Paris, the city of lovers, has so much to offer that one trip is never truly enough. The minute you get off the plane till
you reach your station, you’ll notice huge movie posters that welcome you amidst a rush of people of several nationalities.
At the airport, you’ll even notice some Indian shops from Pondicherry. Later, while at a café on the metro station, if you’re
lucky, you might spot fearless fat pigeons that come and sit right on your table and peck at your food! Back onto the metro,
you’ll probably feel the weather dip suddenly when you stop at La Chapelle, where there are sudden weather changes, sometimes
up to 12 degrees.
To get an essential taste of the real Paris, visit a bustling marche or supermarket between 7:00 am and 2:00 pm every Wednesday and Saturday. Make sure you pick up some brioche or sweet bread. As a custom, the French always keep their bread on the table at mealtimes, not on the plate.
You might even be fortunate to catch a wedding on Saturday, the only time when
cars are allowed to blow horns while driving on the roads! Further, you’ll notice that Paris has no school buses, as the metro
system which is more than 100 years old, is the most efficient way to commute. But walking is the best way to see Paris. A simple
pleasure is strolling up to the nearest boulangerie for a pastry, or the closest brasserie for a steaming hot cup of coffee!
A good idea would be to visit the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart next. Built in
1850, the church is relatively new to Paris, made of white mosaic and glass paintings. This 150-year-old Paris Commune was
destroyed during the war. While there’s pin-drop silence as people quietly pray inside, several painters sit and make silhouettes
and portraits of tourists in the artist’s gallery. All of a sudden, you see an attention-grabbing tourist train pulling up and
vanishing into the distance, you marvel at the tradition, art, culture, history and music that surrounds you! Just a short distance away is the Stat de France, the famous stadium where France won the historic World Cup in 1998.
The Musee de Montmartre is the oldest building in Montmartre, and the place where
Renoir lived. The famous Montmarte cabaret you cross next is called Au Lapin Agile, which literally translated means: the agile rabbit.
On the same road, you’ll cross the only vineyard in Paris.
Some of the unknown parts of the city are fascinating and have their own little
stories. Like the statue of Dalida that comes up next. Dalida was an actress-cum-singer who committed suicide at the age of 54. Next
you cross a house with the statue of St. Denis, the man who held his head and walked after it and who was cut near the windmills at Le Moulin
de la Galette.
Walking along Paris’ symmetrical streets is in itself surreal. The countryside is
enchanting, complete with its caravans, Jersey cows, villages and grazing cows. It’s a pleasant experience to smell the flowers drooping
down from the windows above.
Living life the Parisian way: The Champs Elysses
The Arc de Triomphe is one of the city’s major landmarks – a symbol of Napolean’s
achievements, with an exceptional panorama of the Champs Elysses and much of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe is joined by the Charles de Gaulle
Etoile. The latter is called so because it is shaped like a star.
The Eiffel Tower, though not extremely pretty, is a spectacular and imposing mass
of iron and steel. What’s definitely worth doing here is the boat ride and souvenir shopping close by. At night, the Tower has hourly sparkling
lights that light up the entire city!
From the Rome station onwards on the metro, it’s amazing to notice how quickly the class
of passengers commuting to the Champs Elysses changes to being more bourgeoise. The latter is popularly known as the busiest, widest, most
beautiful and famous thoroughfare in the world. Louis Vuitton is the new store around, as is the Peuquet Restaurant.
A quaint Restaurant on this famous avenue to try out is the Laduree. But like all of Paris,
the Champs Elysses is equally multicultural too. You can’t miss the huge Mc Donald’s that stares at you all of a sudden, or Restaurant Quick
which resembles it!
For the glam quotient, there’s Crazy Horse, a famous cabaret. Also Lido, known for its oriental shows that sometimes even have performances by elephants. But if you want to be where the action is in the evening,
then head straight to the Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge is the most famous cabaret in the world since 1889, thanks to its French
cancan and painter, Toulouse-Lautrec. The concept consists of feathers, rhinestones and sequins, fabulous settings, original music and beautiful
girls! Many international stars have performed on stage here, some of the big names being Frank Sinatra, Elton John and Ella Fitzgerald. For the
last 120 years, the most legendary cabaret in the world has welcomed millions of spectators who have come to admire the famous shows.
You’ll also see Flamme de la Liberté on W. Wilson Avenue, a statue taken from the Statue of
Liberty. Under it lies the infamous tunnel where Lady Diana died. For the same reason, the area has now become somewhat of a memorial where people
leave flowers. The bridge of Alexander on River Seine is another lovely sight near by.
Fashion capital of the rich and the famous
If you want a peek into the fashion capital status that Paris enjoys, head to Avenue
Montaigne, a street full of branded designer wear. All the big names are here from Prada to Valentino, Malo, Rubina Rubens, Joseph, Giorgio
Armani, Honda, Harley Davidson, Smart car, Dior, Nina Ricci, Pouquet, Parfums Caron, Jimmy Choo, CelinE, Bvlgari, Coco Chanel, Eres, Akris,
Chloe, Loewe, Krizia, Jil Sander, Voyage, S T Dupont and Gucci. The pretty hotel with red geraniums here is called the Plaze Athenee.
Other lovely places if you have the time include Cafe de la Paix, the Amphitheatre, the
Orchestre and the Baignoires. The Galleries Lafayette is a well-known department store for buying wedding gowns. You could visit Baucheron if what you’re
looking for is jewelery. Or the Godiva Chocolatia, heavenly. The Place Vendome is nice too. At the Rue Saint Honore, another high fashion
street, if you read a sign, A Louer, then you know the house is to let!
A peek in history
What other sites to see are the Grand Palais, the Petite Palais and the Palais Invalide. A pleasant drive away is the residence of the French President, known as the Elysses Palace.
The statue of Charles de Gaulle a little distance away signifies the liberation of France.
There’s also the Rue de Rivoli and the Ritz Hotel where trade takes place. The Ritz belonged to Dodi Fayed who was staying there when he bought
an engagement ring for Princess Diana from the jewellery store opposite, after which the duo tragically died in a car crash.
The National Monument is historically famous for being the spot where the guillotine took
place during the French Revolution. In the early 1800s, this was where Marie Antionette’s head was chopped off. At the museum, something worth seeing is Monet’s Water lillies.
You could also drive through the French Parliament and the Madeleine Church. Close by lies
the Place de la Opera and the Academie Nationale de Musique and Berlitz, an English-French language school. A little further down, you’ll see
Rolex, the Commerzbank, U C Benetton and YSL.
The Townhall of Paris is the residence of the Mayor of Paris, doubles up as a skating
rink in the winter. Similarly, the Invalides was earlier used as a military hospital. Today, the Invalides showcases military history from the
prehistoric times to the present. At Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde you can find Cleopatra’s needle; the place is also
famous for being the place where King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antionette were beheaded. The Hotel de Ville or the Mayor’s house is where passports are made. The government schools
are the best ones in France. Public hospitals in Paris are free.
The Societe Generale, the La Terrasse and the Ministre de Justice are locations that have
mostly concrete buildings and no greenary. The Neon Ritz is made of the remnants of canyon. The Mairie de Paris is interesting as is Place de
la Bastille. The Bastille prison is another place of historic interest and still seems to resound with chants of ‘Liberte. Ecalite.Fraternite’.
For some quintessential French shopping, go to the Latin Quarter, Ile St. Louis, the St.
Germain des Pres and the Ile de la Cite where lies the Point Zero and the Palais de Justice. At the Palace Louis Lepine, a flower market takes
place between Monday and Saturday from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm and a bird market on Sundays between 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Other places of delight are the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Saint Sulpice or the Rose line,
the Moulin de la Galette, the Town Hall, the Musee de Orongery, the Notre Dame and Saint Chappelle. Saint Chapelle is a jewel of 13th century architecture with one of the most comprehensive collections of
stained-glass of the period.
For more history, check out the Maison de Victor Hugo, Place de Vogases, Marre and of course,
the Palace of Versailles. The Estate/Palace and the garden of Versailles count amongst the most prestigious of the world’s heritage sites and
represent the finest and most accomplished achievement of the 17th century French art. King Louis XIII’s former hunting lodge was transformed and
enlarged by his son Louis XIV, who installed his court and government there. The estate includes the 2 Trianon Palaces and the Queen’s Hamlet.
The town that was built around the Palace bears witness to this rich period of French history.
In Paris, you can’t miss the art. In fact, even a beggar lying down on the road
looks like a piece of art! However, if you want to see more than just that, visit the Musee d’Orsay which is actually an abandoned railway station
with a real station clock. It has works of art of different techniques, including paintings, pastels, sculptures, photographs,
objects of art and architecture. The historical period ranges broadly from 1848 to 1914.
The Louvre has two wings, each more than 1.5 kilometers long. Some of the most famous facets of the
Louvre include: Oriental Antiquities; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Paintings; Sculptures; Objects d’art; Arts of
Islam; Prints and Drawings; History of the Louvre and Medieval Louvre; Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
Head to the Pompidou Museum of Modern Art, albeit an ugly blue tube building, but a great place for art lovers to learn about intricacies, like the difference between the Occidental and Oriental styles of painting. In France,
one also learns about the eccentricities of several famous artists, most of whose genius was recognized only after their death.
The Pompidou Centre was designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. It is 166 metres
long, 60 metres wide and 42 metres high, with five huge open plan floors of 7,500 metres square. On the eastern facade, the technical ducts are encased
in different coloured tubing: blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for the elevators. The centre is dedicated to today’s
creation, in all its forms. It boasts one of the largest museums in the world, a huge public library, theatres, a cinema and musical research
institute. It houses Europe’s largest collection of modern and contemporary art, too.
The Rodin Museum houses his famous: The Thinker, Adam, Eve, The Gates of Hell, Orpheus, Balzac. His works and collections are presented in a private eighteenth century residence, as well as on the surrounding grounds, in a featured sculpture garden. Rodin was an exception; he became famous during his lifetime.
Also worth a visit is the Museum of Picasso; his works displayed in a 17th
century townhouse. The Museum of Cinema in Bercy is another worthwhile trip. The Lumeraire Brothers first started French cinema which was casual and
full of laughter. At the museum, one learns that France makes from 130 to 140 films a year. It is surprising to note that Indian DVDs first come to France even before India.
The People of Paris
On the metro, most people remain largely quiet and impersonal, reading or listening to music,
working on their laptops. There is hardly any talking, except in silent whispers once in a while. Parisians are helpful people. In case you
accidentally leave your hat or sun glasses in a restaurant, someone is sure to come running up to you with your belongings. In the metro, it’s common
to hear people say pardon if they want to pass and you’re in their way. It is not unusual to see people skating on the road.
Overall, a trip to Paris is an enchanting experience – like walking into art, history and culture – all rolled into one!