on September 30, 2006
We walked from one end of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, right at the other end. The wide, leafy avenue—the Champs Elysees is a focal point for the French nation. It was witness to momentous events such as the Liberation March in 1944 and the Soccer World Cup celebration in 1998. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe at the other. Our guidebook recommended you take the metro, as with heavy traffic (it said) it wasn't a restful stroll. We didn't, we walked and thoroughly enjoyed it. The traffic is heavy, but the avenue is so wide and there are so many things to look at.At the bottom end there is a park area, grass and trees—we walked through the autumn leaves collecting conkers. The middle area has trendy bars, restaurants, and shops—all really expensive and full of chic customers. The Arc de Triomphe is at the top of the Champs Elysees standing on a traffic roundabout called the Etoile (the Star). This is the world's largest traffic roundabout. I don't know how anyone ever navigates it successfully—cars seemed to be like fairground dodgems, going everywhere, beeping horns and narrowly avoiding each other.The Etoile is the meeting point of 12 avenues, many of which are named after illustrious generals. Stand on the roundabout and look at the avenues fanning out around you - an impressive sight.The Arc de Triomphe is also impressive - 163 feet high, 147 feet wide and built by Napoleon to commemorate his army's victories. Over the years it has become the focal point for state funerals. During World War II both the invading Germans and the Liberation of Paris Parade passed beneath it. Engraved around the top are the names of major victories during the Napoleonic Period.When we visited there were crowds of tourists and so many street vendors. It is free to wander around the base of the arch—there is a charge for the rooftop. We didn't go up there, but I think the view would be great. We didn't fancy dragging our 3 year old son up all the steps to the top.The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is beneath the Arch and the eternal flame commemorates the dead of the two world wars. On 11 November each year, France's National Remembrance Service is held here. On 14 July, French National Day, a military parade down the Champs Elysees also begins here. The tomb is an interesting and reflective place - despite the crowds there is a hushed and respectful silence nearby.
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