Paris – Ville Lumière Part 1

Travel cognoscenti, well-heeled jet-setters and youthful backpackers, illustrious artists and writers have heaped  praise on  Paris as the finest walking city worldwide par excellence and I’m in total agreement.  During my visits I generally eschew the speedy métro or convenient surface bus service although there are a few bus routes that provide splendid tours of the city for the price of an ordinary fare – I’ll let you in on a few as I go along.  For now, let me assure one and all nothing beats a good pair of walking shoes, a street map in the hip pocket – start bright and early so you can dawdle over your café au lait and croissant at one of the ubiquitous corner bistros and mull over your day’s itinerary.  With a powerful caffeine jolt propelling you start hiking being sure to keep your keen eyes on a swivel, eagle-eyes checking left and right, up and even down so you miss nothing of the wonderful sights of Paris.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

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It’s important to understand the physical lay-out of the great avenues you’ll surely walk along (Champs Elysées, for one); Baron Haussmann designed the city central avenues to radiate from a central ‘place’ like the spokes on a bicycle wheel.  No matter how often I try to remind myself, avenues, even the major ones, do not run parallel to each other but gradually diverge until after several blocks you’re no longer where you may have imagined to be.  Don’t worry, get the map out and adjust to head in the direction you wished for in the first place; in the meantime nothing will have been lost as I’m sure you’ll discover numbers of fascinating nooks of the city about which you had no knowledge.   Have your camera ready at all times – there’s a photo op at every corner.

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Spanning 2000 years of an often turbulent and illustrious history, Paris is an amazing amalgam of the old and new and if you are a neophyte visitor you’ll surely head for the sparkling, high tone boulevards a courtesy of Napoleon’s desire to beautify his capital city and Haussmann’s urban planning genius.  You’ll come across parks, large and small, choose a comfortable bench and catch the sight of hurried Parisians and other travelers such as you; it will surprise and simultaneously charm you far beyond what you had dreamed of when you closed your eyes and planned this very moment.

For my part it’s a fundamental precept that wherever I travel I seek accommodations centrally located with a view from the window (when possible), comfortable certainly and of course affordable.  It’s one reason I never (really never) book a hotel ahead but rather chance on finding what I need first seeing with my own eyes.  Admittedly it is at times stressful but in the final analysis always worth the sometimes hard work.  On my latest jaunt to Paris I was extremely fortunate.  Serendipitously, I discovered cheery accomodations in a wonderful location one street from the Marché Poncelet.  The leafy view from inside the room demonstrates what I mean by cheery.  

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At the front desk, Julien, a fine fellow whose cheerful demeanor and tips concerning things to do and see in the neighborhood of the Hôtel Flaubert was proof Parisians are friendly notwithstanding occasional bad-mouthing by unsophisticated visitors who are surprised they’re not impressing anyone because they’re paying for the privilege to gape at the treasures in plain sight everywhere int the City of Lights.  

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From my room window I’m checking for signs the sun is about to come out again.  However, I hasten to add there’s absolutely no reason not to go wandering about the streets of Paris, rain or shine, it’s always a magnificent outing worth any small weather related discomfort.

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There are historic and interestingly designed places (squares) within a few minutes walk of each other, featuring grandiose statues of famed figures (some are obscure to most foreigners, but it’s fun to make a note of the name and Google it later) reminding passersby they once contributed to the city and country.  The not-to-be-missed Place de la Concorde, Place Vendome, Place de l’Opéra, Place Pigale, of course you want to go there to snap a good shot of the Moulin Rouge, but save your money, it’s a tarted up old whore not worth the cheap Champagne at a premium price.  From there start climbing the  steep, winding streets of Montmartre where a succession of great and unknown artists lived their dreams of fame, and of course take a long gander upon the city from the imposing viewpoint on the steps below the iconic Basilique du Sacré Coeur.

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Rather than endlessly going on rapturously, let me lay out for you some of my favourite sites, the famed and the less so but each one in my opinion worthy of a lingering look.
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When I downloaded this photo I realized it was the first time I’d actually visualized this particular angle of three iconic views of Paris.

Place de la Concorde fountain and of course the ever-present Tour Eiffel keeping a sharp eye on all of Paris.  A couple of centuries ago the ‘place’ was hardly harmonious as thousands including Danton, Robespierre and not a few noble heads lost their heads, literally, to the Révolution‘s blood thirst. 

 One of the unusual acts  you’ll come across all over the city: this one set up ‘shop’ steps from the Pompidou Centre.  I admit I was just as happy as the giddy gamins who were cheering him on urging bigger and bigger bubbles.  

So delightful especially for children of all ages, me included.  I wonder it there’s a secret formula? It may be fun to try it out for yourself, what do you think? Hmm… warm water, dishwashing soap and two sticks – nothing to it, right?

The arch called Le Carousel  is pictured with the Louvres to your back and looking down (or up) the Champs Elysées.  Framed in the far distances the iconic Arc de Triomphe.  

In front of the most visited site in Paris, Le Centre Pompidou (pour les Arts) that incidentally is not close to being my favourite, however, there’s always lots of action in the wide plaza, with musicians, acrobats, mimes, buskers of all types showing off their skills for a multitude of tourists.  Some of the acts are really first class and worth spending the time to watch, applaud and drop a few coins in appreciation.

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Considered as one of the world’s very finest art gallery, the Louvres seen from the main concourse and central fountain.

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The glass pyramid located amongst classical architecture set off passionate debate when it first came into existence.  Today the functional aspects (main entrance and ticket counters) cleverly camouflaged as an artistic creation is praised by one and all.  I for one had been dubious until I actually saw it with my own eyes – bravo!

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A free preview of what you can discover inside, for the price of a ticket.  On the other hand, if you’re in a hurry and just want to take a look from the outside, there are several viewpoints that are meant for you to enjoy, perhaps entice you to buy that ticket after all.

There’s never enough time in one visit to see it all with the  proper respect for the masterpieces and unique artistry on display.  Choose a few theme rooms, relax on a bench and take your time to enjoy.  Come back another time, the Mona Lisa will always be there to greet you.

Visiting Paris from a southern provincial town, this band put on a spirited show with fine style and good toe-tapping offerings.  The young fellow on the small snare drum who beat the beat with gusto was a fun front-man.

Le Moulin Rouge needs no introduction.  Look but don’t bother getting clipped inside.  A good starting point to the Sacré Coeur.

There seems to be yet another antique children’s carousel all over the city; laughter of happy children and organ music always evokes sweet memories.

This lovely mademoiselle played a fine rendition of the theme from Emilie, the movie that enchanted the world some years ago.

Energetically cranking the small mechanical organ, this fine songstress was a throw-back to the early street chanteuse of Paris, Edit Piaf being the best known, of course.  Her voice was evocative of Patachou and Juliette Gréco, singers known  and loved for their Parisian roots.

This Parisian icon is even more exciting at night.

A pretty tourist exclaimed, “Ah, worse than Tokyo traffic.  Crazy!”  She took video to show back home they don’t have it as bad as the Parisian ‘Kamikaze drivers!”

Seen from above the traffic is simply too ridiculous to contemplate challenging, and yet, after my first go around (yep, I couldn’t get off at my avenue) I managed to navigate my way out.  Since then each trip I make it a must to go around at least once to sharpen me up for the frantic Parisian traffic.  Oh, one secret of not getting stuck – NEVER stop, no matter what keep on going even when you’re sure the other driver will hit you or vice-versa.  Magically the slow dance winds its way around without a pause and everyone finds their way out.  Admittedly once I did see a minor fender bender but it was of no account as both drivers waved to each other and kept on their merry way.  I found it splendidly civilized behaviour.

A night view of the Champs Elysées.

La Madeleine – fine classical architecture and splendid interior.

It’s on every woman’s shopping agenda, especially for cosmetics. Gallery Lafayette and adjacent Printemps are a shopper’s mecca, even men can find something to like about shopping.

Have to have one of the Tour Eiffel but many more to come in Paris City of Lights Number 2

Finally a view of the Sacré Coeur from the viewpoint provided by le magazin Printemps.  It’s one of the great tourist bargains of Paris, the open air café on the top floor provides a splendid panoramic view of the city.  More to come next post, hope you enjoyed a small sampling of what you’ll discover for yourself some day soon, I hope.  Aurevoir mes amis.

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