My first day in Paris was about revisiting almost all the familiar sights, but also spending some time at places I had not seen before.
This was a visit during a heat wave
According to Wikipedia the 2003 European heat wave was the hottest summer in Europe since at least 1540. France was hit especially hard. With 14,802 heat-related deaths in the country this summer I could not avoid the newspaper headlines when I was walking the streets of Paris in a furious tempo.
The number of places I name below and in the next blog post is immense, they cover a large area of central Paris, and I covered most of that area on foot. I should have known better of course, than to go through with such an itinerary. Fortunately I did not suffer from the heat, only my camera. At times I had to change batteries every six or seven shots or so. On the other hand I did actually break up the walking with calm, relaxing moments.
The first morning I went straight west from the centre to the business district of La Défense. This new suburb with the 110-metre high Grande Arche in the centre constitutes a central part of the grand projects influenced or commissioned by France’s modern “emperor”, the socialist President François Mitterand. The business district is full of high-rises including one that houses a former employer of mine.
Standing on top of that arch one may gaze in the direction of the other two arches on this 10 km long historical axis of Paris. The first straight lined stretch up the Avenue Charles de Gaulle ends at the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. The next stretch on this axis continues down the Avenue de Champs-Élyséesto the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in front of the Louvre. It is overwhelming.
I took the Paris Metro into the centre and walked into the heat of the day near the River Seine. I walked along the river bank a bit before cutting into the Quartier Latin. There I soon hunted down a streetside café and sat down for a cup of coffee and water. Sipping to a cup, watching locals and tourists walking by, is a true joy of mine.
I continued further into the area known as Rive Gauche on the southern bank of La Seine and passed by the old university buildings of Sorbonne and the one-time church and now mausoleum of Pantheon, before walking down to and through the lovely park of Jardin du Luxembourg. I had been there once before and enjoyed coming back. It has such a relaxed atmosphere.
A relaxing river cruise
I returned to the river and on impulse jumped on an excursion boat at one of the landings. After all the walking it was a relaxing way to discover this part of Paris, right on the waterway so central to the history of France. UNESCO writes this in their summary about this World Heritage Site (Banks of the Seine):
“From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural masterpieces while Haussmann’s wide squares and boulevards influenced late 19th- and 20th-century town planning the world over.”
The boat passed by the most famous church in Paris, the Notre-Dame. I did not get off. Instead I got a flashback to my visit in between its spires in 1991. I missed the hunchback this time as well.
Back on foot
I got off the excursion boat not far from the most beautiful bridge on the River Seine, the Pont Alexandre III. It is very elegant and it has just the right amount of decorations. I looked across the bridge towards one of the most remarkable building complexes in Paris, that of Les Invalides. It contains a row of museums and monuments, largely of military content. Many come here to visit the grave of Napoleon Bonaparte. I had visited it two years earlier so I dropped it this time.
Instead I turned at the Pont and walked by the Grand and the Petit Palais to the Place de la Concorde. This is the largest square in Paris marking the eastern end of the famous street of Champs-Élyséeswhich runs right up to the Arc de Triomphe. I did not go up there on this visit but stood for a while admiring the overwhelming largeness and splendour centered on this square.
Right at the centre stands a giant obelisk in granite. It used to mark the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Engraved with hieroglyphs it stands as an eternal reminder of France’s global reach. Although it was a gift to France from the Egyptian government in the early 1800’s it ought in my opinion to be returned to where it belonged for more than three thousand years.
It is not possible to stay on the Place de la Concorde for any prolonged period of time. The traffic is intense, noisy and downright misplaced at a site that should have been reserved for quiet contemplation and admiration of the square and the surrounding buildings and parks.
By the time I arrived at the square the sun was beginning to fade and I made a fast decision not to return to my hotel an hour or two outside Paris, but to go where every tourist in Paris flocks at sunset. I took a metro up to the hill of Montmartre and the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.
The famous artist’s square at Montmartre was full of artists and visitors. I can’t imagine any ordinary French coming there at all. The steps at the basilica were popular, as always. This is certainly not surprising given the fantastic view over the city.
In lack of a travelling companion and being hungry I settled for a pizza in a crowded restaurant at Montmartre. I then started the long process of returning to my hotel somewhere west of Paris. That ended day 1 in Paris. The next day I joined a bus tour to Champagne as described in another post, but I returned to the centre of Paris on the second and third day of this trip.