Return to International Travel – Introduction
Review: SWISS A340-300 ORD-ZRH and Marhaba Lounge ZRH
Lodging Review: Sina Villa Medici, Florence, Italy
Our Time In Florence, Part 1
Our Time In Florence, Part 2
Lodging Review: Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris, France
Our Time In Paris, Part 1 (Louvre, Sainte-Chappelle, Arc, Eiffel Tower)
Our Time In Paris, Part 2 (Versailles)
Our Time In Paris, Part 3 (Catacombs, Musee d’Orsay)
Viking Kari and an Afternoon in Montmartre
Our Time in La Roche-Guyon and Vernon/Giverny
Our Time on the Normandy Beaches
Our Time in Les Andelys and Le Pecq
Lodging Review: Renaissance Republique, Paris, France
Review: Air France A350 CDG-ORD
I’d never been to Paris so all the usual tourist stuff was on my list. I’d also heard the reputation of Parisians to be unwelcoming of those who don’t even try to speak French so I worked my way through all of my French I and a couple of disks of my French II CDs before departing. I realize we were in the touristy areas but I found folks very welcoming and friendly and was glad to see that this particular generalization was not true.
We arrived in Paris on a Saturday evening and wouldn’t be boarding our Viking longship until Wednesday so we had 3 full days plus some time on our own on Saturday evening and on Wednesday. While Viking offered a paid excursion to Versailles, we decided we’d rather do it on our own. We also noticed that there was no time allocated to visit the Louvre, which was also high on our list. To ensure we got to visit, we pre-purchased timed tickets to the Louvre for Monday (it’s closed on Tuesdays) and Versailles, which is closed on Mondays. As it turned out, I believe that was a wise choice for the Louvre but not quite as necessary for Versailles, though we went in October when it was not quite as busy as it would be during the summer.
On Sunday, our first full day in the city, we took the hop-on/hop-off bus and got a lay of the land, found some gems we weren’t aware of and basically just explored around parts of the city.
Place de la Concorde
This is the largest public square in Paris. It’s in the 8th Arrondissement but just near the edge of the 1st Arr. where our hotel was located so it was a short walk away. It’s been the site of notable public executions including those of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Maximillien Robespierre during the French Revolution. It is bordered by the Tuilleries Gardens on one side and the Champs Elysee on another.
The obelisk in the center was gifted to France by Egypt in the 19th century. It once stood at the entrance to the Luxor Temple and is over 3300 years old.
The Alexander III bridge, built in the late 19th century, spans the Seine between the square and Les Invalides, a gold-domed building that currently houses museums and monuments relating to military history but was built in Louis XIV’s reign as a hospital and home for aged and disabled veterans.
We spent awhile looking at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, watching it light up as the sun set. We’d save our up-close look at it for later.
The next morning we walked to the hop-on/hop-off bus office, passing the Palais Garnier – the opera house – along the way. Built 1861-1875 at the behest of Napoleon III, the ornate design of architect Charles Garnier which was representative of the emperor’s style. A new opera house was built in 1989 and this one is now primarily used for ballet performances.
We rode the bus through the grounds of the Louvre and we got off at the next stop, near the cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame’s fire in April 2019 happened on the same day my father was having open heart surgery so in my head those two events will forever be linked. My dad is doing well and has recovered more quickly than the cathedral. We were told there that every effort is being made to ensure that at least the church’s exterior is restored in time for the 2024 Olympics and I wish them luck. For now there are giant construction fences surrounding the church so only the upper levels can be seen. I do hope to return one day after the interior is open.
Paris City Underground
In the plaza in front of Notre Dame is the Paris City Underground. It’s a museum showing ancient layers under the city. While it’s mildly interesting and not very expensive it’s not something I need to see again and if you don’t go you won’t have missed much.
The Concierge and Sainte-Chappelle
We had not heard of either The Concierge or Sainte-Chappelle but decided to buy the dual ticket. The Concierge is part of the Palais de Justice and has been both a courthouse and the principal place of detention during the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette was its most famous prisoner and what was once her cell has been converted into a chapel.
You get an electronic tablet as your guide and it is very cool the way that you hold up a tablet to a section of the building and it fills in with how the room might have looked back in the day. For example, there was a huge fireplace in the kitchen and the tablet illustrates how it looked as it was used for cooking and shows kitchen workers doing their jobs. But in all honesty if I’d skipped this I wouldn’t feel like I’d missed anything.
When we moved next door to Sainte-Chappelle I was beginning to think we’d wasted our time and money. I mean, it was consecrated in 1248 so it’s one of the oldest buildings I’ve ever been in but this Gothic cathedral didn’t seem super-impressive to me. There was this statue of King Louis IX (Saint Louis) along with some of the tops of the columns from older incarnations of the building but you know, it was all just OK.
Then we mounted the stairs to the first floor and it was worth every penny. I recall an involuntary “oh my!” escaping my lips once we reached the first floor. This is one of the most extensive collections of 13th century stained glass anywhere in the world. There are 15 windows, each 15 meters high, depicting 1113 scenes from the Bible and recounting the history of the world until the arrival of relics in Paris.
It is truly breathtaking and definitely a must-see when you’re in Paris.
Arc de Triomphe
I always associate the Arc with General Charles de Gaulle and indeed the plaza where it stands bears his name. I also recall from high school French class that the plaza’s name was originally Place de l’Etoile (Plaza of the Star) since there are twelve streets that radiate from it, including most famously the Champs Elysee. What I had forgotten is that it was built 1806-1836 to honor those who fought in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Today it also contains the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I. I also didn’t know that the pillars and walls inside are carved with the names of those lost in many of the battles.
Is there much I can tell you about the Eiffel Tower that you don’t already know? Doubtful. One of the best views of the tower is from the Trocadero where there is a plaza between two buildings. Unfortunately there was also construction going on in that area which meant we had to get a little creative with our camera placement. Fortunately I managed to get what I think is a decent photo. Most of the twilight/evening photos are from the Alexander III bridge near Place de la Concorde. The twinkling lights shot is from the deck of our river cruise boat, the Viking Kari. Viking has a spectacular docking spot!
I also liked the closeup which gives a little insight into the construction of this famous landmark.
We didn’t feel a need to go up into the tower. Instead this topped off our first full day of sightseeing and we boarded the bus back to our hotel.
The Louvre was built in the 12th and 13th centuries during the reign of Phillip II as a fortress but in 1546 Francis I converted it to the primary royal residence. It is the world’s most-visited museum and retained that title even in 2021 with the drop due to COVID. While attendance may be down, you will definitely want to get a timed-entry ticket online ahead of time. We were able to get morning tickets just a few days in advance but you may want to keep an eye on your desired date and if times start selling out you’ll want to go ahead and get your tickets then. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Louis XIV chose to move the primary royal residence to Versailles in 1682, leaving the Louvre to display his works of art. But it was only opened to the public in 1793. At any given time there are 35,000 works of art or artifacts on display (less than one-tenth of its collection) so it’s very easy to spend multiple days here. It’s hard to overstate the vastness of the buildings themselves cover 15 acres and about 2.26 million square feet.
Of course the most famous works are the Venus de Milo, which dates from 150-125 BC:
The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece from the early 1500s. I was very pleased with the way the Mona Lisa was displayed. There was a snaking queue that went back and forth in the room so that you walked past it several times before you were on the “front row”. Even then you were probably still 10-15 feet away from the painting so everyone could get a shot without other folks in the way.
And the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a statue of the goddess Nike that was found on the island of Samothrace and dates to the early second century BC. It has been at this location, at the top of the staircase, since 1884:
Besides these there were thousands of other objects I found interesting though will only include a few here:
The Code of Hammurabi, one of the first codifications of laws. Found near Susa in present-day Iran in 1901, where it had been taken in plunder 600 years earlier. The picture is of Hammurabi with Shamash, the Babylonian sun god and god of justice, and below are over 4000 lines of cuneiform text.
We had a fairly cheap lunch in the grab ‘n go cafe (the sit-down lunch place didn’t open until at least noon) and by then our brains were full. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and then it was back to the room to soothe our aching feet in preparation for the next day.
In the end
With only three full days to see the city, we tried to cram a lot in and were mostly successful. Our feet, still tired from Florence, paid the price. But needs must and we had a full day at Versailles planned for the next day.