Paris. Home to many interesting things, but disappointingly only one UNESCO World Heritage Site. It turns out the interesting things are more than interesting enough to make up for it.
I still maintain it’s cheating by UNESCO to lump everything into the “Banks of the Seine”, but that didn’t stop us doing a mega-tour over the course of three days. Day one saw us dump bags at the hotel and head straight for the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, little brother of the more famous one. From there we walked up the Champs Elysees to the big Arc de Triomphe.
It’s a bit like the Tardis, in that it’s massive on the inside but doesn’t look it from outside. It’s also a great vantage point from which to watch the city’s suicidal road users.
From there we went out to the Bois de Boulogne, which turned out to be a park with a motorway running through it, and on to the Eiffel Tower. We went for the hardcore option (and the smaller queue) and took the 704 steps up to the second level. Everyone then gets the lift to the top floor, from where you’re told not to drop padlocks onto people and ducks below. They also helpfully highlight the anchors if you want to abseil off the side.
We had a race back down the steps, but Becs used her elbows in an aggressive manner which I’m sure is cheating. In retaliation I cunningly took us in the opposite direction to the hotel, so that she would be able to witness one the major seats of power in the world today… UNESCO headquarters!
I was very tempted to pop in and get them to remove some of the more difficult UK ones from the World Heritage Site list, but figured that probably wasn’t in the spirit of things. Also, I think we photographed the back door not the front.
Day two started well, as we hit the Louvre early, were nearly first in, and managed to get to the Mona Lisa with only two other people in the room. Regular readers will know that art doesn’t particularly feature on this blog, but I was hoping for some kind of epiphany when I saw the painting. Suffice to say I didn’t get one, and I think I now appreciate that it’s probably more what the image represents than the image itself (although I’m not convinced anyone’s given me a truly complete explanation of the specifics of that either). On the plus side, we did also find the biggest picture in the Louvre, and that’s important too, right?
After checking out some more paintings, most of which were wasted on me, we found the Egyption section (the Louvre is a museum as well as a gallery). This was far more my cup of tea, with some stuff going back four or five thousand years. When you stop and think about it, that’s a really long time. We also checked out the Venus de Milo, which was marginally more interesting than the Mona Lisa. I appreciate I’m a bit of a philistine about these things, but I at least had a proper look at them and tried to understand their history etc. – there were a disappointing number of people just taking selfies in front of everything they could see, before scuttling off to the next room.
From the Louvre we went to Notre-Dame, where the horrific queues prompted us to head west to the Dôme des Invalides. This involved walking along the Seine, and past the Ponts des Arts which is covered in padlocks symbolising couples’ love (and it hasn’t collapsed under the weight of them, contrary to internet rumour. I’m not sure what kind of metaphor it would be if it did).
The Dôme des Invalides is where Napoleon I is interred, along with a host of other prominent French military leaders. They also have a military museum, which includes a propeller from one of the Wright brothers’ bi-planes.
From there it was back home for a brief rest, after which I left Becs at the hotel while I continued my quest to understand art. I’d spotted in our guide book a picture of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, one of the few works of art I would easily recognise. The gardens of the Musée Rodin did give me an epiphany of sorts, in that I realised I like sculpture far more than painting, and enjoyed the rest of the works just as much as seeing “The Thinker” in the flesh (I know there are multiple copies, but this is apparently the first bronze one and so in my head closest to the ‘real deal’).
Unfortunately the permanent collection was closed, so I didn’t get to see “The Kiss“, but it was definitely the most interesting art-related thing I’ve done in a long while / ever.
For day three we returned to Notre-Dame bright and early – 08:00 on a Sunday definitely beats the queues! The Belfry was closed for repair works, but the interior is so stunning that I didn’t feel short-changed (particularly since entry is free!). We’ve been to more glitzy churches and cathedrals, for example in Prague, but what Notre-Dame lacks in showiness it makes up for in sheer scale. It’s particularly impressive when you consider that it was built 800 years ago, too.
After that I went for a wander and bought a couple of paintings from someone on the banks of the Seine (he probably mass-produces them and definitely sells them at over-inflated prices, but I was in an arty haze by this point), and in the afternoon we wandered up to Montmartre. There are lots of famous artists buried in the cemetery there, although science and maths were represented by Ampere and Fourier, and Alexandre Dumas is there too (although it turned out it was the wrong Fourier and the wrong Dumas).
Montmartre proper and the area around Sacré-Cœur was unbelievably busy, although you got the impression it would be lovely first thing in the morning before anyone else was up. Unfortunately the views from the top of the hill were very hazy (Becs was there for a conference about poor air quality and pollution, after all), but we’d done well from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, so it wasn’t a huge loss. I did, however, correctly identify that it’s the location of the end scene in the excellent film C’était un rendez-vous – Becs wasn’t interested.
A quick waltz down the hill found us in the Eurostar departure lounge ten minutes later. As usual with our brief city breaks, we were about ready to drop; we walked just shy of 30 miles over the three days, powered mostly by cheese sandwiches and pain au chocolat.
Stuff I learned while on holiday:
The Louvre was originally a fort, built to protect Paris from the Vikings.
Notre Dame is on an island.
The Venus de Milo is actually an ancient Greek piece, from around 120BC.
The Bastille doesn’t exist any more (just the outline highlighted in paving slabs).