It’s only the early hours of Day 2 of this Travelscene American Express Facebook Fan Trip but I’m going to call it- there’s no way to see Paris like walking it and I feel like I can justify this statement because yesterday I walked over 22kms of Parisian Streets.
It started soon after breakfast, we had a tour booked in at 2pm, meeting outside The Pantheon, and we had all decided to split up and do our own thing until then. I love walking in cities. I spent the majority of 2011 walking around the major cities of the US, not only do you see all the things you’d miss by riding a subway to the attractions, but you have the opportunity to get lost and discover wonderful things on your own.
The start of my Parisian walk took to towards the Arch De Triomphe, or at least I thought so, I thought I was heading towards the Champs D’Elysees but in fact I’d gone the complete opposite direction. After oggling shoes in the window of a nice little store I back tracked and started towards the Arch again. It stands triumphantly over a giant roundabout at the end of the large avenue, with crowds of people swarming out around it. I had no idea how to get there; apparently there was a tunnel, and I also didn’t know how much more there was to see from out there, so again I backtracked and headed down The Champs.
At this point I would like to point out that I’m pretty sure Abercrombie and Fitch is housed in a Palace (pictured left). Giant black and gold palatial gates, a row of hedges, their ‘models’ and the distinct smell of Frat House cologne hangs in the air where you’ll find the location of the American chain. I had no time to wait in line to discover if it really was a palace, so I kept walking to the real ones.
I took a right at the spectacular Grand Palais (pictured at the start of this post), built in 1900 it has a colossal glass roof (which is potentially the largest in the world, or was at some point in time, in fact it was probably beaten by a building from the Chicago World’s Fair, but that building doesn’t exist any more) and is covered in intricate details like mosaics depicting various scenes, and large bronze statues on its four corners. Next door is the Petite Palais, yes as the name suggests it’s much smaller, but in no way less phenomenal to look at. (See below and come to your own conclusion)
That’s the thing about Paris, each building is in some way grander than the next, and there’s no shortage of these buildings either. It’s a city where they just couldn’t get enough palaces or churches. They’re addicted to them. And the revolution didn’t stop that, it just repurposed them as galleries and museums, and dedications to the deceased rather than to a god.
I crossed the Pont Alexandre III and headed down past the National Assemblee (pictured left) where I discovered guards in glass boxes. They’re kind of like the French equivalent of the British soldier standing in his little wooden structure, but they look like someone has plonked giant action figures- still in their boxes- around political locations. I wanted to take a photo, but I wasn’t so sure that like their British counterparts they weren’t allowed to move, or yell at me.
I crossed the river again and passed the Louvre, a building that can’t really decide if it’s more famous for the art it houses, or the lines it creates.
I crossed the Seine once more and then continued to head towards Notre Dame. Another landmark, another multiple hour wait to see inside. I felt just as impressed standing in front of its incredibly detail facade, and then walking around to the building’s rear. What surprised me was just how peaceful it was behind it in the gardens. Everyone seems to stand out the front. My tip: Take photos of the facade, then head around the back for a bit of a longer stay and just breath it all in. Not just the cathedral, but everything around you. This is the island where Paris started. The Dame looks great from all angles, especially with the cherry blossoms that are out in force at the moment (pictured right). Look for the brassy green men that appear to be climbing the spire, and spot the people looking down on you from the towers above.
It was getting closer to Pantheon time so I headed up into the Latin Quarter. There are a series of quaint little shops and cafes in this area, and I believe it would be very easy to spend a lot of time just in this section of the city. After pondering the location of the Pantheon and why I was yet to see it, I suddenly ended up looking up a street to see it majestically sitting at the top, towering over everything.
It is a very humble location though. Out front, basking in the glorious weather, were students from the nearby universities sitting, talking and eating baguettes. I was hungry. I started to watch the students to find out which streets they were coming from with their baguettes; it was like trying to find an ant hill by following the line of ants. Very close by was a gorgeous Boulangerie, and in classic Parisian style, there was a line. I muffled my way through ordering a baguette in French. Not one word of English was spoken, but I’m sure how I read the little sign was in no way accurate. It was a success though in that it was a conversation more than just ‘Bonjour, Merci!’.
I returned to the front of The Pantheon to eat my Baguette and finally managed to get onto one of the free wifi spots in the city. 2:00pm, I’d only been in Paris for 8 hours, but already walked a good 10kms, and experienced things I never thought I’d see, or even knew existed, and that was just searching for myself, we hadn’t even started our tour yet, and my first day had just reached the half way point. Mind you at this point in time, as I chowed down on the absolutely delicious ham, cheese and lettuce baguette in my hands, I picked up the sunburn that has been cursing me ever since. I definitely didn’t expect to pick that up that as a souvenir. But at least I got it for free, and didn’t have to wait in line for it.