Paris Stories and Tips

Grande Paris: Arc de Triomphe and the Bois de Bolougne

Arc de Triomphe from Avenue Foch Photo, Paris, France

One of the greatest jaw-dropping moments of your visit to Paris is your first glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe. This is monument building on a epic scale and when you emerge blinking from the metro you will not believe its size and scale. Arc de Triomphe is a must-see when visiting Paris, but after they have gazed at its size, most visitors trundle off down the Champs Elysee or to Les Invalides. But if you head west into the 16th Arondissement you will enter a different Paris, an old patrician Paris, untouched by the hordes of tourists, and the green, leafy expanses of the Bois de Bolougne. And after that then there is always the Champs Elysee. Which can probably claim, with some justification, to be the most famous street in the world.

The Arc de Triomphe is at the centre of things. It is at the hub of all bus, metro and RER routes and the metro stations of Arc de Triomphe and Kleber are the closest to the monument. But reaching the great arch takes some doing, it is situated in a colossal cobbled traffic island - the E''Toile - and surrounded by five lanes of manically driven traffic with each driver intent on mowing down pedestrians. The safest way to reach it is via the underpasses, the main and best one is from the Champs Elysse. Whatever you do try not to cross the traffic - they will kill you if they get the chance, and not stop to wipe you off the windscreen. Once you have reached the island containing the Arc - the view down the Voie Triomphal is spectacular. To the west is the epic Avenue D''Armee with the great hollow cube of La Defense looming over all. To the east is the Champs Elysee rolling down to the Place du Concorde, the Tuileries and the Louvre. And looming over all will be the dark needle of the Tour Eiffel, just a little way to the south.

Only when you get close can you appreciate the scale and detail of the Arc de Triomphe. It''s four legs soar eighty feet above you (see photo) and are covered in inscriptions and statues. You can pay 40F to climb the stairs to see even better views down the Champs Elysee but most people admire the scale and take a look at the burning flame of the ''Tomb of the Unknown Warrior''. Of course the Arc was put up by Napoleon Bonaparte to celebrate his victories and commemorate the French empire in Europe. The insides of the legs are carved with the names of his victories. Please note Trafalgar and Waterloo are noticeably absent. Watching the tourists around the Arc reminded me of his tomb in Les Invalides. The majority of tourists were Europeans. Were they admiring the Arc or remembering him invading their countries? First he would invade, then defeat their armies, topple the monarch, loot their art-treasures and put one of his family members on the throne. All done in the name of liberation.

For a break from all this grandiosity, head west along the Avenue Foche to the Bois de Bolougne. This was one of my surprises in Paris. Reading ROUGH GUIDE, it noted that it was built in the manner of Hyde Park in London. So I was expecting a vast lawned expanse where I could put my feet up and relax. Upon reaching the end of Avenue Foch imagine my shock when I discovered a forest in the middle of Paris. Autumn had turned the leaves and trees brown and little trails led deeper into the woods. This begun quite pleasantly but after a while I began to notice raddled wild-looking women in fish-net stockings in the undergrowth. The Bois was infested with prostitutes!

This didn''t seem to deter the little old ladies who walked their poodles and yorkshire terriers in the Bois. Most live in upper-class Auteil and Passey which is the classy district between the Bois and the Seine. The area is so exclusive that agencies are set up so that partners can be found without leaving the arondissement. But it made a pleasant way to walk back to the Champs Elysee. The streets are generally deserted and lined with white apartment blocks, galleries, flower stalls and haute coutre boutiques. Place Victor Hugo is especially pretty and worth a look.

But this area is very expensive and you will probably find yourself back at the Champs Elysee for something to eat and drink. The great ten lane boulevard is one of the great strolling streets in the world and you may come back again and again. Not as exclusive as it was it is lined with cinemas, car-showrooms, department stores, nightclubs (Le Queen and Le Lido), cafes, restaurants and thronged with people. It is easy to while away an afternoon here, sipping a coffee and pretending you are a French film star at Fouquets - with the mandatory dark glasses of course...

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