On one of the November 2003 weekends, I was in Germany my friend, Sonya, decided that we were going to Paris! I was excited to practice my few years (high school & college) of French language classes. Sonya, Matt (husband), her friend Nicole, and I headed off to Paris, France for the weekend.
We stayed at the Best Western Résidence Impériale. The nicest thing about this place cause it wasn’t the tiny, tiny room, was how close it was to the subway station. We would wake up each morning and go to the corner bakery for a croissant breakfast then hop on the subway to whatever fabulous place we chose to visit for the day.
Arc de Triomphe
I was also glad that we were within walking distance to the Arc de Triomphe. What an incredible piece of architecture! So much detail in every little piece of this historical monument. You had to go down into a tunnel to get to walk under the Arc de Triomphe. How crazy to have this peaceful place (burial for France’s unknown soldier) centered with all the noisy cars driving around it.
After the arch, we went on a walking tour of Paris to the most famous landmark La Tour Eiffel. At first, many Parisians hated the structure, and only its potential use as a radio antenna saved the day (it still bristles with a forest of radio and television transmitters). Today it is the beloved symbol of Paris.
Next stop on the walking tour was by the Louvre. This art museum is the world’s greatest (and, in fact, largest) art gallery. The Louvre is packed with legendary collections, divided into seven sections: Asian Antiquities; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek & Roman antiquities; sculpture; paintings, prints, and drawings; furniture; and objects d’art. The Louvre is the one place I still have yet to see. We had so many other items on our list that we just didn’t have enough time to spend at the Louvre. Next time, next trip.
As we walked along the Seine, I couldn’t help admire the architecture of the buildings. We passed the Palais de Chaillot, Egise du Dôme, École Militaire, Musée d’Orsay, Institute de France; We walked all the way to Place Saint-Michel. This area is the central axis of the Latin Quarter. Supposedly the hotbed of student life and activism. This area has the best view from the Seine of Notre Dame.
Looming above the large, pedestrian place du Par vis is La Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, the most enduring symbol of Paris. Begun in 1163 completed in 1345, severely damaged during the Revolution, and restored by Viollet-le-Duc, in the 19th century. Notre-Dame may not be France’s oldest or largest cathedral, but regarding beauty & architectural harmony, it has few peers.
The next day I went up into Notre-Dame. The south tower houses the great bell of Notre-Dame, as tolled by Quasimodo, Victor Hugo’s fictional hunchback. The bell was huge! What an impressive site to see! I don’t know how they ever got this bell up here.
With the tiny stairway and the little wooden door, it is impossible to conceive how they managed it. The 387-step climb to the top of the towers is worth the effort for a close-up of the famous gargoyles, most added in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc as they frame an expansive view of the city.
Quai de la Tournelle
Crossing the Ile de la Cité, just behind square du Vert-Galant, is the oldest bridge in Paris, confusingly called the New Bridge, or Pont Neuf. It was completed in 1607 and was the first bridge in the city to be built without houses lining either side.
Some of the excellent restaurants we ate at were Bistrot Le Saint Emjlion for lunch and Del Papa for dinner. Paris SomehowYummy! On our second day, before Nicole & I set out to explore, we stopped at this Patisserie to pick up a croissant.
Probably one of the most famous cemeteries in the world. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is one of Paris’ most famous tourist attractions & reputed to be the most visited cemetery anywhere. What makes a cemetery such a popular site? Well, the people buried there, of course! For Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, that includes many individuals of world renown, not just favorite Frenchman. The 109-acre cemetery is also rich with sculpture, as each family of the deceased buried here tried to out-do the statues and monuments placed by the city’s other wealthy households. The result is many spectacular works of art that are equal as interesting to view as the various grave sites of famous individuals.
Musicians buried here include Bizet, Chopin, Poulenc, Rossini, and Dukas, as well as opera singers Maria Callas & Edith Piaf, dancer Isadora Duncan, & American rock and roll star Jim Morrison.
Artists are among the largest group in Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. They include Pissarro, Modigliani, glass sculpture Lalique, Max Ernst, Delacroix, & sculptor Carteillier. If you are an old movie fan, Sarah Bernhardt, Yves Montard and Simone Signoret.
Nicole and I spent the morning trekking through Paris to find the cemetery. We ended up buying a map in a floral shop across the street. We spent hours looking through the cemetery. I have never seen a cemetery so beautiful and serene in the States. Our mission was to find Jim Morrison’s grave site, which we eventually did. Although we found out, he’s not buried there at all. They keep moving the grave marker because of all the traffic on his site. But we were there!
After the cemetery, we took the subway back to the city. Our next stop was Saint-Chapelle. Erected by Louis IX, this magnificent chapel was originally designed to house precious religious treasures. At the time known as the stairway to heaven, the chapel is one of the masterpieces of medieval architecture.
The lower chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was once reserved for the King’s staff. It’s somewhat more simple design includes a small vaulted ceiling painted to resemble a starry sky & arched columns decorated w/ medallions that represent the Apostles.
The Upper Chapel consecrated by the Pope’s legate, Eudes of Châteauroux, in April 1268, the Upper Chapel is an incredible example of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture. The part of the building that housed the relics & was observed for the King, his friends, & his family. The Upper Chapel is an artistic masterpiece. The stained glass covers 600 square meters in area & 2/3 of them are still 13th-century originals. The narration begins at the first northern bay to the left on entering. All stained glass windows have stories that are read in the same manner, starting at the bottom, from left to right. The chapel looks amazing with all the candles hanging from the ceiling lit up!
Opèra de Paris Garnier
Our last stop for the day was Opèra de Paris Garnier. Charles Garnier designed the opulent Opèra de Paris Garnier for Emperor Napoleon III. Construction of the opera building started in 1862, but it wasn’t completed until 1875. The delay was because an underground lake was discovered during construction. The small lake still exists under the opera building. It was the hiding place of the Phantom of the Opera in Paul Leroux’s famous play.
Red and gold, lit by the immense crystal chandelier (weighs a massive 6 tons) hanging below Marc Chagell’s brightly colored ceiling, the Italian-style horseshoe-shaped auditorium has 1,900 red velvet seats. The around the auditorium is filled with statues and busts.
Our last day in Paris, we were going to visit Montmartre. I was so excited to see Montmartre! All my limited art career I dreamed of seeing this place and checking out where all the artists hung out. This place was incredible! Steep streets filled with neat shops and tons of steps to get up to Sacré-Couer. Even a beautiful carousel at the bottom. Once you eventually got up all those steps, the view of Paris was fantastic!
Often compared to a “sculpted cloud” atop Montmartre, the Sacred Basilica was erected as a sort of national guilt offering in expiation for the blood shed during the Paris Commune and Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71 and was mainly financed by French Catholics fearful of an anticlerical backlash under the new Republican regime. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the gloomy, cavernous interior I did buy this postcard to show the golden mosaics in its glory. Very impressive details!
Montmartre “The Citadel of Paris, ” was the quartier that Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir immortalized with a flash of their brush and a tube of their paint. Windmills once dotted Montmartre (often referred to by Parisians as La Butte, meaning “mound”). They were set up here not just because the hill was a good place to catch the wind at more than
300 ft it’s the highest point in the city but because Montmartre was covered with wheat fields & quarries right up to the end to the 19th century.
With its many artists setting up their easels each day for the tourists, the Place du Tertre is a reminder of the time when Montmartre was the mecca of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century, many penniless painters including Picasso and Utrillo were living there. I did end up buying a piece of Montmartre and bringing it home with me. This area was the highlight of my trip to Paris.
Although I didn’t get to see everything, I was able to experience quite a bit of the city of Paris in three days. There never was a problem with understanding the French language with my limited knowledge because there was always someone who could speak English when my French was exhausted. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes! Avoir un grand voyage!