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Paris

  "The day started, as an April day in Paris should, with a stroll down Rue Cler."  
 
  

April 25-26

Our flight took off from Vancouver, Canada at 18:20 - a little later then expected - and we marvelled once more at the awesome beauty surrounding this stunning city of Vancouver which today gleamed under a sunny sky suitably studded with a few fluffy white clouds. Our "Spring Fling" to Europe will give us an opportunity to see some wonderful sights and scenery but we know such experiences also serve to enhance our appreciation of the beauty we have at home.
Our flight took us over Greenland and the Atlantic. Crossing over Northern Ireland, Liverpool, Birmingham and Coventry we landed at London's Heathrow airport and were standing in the customs line by 12 noon (London time).

Using "the underground" we made our way to Waterloo Station to catch the Eurostar.  While waiting in the lounge the 24 hour mark passed for staying awake through preparation and travel time (not counting the lack of sleep the night before departure due to excitement). As Eurostar whisked along at speeds up to 130kmph (80mph) through southern England, we peered out at pleasant pastoral scenes between long tired blinks ... trying desperately to stay awake until the time locals would call it a night. The Chunnel portion took approximately twenty minutes. On the French side of the Chunnel the train's speed picked up to 330kph (200mph).

The journey continued with our arrival of Eurostar in Paris as we made our way via the Metro (subway) to the Rue Cler district of Paris, and checked into the Hotel Royal Phare (which means royal lighthouse). The room? ... tiny ... about twice the size of its double bed plus a bathroom in which they managed to fit a pedestal sink, toilet and shower which is a base and wrap around shower curtain. The view? ... a rooftop which looks somewhat like the rounded top of a water-tower surrounded by buildings supporting century old windows adorned with window boxes.

The night was finished in the most Parisian of ways -- sitting at an outdoor café - Café de Marché [Market Café] - enjoying the ambiance of a dimming evening sky, the slow illumination of surrounding apartments fronting onto Rue Cler and the chatter of French conversations as young couples and friends met over dinner (9pm is when it is at its busiest) to discuss the days events and perhaps share a bit of romance. We strolled back the block and a half to the hotel and snuggled down in our room for a well deserved sleep.

The room is tiny and quaint ... and our Paris home for the next four nights. Tres bon [very good].

  
APRIL 27
The day started, as an April day in Paris should, with a stroll down Rue Cler watching merchants build their attractive displays; each shop specializing in particular products. Fruit and vegetables are neatly stacked in pyramids, or displayed in single layers in tilted boxes like colourful jewels. A shop displays its olive oil as fine wine shops display quality wines. Another shop wipes down a glass fronted case that holds appetizers that resemble works of art. A fishmonger adjusts fresh caught sardines and wavy edged oysters upon sparkling beds of ice as people leave the warm comfort of their morning coffee at Café de Marché and continue their commute to work dodging the delivery vehicles that have invaded the pedestrian only street.
 Paris is waking up and it is wonderful to be a part of it.  Purchases included a poire [pear] from the fruit vendor and a patisserie [pastry] and baguette from the boulangerie [bakery].   
The first sightseeing stop of the day was at Notre Dame. This seven hundred year old structure is impressive in so many ways. 
Our approach was at the front -- not the back and side as seen on most postcards. 

Before going into the church we stopped to appreciate the point in France from which all distances are measured. It's just a simple brass circle in the concrete square in front of the church unseen by most and ignored by the majority of others.

The front facade of Notre Dame [Our Lady] is strong and impressive with two 65 metre [200 ft] bell towers. Front and centre stands Mary holding baby Jesus, below her stand the twenty-eight kings of Judah.  

 
More saintly statues watch as parishioners and tourist enter the doors. One saint that is "shoulders above head" of the others is St. Denis. This statue depicts him holding his head.
The story goes that the Romans, to show their disapproval of Christianity in Paris, beheaded Denis. Not discouraged, Denis picked up his head, tucked it under his arm and headed north, stopping at a fountain to clean up after the ordeal. He died on the north edge of town where a church now stands in his name.

Inside Notre Dame the main alter is undergoing restoration and a simple makeshift alter is currently in service. The buttress structure provides the inside heaven reaching arches.  Statues of familiar saints included Joan of Arc. Along the sides the buttress alcoves hold chapels. The one in honour of St George caught our attention for its paintings.
 
 
 
 

It was outside that we appreciated the beauty of the architecture that took two centuries to build. On the roof just below the towering spire green copper apostles look down blessing the people.  

One of the green copper figures near the top, made in the image of the architect, looks up in admiration of his work. 

The size and elegance of Notre Dame is certainly awe inspiring but even more so is the knowledge that this magnificent structure was not the treasure of some monarch or gifted by a wealthy merchant but it's existence is due to the blood, sweat, volunteer labour and earnings of a community in the middle ages and their supporters during the following two hundred years.

Across the street but not seen until you are right upon it is the Deportation Memorial in memory of the 200,000 French who fell victim to the Nazi concentration camps.


To reach this nearly hidden space we went down a long flight of narrow stairs into the earth.  Ahead is a glimpse of water through bars, the only sign of freedom is the sky above ... and out of reach. Surrounded by earth-thick walls we find one very narrow doorway. It leads to a chamber with a view of yet another narrow hallway, this one lined with 200,000 lit crystals in memory of each French citizen who was exterminated. At the far end one lone crystal glimmers in a black abyss representing hope. 

As we leave this poignant reminder of things past we read above the door (translated) "Forgive, but never forget."

We ascended to freedom and saw the roses blooming and looked across the river to the upmarket neighbourhood of Ile St. Louis which was at one time a simple marsh.
   
 
Our walk took us through the Latin Quarter (not "Latin" as in Latin America - but as in those who speak Latin).  Many of the shops sold "gyro" which is meat cooked on a spit and, with the spit slowly spinning vertically thin shavings of meat are sliced into buns (a favourite of Stephen and Angela on their eastern European trip).
In the Latin Quarter, Rick Steve's book led us to the "skinniest house in Paris" so skinny we almost missed it - only two windows wide from the second floor up and only slightly larger than a single door width at street front.
 

We paused at St. Michel Square with it's statue of St. Michel slaying a devil. Here is the site of student uprisings, strike demonstrations; a gathering place for hippies, philosophers and wine lubricated orators attempting to enlighten the masses that have passed through the years.

 Sainte-Chapelle, next to the large police presence around the Palais de Justice, is another gothic church. This personal undertaking of King Louis IX was built in a mere six years (1242-1248) to house the Crown of Thorns. The Chapelle cost "only" $80,000 (at that time) whereas Louis IX paid Baudouin II of Constantinople the outrageous sum of $270,000 for the supposed crown... but it was an attention getter and brought pilgrims from around the world into their economy.
 
The lower chapel with small high windows and, as if to compensate, the comparatively low 21 ft ceiling, is painted with a starry sky. Here is where the palace staff would worship.

Upstairs in the Haute [upper] Chapel gothic architecture shows itself at its most sublime: light, colour and space join together in conjunction with art and religion. The massive buttresses all but disappear, each masked by clusters of delicate columns reaching the ceiling height of 67ft.
 
 
 
We walked past the Conciergerie, a former prison who had among its guests Marie-Antoinette who along with 2,600 of her closest rich and idle friends lost their heads to the guillotine and continued over Pont Neuf which means "new bridge" ... which is now Paris's oldest and currently undergoing refurbishing. This is the widest point of the River Seine.The bridge has semi circle "balconies" along its sides which were once used by vendors and musicians but are now enjoyed by visitors and by workers in nearby shops during their hour lunch breaks.

We didn't stop but proceeded to the Right Bank and The Samaritaine [department store] where we rode the elevator then took stairs to the 10th floor terrace to have lunch overlooking Paris. From this lofty position at a corner table on the terrace, we could see major landmarks as well as look down to the boat we would cruise on later and the park land at the point of the island where we planned to have a picnic dinner.

 
 The bridge has semi circle "balconies" along its sides which were once used by vendors and musicians but are now enjoyed by visitors and by workers in nearby shops during their hour lunch breaks.

We didn't stop but proceeded to the Right Bank and The Samaritaine [department store] where we rode the elevator then took stairs to the 10th floor terrace to have lunch overlooking Paris. From this lofty position at a corner table on the terrace, we could see major landmarks as well as look down to the boat we would cruise on later and the park land at the point of the island where we planned to have a picnic dinner.

The story of the creator of the Samaritaine store reads like a Hollywood success story:

There was once a boy born October 1839 in a small French town. His parents named him Ernest Cognacq. His father, a marine broker showed young Ernest many ships and talked to him of the places they had sailed and the cargo they brought to France. Ernest decided he would become a sailor. Unfortunately at the age of thirteen, just as he was to enter naval school, his father died leaving his mother heartbroken and penniless. Ernest realized he must forsake his dreams of sailing the world and earn a living ... and quickly.

 Ernest set off for a larger town where he was able to secure employment as a humble assistant in a ready made clothing shop. As he worked, he also developed will power and self confidence. He moved to a yet larger town and then on to Paris. Bad luck seemed to follow him. Often homeless and penniless, Ernest did not lose heart. He knew he had learnt a lot and knew he was a good salesman who had a way with prospective customers.
 

Ernest left Paris and became a traveling stallkeeper. He took with him merchandise, a cheerful disposition and courage. In his new line of work he covered many French provinces. His contact with many different people strengthens and encourages his inherent qualities. Little by little misfortune is left behind and Ernest returns once more to Paris. He knows this time he will succeed.

He sets up a stall on one of the balconies on Pont Neuf [New Bridge]. For centuries, the handsome Pont Neuf at the very heart of Paris attracted shoppers and idle strollers. He arranges his attractive wares, fabrics and fancy goods under a enormous red umbrella then talks and calls out to customers. He amuses, entertains, detains and sells then anything and everything so successfully that he is able to build a nest egg which allows him to build a more ambitious plan.

Not far from the bridge a café owner finds he has too much space for the amount of business he does. Earnest arranges to rent half of the premises for 15 francs a day.

More customers are attracted and return again and again to purchase their needs from him. Through will and hard work, things are looking favourably upon Ernest. The small café became a handsome boutique called "La Samaritaine" - the name a reminder of the fountain formally situated at the second arch of the bridge.

1872 marks another turning point in Ernest's career. He meets and marries Louise Jay. The Samaritaine's new partner is hardworking, serious and thrifty. Week after week they pursue their goal. The store and range of goods expands. Within the store, departments develop and goods are sold worldwide.

The substantial profits would have afforded Ernest and his wife time to relax in comfort but instead they continued to spend the profits soon after achieving them. Their first investment was a retirement home for their aged employees. Through the years other institutions were built from the profits of Samaritaine - a child care facility for employees, a nursing school and hospital. These establishments became their legacy and Samaritaine became and remains a landmark in Paris.

 

 UPDATE:  Since our visit, Samaritaine was closed due to building safety issues because of its age.  The future of the Samaritaine location is unknown.  
We took the Metro from Pont Neuf to Place de la Bastille and the Marais neighbourhood of Paris and took a few minutes to sit in a park where nannies watched children play in the sand box (boys in pants and the girls in dresses) while others lounged on the grass soaking in the warmth of the sun.

Walking further we passed a man strolling with a goat. It is always a surprise to find what is behind a tall wall or down an alleyway and Rick Steves travel books guide his readers to a multitude of such treasures.

 
Our walk continued through the Jewish section with kosher meat markets and authentic eat-it-its-good-for-you restaurants and food stores.  

We emerged at the Pompidou Centre where they boast having Europe's greatest collection of modern art. The building itself is huge.

On one side is a square with amphitheatre style slanted sides and a myriad of artists displaying or entertaining which we are sure increases through the summer months. We walked our way back to Pont Neuf and purchased supplies for dinner.

We crossed over Pont Neuf to the park at the point of the mid-river island and, with Samaritaine in the background and plenty of people watching in the foreground we had a leisurely picnic dinner on a park bench and waited for the sun to set.


 

As the sky darkened, we boarded a tour boat and cruised the Seine River and admired Paris by night.

 
 
    
Returning to Pont Neuf with the lights of Samaritaine reflecting in the water, we hopped on the underground and headed back to our hotel in Rue Cler ... but wait ... there's more ... walking that is ... the station at Rue Cler is shut down in the late evenings as they work on refurbishing it ... so onward we went to another station and walked back. It did not take us long to climb into bed. 
   
  
 
April 28

After buying our baguette and pastries on Rue Cler, we took the underground and popped up into sunlight again squinting right at the Arc de Triomphe.

In February 1806 Napoleon I decreed that a triumphal arch be built to the glory of the Grande Armee. This majestic monument was to dominate Paris and indulge the Emperor's taste for Ancient Rome.

Since its inaugural in 1836 the Arc de Triomphe has been the setting for major state occasions: the return of the ashes of Napoleon I in 1840, the last honours paid to the mortal remains of Victor Hugo in 1885, a parade of the victorious French and allied troops of the First World War in 1919 and a parade to celebrate the Liberation of Paris after four years of German occupation in August 1944.

 
We climbed the 284 steps to the museum gallery, then 45 more steps to the platform roof which gave us a panoramic view of Paris. Twelve avenues, named after battles, radiate from the traffic circle that surrounds it. The Arc de Triomphe stands on Paris' main east-west axis, the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.
 
The Arc is 50 meters high and 45 meters wide. Its shape is simple, composed of a single east-west arch in line with the Champ-Elysees; a lower north-south transverse arch opens on either side. The construction was not without its problems and foundations over 8 meters deep were required to stabilize the building on the crumbly soil.  
 

On one of the Arc's pillars is a sculpture of the Spirit of Liberty (also known as Lady Liberty) urging the people to fight to defend their territory ... or yelling at them to stay away from the chaotic traffic.

We climbed back down the 329 stairs and began our stroll down the Champs-Elysees. Between the late 1600s and 1960s it was an occasion to see and be seen driving, walking or better yet shopping on this designer fashion street.

When the underground was put in anybody ... just anybody ... could afford to gock and mingle even if they couldn't afford the premium prices in the exclusive shops.

 
 
Then slowly the shops began to reflect the new crowd on the street. Why even McDonald's managed, after some merchants panicking, to fit in just a few doors down from a Peugeot showroom. It is certainly the most upscale McDonald's we have been to but they still sell McCheese burgers and to the delight of many .... provide clean free washrooms.

After the shops ended we continued on down the Champs-Elysees heading for the Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre.

Between the end of the shops and the Place de la Concorde were two rows of staggered large (approx 1 metre by 1.5 metres) frames standing at right angles to the walkway atop pedestals that appeared to have grown out of the otherwise barren tan soil on each side of the walkway.

At first sight we though them advertising and exclaimed "how hideous!". They weren't advertising but art from those countries that would be joining the EU (European Union) as of May 1, 2004. They lost their hideous quality and became points of interest along what may have otherwise been a boring stretch of walking.

At the end of this double-file gallery a crowd of reporters armed with microphones and camera men wielding high tech cameras on their shoulders buzzed around a man like bees to their queen. Being somewhat intrigued Sherrie joined the moving mass and snapped her unprofessional Nikon camera at the central figure. After emerging we asked a policeman who that person was and with French shock on his face and the raising of shoulders at such a silly question, he told us it was the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë.

In the centre of Place de la Concorde stands a 2300 year old Obelisk from Luxor Egypt. It stands at the site where, during the revolution, the guillotine shortened the life span and the bodies of many of Paris's rich and idle citizens including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

We stopped to have lunch at an outdoor café beside a pond in Tuileries Garden before continuing on to the Louvre.
The last time we were at the Louvre we took an English speaking tour. This time we took Rick Steve's book, Mona Winks, and were pleased with the results. Some of the exhibit placements had changed - but that's why Rick's new updated Mona Winks is expected soon.
Mona Lisa - Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne (without flash)

Viewing "The Wedding" - a Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne
One of the staff members at the Louvre told us that if a person looked at each work for 30 seconds, everyday, 24 hours a day, it would take that person three months to see everything. We were there for a little over three and a half hours but were satisfied with seeing such classics as Venus (who looks a great deal like our Tracey), Winged Victory, paintings by the greats including Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa and Titian's Marriage at Cana.
When we were last in the Louvre cameras were not allowed -- now they are if you use  no flash (one flash can equal three hours of day light). Mona Lisa at that time was behind glass for protection, now she was behind smoke coloured protective glass ... and for good reason ... as we entered "her room" flash cameras were going off like strobe lights.

Left:
Leonardo Da Vinci's portrait of Lisa Gherardini, aka The Mona Lisa.  The Louvre's A Closer Look at the Mona Lisa'  is an excellent way to get to know this painting better (click on 'View the feature' and turn up your sound).
Venus de Milo - a Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne Venus de Milo - a Travel Tales photo by Sherrie Thorne

Aphrodite of Milos ... (above and 2 centre) better known as Venus de Milo was created large than life (2 metres) in Greece sometime between 130-100 BC.
By the time we got back to the hotel we traded not going to dinner for more sleep. 






APRIL 29

We bought our baguettes and proceeded to the underground joining the throngs of Parisians heading to school and work. The underground took us to the train station from where we rode the rails to Versailles.

 

 
As we approached this grand palace it was difficult to take it all in with the camera. Versailles became the seat of power during Louis XIV's reign when he forsake his Paris palace - The Louvre.

Versailles started off as a hunting lodge where Louis spent many a happy day as a young child with his father. The three rounded arches in the centre building were those of his bedroom facing east and seeing the sun rise. Louis XIV was known as the "Sun King" and Versailles' theme is Apollo the sun god who rode his chariot (the sun) across the sky each day.
  

The palace is impressive and having a guide, an audio tour or a guide book like Rick's make the experience much fuller.

 

While we were there the Hall of Mirrors was in the middle of being refurbished and workmen with power equipment took away only some of the grandeur.

In this hall 17 arched mirrors reflect 17 arched windows with their view of the Gardens. The hall itself causes one to reflect on history ... not only is this a beautiful room that was once filled with beautiful people in silk gowns and powdered wigs, but it was also the room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed bringing World War I to an end.
 

 
To match this grand chateau [palace] are the gardens.

From a garden balcony, we peered down onto another garden where Louis XIV grew palm and orange trees. This part of France is much too chilly to do so naturally so he had his gardeners move them inside each night. Today they still move them in and out ... but with a bob cat. There are so many it would seem that the bob cat operator would have to start moving them back in just about the time he finished moving then all out.
 
   
 Straight out from the view point of the Hall of Mirrors past flower gardens and statues, down long flights of stairs and a terrace with a large fountain, along a walk downhill on either side of a central lawn to an impressive pond with a massive fountain adorned by half submerged horses and Apollo in his chariot beginning his skyward trek, past more lawn, begins a man-made 1.5 kilometer long, cross shaped canal ... so large that at one time Louis had a 32 cannon war ship floating in his back yard. 
The gardens are also impressive for the number of water fountains. The fountains were an engineering feat as they were "enforced" by a diverted river which was manipulated to pressure the fountains. 

 
 

Tucked away in one part of the garden is a large Roman style colonnade. 32 square columns stand behind 32 round columns which support arches. Around the circumference are 28 large birdbath shaped fountains. In the centre a statue of three figures intertwined. Here the French aristocracy could escape the luxuries of the palace and pretend they were in ancient Rome.


We had a snack alongside the canal and then walked out of sight of the palace to the Grand Trianon. Louis XIV had built the palace at Versailles to escape the hectic pressures of his Paris palace, the Louvre. He built the Grand Trianon to escape the hub-bub of the palace at Versailles ... but wait there's more ... the queen wanting to escape the Grand Trianon had a summer house built.   
 
 
 

Louis XV wanted to spend more time near the gardens so he had the Petit Trianon built which became the preferred residence of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette ... but ...

 
 
 
 

Here she had goats and sheep, and ducks and geese, cows and maids to milk them and gardens and people to plant, weed and harvest them ... but she did have pretty peasant style dresses to wear and invited her closest of friends to share this simple life where they could enjoy dinner (let the peasants eat cake) served to them in the elegant dining hall of the thatched roof cottage which was really two large homes joined together .... but indeed most picturesque and the place we would prefer to live.

 
Marie-Antoinette wanted to escape palace life so she had a Hamlet built in the fashion of her native Vienna.
 
 
 We arrived back on Rue Cler in time to have a light dinner (Paris style at 8:00) at Café de Marche and catch a photographer, his fuzzy haired model and their entourage shooting a picture layout as an April rain fell on our last night in Paris giving a shine to the lights of the shops as they were cleaned and closed for the night.

 

 

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