A December 1990 trip
to Paris by MichaelJM
Quote: We've visited Paris several times over the years, and this journal tries to give a flavour, an overview, of several of these holidays.
The place has an ambience all of its own, and despite the reputation of Parisians as being parochial and hostile to foreign travellers, we generally found them to be friendly and responsive. The streets were clean and litter-free, thanks to the determination of the government to clamp down on litter louts by imposing on-the spot fines, plenty of waste bins, and a squad of inconspicuous cleaners.
There are some great views to be had from the rooftops, and we were stunned by our first "aerial view" from the top of Paris’ Galeries Lafayette. It was a good place to start, as it meant that we could view most of the city and orientate ourselves. We can never forget our first viewing of the Eiffel Tower. We stood just outside the école militaire and saw the tower within easy walking distance – or so we thought. At this point, we hadn’t formulated the scale and were quickly told by our friends that we were a good walk (over a kilometre) away from the tower.
Paris was full of street entertainers and alive with music and the aromas of fine cuisine. There was an interesting mix of architecture, including the quirky Pompidou centre and the stunningly dominant church of the Sacré-Cœur.
It will be hard to forget my first experience of the Périphérique, the Paris ring road that resembles a theme park experience with motorbikes cutting across the lanes, cars pushing the cautious driver by "attaching themselves to your rear bumper" and gesticulating at you, and the cacophony of sound from the car hooters. It was a totally unnerving experience.
Once "inside" the city, there’s a wealth of culture to satisfy one and all. The mixed emotions of my first viewing of the Mona Lisa ("that’s very small, why the hype") to total wonderment as I latched onto the enigmatic smile and the confusion as I viewed the "new" pyramid in its juxtaposition with the fine original architecture of the Louvre.
This is a great city to experience.
When eating in Paris, avoid the main tourist streets. Seldom will you see Parisians eating here, and the prices are specially hyped to give extra profits for the restaurants from the gullible traveller. Even a simple drink on the Champs-Elysées will be exorbitantly priced, whilst a short detour down one of the side streets will give better value for your euro.
Learn a little French! Parisians are notoriously down on tourists, but if you make an effort with their language, they’ll generally respond positively to you.
Some sights will need you to hop on public transport. By far the easiest way is the Métro. The underground map is freely available and easy to follow, and many of the stations are so straightforwardly named that you can’t help but keep on the tourist trail. Distances seemed to be covered rapidly, and when we last visited Paris, the Métro was a clean, friendly, and safe environment. We never felt hemmed in or claustrophobic.
If you want to see a bit more, try the bus. It’s a little more difficult to orient yourself, but that didn’t really bother us, as we hopped on and then disembarked if we saw something that we fancied investigating.
Although we never travelled by taxi, we’re told they’re fast, efficient, and fairly priced.
Attraction | "Sacré-Coeur"
It’s a strange old story that accompanies the building of the basilique, as it seems the site merited a church in the mid-1600s when a nun reported seeing Jesus on the mound. Several requests were made to the church authorities, but it was not until the end of the Franc-Prussian war that the state agreed to fund the building to "do penance for the sins of the people of France."
Building started with a vengeance following a highly spirited design competition in which the most outrageous entry (according to critics at the time) was successful. The basilica’s many cupolas are overseen by the 260-foot-high dome, and in the square bell tower is La Savoyarde at over 20 tons, one of the world’s heaviest bells.
This is what can best be described as a pilgrimage church, and inside are countless reminders of the many miracles that are purported to have occurred here. The dome sports a spectacular, colourful image of Jesus, arms outstretched surrounded by saints, blessing the faithful. Indeed there are several brightly designed mosaics throughout the church. And yet, this is a place of contrast, because, despite its ostentatious exterior, vibrant mosaics, and stunning stained glass, much of the internal architecture is plain and unadorned. The chapels of Saint-Pierre and Sainte Famille mimic the exterior design with arches and simple pillars, but here the walls retain the simple form of neatly assembled brickwork with uncomplicated altars and straightforward representations of Jesus with his outstretched arms.
The internal architecture of the Coupole is again simple and uncluttered, with two rows of pillared arches and a spiritual flooding of bright pure white light from the upper row. Sometimes less is truly more. The church order is tres magnifique, and if you’re lucky, you may hear its superb tones as the organist practices for one of the many services. The carving around the organ pipes is mirrored in the choir stalls, and it’s hard not to be distracted by the complexity of the floor’s mosaics. Like all churches, it has a vast array of superb sculptures and religious icons.
Make sure that you visit the crypt and admire the labyrinth of arches that seem to support the very structure of the massive structure. The artistry of this exposed fine building’s substructure work is divinely complex in a simple way!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 29, 2005
Basilica du Sacre Coeur
35, Rue Du Chevalier-de-la-barre Rue De La Bonne
Paris, France 75018
+33 (1) 53 41 89 00
We declined the option of climbing the 1,652 steps to the summit and joined the wait for the lift. Although the queue seemed horrendous, we were rapidly "processed" and were soon holding our tickets for the ascent. The lift journey feels quite bizarre, as of course the lift’s ascent is quirky due to the varying angles. Indeed, if you want to progress to the top floor, you have to catch another lift from the second floor.
On the first floor there’s a fairly big exhibition area, and here you can see a short film about the construction of the Tower (worth the watch), numerous "historical panels," and a range of exhibitions. Don’t rush at this; it’s well laid out and extremely informative.
The second floor offers superb views around the city, and if you’ve got the stomach for it, you can gaze through the glass floor at the ground beneath you. I would suggest that this is not for the faint-hearted.
My wife isn’t too keen on heights, so I made the next level on my own. There are wax characters of Gustav Eiffel and his daughter entertaining Thomas Edison in what purports to be his office. Although the views are excellent up here, I’m not sure that they are significantly better than the second level. What was noticeable was the fact that although it was a fairly calm day at ground level, there was a bit of a breeze up here. My research, however, suggests that the tower is remarkably stable and the sway has never been more than 4.5 inches, although, surprisingly, the tower’s height may vary by as much as 6 inches!
There are a couple of stylish restaurants in the tower if you fancy it – prices aren’t cheap, but I guess it’s a fairly good experience to be eating up here. Needless to say, we didn’t dine here – perhaps another time.
We were happy to be amongst the 200 million tourists who’ve made the visit to the tower. We had great views from an international landmark.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 1, 2005
Champ De Mars
That aside the Arc is truly magnificent and the poignant sight of the "eternal flame" alongside the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is etched on my memory. Somehow the traffic noise was lost to one and al as we all pondered the symbolism and simplicity of the strong messages emitted by the tomb and the flame.
This 50 metre high by 45 metre wide arch is a colossus of its type with some classical relief sculptures exceedingly well preserved, considering the bashing it must get from the polluting traffic that thunders daily around it. Facing the Champs-Elysees the four scenes commemorate The Marseillaise (1792), General Marceau’s funeral, the signing of the Treaty of Vienna, and the battle of Aboukir whilst in the opposite direction the scenes include the capture of Alexandria and at the lower level "resistance" and "peace" by Etex (a less accomplished sculpture than Rude who was responsible for the other main panels).
The frieze towards the top of the arch is cluttered with hundreds of figures (all 6-feet tall) and it is somewhat difficult to take it all in. The shields, right at the top, name the greatest victories of the Revolution and the French empire whilst inside the arch, are engraved the "lesser victories and the names of over 550 generals (those who died in battle are underlined)
It’s a popular misconception that the archway was built as a tribute to Napoleon whereas in reality it was to commemorate the forces of the French Revolution, liberation and continued freedom. It took over thirty years for it to be completed and now it is at the centre of one of the busiest junction in the centre of Paris with twelve avenues converging at the Place Charles de Gaulle and the Arc de Triomphe.
There’s a small museum inside the Arch documenting its history and construction and the admission charge allows you to climb to the top for further views of Paris. I don’t think you miss out if you don’t bother with an internal inspection of the Arc although it is the only place that you can fully appreciate the radiating roads.
It is a remarkable tribute to the French people and historically I was interested that Victor Hugo’s body lay in state here in 1885, whereas Napoleon funeral procession only passed under the arch.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 4, 2005
Arc de Triomphe
Paris, France 75008
+33 (1) 55 37 73 77
Attraction | "Notre Dame de Paris"
The church’s portal would originally have had colourful statues to encourage the masses to learn about bible stories from these amazingly detailed sculptures. Today, they are a fascinating insight into medieval life, and I’ll guarantee that you’ll want to spend time examining them. The oldest statues, carved around 1170, can be found in the right hand side doorway (centre top) and depict Mary and baby Jesus surrounded by a couple of angels and the kneeling form of Louis VII.
The cathedral is just huge and is amazingly well lit by natural light cascading through its windows. I was told that it can host a congregation of around 9,000 people and that’s really hard to comprehend. Indeed, in it’s early life the masses would have piled in and stood or sat on the floor. So originally it’s likely to have taken far more people for a service - that really emphasises the power of the priesthood in medieval days!
The Rose windows are spectacular and subtly bathe the Cathedral in a multitude of colours. The rest of the glass is not original glass as it was all replaced in the 1700’s with a simple fleur-de-lys, again in the 1800s. Its present glass was manufactured "the medieval way", and so Notre Dame is beginning to return to its earliest form.
The nave is surrounded by small chapels built between the buttresses as a responses to the high demand of the rich guilds in the 13th and 14th Centuries who were more than happy to contribute to the fabric of the building if they received due recognition. Chapels are always fascinating places rich in tapestry, sculpture and religious icon – these are no exception to that rule.
Some of the best views of the Cathedral’s exterior can be seen by taking a Bateau Mouche (the Parisien water taxi). From the Seine, you virtually encircle the great building and are ideally placed for some unique views and some great silhouettes of the terrific towers. I’d certainly recommend that you take in a tour of the area at night and enjoy the street life and cafés that create that typically Parisien feel to the bustling area that is known as the Cité.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 5, 2005
6, place du Parvis-de-Notre-Dame
Paris, France 75004
+33 (1) 42 34 56 10