We have been walking around 10 miles each day around Paris and on Friday we were blessed by sunny weather. It was by no means warm but if you could find somewhere out of the wind, it felt nice or at least it did under several layers.
We haven’t yet got lost instead have been the opposite. Not found but rather we have been enlightened by various places we would have never otherwise seen.
On Friday we set off from Villiers down passed a number of cafés and patisseries towards Notredame Cathedral. The streets were largely deserted and we went in a number of local shops contemplating purchases, including into an Aquarium. As if we were going to carry a bag of tropical fish around in a bag for 5 days. I certainly wasn’t going to offer my wool hat and scarf to anyone.
We passed over a small but very elevated bridge which fave us good views of St. Augustin Church (I believe) before arriving at a very busy area around St. Lazare station or lizard station as my spell checker puts it. Even if due to roadworks, it was the first time we had seen really busy streets since we left London.
One street down from Lizard station we came to an amazing church, Madeleine. Surround by Graeco-Roman columns rather like a mini pantheon. We had to go inside, it was dark and cavernous inside, lined with small chapels around its outer wall with a wonderful marble altar. We took a few photos and sat a while as a swarm of Chinese tourists came in to take photos of things they didn’t understand as people tried to pray.
Afterwards, we headed further down a street which appeared to be a smaller version of London’s Bond street and full of jewellery shops and a few high end fashion houses before emerging in a huge square, Place De La Concorde! It afforded great views of a distant Eiffel Tower in a very blue sky. There is a tall Egyptian obelisk in the centre of the square, I remember noticing it was missing when I went to Luxor, I believe.
Place De La Concorde is the place where the French Kings, Queens and much of the aristocracy were beheaded by guillotine in the French Revolution. The Square is front with some great buildings to its north, one of whom was commandeered to be the Nazi headquarters in WW2.
At last we could see The Seine and we took a raised walkway parallel to the river past the Orangerie museum and alongside a park all the way to the Louvre. The park was full of joggers and aerobics classes as well as a pair of old men practicing some sort of martial art. Master Po and Grasshopper we imaginatively called them.
With Notredame if not in sight then not too far away, we found ourselves a nice sun trap on the river bank and had our packed lunch with freh ingredients we had bought from a market the previous evening. The Seine was rough and almost overflowing but it was a marvellous picnic spot surrounded by bridges and fine buildings as we ate and drank some hot tea as we sat lizard like or should that be Lazare like soaking up the sun. When the sun would periodically go behind even a whispy cloud, it would feel very cold and we’d remember we were picnicking in mid-winter.
Another 10 minutes walk saw us cross the Seine and reach the quiet but large island, home of Notredame. First we went to the Chapel of the Isle which is a Unesco monument meaning it is of the same status as Stonehenge and the Pyramids. The queues to get inside during the summer can be 90 minutes long but we were through security in a minute and using our Paris Pass we missed the 15 minute queue to enter the building itself, much to the annoyance and bemused looks of the people in the other line of people.
The downstairs of the chapel is quite small and dark but colourfully decorated, however it is the upstairs which is the real piece de resistance (did you like how I worked that one in?) with the most ornate and colourful stained glass windows I have seen in France, certainly much better than its nearby big brother at Notredame.
Notredame is that almost unique thing in Paris, a free entry. Quite small, inside and out, it attracts most visitors for its beautiful location and it’s story of the Hunchback and Esmerelda. I remembering watching a film of it when I was little and it upset me much more than ET or Bambi, perhaps I was too young or perhaps it is just that good a story. You can visit the famous bells on a guided tour and from the top you have great views of Paris.
Crossing over the river onto the opposite bank we immediately found ourselves in a much older and almost medieval quarter of Paris, rather like Brugges or York with narrow streets and wonky buildings. We visited the semi legendary Shakespeare And Company bookstore before having a drink in a cute Parisienne cafe like the ones you see on painting. Further on through the maze of streets we found a Tunisian sweet shop which my better half took a keen interest in. It was as much her smile and my Arabic that got her a bumper sized portion for just over a Euro.
Thus part of Paris is particularly full of fine art shops and furniture restorers, antique dealers and Persian carpets. If your gold leaf has worn off your furniture (and boy mine has worn so badly I can only see it with great amounts of imagination), then I have the perfect shop for you here.
Finally we made it to the Dorsay museum after about 5 hours of walking. Don’t you go spoiling it by thinking of the walk back. No way will we use that Metro! This museum us in an old 19th Century (I guess) train station. Fully restored with iron girders and glass roofing it makes the perfect home for a modern art gallery.
I have to say that I like old fashioned art. I don’t consider messy bedrooms, cows cut in two to be my thing. I line my paintings to be quickly recognisably as a portrayal of a person or scene and not an imaginative impersonation. That’s just how I am and I prefer the average renaissance painting, Flemish art or a Turner to anything later. I blame photography for ruining everything! Anyway I quite like the Dorsay having been there before. It has both traditional paintings that inspire more modern derivatives and the nouveau and Impressionism and lots of other things. I’m always up for Monet, Gaughin and Van Gogh. Van Goghs paintings are always so vivid, maybe more so due to his tragic story. I particularly like his starry skies.
Several hours later and we were on the fifth floor. The windows there gave great views of the river and Sacre Couer which looked a good 4 or 5 mikes away and somewhat near our hotel. We started our long walk back and crossed a bridge full of locks attached to the railings. Even then, tourists were doing their bit for the environment and doing their best to kill the fish by throwing the keys into the river.
We passed on by, it being Friday around 6pm all the small cafés were full of teenagers and adults eating, drinking and having fun. One of the things I love about Paris is there are barely any chain stores or multi nationals and their muggers are much easier to spot and their doesn’t seem much risk of being waylaid by yobs or alcoholics. Tramps and beggars certainly but not the bad attitude and passive aggressive drinking that goes on in the U.K and which I always avoid having anything to do with.
Our journey back up the hill was broken by a man bent over on the pavement. He was looking like he was doing a number 2 on a toilet but with his trousers up. A curious policeman looked at him from one side and us from the other. We all stood watching for maybe 2 minutes before the individual stood straight again and walked off. He had been staring at a sticker on the pavement but all the detail had been worn off leaving nothing at all to see. My wife and I plus the policeman exchanged a puzzled look. I don’t know what WTF is in French but I knew the policeman was thinking exactly the same as we were.