communicating to non-English speakers (they appeared to be thankful that we were trying to speak French). The lesson we learned for our next adventure: bring a second pair of shoes! The pedometer on my phone estimated that we walked about 100,000 steps the four days that we were in London and France. I say that this was by far our healthiest vacation!