I thought I’d better jot down some notes about my recent trip to Paris before I forget some of the details. I already had to check the date stamps on some of my photos, because I couldn’t remember which day we did what! It’s a long summery, which probably should be broken down into more than one post, but here goes.
John, Sue and I got to Logan Airport in Boston at around 3:30pm on Saturday afternoon, June 20th and – with the time difference – we arrived a Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at 7:30am Sunday morning. I managed to take a little nap on the plane, but basically lost a night’s sleep. Having kids with special needs, this was not a problem for me. I’m quite used to sleepless nights.
We took a bus to the hotel and we were able to check in early, although we did end up upgrading our room, so that I could sleep in a real bed, which was well worth the extra expense. This room change would have been tricky without our faithful interpreter Nicholas. I should mention now that our main reason for going to Paris was to visit my nephew Nick who had been studying in Paris for a year. He had taken a French immersion class before leaving for France and I was amazed by how fluently he spoke the language. He said that he was even able to sometimes trick the locals into thinking he was French. We could not have had a better host, guide and interpreter!
After checking in, we walked to a nearby café for a bite to eat. I had no problem adjusting to the French food, lots of bread, cheese and chocolate was fine with me, although I did pass on the wine. Sunday afternoon we walked around Paris and visited Nick’s dormitory. We did a whole lot of walking everyday.
Some of my first impressions of Paris were the lovely buildings. Most of them look similar, a light brown, tanish/beige color with black rod iron balconies. Many windows have flower boxes in them, which adds lots of color to the city. In most of the city the buildings are relatively low and very old, few skyscrapers except in one section of the city. The people seemed similar to what you would see in New York City, a melting pot of many different cultures, with probably more tourists than locals at this time of year. The most notable difference being most were speaking French.
The French are way ahead of us when it comes to being green. Most drive tiny cars, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles or get around via the metro or on foot. There are recycling receptacles all over the city. Some of the buildings have grassy yards planted on the roof tops.
The other thing I noticed right away was the history. In the US, we think a few hundred years is old, in France there are structures, buildings and art work dating back to the Middle Ages. There are beautiful statues and fountains all over the city and many little public gardens to stroll about (or just sit and rest). The most impressive old buildings in Paris have to be the churches. The first day we stopped by Saint-Eustache Church, built between 1532 and 1632. The roof is three stories high with its flying buttresses. The height of the ceilings inside some of these old churches is awe-inspiring. The stained glass, wood work and statues are fantastic. We also visited the Church of the Madeleine, designed in a Roman Pantheon style built in the mid-1700’s.
Monday through Friday we usually left the hotel in the morning and didn’t get back until around 10pm. It didn’t really seem that late, because it doesn’t get dark in Paris until after 10pm. There was only one night when we were out late enough to see the lights of the city. A block from our hotel room, we could see the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance. But most nights we just crashed and slept like logs after walking around all day.
So, here are some of the highlights. Monday we went to the Arc de Triomphe. When we visited, they had a giant French flag flying under the arch, which was really cool. I think they were celebrating some French holiday. The view from the top of the arch was awesome!
Next we walked up the Montmartre Hill in northern Paris where there is another spectacular view of the city. On the top of the hill is the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Another unique and beautiful church. We stayed for a while and listened to the nuns sing in this church. The narrow little streets around Montmartre are some of the older shops in Paris. This area had an authentic French atmosphere, very nice.
In the center of Concorde Square is an Egyptian monument called the Obelisk. It is covered with hieroglyphs with a gold top, very cool.
The old Paris Opera House was very impressive. The golden statues on either side of the building were gorgeous. And again on the building, the architecture and artwork is beautiful. Paris also has a new opera house, but it can’t hold a candle to this one.
For dinner we went to a fondue place called Le Refuge des Fondues. The restaurant was so small that they had two rows of tables across from each other with just enough room for the waiter to walk up and down the single isle, which led from the front door to the kitchen. People who sat on the wall side of the table had to stand on a chair and step over the table to squeeze into their seats. The walls were covered with signatures and graffiti and they served wine in baby bottles. Good idea, with all those people climbing over the tables. Really fun place and good fondue too.
We spent the whole day on Tuesday at Versailles, but you could easily spend a few days there roaming around the palace and grounds. The palace itself is huge and over-the-top extravagant and you could spend a day just walking round the gardens. The landscaping, reflecting pools, fountains and statues around the palace where incredibly lavish. When I first walked out to the gardens, the view looked almost like a fake background or painting, it was so lovely.
Versailles is a bit south-west of Paris. The Palace of Versailles was the unofficial Capital of Paris and the center of political power in the days of King Louis the XIV.
Wednesday was a day in Disneyland Paris. I’m not going to mention names, but one member of our group thought that Disney was the highlight of the week. To me, it was like a day trip to Disney World in Florida. I had fun and got some nice photos, but as I was walking round the parks, I kept getting the feeling I was in Florida instead of France. Paris has two parks, Disneyland and MGM. I did go on the Tower of Terror for the first time and I really liked that, but no more up-side-down rollercoasters for me!
So far, the weather had been great; a bit cooler than expected, but beautiful weather for walking around the city. However, there was some rain in the forecast for Thursday. Thursday our plan was to go to the Market Place, buy some food and have a picnic in a park. So we hoped the rain held off, at least until after our picnic.
We had a nice picnic lunch in a park right near the Victor Hugo Museum, so after lunch we stopped by the Museum. The Museum was the home of Victor Hugo in the mid 1800’s. Hugo was a famous French writer, best known for his book The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Next we went to the Cluny Museum, which is a national museum of the Middle Ages. Part of the museum is actually the ruins of a Roman bath house dating from the third century! Lots of cool, very old stuff here.
We finished off Thursday at the Eiffel Tower, which was everything you would expect it to be. Hard to believe that they were going to tear it down after the Paris World’s Fair in 1889. We took the two elevators all the way to the top. The first elevator takes you up one of the legs of the tower to the 2nd level where the views are fantastic, but it only gets better when you take a 2nd elevator to the top!
Now, at the top of the Eiffel Tower is when our great weather turned to a thunder and lightning storm. I don’t think a giant metal tower is the place to be in the middle of a lightning storm! So, we made our way back down to the ground. Luckily, the rain past in an hour or so and I still got some nice photos of the tower from the Trocadéro, which is across the river and offers the best view of the tower from the ground.
Friday, our last day in Paris, we started out at Notre Dame. Of all the places we visited in Paris, I’d have to say that Notre Dame was my favorite. I know what you are thinking, it’s a church and you’re an atheist! But, this building is just magnificent with its Gothic architecture, high vaulted ceilings and stained glass. When you walk into this church you can’t help but be amazed.
John and I waited in line for almost two hours to climb the narrow spiral stone staircase up to the Chimera Gallery, which is a ledge 150 feet from the ground where we got a spectacular view of Paris and a close-up look at the gargoyles. These statues are each wonderful works of art and everyone of them is unique. I got some super photos of the creatures over-looking the city. This was well worth the two hour wait! We also met “Emmanuel”, the cathedral’s largest bell, which weighs more than 13 tons! Then we went on to the very top of the south tower for another great view of the city. And then down another spiral stairway to the exit, where we met with Nick and Sue who had spent the time in a cafe across the street and then in the park behind Notre Dame.
While the two towered front of Notre Dame is recognizable to most people, the back of the cathedral is arguably more beautiful than the front, with its flying buttresses and rose garden.
On to our final tour, The Louvre. It would be impossible to see even a fraction of this place in one afternoon, but we did our best to at least see a few of the highlights. The Louvre is probably best known for Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. I was surprised that the museum allows cameras, although you are not supposed to use a flash, there were plenty of people who either didn’t know how to shut off their flash or didn’t know or care about turning it off. But the French don’t really seem to care about people taking photos, unlike many museums in the States.
The famous Greek sculpture Venus de Milo, is also at the Louvre. It was created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, WOW!
Long before The Louvre became a museum, it was a fortress dating back to 1190 AD. Part of the ruins where excavated in the 1980’s and is now preserved as an exhibit. The photo below shows what use to be a Medieval moat.
There you have it, the highlights of my trip to Paris. Thanks to Sue and John for letting me tag along with them. Thanks also to Rich and Mom for taking great care of the boys, so that I could make this trip. And special thanks to Nicholas for giving me the trip of a lifetime!
If you made it to the end, thanks for reading. Here are more photos at Flickr:
Although I focused on photos, I did get a few video clips with my small camera. Here is a short video on youtube: