France, land of snails and frog legs
Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
60Trip End May 31, 2008
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Paris is the capital of France and has a population of just over two million though greater Paris is home to almost twelve million and is one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe. An important settlement for more than two thousand years, Paris is today one of the world's leading business and cultural centres
That evening we took a short night tour of Paris which began with a stop at Montmartre, a hill of 130 metres which offers a premier vantage of the city and is the city's second highest point. A Basilica named Sacré-Coeur, which means Sacred Heart, was built on the hill during the late 1800s and is dedicated to the 58,000 people who lost their lives during the Franco - Prussian war. The basilica was constructed using travertine stone, a white rock which is resistant to discolouring from exposure to pollutants and therefore the building glistens in the afternoon sun.
From saints to sinners the next part of our drive took us through the Pigalle Region which is Paris' famous red light district; home to sex shops, strip shows, hookers, whores and the famous Moulin Rouge which began in 1889 and introduced the French Can-Can to the world. As we reached the centre of Paris I was met by what was clearly the most spectacular city I had ever seen. By day Paris looks nice though at night the city is illuminated like a Christmas tree. All of the buildings, monuments, towers, parks and gardens in the city centre are fog lit and many are also fitted with sparking fairy lights
Everyone's heard of the Phantom of the Opera right; this famous musical is based on the Palais Garnier which is Paris' magnificent opera house, completed in 1875 and seats 2200 people. There is no camera which can capture the immensity of the Louvre, Paris' premier art gallery. It's Europe's longest building and contains over 400,000 pieces of art, the most famous of these being da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It is said that if a person were to spend one minute looking at each piece it would take nine months to view every piece displayed among the building's 18 km of corridors. Our drive then took us past the Arc de Triomphe, which literally means Arch of Triumph and was built by Napoleon during the 19th century. Napoleon envisioned himself leading his victorious armies marching home from battle and passing beneath the structure's three glorious arches, though he died 30 years before the monument was completed. The round-about which loops around the arch forms the junction of 12 avenues and is said to be one of the world’s busiest.
Place de La Concorde means Plaza of Peace, though during the French revolution, at the end of the 16th century, this location was anything but peaceful
So far our tour had avoided the Eiffel Tower and our first look at this spectacular structure was from its premier vantage point. For the first ten minutes of every hour the tower sparkles like a diamond with what appear to be thousands of fairy lights; for the remainder of the hour it is flood lit. This famous world symbol was constructed to demonstrate France's engineering abilities at the Paris World Expo in 1889. The tower stands at 324 metres and weighs 10,000 tons. It consists of 12,000 iron pieces joined by 12,000 nuts and was constructed by a team of 210 men over a period of 21 months
The following day our coach drove us back into Paris and the traffic became chaotic as we approached the centre. I decided to leave the bus and continue on foot and soon after discovered the cause of the congestion. A group of students had positioned themselves on a busy intersection as some kind of protest which ground a couple of streets to a complete halt and delayed the surrounding streets. I began my walk of the city at the Palais Garnier and retraced some of our previous night's driving tour making my way through Paris' central park, Tuileries Gardens whichadjoins the Louvre, then on to Notre Dame cathedral.
Notre Dame de Paris was completed in 1160. Its construction spanned the Gothic period and the building’s architecture is signified by the use of flying buttresses. The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses though after construction began and the walls grew higher, stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral's architects built supports around the outside walls. The cathedral fell into disrepair during the French Revolution in the 1790s and much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. During the 19th century, an extensive restoration project was completed, returning the cathedral to its original state
I continued my day by walking the city's streets and avenues to see and photograph its important buildings and monuments ending my day with a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It is possible to either climb or take a lift to the tower's second level. The tower's third level observatory can be reached only by the lift. The tower is crowded and the view from the top, on this particular day, was not the best. Our group met near the base of the Eiffel tower for an evening picnic which ended early due to rain, before taking a cruise up Paris' Seine River on a Bateaux Mouches boat. Cruises on boats such as these have been popular since WWII and passengers can enjoy a clear vantage of sights such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Alexander III Bridge, Pont Neuf, Orsay Museum, The Louvre, Les Invalides and Napoleon's burial site.