Let me say this right up front. I love, love, loved Paris! You must also know that I love New York City. I love big teeming cities with lots of crowds and museums and good, efficient public transportation. I love to walk and gawk and I don't mind the smell of exhaust and I love to see places where people live lives that are very different from my Midwestern suburban life. I like both the big, touristy sites, but I equally love the more mundane things about new places. In this and the next few post, I'd like to discuss some of the must-see tourist destinations we felt compelled to see in Paris.
Since neither my husband or I are world travellers, we did some research prior to going. Our very helpful travel agent Douglas Schroeder at www.freedomtoursllc.com had a number of tours available, as did our hotel, but we decided that with only five days, we could probably see what we wanted to see at our own pace. I picked up a copy of 24 Great Walks in Paris by Frommer's and found it very useful. This book lays out walking tours of different areas of the city and includes little tidbits of historical information about the neighborhoods as well as suggestions for seeing any of the big, popular locations in that area. Each walk starts and ends at a Metro stop and lasts 2 or 3 hours. We didn't always follow them exactly, but they were a good framework to start our planning.
Day 1: The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Champs-Elysees After getting off the train from Leman at the Montparnasse station, we navigated our way to our hotel via the Metro. The jury is still out on whether or not that was a good decision. We did make it there without any mishaps, but we had to switch lines two or three times and there were many, many steps at each station. Since we were dragging our luggage, that required more effort than I'd planned to expend. If I had one piece of advice it would be to travel as lightly as possible. We brought a small suitcase each, an over night bag, and packed one small empty suitcase inside our other suitcase. These were all bulging by the time we came back, but they were still manageable even at their heaviest.
A view of the Sacre-Coeur from the Eiffel Tower
Once we'd dropped off our luggage at our hotel, we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower (a 15 minute walk) and since one of the two elevators to the top were out of commission and the line to get to the other was several hours long, we opted to pay about 5 euros and take the stairs. I should tell you right now that I am not a fan of heights, so I knew that getting to the second level of the tower would be plenty high enough for me. What I hadn't realized that there were more than 300 steps, up one of this massive open legs just to reach the bottom level. To get to the second level seemed pretty comparable. Needless to say, we only made it up to the first level, and is was spectacular. I'm glad we did this first so that we could get an idea of the city's scale. From all four sides you could not see an end to the buildings, most of them ornate and historic. Off in the distance there were some more modern looking sky scrapers, but they were the exception, not the rule.
We saw the Arc de Triomphe in the distance and decided to head there next. After another 15 minute walk we came upon this huge monument in all its glory. We stumbled upon some kind of military ceremony with a full band, dignitaries, and giant flags. What we didn't realize was that this structure is in the middle of a six lane round-about and we had happened upon it during rush hour. Apparently the way to go through a round-about in Paris is to find the shortest path across regardless of what the lane lines might suggest and take the most direct path through. This went for everything from massive tour buses, passenger cars, motorcycles, tiny scooters, and people on bicycles. This was easily the most insane site I saw in Paris. Jim and I sat on a bench in slack-jawed wonder. When I talk about passenger cars, I am not just talking about the Smart Cars that are abundant, I am also talking about everything from ancient Soviet era oddities being held together with baling wire and duct tape, to gorgeous new Ferraris and Porsches. When we could stand it no longer, we headed down the Champs-Elysees.
The entrance to the Abercrombie & Fitch store on the Champs-Elysees
The Champs-Elysees seemed a lot like the Time Square of Paris. It appeared to be designed with upscale tourist shopping in mind. There were a few chain stores I recognized, and many I did not. There were many restaurants and everything was fancy. We didn't spend a lot of time here because it was getting later and we were ready to head back to the hotel. Besides, if I just wanted to see big stores and go shopping, these were the kind of stores I could find back home. We had four more days ahead of us and we needed to save up some energy for Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and Sacre-Coeur.