The City of Light

Trip Start Aug 17, 2010
Trip End Sep 16, 2011

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Where I stayed
Ben's Apartment

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Monday, July 25, 2011

Paris – elegant, sophisticated and oh so French Paris. Known as The City of Light - partly from its early adoption of the liberal arts as part of the "Enlightment", and partly from its early adoption of street lighting. Paris is the sort of city that makes an immediate, unexpected impact on you – the triumphal monuments from the Napoleonic Empire integrating with the fine French architecture to present a very debonair city. Smart planning too from the French, keeping all of the modern city developments out on the fringes, preserving the look and feel of the old centre, and allowing the tourist to wander around all the famous landmarks without the jarring effect of 21st century office buildings and shopping malls.

Our tour of Paris actually started last night – as the final part of our self-drive Tour de France included a dinner cruise along the Seine ! This cruise well-exceeded our expectations, as we were included on the same ship as the posh VIP tour groups, so we sat by floor to ceiling windows, served a 4-course French meal while musicians on violin and piano entertained with a medley of jazz and traditional music ! The food was delicious, plainer fare but all the better for that – we had cheese before dessert as is the French way, and wine was included with the dinner. The banks of the Seine slowly passed by and revealed famous sights such as the Notre Dame and the Effiel Tower. A great introduction to Paris proper.

The next day we were up and out, having to change accommodation out from the lovely boutique hotel the tour put us up in, back to an AirBnB apartment – which given how expensive Paris is, was basically a shoebox, though in a great position. We had a wander around on foot, as is our way, just soaking up Paris.

Time to go up the Eiffel tower – still a magnificent example of engineering and surprisingly elegant up close. We skip the queues by electing to climb the stairs to the 2nd level, and are rewarded with an interesting set of plaques offering insights to the history and construction of the Eiffel Tower. The 1st level is well set-out with information and a kids history trial – you can actually spend a fair time just exploring. Onto the 2nd level, where we do have to queue for tickets to get the lift to the top, and finally we are looking down on Paris – que'll vue ! We are amused to peek into the window of the office Eiffel built for himself at the top, and to check off the countries we have visited – signposted around the viewing platform. A cheeky picnic lunch back on the 1st floor, and our Eiffel experience is done – well worth the visit, and a treasure to see up close.

We are not long in Paris, but we are determined to fit in Le Louvre. The queues looked horrendous, but are deceptive as ticketing and cloaking run very efficiently. There is so much to see, so we focus and hit our priorities. Egyptian treasures lead to the Greek mythology, including the Venus de Milo; onto the galleries to see the paparazzi-mobbed Mona Lisa, Napoleon’s coronation by Jacques-Louis David, lush pictures of the Turkish harems by Ingres – which fuelled western impressions of sultan life; finishing off with viewing some of Ruben’s masterpieces. Whew – you could spend a week in Le Louvre and not touch the surface.

Our day is not done – Notre Dame beckons, and we head over to the famous Gothic cathedral – somewhat in trepidation as the tremendous Dom cathedral in Cologne has spoiled us for others. Not to worry, Notre Dame – though far smaller – still holds its own, exuding a charm and presence – its purposely, authentically kept darkened interior highlighting the effect of the magnificent stained-glass windows. The ornate exterior with its many carvings and attention to detail can keep one fascinated for hours – spotting gargoyles, demons, depictions of sin looking out at you, amongst the pious looking down from above. Repent !

We have to leave Paris now, but there is so much yet to see and simple Parisian pleasures to sample – coffee on the Champs Elysees will just have to wait – for next time !
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