An October 2001 trip
to Paris by travelprone
Quote: In a Paris with most municipal museums closed by a workers’ strike, the visitor can still see open-air art in parks deliberately planned by the extraordinary Baron Haussman, who created this "Paris vision" for Napoleon III in the early decades of the second half of the nineteenth century.
See other parks: the Luxembourg and Bois de Boulounge are Parisian favorites and visits to them will extend both your appreciation of why Paris is so popular year round as well as allow you to see how its "green" assets make Paris so liveable to its citizens and so appreciated by its visitors. Don’t overlook Montmartre and Sacre Coeur as we did. Disappointment shouldn’t hamper you from enjoying Paris sans museums.
Better yet, AVOID visiting a striking Paris. See the FREE FORM re:strategies. Strikes are so frequent in Paris that I know of a couple who have been there three times and have yet to see the Louvre!
Attraction | "Obelisk In The Place de la Concorde"
Here you can see the fascinating Obelisk, one of two that fronted an Egyptian temple in Thebes, later called Luxor, from the 13th centurt B.C. Its arduous, lengthy journey from the original site is fittingly depicted in gold leaf pictographs on sides above its base. The hieroglyphic stele was finally capped with matching gold leaf on its bronze pyramid top in 1998, replacing a cap that had been stolen in the sixth century B.C. Nightly, laser rays illuminate this cap to afford a spectacular sight. The mate of this Parisian obelisk is still at Luxor, whereas this red granite monument, a "gift" of friendship authorized by the Egyptian viceroy in 1831, was removed and transported by a French naval engineer in a process that took five years, culminating in its unveiling in October 1836.
What is so enthralling is to see the detail of the Obelisk’s journey on the Obelisk itself. Via the aptly named ship Louxor, that journey from Egypt to Paris extended from December 1831 to December 1833, with a route that went from Alexandria to Toulon to Cherbourg to the Seine near the Place de la Concorde.The photographs in this entry display some of the monument’s sides illustrating this complex transfer. The engineer, Jean Baptiste Apollinaire Lebas (great Revolutionary name!), was amply rewarded with cash and a medallion by King Charles X.
Definitely downplayed, a plaque on the side of the Obelisk that faces the Arc marks the over 1300 heads cleaved by the guillotine that its inventor devised as a "kinder", "quicker", "cleaner" way to execute people than other medieval methods of prolonged agony still in use just before his invention.
Today, the Obelisk stands in this lovely, octagonal square, flanked by two fountains by Jacob Ignaz Hittorff, the German architect who designed the square as we see it and created the eight female statues representing the largest French cities of his time that adorn the square’s periphery. The Hotel de la Marine and the Hotel Crillon on this prestigious square are architectural feats themselves, both designed by the square’s first architect, Louis XIV’s architect, Jaques-Ange Gabriel.
This expansive, historic spot is conveniently reached by taking the RER 3 to Champs Elysses or Metro to Concorde.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 25, 2003
Place de la Concorde
Paris, France 75008
Aucun téléphone disp
Adjoining the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries is a "people’s" meeting place amidst all the pomp and glory of France’s monarchical and imperial past. Formerly the royal gardens exclusive to the palace built on land that was originally the site of tile-works (tuileries), a palace that was burnt down during the tumultuous Paris Commune days, today, with its Ferris wheel and many areas for relaxation, it is truly a people’s garden at the core of the city.
This is an "open-air" museum of statues, with sculptures by Marly, Van Cleve, Coustou, and Le Paultre. The presence of sculptures in the parks developed under Haussmann was intended to provide artistic experiences to the populace of Paris at large; in effect, the Parisian parks are unusually attractive for lovers of this art. Even if most museums are closed, visitors can see sculptural art throughout Paris.
Twenty sculptures by Aristide Maillol were given to the gardens by Dina Vierny, who modeled for the master for many years, and has become a preserver of his legacy, establishing the Museum Maillol (www.museummaillol.com), a private museum she opened in 1995 on Rue de Grenelle. Romantically, they met after Maillol sent a letter to the then 15 year old Vierny. In that letter, he wrote that he had heard from friends that "You are a Maillol or a Renoir," and that he would like to see which of the alternatives was true. Throughout his long life (1861-1944), Maillol chose to sculpt the female figure and Vierny became his model for works subsequent to their eventual meeting. This May-December relationship from 1934 till his death ten years later engendered Vierny’s loyal espousal of the task of promulgating his distinctive works. By giving the city these sculptures, I think she shrewdly chose maximum exposure for his work. Reading about their relationship after seeing his Tuileries sculptures has inspired me to list the museum as a "must-see" for our second trip to "The City of Light," as it contains works by Picasso, Kandinsky, and Matisse, and displays other works by Maillol in painting, drawing, and engraving.
Jardin des Tuileries
Rue De Rivoli
Paris, France 75001
Attraction | "Montparnasse Cemetery"
The lush, flower-filled cemetery is a quiet ramble for those who find cemetery-exploring enjoyable; here lies the tragic suicide at age 41, Jean Seberg, the Mid-West unknown who shot to overnight stardom as Joan of Arc, portrayed Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse heroine, married the noted French author, Romain Gary, and became an actress warmly accepted by French cinema lovers. Other illustrious personages interred within its confines are Larousse of French Dictionary fame, Alfred Dreyfus of the infamous discrimination case, Camille Saint-Saëns, the moodily romantic musician, and the sculptor Brancusi as well as car mogul, Citroën.
Many of the graves and mausoleums of the not-so-famous can occupy your attention as there are more than 3400 tombs in the 18 hectare, pentagon-shaped Montparnasse Cemetery. Above all, its green spaciousness provides welcome relief from its big city building "neighbors." Formerly known as Le Cimetière du Sud, "South Cemetery," in 1824 its environs marked the southern end of the city of Paris. This was an area of millers that gradually changed as Paris expanded and as the whole area of Montparnasse drew artists of all kinds, musicians, and writers, and exploded as an "in" area of creativity in the 1920’s and l930’s.
Today, the once-controversial height of Tour Montparnasse affords stunning vistas of the city from its top, yet even a visitor has to admit it sticks out all too prominently from its rather lovely middle-class Parisian neighborhood Wisely in my opinion, a city ordinance enacted after the Tour’s completion bans the erection of any other edifice of that height in Paris. For me, the Tour breaks the symmetry that so characterizes Paris. We rented an apartment on a quiet side street to the south of the all-too-busy Gare Montparnasse area that borders this cemetery. Montparnasse is a delightful residential area that offers cheaper accommodation and excellent public transportation to the city’s main sights as well as to sites in nearby Ile de France locations. This cemetery is just off the beaten path for relaxing and ruminating.
Open 8am-5pm during the week, 8:30am to 6pm on Saturdays, and 9am-6pm on Sundays (closing earlier at 5:15 from November-March). Metro: Raspail.
Montparnasse Cemetery-Cimetière du Montparnasse
3 Blvd Edgar Quinet
Attraction | "Parc des Buttes-Chaumont"
But, this is expansive greenery with twisted, gnarled-wood railed (actually metal made to look like wood) paths leading you to enclaves of surprising sights. Wooden pavilions, little bridges -- at every turn, one sees the unexpected. Its designer, Adolphe Alphand, had lots of room to create; the park is about 5,000 acres and has around 600,000 trees. It’s an "English" style park, meaning rugged and a little wild, and informal in contrast to the more usual French, formal neo-classical gardens like the Tuilleries.
In medieval times, this area was the scene of the gibbet with public executions; still later, there were gypsum quarries here. Finally, it became a garbage dump. When the Baron and Napoleon III decided that their splendid city should have large parks at all four points -- north, south, east, and west -- work began to convert the dump into this park that opened after four years of overhaul in time for the World Fair of 1867.
Here are pony walks, swings, boats for hire, and puppet shows; the planners thought a people who could enjoy beautiful outdoor places like this Parc would be less inclined towards protests or revolts. The Baron and Napoleon were wrong, as the Communard insurrection of 1871 contradicted their reasoning, but future generations of Parisians as well as visitors have enjoyed the fruits of their city plans. In the nineteenth arrondissement at Botzaris and Manin, the park can be reached by metro to Buttes de Chaumont station. Recently, this area has become a "hot spot" for development with ethnic eateries popping up, reflecting an influx of foreigners. Its park has thus attracted more patronage, some of the infamous kind. Suicides have unfortunately chosen its 63 meter suspension bridge a little too often, thus calling for preventive measures to deter such deathly choice. Stroll along some of its five kilometers of paths, enjoy the vistas, and see unusual plants that Napoleon III specifically desired in a park he thought should be "a monument to plants." This "bald mountain," open daily, allows picnics, unlike other Parisian parks.
Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Right Bank of River Seine, 19th Arrondissement
Paris, France 75019
In autumn, the leaves of the trees (over 1440 here) displayed a glowing variety of colors to add to the enjoyment of the many joggers, baby walkers, and others who were in the Parc the day our son visited it. He especially enjoyed walking through the many paths laid out on different levels here -- it was his favorite among the parks he visited because it was full of people and of lovely vistas around each corner. There’s even a well-known restaurant, Le Pavillion Montsouris, located on the lake, which was a tad too expensive for our frugal son.
Since it is so near to University City, the Parc draws many international students on breaks from their academic routines at Parisian universities. The Cité Universitaire complex of 35 buildings is worth exploring for each building was designed to reflect the nationality of its residents. As at other large parks, guignols and marionettes appear on Saturdays in shows designed to delight both children and parents. Though the shows are in French, the gestures of the marionettes can convey the simple stories despite the language barrier because they’re "show and tell." Originally sometimes used as vehicles of political satire, guignols thrived under Napoleon III and Haussmann. At Boulevard Jourdain and Reille, the B line of the RER Cite Universite or Metro to Porte d’Orleans gives access to this park.
The nearby Royal Parc-Montsouris Hotel, currently featured as a special on the IgoUgo site, offers interesting, unusually decorated accommodations that would be most convenient to families seeking a location in close proximity to a green area that offers playground equipment and activities appealing to children.
Paris, France 75014
Most crucially unfortunate, however, was we arrived in Paris late in the afternoon in a heavy rain storm. On Sunday, we scrounged around for food and supplies -- we were especially grateful for the Marche Daguerre’s being open as most shops were closed. We did not learn about the strike closure of all city museums and monuments till we attempted to visit the Louvre on Monday, found it closed, then wandered over to the Café Marly and serendipitously encountered a café hostess who, in fluent English, informed me that ALL the city-operated sites had been closed for nearly two weeks and re-openings had not been announced.
Unluckily, the TV in our apartment offered only French TV, not CNN or other channels in English, which would have been available in many moderately-priced Parisian hotels. But, museum workers' strikes may NOT make news on French TV as the strikes occur at least twice a year. Strikes do tend to occur in low season(April or October especially).
MOST IMPORTANT check www.lesgreves.com/,a site that lists strikes; unfortunately, I learned of this site only AFTER our visit,and not from any guidebook, but from a traveller's' comment on another web site. This site (available in French and in tortured English translation) listed all strikes, including transit strikes, when they occurred -- this is a site you need to consult frequently just before and DURING any trip to Paris.
Of course, Paris is more than museums and monuments, but most visitors DO have expectations of seeing the top sites. When you visit during such a strike, you scrap all plans and try to discover by trial and error what is open, thus using up time. Our son visited three parks, the Obelisk,and the Montparnasse cemetery after he discovered that even the sewers were closed to visits! Paris certainly offers more non-museum sights than most famous cities, but we’d rather NOT visit a museumless Paris again.
Attraction | "Taking the Thalys From The Gare Du Nord"
Ha! "Pride goeth before . .", you know the rest. When we arrived at the track we saw an immense crowd of people laden down with mountains of luggage all attempting to board simultaneously into each and every aperture of the lengthy train before us. Later we discovered the why behind the mess of people before us. EXAMINE your tickets! On them is the car number in which your reserved seats are located. Like us, most would-be passengers had not done so and/or were not advised to do so at the time they had purchased their tickets. The result was chaos and crush.
I shall never forget the towering giant of a man who was just behind us; he just lost his patience at two doddering, glazed-eyed females who were standing paralyzed just before us, as they puzzled about where to put their luggage. He awakened them in a stentorious voice that was partly a scream, "Get on with it! Stow it later!" With a jolt, they boarded, dragging their luggage behind them.
Embarrassed by his outburst, he explained to us that he and his wife had not slept in over 35 hours since they had left home in South Africa. At least 6’9", a commanding, immaculately business-suited black gentleman, his exhaustion had depleted his capacity for restraint. We were empathetically grateful that his outburst had broken the deadlock and the boarding line had finally begun to move onto the train.
Once aboard, we found the lovely seats, comfortably wide, the scenic flat countryside, beautiful, and the rapidity of our movement, reassuring, as we smoothly progressed in an hour and fifteen minutes towards Brussels Midi station ,very soothing -- all a comforting follow-up to the uneasy process of boarding we had endured. What a way to go! In a seat much more spacious than on an airplane, you relax, read, purchase a snack from the cart that attendants roll around, or even sleep a little. Our boarding-scene had been like a real cattle call; my claustrophobia had gone into over-drive, so I really appreciated that the rest of the Thalys experience proved so calming. Ironically, sometimes the most memorable travel moments are those most unpleasant when you experienced them!
Thalys high-speed train
Gare Du Nord