Paris je t’aime

Destination next was ‘La Ville-Lumière’ or the City of Light, better known to us as Paris! It is a pity that we could only visit the capital city this trip, the whole of the country is so beautiful and full of history, it would need probably a fortnight or more to skim through.  
I have absolutely no recollections of the time when I first visited Paris, so was obviously very excited to step foot in this city that had been the centre of European monarchy and power in the 17th century. The legacy of the French kings had always fascinated me, especially that of Louis the fourteenth – who had not only been a charismatic emperor, but a visionary extraordinaire.
So there we were, on the coach from the port of Calais inching towards Paris, seeing even more clear blue skies, vineyards, neatly stacked rolls of hay and small chateaus that make up the French countryside. As we got closer to Paris, the green was left behind and signs of the outskirts of a big city began to appear. We were told that the high-rise buildings, modern-looking architecture was only to be found on the outside. Once inside the city limits, it seemed like an entirely new world altogether – you could walk a corner and find a structure like an ancient Roman temple, and after a few steps you would see the Renaissance period speaking to you; the Baroque obviously follows you everywhere around Europe and a specialty of France – the Classical and Rocco blow your mind away with buildings that look like the Palais du Louvre and the Palace of Versailles – just to mention the least. Trees along the sidewalks are carefully trimmed and you can spend an indefinite amount of time ambling around and being astonished time and again.
The first evening, we visited the Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon’s oversized imitation of a Roman triumphal arch and spent some time at the Champs-Élysées (Metro lines 1, 2, and 6 stop Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile), without doubt Paris’ most famous street which is also a fashion hub with major outlets of any fashion brand you can think of. The avenue has the largest sidewalk I have ever seen, lined with broad-leafed chestnut trees and all kinds of delicatessens and patisseries – it hardly ever gets more French. Leaving the Arc de Triomphe behind, if one walks the 1.91 km stretch of Champs-Élysées, there is more astonishing history to see. 
Enroute from Calais.

Sun going down, near CDG Airport

First look at the Arc, a rather difficult photo-stop

Champs Elysees!

Walking down…


More of the Arc
Walking downhill to the immense and historic square called the Place de la Concorde, which was christened ‘Place de la Revolution’ during the troubled times of the French Revolution. On the way, you will also cross the Elysees Palace which is the residence of the current French president, the US Embassy, the luxurious Tuileries Palace and Gardens and much more. The Plaza also happens to be the place where France’s last absolute monarch Louis XVI was put to the guillotine, having being found guilty of treason. The Luxor Obelisk now stands where the king, his ill-fated wife Marie Antoinette and approximately 2,000 others lost their heads.
Place de la Concorde
Standing in the shadow of that obelisk with your back to the Louvre and looking up the grandest boulevard in Europe, you can’t help but be swept away a bit and be in the awe of the history it has witnessed.

As the Sun set behind the Arc de Triomphe, you could feel a different spirit set into the city. Almost like it got a bit more alive, with Parisians buzzing around in their tiny Citroens and Peugeots, a gentle breeze carries the whiff of freshly macaroons being baked in the nearby café and of course the whole city being lit in yellow. It was in this time that we visited the Palais Garnier which is better known as the Paris Opera and is an imposing structure completed in 1875. The boulevard which led on straight from the opera house had never had any trees, a rarity in Paris, so as to never block the view of its majestic façade. We had to reach the Eiffel tower by midnight, hence only stopped at the Louvre for a quick photo-stop and revelled in the grandeur of its huge glass pyramid in the Cour Napoleon (the main courtyard) of this palace turned museum – of course musing over about Robert Langdon. 

Paris Opera

Louvre by night, in the dim glow
 With a promise to be back tomorrow, we moved on to what is probably the most famous landmark in Paris – a symbol of its pride and love for art.
5 minutes of glimmering awesomeness and us!
La Tour Eiffel. To visit the tower, take the Metro to the Trocadero station; then, walk from the Palais de Chaillot to the Seine and you cannot miss it. We had to coordinate our visit to be there right at midnight to see the tower glimmer – a little show of lights that happens during the first five minutes of each hour, starting from sunset. I’ve always had a bit of a crush on the tower and have even written about her before – to stand in front and look up at the iron lady was a feeling that I certainly couldn’t get enough of. To imagine, people wanted to tear her down.
The next morning was more or less, the most exciting part of my Paris trip – the journey to Versailles. We would be spending the whole first half of the day at the Palace of Versailles, listed for the past 30 years as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and with good reason. One of the finest achievements of French art of the 17th century, the palace is enveloped around the former hunting lodge of Louis XIII which was transformed and extended by his son Louis XIV. A dream project for Louis, it was declared as the principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI and had all the nobility moving into the palace as well. Until the French Revolution, when it was stormed by an angry mob, the Château de Versailles was the undoubted seat of power and an epitome of French luxury. 
We had taken a package tour to visit, hence didn’t have to worry about how to get there or the tickets – but one can find the details on the official website. Regardless of having booked in advance and getting there by half eight in the morning, the queue to enter the palace ground snaked around and cost us an hour’s waiting time – so best be prepared for that. Once inside, almost everything you set your eyes on will be screaming for your attention – huge portraits, gold gilded ceilings, delicate sculptures, arches and hallways through which the sunlight poured in and of course the replicated furnishings of the many rooms that we were allowed to visit. The spellbinding Hall of Mirrors, the King’s grand apartments, the gardens and park of the Château featuring André Le Nôtre’s work of art through the Grand Canal are only a few of the wonders that Versailles holds. For those even remotely interested – please watch the BBC documentary, starring who I believe to be the hottest man in France – Samuel Theis as Louis the Fourteenth.
The golden gates.


The outer courtyard

The twisting and turning queues don’t stop us from posing

For the glory of France

My absolute favourite

Louis watches over

Model of the grounds

The chapel

The bust of Louis XIV

Checkered floors and sunlight

Manicured grounds

The Hall of Mirrors. Eyes wide open. 

The bedchamber of Marie Antionette

Even a couple of days aren’t enough to explore the palace or even admire it, to its worth – but we had a date with the Louvre and had to get going. An hour’s drive to the centre of the city, we pulled up in front of the Louvre, located on the right bank of the Seine – the best possible location for a palace. The gigantic palace converted into museum is impossible to cover in a day or even two; hence we only concentrated on the Denon Wing – what is probably the most famous for being home to the Mona Lisa. We crossed the Inverted Pyramid – a skylight in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall in front of the Louvre Museum and walked past the security check, following signs to the ‘La Joconde’ and arrived at the room that displays the work of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece. Such were the crowds on the day, that it was not even possible to take a closer look unless you managed to squeeze through people and photo-bomb their picture, so I settled with a long distance look at her peaceful face and spent more meaningful time in the gallery of Italian painters. Extended visits were paid to the ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ and other paintings I knew better than the rest – while admiring the colossal structure that housed all of this art from a bygone era. 
Louvre happiness!

Blade and chalice


The hustle bustle around the Mona Lisa.

Caravaggio. Boticelli. Da Vinci. Michelangelo. Titian. Bernini. Raphael.
Welcome to the hall of Italian painters. 

Madonna of the Rocks

Inside the Denon
Venus de Milo
The outer courtyard and I.M.Pei’s glass masterpiece
We also paid a visit to the Roman and Greek art section and stopped by the Venus de Milo – an ancient Greek statue of Aphrodite and undisputedly one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture created sometime between 130 and 100 BC. During lunch at Paul in the Louvre, I couldn’t help but notice goose flesh while thinking of how old and precious everything was in those galleries.

 After a number of hours, we wrenched ourselves away to visit the Les Invalides – the military museum of the Army of France and most importantly the burial site for Napoleon Bonaparte, among many other notable figures. Our last stop in Paris would be the Eiffel again. We were to take two elevators to the third floor and see the landscape, people and cars getting smaller in size. It was a tedious wait in long files, but the views were indeed spectacular.

Invalides and a shot I love.
They return after 11 years to the Eiffel

An art installation that has ‘peace’ written in all language

Hello, beautiful.

From the second level

Everything seems smaller, and so perfectly geometrical

The Seine

More of the city and it’s much loved river


More fantastic shots here

What’s not to love

We had absolutely no time to think of visiting the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre and I could only see Notre-Dame from the outside, hence a second trip, preferably to see the Eiffel in the winter is a definite possibility.

France captivated my heart and imagination. There is not enough I can say about Paris which would do justice to what I felt when at every turn of the street brought the Eiffel into view. There is so much to see, and such little time I was thinking to myself; and especially when you come to cities that have the best of the old and the new – what do you do?
Breathe in, turn the page of the itinerary and say merci with this song on your lips.

Au revoir!