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Monday, November 25, 2019

Paris - Major Sights

I sat in the waiting area at the Copenhagen airport, eventually finding a seat next to a well-dressed gentleman who was also waiting to board a flight.  Close quarters meant we quickly exchanged travel plans, talking about our trip through some of Europe's popular cities.  I told him I was on my way to Paris after spending 3 days in Copenhagen, Denmark and a day in Malmo, Sweden.  He was on his way back to Rome and we chatted about the differences between these pretty little cities.  He talked about the cleanliness of Copenhagen and the party scene of Malmo and when it came to Paris, he told me what he thought.  Paris... it's too romantic.

Paris is known as the City of Love (and the City of Lights) but when this Rome native told me Paris was great but "too romantic" I was a little confused.  In my mind, Paris can't be "too anything".  It was going to be baguettes and espresso along the Seine and evenings sipping wine at quaint little restaurants with tables for two out on the sidewalk.  It was going to be croissants for breakfast and boat tours in the evenings stops at museums and historic monuments and the richest and best food that a plane ticket and a handful of euros could buy.

Paris was all this and more and yes, it's absolutely romantic in the best way possible.  Malmo, you can keep your night clubs.  I will take a lover in Paris any day of the week.

I loved Paris.  I loved it in an unexpected way.  As someone who travels to play in the mountains or dive in the oceans, as someone who plans their trips around outdoor adventures, a trip to a city is a bit different.  But even without the mountains, I fell in love with this part of the world, with the way this city worked.  The history and the bridges, the culture and the celebration along the Seine, it's a different kind of adventure.  

So no hiking, no diving, but I hope you will follow me on my adventure through the streets and subways of Paris, from river cruises to shining lights on the Eifel Tower. 


Getting Around
I wracked my brain trying to figure out how to best organize my posts about Paris.  So this is what I came up with:  boat tour, major sights, the Catacombs, an afternoon in Monmarte, a n d  t h e  f o o d.  So here we go, a photo tour of some of Paris' major sights and an overview of getting around the city, few captions needed.  

The first thing you need to know about Paris is the way the city is organized.  Paris has 20 arrondissements  - or districts.  The numbers continue is a clockwise spiral, starting on the right bank of the Seine where the Louvre is located.  When traveling around the city, some of the districts on the outer edges of the spiral will certainly require the metro but my advice?  Walk wherever you can. 

There's something about walking around this city that's hard to describe.  You don't really need a destination or activity in mind, just to aimlessly walk the streets of Paris with a baguette in hand is an activity enough.  The entire time we were in Paris, we depended on our two feet and the metro system to get us around Paris' 20 arrondissements.  

When wheels or rails are your only option, forget the taxis and head to the metro - it is actually easy to navigate.  There are maps in the subway stations and some even have interactive guides where you can enter your stop and a screen will take you the exact lines and stops to your destination.  The important thing to know is which direction you want to travel which also involves getting to know the endpoints of the lines you are traveling.  The subway lines are colored and numbered, 1 through 14.   The RER B train takes you from the airport into downtown Paris.  The local lines (1 through 14) are how you get around the city itself.  

Paris metro map (Constantine Konovalov)
Image: - Full Size

For example - we were staying in the 13th arrondissement.  We would walk to the Pink Line (#7) which ran north and south at the "Les Gobelins" station and if we were heading into the city (north) we would head in the direction of/line to "La Cournievre" the northern terminus.  If we were heading back towards the hotel (or south), we would head in the direction of "Villejuif" or "Mairie d'Ivry" the southern terminus.  All you need to do is look at your map of where you want to go, figure out the direction and the endpoint, and count the number of stops.  From our hotel, it was 7 stops towards La Cournievre to the Louvre.  If we wanted to travel along the Seine, we would walk or jump on a different line.  If we wanted to get from our hotel to the airport, we had to walk to the nearest stop on the blue line, in our case, Port Royale and take that line all the way up to the airport.  A picture of the map and a general sense of where you are going (north, south, east, west) is all you need.  And a subway ticket of course. 

* While most do, some station entrances do not sell tickets, I suggest buying an unlimited day pass for three zones each day you are taking the metro.  The price depends on how many zones you are traveling through - find the Zone Map here - we bought the 3 zone pass.  We bought a separate ticket to get us to and from the airport (RER line).

** The trains come often during normal hours, every few minutes, you do not have to plan around train times. 

Seine River Cruise
The Seine and its ornate bridges are something to see for itself.  You can read all about our river cruise here.  I loved seeing the city by the Seine and watching the people dancing and drinking and smooching along the banks of the city.  The details are in my post but the big take-homes are this: this is a great way to get your bearings of the city, a great way to rest your feet and see the beautiful bridges up close and personal and is a lovely way to see the city at night.  

Arc de Triomphe 
A subway ride away from the Seine will take you to Paris' craziest rotary.  It sits in a circular plaza from which 12 grand avenues radiate, forming a star.  There is an underground tunnel that takes you to the Arc (you can access this tunnel from the Wagram exit of the Metro).  The Arc de Triomphe stands at the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle and honors those who fought for France.  The Arc de Triomphe stands 162 ft tall, 150 ft wide and 72 ft deep. For a ticketed price, you can go to the top of the Arc for a famous view of Paris.  Visitor Information.

Construction began 1806 and was finished in 1836. 

Eiffel Tower 
The Eiffel Tower is a famous beacon in the City of Lights.  I have to start by saying that during the day, the tower seemed a little overhyped, a tower of metal perched on the Seine.  It's a mass of grey, unassuming in its pile of staging reaching towards the sky.  But at night.... oh at night everything changes. 

The tower is lit up throughout the night in the Parisian sky, with an extra show of twinkling strobes every hour on the hour from sunset to 1 am.  We saw it twinkling from every angle, from its base, from the top of Trocadero Garden and from a boat on the Seine.  It's inspiring and impressive, it's impossible to miss as it stands as the pillar in the City of Lights.  It's hard to put into words, it's just something you have to go see for yourself.  The best way to see the tower is at the top of the Trocadero at night, bring a few glasses and wine, a cheese plate and a few friends and soak it all in.  

Construction began in January of 1887 and was concluded in March of 1889.  

Louvre Pyramid
I made it my plan to avoid the things in Paris that involved long lines or crazy wait times and the Louvre?  It was on everyone's "skip list" when I polled the people about Paris. I was mesmerized by Paris at night, by the people drinking and dancing along the Seine, by the ways the bridges lit up, by the romance and the lights and the charm of the City.  So instead of spending a day at the Louvre, we went by at night to see the pyramid lit up in the Napolean Courtyard, imagining the art inside the halls of the palace. The pyramid itself seems like a contradiction, a modern entrance of glass in the middle of the courtyard of a former royal palace. 

Built as a palace in 1190 and in 1793 part of the Louvre became a public museum

What's a trip to Paris without stopping to see the famous Catholic Cathedral?  The cathedral was one of the most widely recognized symbols of the city of Paris and is the city's most visited monument.   In April earlier this year, the cathedral caught on fire, burning for 15 hours along the Seine.  The cathedral is being rebuilt exactly as-is, and remains a well-visited icon in Paris, even if it can only be seen from afar for now. 

The cathedral's construction began in 1160 and was largely complete by 1260.

Luxembourg Garden
The people of Paris certainly know how to lounge and Luxembourg Gardens is a perfect place to do just that.  Walk the greens, gawk at the palace, or pull up a chair to watch the kids sail model boats in the fountain.  On a sunny day, its the perfect spot to unwind, to leave the city behind and relax in a garden of green.  The garden was constructed thanks to the vision of Marie de' Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France for her new residence, the Luxembourg Palace.

The garden was created beginning in 1612 

Islands and Book Stores 
Ile Saint-Louis and Île de la Cité (home of Notre Dame) are the two natural islands in the Seine river in Paris.  In this islandy-section of Paris, you can see where the very wealthy live, you can dine at open-air restaurants, and you can do as the locals do, grab a bottle of wine and dangle your legs over the Seine with a drink and a lover.  I can't put into words how lovely this culture of relaxing by the Seine is.  Dancing, singing, smooching.... head to the islands to be in the middle of the action on the Seine.  You can also check out a cute little bookstore right by the Ile de la Cite.  Shakespeare and Company is the name and you can peruse through books, used and new, to read along the banks of the Seine. 

Ile Saint-Louis was formerly used for the grazing of market cattle and stocking wood.
The bookstore opened in 1951 

Other Sights
Musée de l'Orangerie:  I feel that you should try to make it to at least one museum while in Paris (there are 130....).  Several people referred us to Musée de l'Orangerie, an extension of Musée d'Orsay, this gallery features a wide selection of impressionist and post-impressionist art (best known for its enlarged “Water Lilies” paintings by artist Claude Monet).  I have to throw in a huge disclaimer that I am *not* an art person and found this to be pretty skippable.  But, while in Paris, it just feels right to at least give one museum a try. 

Coming Soon...

Catacombs of Paris 
(Check back in next week for these individual posts)

Montmartre and Sacre Coeur
(Check back in next week for these individual posts)

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