Getting An Eiffel of Paris

Previously, I’d only ever driven through Paris while getting to and from the airport. I’d never stopped and had a proper nose around, but had always meant to. So I decided to hop on the Eurostar and have a real look. As it was my first trip, I decided to be a true tourist and do the standard tourist faire, pretty much.

After lugging my rucksack and travel-weary bones up the several flights of hostel stairs I opened the door to my shared room and was greeted by the obligatory Aussie (all European hostel rooms come with an obligatory Aussie). He was a nice guy and we had a brief chat during which he recommended a nearby cathedral. It was early evening and I didn’t have much planned, so I decided to pay a visit. The Aussie had already been to London and joked that it’s much better value than St Paul’s. Apparently St Paul’s is £18, which does seem a little steep. This was free, so I headed off to Sacré-Cœur Basilica (The Basilica of the Sacred Heart). My Aussie friend was true to his word. It’s pretty astounding. There’s a mosaic in the apse called Christ in Majesty. Being one of the largest in the world, it’s pretty impressive.

Outside the cathedral is quite a nice viewing point. It’s the highest point in the city and offers quite an impressive view:

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 The next day I trundled off to explore the city. One of the first attractions I encountered was the Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arch). It was commissioned in 1806 to honour those who died during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Amusingly, a thrill-seeker named Charles Godefroy flew his plane through it three weeks after the victory parade to mark the end of World War I. My main reason for climbing the many stairs to the top of the arch was to look down upon the infamous Place Charles de Gaulle. Place Charles de Gaulle is the meeting point of twelve roads and acts as, what appeared to me, a logistical challenge for drivers. It looked like chaos.

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Along with Sacré-Cœur Basilica I was surprised to find that the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral is also free. It’s a beautiful building with a very brooding, sombre atmosphere inside. Its design also serves as a key moment in the development of European Gothic Architecture.

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Being in a city renowned for high-brow culture I also decided to head to an art gallery: Musee d’Orangerie. It houses works by Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau and Sisley, but it’s most famous for having eight examples of Monet’s Waterlilies series. Monet made over 250 paintings of the water lilies in his garden. What surprised me most was how huge they are. They aren’t paintings that you’d hang on the wall. They are the wall. They’re massive (the biggest is around two metres high and seventeen metres long). They’re also very impressive. They’re beautiful. Afterwards, I went and relaxed in the nearby Tuileries Gardens. It was a glorious day and I sat by a pond my reading book as people crunched along the sun-scorched gravel while chatting and laughing. It was a similarly beautiful day when I visited the Jardin du Luxembourg. I sat in the beautiful 17th century garden and read my book. For some inexplicable reason some local bugs became incredibly intrigued by my rucksack:

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There are a few highlights in the garden, including a model made of the Statue of Liberty before the full-size one was given by the people of France to the people of America:

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Talking of relaxing, I did take the opportunity to enjoy the Promenade plantée. It’s a pleasant walk in the southeast of the city built upon an obsolete railway line. While enjoying the walk I stopped off to explore Père Lachaise Cemetery. It’s the largest cemetery in Paris. Over one million bodies have been buried there. It may seem an odd thing to visit, but there are quite a few famous resting places to be found there. My main reason for going was to track down the grave of, and pay my respects to, Jim Morrison. He was living in Paris at the time of his death (in 1971):

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Another famous resident of the cemetery is the Irish playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde. Traditionally, visitors to his grave would don red lipstick and kiss the monument. This is now discouraged as it damages the tomb and the family have been left footing the cleaning bill. It was such an issue that they took the drastic step of encasing it in glass.

As I walking away I was approached by an American couple seeking directions to Wilde’s grave. Unfortunately, even though I’d only just been there, I managed to send them off in (slightly) the wrong direction. Oops. I said to take the first right without having noticed that I’d passed a second one. Oh well, it was the general direction. I’m sure they found it eventually. But it goes to show how huge the cemetery is. You could easily get lost among all the weaving and criss-crossing paths.

As I was leaving I encountered a young couple by a grave. The guy was standing, but the girl was sat beside the grave. As I neared I began wondering which famous person occupied the tomb. But as I got close I saw the girl solemnly nod to her boyfriend that she ready to go and reluctantly ease herself to her feet. Her hand lingered momentarily on the grave. She clearly didn’t want to let go. It suddenly brought the whole place into perspective. I was viewing it as a tourist destination where I could bag a few famous graves. She was there to spend some reflective time with her grief and a recently departed loved one. Père Lachaise Cemetery is still a working cemetery. There’s quite a waiting list, but people are still buried there. It was a poignant reminder that beyond the ostentatious tombs and celebrity gravestones it’s also a place for people to say goodbye to those they’ve lost.

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About lanceleuven


6 responses to “Getting An Eiffel of Paris

  • Charlie

    Sacré-Cœur featured on the famous 1976 short film ‘C’était un rendez-vous’ by Claude Lelouch. The car parked up at the end on the Montmartre and the driver is greeted on the steps by a beguiling French girl.. Snow Patrol used the film for the video ‘open your eyes’ – but the original is better and more dramatic. if you’ve not seen it – highly recommended. If you’re still in Paris – the average taxi driver treats the streets in pretty much the same way in my experience – if you can get a cab to start at the Arc de Triomphe, ask to be taken to Sacré-Cœur via Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and not to worry about red lights…

    Liked by 1 person

    • lanceleuven

      Interesting, I’ve never heard of it. Yeah, I’ll definitely keep an eye for it.

      No, I’m long gone from Paris now. It took me a while to get around to writing the trip up, and even longer to getting around to posting it. I’ve done a bunch of other trips as well that still need to be posted about!

      Like

  • suzykewct

    Wow, good for you to get around to see so much! I barely consider that I’ve seen Paris after a few very short visits. I will recommend that if you ever find yourself in Paris during Xmas season, queue up at Notre Dame for the Son et Lumiere display of the Christmas story. Not only can you shuffle quietly around behind the altar to see the (almost) life-size creche, there is also the light and slide show which includes photos of some beautiful art pieces filling the space above. Sure, the narrative is in French but, hey, you know the plot already, yes?

    Like

    • lanceleuven

      That sounds like a great idea. Cheers for the tip!

      You’re right. I did manage to see quite a bit. I was really pleased by how much I managed to squeeze in. I’ve still got a few more stories to share as well, so hopefully you’ll enjoy them too. 🙂

      Like

  • siskinbob

    Great post Lance. We have stayed in Paris on four separate occasions now but are still only scratching the surface. I was glad to read that you managed to just sit and relax, and observe. One of our favourite pastimes, when in Paris, is to people watch. From a pavement cafe or in the many parks. I have no doubt we will be returning as there is still so much to see.

    Like

    • lanceleuven

      Glad you appreciated it! Yes, I agree. With a city like Paris there’s so much to see and do that it’s so easy to spend your trip running around frantically trying to tick everything from your to-do list. Sometimes you need to just stop, relax and take it all in.

      I hope you enjoy your future trips!

      Liked by 1 person

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