The Bride, The Groom, and The Chaperone Sisters – in Paris
So happy our sister Angelita and her groom Juliano chose to come to Europe for their honeymoon, following their recent wedding in Brazil.
We are sisters that love spending time together, but we live many miles apart and therefore we grab every opportunity for a get-together. Although Virginia and I were not surprised that our baby sister chose to visit us in England to kick off her honeymoon, we were delighted ( if with a little trepidation) that she invited us to come to Paris and Amsterdam with them for the next leg of their honeymoon.
Who could possibly refuse Paris?
Angelita and Juliano had already been in London for a few days when together we caught the early Euro-train from St. Pancras, in central London to Gare Du Nord, in the North of Paris. A very comfortable, fast train journey that took just over two hours to deliver us into the heart of the French Capital. From Gare Du Nord we jumped into the underground train to St-Germian-des-Prés, where we had rented an AirBnB apartment for our 4 nights stay in Paris, from Sunday 2nd of October to Thursday 6th of October/2016 .
With no time to lose and wanting to take full advantage of a free museum entrance ( many museums and sites are free in France on the first Sunday of every month; although some like the Louvre are free only during winter months), we walked towards the Louvre. Only a few minutes from our apartment, and after a quick bite to eat at a nearby outdoor cafe we joined the queue of tourists at the main glass pyramid entrance to explore one of the largest museums in the world. To see it all in an afternoon would be simply impossible, so we decided to see some of the highlights such as the “Venus de Milo “, Greek Sculptures, Italian paintings and of course the Mona Lisa.
My sister Virginia, who is a manager at a London museum was in her element, pointing out to us how museums showcase their collections in a way that gives the tourist a great experience, although she was not very impressed with how some of the information was laid out and in particularly disliked the over commercialism and designer brands at the Louvre’s underground exit and mall.
But the Louvre does deliver a great experience; even if you are not a great art lover you can’t fail to be moved by such exquisite sculptures carved on marble featuring naked human bodies in all their glory. Sculptures of gods, athletes, ordinary people in motion, showing the intricate folds of their robes draping down so naturally and capturing every perfect movement.
People often say that they are disappointed with the Mona Lisa, a lot smaller than expected and hidden behind a pane of glass. I had already seen it on a previous visit, many years ago and already knew what to expect, but what is most incredible is that in spite of all, people are fascinated by her and the room was so packed that it was hard to get close and have a good look at her. You could certainly not linger there for long to examine her enigmatic smile without being pushed along by the mob.
We left the Louvre with enough energy in us…just… and thought that we could also have a look around the Pompidu Centre, but unfortunately the huge queue put as off and so we decided to sit at a coffee shop nearby and soak up the atmosphere of Le Marais neighbourhood.
This popular area has a unique combination of trendy restaurants, cool and hip boutiques with the latest fashion, art galleries galore and yet has the Medieval feel of old Paris with its labyrinth of cobblestones alleys. It has a very different feel from the rest of Paris where grand avenues and large squares prevail. Le Marais is also the hub of Paris gay community since the 1980’s. The nucleus of Jewish life in Paris, it also has a large Chinese community.
From the Marais we decided to finish the day with a lovely sunset over the river on one of the many beautiful bridges that crosses the River Seine.
We had beautifully sunny days to explore Paris and we made the most of it by walking everywhere, stopping for coffee and snacks at outdoor terrace cafes and going for long strolls by the river Seine. Our apartment was perfectly located and made it easy to explore by foot, although we did also use the bus and underground on few occasions, when we had no energy left to walk even one more step.
Here are some highlights of our rendezvous in Paris.
The Notre Dame, meaning Our Lady.
Perfectly located by the River Seine at the Île de la Cité, it was only a couple of bridge crossings and a short walk from our apartment. There was no question that we wanted to visit this beautiful 850 years old Gothic Cathedral. Our Lady is French Gothic architecture at its best and as you approach it you will see it for the first time, feel like you have seen it a million times before and of course you have, since it is among one of the most well known and photographed Catholic churches in the world. Immortalised by Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
It’s facade is ornate with intricately sculpted statues of the 28 Kings of Judah, stained glass windows, pointing towers, sinister looking gargoyles. It is impressive and it is free to enter, unless you want to climb up to its tower which will then cost you about 8.50 euros. It’s interior is also beautiful; from the entrance you look up to see the high central aisle lined with tall columns and dripping chandeliers, light floods through the striking stained glass windows. There are exhibits and lots to see inside, such as the statue of Joan of Arc all dressed in armour with hands together in a praying pose.
Sacré Cœur and Montmartre
Perched on a hill top in Montmartre, is the famous white Basilica of Sacré Cœur, created after the Franco-Prussian war as a symbol of hope. The style is a mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine, with multiple domes. It is possible to climb up the main dome, via 300 steps located outside the Basilica on the left side. The interior is peacefully illuminated with many candles with the striking Christ of the Sacred Heart ceiling mosaic as a main attraction.
Inside it has a demure and sombre atmosphere a striking contrast to the playful and joyous atmosphere outside the Basilica. People lounge on the grassy areas or sit on the steps leading up to the Basilica while listening to street musicians or watching the impromptu street performers.
We spent quite some time here resting our tired legs and just enjoying the lively atmosphere. A young man kept us well entertained by his great ball skills whist climbing a lamppost, see below.
We left Sacré Cœur later in the afternoon and walked down towards the red windmill of Moulin Rouge, where the can-can girls have entertained many since it’s opening in 1889. During the La Belle Époque , Toulouse-Lautrec used to be a regular here, with an absinthe in one hand and a sketch pad in the other he produced some beautiful drawings of the can-can dancers. The Moulin Rouge also played host to great musicians and notable artists that lived and worked in the area around Montmatre such as Edith Piaf, Ginger Rogers, Village People (yes really), Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry Matisse and so many others. We could only imagine how people would have been drawn to the often a little risque shows that went on inside the red mill. We wished that we could have seen a show but unfortunately we had not booked tickets and therefore it will be something to do next time we came to Paris.
Named after it’s creator Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), it is one of the most recognised structures in the world. Construction started in 1887 and finished in 1889, just in time to became the entrance to the 1889 World Fair and the celebration of France’s 100 years since the French Revolution. Many artists and intellectuals have criticised its design, but no one can argue that it has defied its critics and it has stood the test of time surviving the many futile attempts to take it down and it has became a much loved cultural icon.
In my humble opinion no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to this iconic site, even if it is just to say “I have been there ” type of experience. But surely the millions of people, who visit the tower every year can’t be wrong …can they?
For us it was a lot more than “tick it off the list” type of experience and it was the highlight of our trip to Paris.
We walked to the tower from our Airbnb apartment in St-Germian-des-Prés soon after our wholesome breakfast. We had already decided that we were going to climb the stairs up to level 2 and I am so glad we did, since it was not particularly difficult and it gave us a different perspective from just taking the elevator up.
There were not many people choosing this option, making it even more exciting for us. There was no queuing to go up via the stairs, there was no need to book ahead and we only paid 7 euros….what could possibly go wrong? It was 360 steps to the first level and another 360 to the second level. The staircase is enclosed with a wire cage, so for my sister Angelita, who is a little scared of heights, that was very reassuring. Once on the first level we explored the shops and exhibits before continuing to climb to the second level.
From the second level it was easy to reach the summit (Le Sommet) by elevator, there was hardly any queuing for the summit on the day we visited but Virginia and I decided to let the happy honeymoon couple experience the summit on their romantic own. So we grabbed a hot drink and sat down to admire the beautiful views of a clear, sunny day over beautiful Paris – worth every step of the climb.
All that walking and climbing left us with a ravenous appetite and there is no better place for an alfresco picnic than Parc du Champ de Mars, the green grassy area stretching South of the tower. We chose to sit on the grass with the Eiffel Tower watching over us. From here the tower does look massive, and easy to believe it was once the worlds tallest structure.
River Seine cruise
What can be more romantic than a river cruise? Soon after our picnic lunch and obligatory pictures around the Eiffel Tower we walked just few yards towards the river and right in front of the Eiffel Tower we boarded our cruise boat with Bateaux Parisiens (about 14 Euros) to enjoy a slow and very scenic cruise along the River Seine. We sat on the top deck to admire Paris from a whole new perspective, following along the magnificent River Seine, navigating through the heart of the city. It was fresh sitting outside on the top deck but very sunny giving us a clear view of the centuries-old architecture of the buildings and bridges that line the shores of this iconic river .
Arc de Triomphe
Nothing could stop us now… energised by the fresh air on our river cruise we walked from the Eiffel tower towards the Arc de Triomphe, which marks the start of the elegant Parisian Grand Boulevard of Champs – Elysee’s.
The Arc is an imposing and magnificent structure commissioned by Napoleon himself to commemorate his war victory, and later on it was the stage for his funeral. No doubt that many historic events have unfolded here and possibly many yet to unfold?
It is possible to ascend the Arc via the 284 steps inside the north pillar, but after climbing the Eiffel Tower earlier on in the day, we did not feel like doing any more climbing. I am sure the views would have been fabulous, but it will have to go on the ever growing list of things to do next time we come to Paris.
We paid our respects at the Tomb of the “Unknown Soldier” before walking down Champs- Elysee’s towards the Place de la Concorde, the city’s largest square.
Paris’ grand boulevard, the glamorous Champs- Elysee’s is a place to see and be seen, a stroll down this tree lined avenue is a must, in particular if you are into all the stylish designer shops, elegant cafes and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Channel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo. Although for us it was just a case of window shopping and people watching, there is no better place for it. There are people from all over the world here, pounding the wide pavement and strutting along this lively avenue .
We carried on down towards the Obelisk of Luxor, the centre piece of Place de la Concorde, the spot where Louis the XVI was beheaded.
From the Obelisk we started to walk towards home, past the Louvre which was bathed in the soft glow of a sun setting light in the late afternoon. We felt exhausted but happy, it was altogether a very special day, not only because of all the exiting things we had seen and done but also because it was Angelita’s Birthday, 4th of October. Back at the apartment we rested for few hours before changing into our glad rags and stepping out into the Parisian night for a special dinner to celebrate Angelita’s Birthday. We chose a restaurant in the Quarter Latin and enjoyed a lovely meal and a glass (or two) of French wine . The perfect way to end our perfect day.
During our stay in Paris we also visited some places that might not have been top of the wish list of most people visiting the city of light.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
This city of the dead is surrounded by a tall wall, with mostly car free roads. Lined with trees, it has an airy and melancholic feel. The hauntingly beautiful monuments and sculptures a constant reminder that this is the place of rest of so many of Paris’s most illustrious residents such as Chopin and Oscar Wild and many others.
We followed a guided small group for a little while and it took us to the tomb of Jim Morrison (1943-1971), an American, singer of the rock band The Doors. He came to Paris to clean up his act, but his plan did not work as the lure of alcohol, drugs, and the Rock and Roll lifestyle caught up with him and he died in his bathtub far too soon, at the age of only 27 (does this scene sounds familiar?). His tomb is apparently one of the most visited at this cemetery.
I also wanted to visit the tomb of Edith Piaf (1915-1963), since I have always loved her voice and music, in particular the song ” Non, je ne regrette rien” ( No, I don’t regret anything).
But perhaps most haunting was the grave of a 21 year old beautiful girl, killed very recently on the 13th of November 2015 in the horrific terrorist attack of the Bataclan concert hall. It was heart-wrenching to see her young smile and think of an innocent life so abruptly and violently ended.
The Shoah Memorial and the Holocaust Center
The Shoah Memorial retraces the history of French Jews deported from France to Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1944. There are 76, 000 names engraved in the wall of names, these are the names of the French Jews who did not return home. The names are listed alphabetically by year in which they were deported.
The Shoah memorial was inaugurated on 27th of January 2005 by the French President Chirac, on the day of commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust and for the Prevention of Crimes Against Humanity. That year also marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Jardin du Luxembourg or Luxembourg Gardens
Paris has some beautiful gardens that combine open spaces with elegant fountains, beautiful statues among the flower beds and one that we were very keen to visit was the Luxembourg Gardens. Created by the widow of the French King Henry IV, Marie de Medici.
This 60 acre garden not only houses beautiful plants and manicured lawns but most importantly, rumour has it that it is the home of the French Secret Service…shhhhhhh!…don’t tell anyone. The garden today is owned by the French Senate, we saw few armed guards on duty.
We also saw joggers, people sitting out reading books, children playing, a group of people doing Tai Chi.
We took every opportunity to walk by the river and enjoy its picturesque setting, eating French crepes whilst relaxing in the sunshine. Since 2002 the banks of the river Seine are transformed every summer into an urban beach to cater for an avid riverside culture scene. We saw glimpses of it with some sand and grass areas that remained from what it must have been like during the summer months.
Paris did woo us, and the magic of Paris is not a myth, the most romantic city in the world is just…well… pure romance. Its reputation as the city of love was not wasted on our newly wedded travel companions. But for Virginia and I, the chaperone sisters, there was a lot of love to be found there also and Paris captured our hearts. We loved the cafe culture, incredible history, beautiful architecture, the lively atmosphere at the banks of the River Seine, the live music that we stumbled upon on street corners or over one of the many bridges across the river , the picturesque parks and gardens, the food, the language….the list is endless.
But far too soon it was “au revoir” to Paris as we caught an early train on Thursday, 6th of October/16 to Amsterdam, where we continued to chaperone our newly weds and explore the Dutch Capital – another long time favourite place of mine. Wonderful city, wonderful people.
Stay tuned for my next post and let me know in the comments if you have been to Paris? Was it love for you?