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Posts Tagged ‘paris sightseeing’

Paris – Montmartre

Posted in Europe  by admin on October 5th, 2009

Montmartre is a fascinating mixture of old and new, seedy and sacred, bizarre and blasé. Within this section of Paris, technically the 18th arrondissement, there is everything from Moulin Rouge and Musée d’Erotisme to the Sacré Coeur Basilica. There are several art shops, a Dali museum and even a winery.

(Note: An ‘arrondissement’ is a district, laid out around Paris clockwise, with the 1st at the center of the clock face.)

There are steep hills in parts, so be prepared for a hike, particularly up to the Basilica. But there are cobblestoned streets, too, with antique shops and ‘bistros’.

The word ‘bistro’ comes from the Russian meaning ‘quick’. It was first imported in the early 19th century by Cossack occupiers who wanted to be fed immediately. Everything from frogs legs to Tarte Tatin is served at spots as old as 1793 in the Place du Tertre.

At the Espace Montmartre one can view an original Dali etching and browse to the glares of the staff. The museum houses Dali sculpture, lithographs, drawings and even some furniture pieces.

For a different art experience visit the Musée de Montmartre. This 17th century house holds apartments once occupied by Renoir, Utrillo and other famous names. Renoir’s Galette, sold at auction in 1990 for $78 million, was finished here. Among other works, there are several original Toulouse-Lautrec posters on display.

And while you’re thinking of Lautrec, don’t forget to visit (at least the outside of) Moulin Rouge. Very pricey ($100 or more), with a floor show garnering mixed reviews, the windmill on the exterior is a photo-op not to be bypassed.

About 20 minutes walk from the Sacré Coeur Basilica, there are several other nightclubs in the area, as well. Beware the Pigalle neighborhood, though. It constitutes one of the seedier areas around.

By contrast, the Montmartre cemetery located in the eastern part of the district, is a pleasant park nearby. Tree-lined and festooned with flowers and dotted with benches, there are tombs and mausoleums galore.

And if you visit in mid-October you might even be able to catch the Grape Festival not far away. Hosting the only vineyard in Paris, Clos Montmartre (at 12 Rue Cortot) was planted in 1933 and has 2,000 vines under cultivation. Most varieties grown in France are represented and the wine lover won’t be disappointed.

For those who like a hike, start at the Abbesses Metro. Take a few minutes to enjoy the Art Nouveau awning and the mosaics around the door of the Eglise St Jean l’Evangéliste.

While you’re nearby, visit the crypt in the Chappelle du Martyre (at 9 Rue Yvonne-Le-Tac). The first Bishop of Paris, St Denys, is laid to rest here at the site where Loyala, the founder of the Jesuits, took his vows. (Open only on Friday.)

Most will want to finish their visit with a trip to the Sacré Coeur Basilica at the top of the hill. Whether standing on the white steps or up in the dome, the views are spectacular. Go early to avoid the crowds and the heat.

Montmartre is accessible via several metro (subway) lines. M12 (Lamarck-Caulaincourt) or M4 (Chateau-Rouge), Blanche station, etc. Anything which leads to the 18th arrondissement.

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Paris – Champs-Elysées

Posted in Europe  by admin on September 22nd, 2009

Not merely a boulevard, the Champs-Elysées has justly earned its name. In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields was the resting place of heroes who dwelt in perfect happiness. Fortunately, visitors don’t have to die to reach it. Though you may think so after making your way through the French airports and into Paris.

This tree-lined avenue begins at the Arc de Triomphe and ends 2km (1.2mi) east at the Egyptian Obelisk, through the 8th arrondissement. An ‘arrondissement’ is a district. Paris is divided into twenty with the first at the center and the others winding clockwise around it.

Along this avenue, one of a handful known by name the world over, is arrayed a cornucopia of cinemas and theaters, cafes and restaurants, and shops and hotels that rival those of Fifth Avenue in New York.

Originally parkland, by the late 1700s the Champs-Elysées had become the street to see and on which to be seen. Beginning in 1916 Louis Vuitton formed an association to transform it into a commercial shopping area. The mixture of commerce and fashion survives to the present.

The character of the road changes along its length with one part forming the commercial area (Place Charles de Gaulle) and the other a walking area lined with chestnut trees and flower beds (Place de la Concorde). After Unirii Blvd in Bucharest it is the widest avenue in Europe.

Above the greenery rise two large buildings, the Petit Palais (which is anything but small) and the Grand Palais. Both house several rotating exhibits. Overflowing with neo-classical carvings and statuary they both deserve a look.

Food and drink along the avenue runs the spectrum from the Fouquet, an upscale bar and restaurant, to MacDonald’s. But there is also the opportunity to sit at one of the many outdoor cafes and simply watch the parade of people while sipping excellent coffee.

There are dozens of shops – everything from the Gap, Lacoste or the Disney Store to specialty boutiques. Through them the Champs-Elysées maintains the reputation for fashion it has enjoyed since the mid-1800s.

Along with the designer stores there are several first class hotels. Whether interested in the Hotel Napoleon, termed ‘the place’ by Errol Flynn, or the Frontenac, or one of the dozen others all have been excellently maintained over the years. Even for those who can’t afford to stay, the lobbies make for a delightful (if discreet), visit.

Not only the hotels, but the avenue itself has enjoyed several upgrades over the years. The latest, completed in 1993, widened the sidewalks to allow for greater foot traffic. Even the streetlamps have been refurbished. The results help to maintain the avenue’s reputation as “la plus belle avenue du monde” (“the most beautiful avenue in the world”).

It may be pointless to describe how to reach the Champs-Elysées, since to be here is to be in Paris. But to be concrete, one can take the metro (subway) to Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile, George V or Champs-Elysées Clemenceau.

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Paris – Arc de Triomphe

Posted in Europe  by admin on September 16th, 2009

Though less artistic than its older cousin of Porte Saint-Denis, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile is the more famous and far larger. Set atop the hill of Chaillot it forms the center from which radiates a dozen busy Parisian avenues.

There are in fact several “Arc de Triomphe’s” in Paris. A large arch with two thick towers surmounted by a large horizontal section has been a popular architectural feature since the time of Louis XIV (the ’14th’) in the late 17th century.

But the one located at the intersection of the Champs-Elysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée (along with 10 other streets) is the one sought out by most visitors.

Its elaborate carvings and friezes make the work an artistic delight, but the monument’s sheer size – unimaginable merely from photographs – turns it into an architectural marvel. The Arc is 50m (164 ft) high, 45m (148ft) long, and 22m (72ft) wide. The vaulted passageway is 30m (98ft) tall.

As you stand underneath the structure (though given the traffic in Paris, never in the center, unfortunately) you’re overwhelmed by the massive stone. Here it’s easy to imagine Napoleon’s armies marching triumphantly down the boulevard and through the opening.

Commissioned in 1806 and completed in 1836, it was constructed for the purpose of celebrating Napoleon’s victories. Ironically, Napoleon never had the chance to do so. Wellington defeated his army at Waterloo in 1815 bringing an end to Napoleon’s self-glorifying monument construction projects.

The monument can be seen from several different sections of Paris far away, in part thanks to the Parisian zoning restrictions forbidding the construction of tall buildings.

But the structure can be seen not only from far away or under the arch, but underneath and inside as well. There’s a tunnel under the street from one side to the other and a spiral staircase in the interior.

At the base are four large relief sculptures set on the bases of four pillars. Engraved around the top are names of major victories of the period. Along the sides are the names of 558 generals – those underlined died in action.

Since the end of WWI the Arc has held the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, commemorating the dead killed between 1914 and 1918. The permanently burning Flame of Remembrance forms a touching part of the impressive monument.

Inside the arch (‘arc’ is French for ‘arch’) there’s a small museum with displays pertaining to its history. (Admission covers the museum and access to the top.)

From the top the views, as they are anywhere above Paris, are awe-inspiring. Not for nothing is it known as the ‘City of Lights’. From there the visitor can see the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde and other well-known sights.

The Arc de Triomphe is most easily reached via the Metro (subway). Exit at the Charles de Gaulle – Etoile station. Or simply stroll down the Champs-Elysées, you can’t miss it.

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