Paris : City of Lights

Day 1 // Thursday September 30, 2010

At 10:00 am, Air Transat flight #0356 landed in Paris; weather conditions: raining! (surprise, surprise…). With our 3 large suitcases and 2 carry-on bags, my parents and I made the long and difficult trek to centre-ville. Note to self, never ever again navigate the Paris metro system with 3 large suitcases and 2 carry-on bags unless the city installs a few elevators! Luckily, a few kind Parisians stopped and offered to help us up and down the many staircases.

Learning to read the transit map was another challenge. The subway system is nothing like the TTC – it’s better! Toronto, please take note.

Paris Subway Map

That evening, my parents and I took a tour along the Seine river on a bateau mouche (open excursion boat). As the boat departed from the dock, the lights on the Eiffel Tower began to twinkle – it was absolutely magnifique! The tour took us up the river, passing many bridges along the way; one bridge in particular, stood out. Having been completed in 1607, the Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”) is, despite its name, the oldest standing bridge across the Seine river! Our tour of Paris continued with a bus tour of the city. The bus tour was highlighted by visits to the famous Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), the Opera House, and the Pantheon.

After the tour, we made our way back to our hotel where we all enjoyed a good and much needed night’s rest!

The "twinkling" Eiffel Tower

Day 2 // Friday October 1, 2010

What is located 6,014 km away from Toronto, has a height of 1,063 ft, and despite weighing 7,300 tonnes, only exerts the same amount of pressure on the earth as an average size person sitting on a chair? If you guessed the Eiffel Tower, you are absolutely correct! Day 2 in Paris began at its world famous monument. Taking the elevator to the summit, we were able to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city. Travel tip: the line to use the elevator from the second floor to the summit is quite long and the cool wind unforgiving, so if you plan to visit the Eiffel Tower, bring a jacket, and perhaps even a scarf to keep warm! Also, if you buy your tickets in advance at the Official Eiffel Tower ticket office, you avoid having to potentially wait in a long line at the base of the tower. Next, we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. Located in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle and at the western end of the Champs Élysées, this famous Parisian landmark honours those who fought and died for France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. At the base of the Arc lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. From there, we walked down the picturesque, tree-lined, Champs Élysées to the Louvre. While walking, we found ourselves in the middle of a protest; French citizens were protesting the retirement reform which would among other things, change the age of retirement from 60 to 62.

The Arc de Triomphe as seen from the Eiffel Tower

The Arc de Triomphe

Surprisingly, when we arrived at the Louvre, we didn’t have to wait too long in line, which was a good thing because as luck would have it, it began to rain! Inside the Louvre we saw Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting. The Mona Lisa was a lot smaller than I had expected, but intriguing nonetheless, and I’m sure the hundred or so tourists gathered in the room taking photographs of the painting would agree with me! Other paintings I remember seeing that day include: Eugene Delacroix’s La Liberté guidant le peuple, Jan Van Eyck’s The Virgin of Chancellor Robin and Peter Paul Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi.

The Louvre

Our next and final stop for the day was the Notre-Dame de Paris. Luckily, we arrived 10 minutes before closing! The lighting inside the Gothic Cathedral was particularly dim that day as the colours of its stained glass windows were muted by the lack of sunlight. Nevertheless, the magnificence of the 14th century structure was absolutely captivating and a wonderful way to conclude our second day in the French capital.

Visitors arrive at the Notre-Dame Cathedral

Day 3 // Sunday October 2, 2010

A possible strike at the Chateau de Versailles thwarted our plans to visit the famous palace. Being forced to make alternate plans, Mom and I decided to visit the Musée d’Orsay. The museum is known for its extensive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. The museum building was originally a railway station, the Gare d’Orsay until 1977 when the French government decided to convert the train station to a museum. The beautiful and ornate clocks from the station still remain. Paintings I remember seeing include: Van Gogh’s Portrait de l’artiste, William Bouguereau’s Dante et Virgil, Paul Cézanne’s Apples and Oranges, Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Women, and James Tissot’s Evening.

Dad met up with us after our tour of the museum and we had a bite to eat at a sidewalk café before making our way to the Galeries Lafayette, a super expensive, but beautiful shopping centre. The decorative dome with its stained-glass windows and balconies, give the shopping centre an ambiance like that of an opera house. We did some window shopping, gawked at 900€ shoes, and sampled a chocolate macaron at Pierre Hermé, a chocolate boutique located in the store’s basement. The mall was busy (how shocking!) so we decided to walk outdoors and we eventually took the metro to the Père-Lachaise cemetery.

Interior view of the Galeries Lafayette

The Cimetière-Père Lachaise is the final resting place for many notable people. Avoiding the cost of a map, Dad took a picture of the large map at the entrance of the cemetery and I noted the burial plots of interest. We did get lost – err…wandered off our path a few times, but thanks to Dad’s trusty navigational skills, we managed to find every lot on our list and in good time too as we reached the final plot 5 minutes before closing! We saw the tombs of: Georges Seurat (1859-1891; French post-impressionist painter), Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850; French novelist and playwright), Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863; French Romantic painter), Marcel Proust (1871-1922; French novelist, essayist, and critic), Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918; French poet, playwright, and art critic), Oscar Wilde (1854-1900; Irish writer and poet), Antoine Parmentier (1737-1813; French promoter of the potato as a food source), Molière (1622-1673; French playwright), La Fontaine (1621-1695; French fabulist), Chopin (1810-1849; Polish composer, virtuoso pianist), Vivant Denon (1747-1825; French artist, writer, diplomat, author, and archaeologist), Jim Morrison (1943 -1971; American lead singer and lyricist of The Doors) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903; French-Danish Impressionist painter).

And so concludes our petit séjour in Paris. The next morning we packed our rental car and made our way towards Dijon (yes, like the mustard!) where I had to attend a training session. But before our arrival in Dijon, we stopped quickly in Is-sur-Tille to visit my Dad’s cousins.


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