Back in the days when planes wouldn’t reach their final destination without stopping either in London or Paris, i lost count of how many times i made a pit-spot in these two cities without ever walking out the “arrivals gate”.
Well, 2014 was finally the year that i passed through the arrivals gate and ventured through the streets of the City of Love.
On a surprise visit to Portugal, that only my father and one of my best friends knew about, i decided to make two long stops on the way and back from Lisbon: Paris and Amsterdam (–post coming soon).
I missed the old cities of Europe, and nothing better than having KLM and Air France working together to manage to visit two more cities of the old continent, and get my feet for the first time in The Netherlands.
I went through a lot of blogs, guidebooks and maps before i landed in Paris, as i only had 10 hours between flights.
I did what i thought best, so i commuted between the city and the airport by train, and to contradict the quotation of “Parisians are rude” a french man “escorted” me all the way to the train, before going to his office somewhere in the airport.
It was a cool sunny early morning, with a clear blue sky, the perfect setting to start the day.
As a freak control i am, i wanted to make sure i wouldn’t waste any time, and that i would be able to see as much as i could, so I got off the train right in the Les Champs Elysees, where i had decided to start my tour.
At the top of Les Champs Elysees lies the most famous arch in the world, L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Arch of Triumph of the Star. It was commissioned in 1806 after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, and completed between 1833 and 1836.
Engraved in the Arch are the names of major French Victories in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, a list of 660 names (mostly of Generals that served the First French Empire between 1804-1814, and additional names from the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799.
Another important feature is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, over it is an eternal flame, that burns in memory of the dead that were never identified from both world wars.
I strolled through Avenue D’Iena on my way to La Tour Eiffel. The buildings are stunning in this avenue, and just beautifully maintained streets and gardens, a perfect work by the great Baron Haussman!
In the end of the avenue you can see the Palais de Chaillot, where the old Trocadero Palace lies, built for the 1878 World Fair, our modern age EXPO. And right in front of it, the one of the most recognizable buildings in the world:
The Eiffel Tower.
It was also built for a World Fair, but this time in 1889, and to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. It was the tallest man-made structure for 41 years, with 324 meters heigh.
It was named Eiffel tower, because it was Eiffel’s company – Companhie des Etablissements Eiffel, that designed and built the tower. You would think the tower was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself, as you are led to believe, but it was designed by the Structural Engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, and the Architect Stephen Sauvestre.
To see this building for the first time was a truly unique moment. I believe i thought about it so many times before that i could hardly believe i was there. And the feeling of being inside a postcard went on for the whole day…
Unfortunately the Park du Champs de Mars was very busy as the Bastille Day parade was the day before, so i didn’t manage to see the view atop the park to the tower… But well… we should always leave something to see the next time!
It was still super early, so the Tower ticket booths were still closed, therefore i decided not to wait for it. Instead i walked next to the Seine, all the way till the bridge between the Hotel des Invalides, and the Petit Palais & Grand Palais – the Pont Alexandre II.
The Hotel des Invalides – The National Residence of the Invalids, is a complex that contains not only a hospital/retirement home for the war veterans, but also museums and monuments, that relate to the military history of France. It is also the burial site of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Le Petit Palais and Grand Palais were (again) built for an exhibition – the 1900 Exposition Universal.
The Petit Palais now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, whereas the Grand Palai, that was dedicated to the glory of french art, still holds museums and exhibitions that relate to the fine arts, and the annual Chanel events! The Palais de la Decouverte (Palace of Discovery), right next to the Grand Palais, focuses on science and natural history.
All these Palaces are stunning! I wish i could’ve opened the front door and wonder around….
A little bit more walking, now through Les Champs Elysees until i reached the busy Place de la Concorde.This square changed names 5 times, within 78 years. From Place Louis XV, to Place de la Revolution, to Place de la Concorde, again to Place Louis XV, then finally back to Place de la Concorde… a whole lot of history behind this “little Place”!
Just has its name, it was not easy to cross the square…
Traffic lights, bicycles, vespas, cars, buses,.. and very little time to cross till the traffic lights were green for chaos again! Either way, i made my way to the entrance of the Jardin des Tuileries (the Tuileries Garden).
This is one of the most well know gardens in central Paris, it was created by a Lady – Queen Catherine de Medicis, from the House of Medici of Florence. Her family – the Medici, was one of the biggest sponsors of art and architecture in the Renaissance era. The garden belonged to the Tuileries Palace, that was set on fire in 1871, the fire lasted 48hours, and the ruins of the palace remained untouched for 11 years. These ruins were eventually demolished and sold, bits of the marble and stone where used to build a Castle in Corsica. There is a plan to rebuild the Tuileries Palace, but there are still no private funds for it.
The Tuileries is also the gateway to —- THE LOUVRE!
Once you cross the garden, you are overwhelmed with the stunning architecture that surrounds it. The rich facades, the perfectly balanced windows, you can just feel the history around you, its like your “back in the past” when Louis XIV was still ruling the country.
In the inexistent limit between the Tuileries and the Louvre you pass through another Arc de Triomphe – du Carrousel, that will lead you to the entrance of the Louvre Museum, where the Louvre Pyramid is. The Pyramid that was commissioned in 1984 by President Francois Mitterrand, to handle the enormous number of visitors. The structure was constructed mostly in rhombus-shaped glass segments, and although it was very criticized in its early years, its yet another iconic building in Paris.
The Louvre on the other hand, was a royal residence for the French monarchy. Few know that the whole complex of the Louvre actually as a fortress, to protect the city agains potential invaders in 1202, throughout the centuries it extended, until the Tuileries Garden.
I personally love to see old historic buildings in stone mixed with super modern steel and glass structures, the contrast just makes it better. Its like your publicly assuming that you are in a new century, and without reaping the importance of the historical building next to it.
I had to register the moment with a nice full body photo, and as i really wanted it t be a good photo, i decided to ask ‘Paul’ to take the shot. ‘Paul” is my monopod, as all monopods – mine was bought in Asia, and made its debut in style in Paris!
So being watched by very curious and entertained european tourists, i set up ‘Paul’ against an outdoor light, and stabilized by my backpack. Prepared the angle, programmed the 10 seconds timer and 5 shots, and ran to the center of the shot!
After the Louvre it was time to go South. I made sure i crossed the Pont des Arts on the way to the islands of Paris.
This bridge is one of the three ‘Love Locks’ Bridges in Paris. Since 2008, tourists have been filling the railings and gates with padlocks – love locks, with their first names engraved or written on them, then trowing the key to the Seine. Which of course is creating a big controversy, as the padlocks are ruining the railings, and the keys are polluting the river, not to mention that the Pont des Arts is an historical bridge in Paris, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I started of in the Sainte-Chapelle chapel, it was built in my favorite architecture styles – gothic, the construction began in some time after 1239, it holds one of the most extensive in-situ collections of the XIII century stained glass in the world.
There is a strong sense of weightlessness and vertical emphasis, the way the arches were designed, allow the structure to be super elegant and slim, and the 15 windows to be tall and delicate.
The Lower Chapel is another stunning space in the Sainte-Chapelle, the walls are covered by paintings, and its most peculiar feature is the breathtaking dark blue ceiling with golden Fleur de Lys, and the red walls with golden Castilian castles, symbolizing Saint Louis and his Castilian mother – Blanche de Castile.
The walk to the Notre Dame is full of gorgeous buildings and beautiful alleys that take you to a different time. You keep remembering all those amazing movies that were filmed in Paris, as i had watched a few months ago Midnight in Paris from the peculiar Woody Allen, i kept going back to that movie and thinking about how enchanting life must have been in Paris in the 1920’s..
The Notre Dame Cathedral is also located in the Ile de la Cite, it is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture, and again — is one of the most famous buildings in the world.
After deciding that Saint-Etienne Cathedral was not worthy of the rote of “Parisian church of the kings of Europe”, Bishop de Sully had it demolished, and according to the Legend followed a vision and sketched the future Notre Dame on the ground outside the original church. The construction began in 1163 and it is believed to have been completed around the mid-1240’s.
Few know that the cathedral was originally painted with vivid colors, as well as the gargoyles and chimeras, the well known crafted statues, made even more famous with the Disney Classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The cathedral has 10 bells, the largest weights over 13 tons and was named Emmanuel.
Fun fact about this bell, on the night of 24 August 1944, an advance column of French and Allied troops took the Ile de la Cite, and by tolling Emmanuel, announced to the city that the liberation of Paris was under way.
To finalize the tour, i marched trough l’Avenue de L’Opera towards the Palais Garnier, or Opera Garnier. As an avid fan of The Phantom of the Opera, i’ve always been fascinated by this building, so i had to take a closer look before i left.
The construction of the new Opera de Paris took more than 40 years to start, between revolutions, new prefects, an architectural design competition, and various people involved in the process, finally the construction started in 1862, with the project by Charles Garnier.
One more war installing one more republic, got the Opera’s construction on hold, but eventually restarted as the “acting” opera de paris – Salle Le Peletier, was destroyed by a fire (coincidence?.. humm…). So finally in 1874 the Opera was completed, and inaugurated on 5 January 1875.
One of the reasons the Opera is so well know, is due to Gaston Leroux’s book – Le Fantome de ‘Opera. According to Leroux he was inspired to write the story after visiting the Opera Garnier, when he learned about the mysterious subterranean lake and the chandelier accident in 1896, when one of the chandelier’s counterweights fell over the audience.
I ended up skipping Montmartre, cos i only had 1 more hour before i had to head back to the airport, so i decided end the 6hours express tour by going back to the Tuileries Garden.
The garden is just beautiful, and an amazing place to chill in the weekend, specially on a sunny summer day as i was lucky enough to enjoy! And i’m not sure if its normal, but when i was there this July, there were green metal chairs all over the garden, people would just move them around, sit, talk, do picnics, play cards,… or like me: grab a “to-go-cappuccino” and sit overlooking the Louvre!