With the richness of yesterday’s dinner still inside our stomachs, we opted for a slightly cheaper alternative breakfast venue closer to our hotel, but also along Champs-Élysées. It was a cafe where we ordered 2 breakfast sets to share as it comes with toast and 2 drinks, a cup of coffee and a glass of juice. The breakfast wasn’t as amazing as the one at Laduree, though it was still quite nice. Price-wise, it was slightly cheaper than our meal at Laduree, but not by a considerable amount. From the cafe, we took another short stroll over to the George V metro station to take the subway down towards Place de la Concorde. Purchasing a single journey ticket, we went to the subway and found the station clean enough, though the lighting was adequate for the station, not dark like the ones in Rome. Since it was early in the morning, there wasn’t much of a crowd in the station and it was a comfortable wait for the train and a nice direct journey into Concorde station.
Upon exiting the station, we are greeted with the vast space which is Place de la Concorde, which is dominated by the gold-topped Egyptian obelisk in the centre. Around the slightly octagonal square lies the statues of eight ladies which represents France’s eight largest cities. Historically, this square was the execution grounds of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette along with several revolutionary leaders. From the centre of the square, one can also observe the Tour Eiffel, the Hôtel de la Marine (headquarters of the French navy) and the Hôtel de Crillon, one of Paris’ most exclusive hotels, which was where the treaty recognizing the independence of USA was signed.
After walking around the square and exploring the buildings around the square, we headed towards the Jardin des Tuileries or Tuileries Garden. This garden separates the Louvre from the Place de la Concorde and is suitable for a mid-morning stroll under the slightly cloudy skies. The first prominent landmark of the garden is the octagonal shaped water fountain from where visitors can get a nice view of the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe. Around the park are also several sculptures and well manicured trees which allows the time to pass by nicely during the walk to the Louvre. The walk along the Grande Allée at the centre of the garden leads us to another large square at the end of the Tuileries Garden where a central circular fountain is flanked by two smaller round water basins.
Further down from this square in the Tuileries Garden is actually the Place du Carrousel where a smaller arch known as the Arc du Carrousel takes centre place.This smaller arch, although not as grand as the Arc de Triomphe which lies under the imaginary straight line, is definitely more ornate. Supported by eight pink marble pillars, there are eight statues on the top, each representing a soldier from Napoleon’s army, with four facing east and another four facing west. Beyond the Place du Carrousel, our walk culminated in the Louvre.
Grand Louvre, or Musée du Louvre was originally built as a fortress, became a palace before its present incarnation as one of the largest museums in the world, and housing what is the most famous painting in the world – the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. A modern addition to this classical building, the glass pyramid by I.M. Pei has made the palace even grander and appear more majestic as seen from the approach by the Place du Carrousel. Given that my parents aren’t avid museum visitors and there was a relatively long queue for entering the museum on a Saturday morning, we decided to skip on entering the museum but to take a walk around the vast courtyard where the glass pyramid occupies centre stage.
The Louvre was one of the landmarks of Paris which I found amazing because of the immense scale and its beauty especially at night time which I have seen in some photo prior my trip. To me, it would undoubtedly be the landmark of Paris as opposed to the more ubiquitous Tour Eiffel. As I knew I wouldn’t be heading back here this evening, I guess it will be up till next time I visit Paris before basking in its glory at night! From the Louvre, we took a walk towards the Seine riverbank and it was here that another tourist scammer tried some trick of pointing to an artifact which she apparently fished out from the ground and wanted to return to you. We just ignored this scammer and enjoyed the sights of the several bridges spanning the Seine. Finally, though, we cross the River Seine using the pedestrian-only Pont des Arts which provides pedestrians with a remarkable view of the Institut de France, the French learned society, comprising of five academies, the famous being the Académie Française, which is the guardian of the French language. The walk along the bridge to the other side of Paris is definitely an immersive way to be in this city. Once across, a line of flea markets can be found along the river banks, selling good from antique records to paintings and french literature.
Continuing our walk along the Quai de Conti, we could observe the Pont Neuf, which translates to the New Bridge, which is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine. It is also famous for being the first bridge linking the Île de la Cité with the rest of the city. This small island in the middle of the Seine now houses the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, the Palais de Justice, the Conciergerie and the city’s Prefecture de Police amongst many other notable buildings. After passing Quai des Grands Augustins, we decided to head for lunch and went off in search of a suitable venue around Saint-Michel. The junction around Saint-Michel has a large concentration of cafes and restaurants, though we were more keen on Asian food, thus we went walking towards Rue Danton where we settled on a Japanese restaurant for lunch. We ordered several sushi rolls and prawn tempura for lunch, though the food that was served was nothing to shout about and simply forgettable. Could be that I am accustomed to the great Japanese cuisine of Vancouver.
From Rue Danton, we continued on towards Boulevard Saint-Germain, one of the main boulevards of Paris’ left bank. This area, also known as the Latin Quarter is home to several institutions of higher learning in Paris and thus has shops and cafes catering to students and thus offers lower prices! It was thus a great area to shop and walk around after lunch. We walked towards Rue du Tournon which leads all the way towards Le Sénat or the upper house of the Parliament of France, which is incidentally housed within the Palais du Luxembourg. The adjoining Jardin du Luxembourg is a large park in this area and is teeming with visitors on this Saturday afternoon as the sun appears. As we did not fancy exploring another park, we went back to walk along the Boulevard Saint-Michel where cafes line the streets and one could take a peek into the Panthéon from Rue Soufflot. Similar to the Pantheon in Rome, this landmark in the Latin Quarter contains the remains of distinguished French citizens.
As we were quite tired from walking, we decided to hail a cab from Rue Soufflot to head to our next destination, the Centre Georges Pompidou which is located in the Beaubourg area in the right bank. This centre was unique for its architecture style which places the trusses, pipes and elevators prominently outside of the building, giving it a post-modern abstract look. Little wonder that this building houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne, on top of a vast public library and a centre for music and acoustic research. A small square outside the Centre allows many Parisians to sit down under the afternoon sun whilst enjoying a book or some street performances around the area. There are also several cafes providing refreshments and we took this chance to get ourselves more gelatos to cool ourselves down from the walking and touring Paris.
Just beside the Centre Georges Pompidou lies another interesting sight in the form of a public fountain at Place Igor Stravinsky. However instead of the classical water fountain with the traditional Neptune statue, this one is animated with colourful and imaginative sculptures such as musical notes, a kissing lip and a movie reel sprouting water in a haphazard manner. Whilst the fountain wasn’t operating when we visited, the theme was in line with the abstract design of Centre Georges Pompidou and made a good match! Another reason to visit this area is for easy access to the Notre Dame and the Hôtel de Ville de Paris or Paris’ City Hall. Both landmarks can be reached by a short 5 to 10 minute walk from the Rue du Renard beside Place Igor Stravinsky. The beautiful city hall building is decorated with 108 statues of illustrious Parisians and is a very nice place to visit for its sense of proportion. There was an exhibition on Charles de Gaulle when we visited which explains his photo montage at the centre of the Hôtel de Ville.
Stopping our exploration at Hôtel de Ville and skipping Notre Dame, we took another cab to head towards Galeries Lafayette, the most famous department store in Paris. It was a crowded weekend when we reached and there seemed to be plenty of people shopping here but our visit was worth it because one attraction of this department store is its magnificent Art Nouveau styled dome in the centre with its ornate balconies around this central atrium. I would like to think of this place like a monument paying homage to the art of shopping. While shopping is the main activity to do here as there lies another grand landmark in Opera Garnier, which was initially known as the Academie Nationale de Musique. Similar to the Versailles, this opera house is decorated with gold statues and linings giving it the opulent look. It is also perhaps the most famous amongst the other concert house in Paris!
Besides Galeries Lafayette, there was also Printemps Department Store beside it and the upcoming Apple Store (just opened recently after my visit to Paris) which will make it choices galore for shoppers. We got and additional suitcase from Printemps in Paris after our shopping spree made it impossible to fit the goods into our present load. Tourists should know that the maps given out by hotels would have discount cards for Printemps and Galeries Lafayette which will make shopping more worthwhile! There are also affordable dining and beverage outlets within these 2 large department stores, allowing one to easily spend a day in this area.
With our new luggage, we took another taxi back to the hotel to end the afternoon tour of some of Paris’ monumental landmarks. But the sun was still out and there was more to see. In this respect, we chose to visit the Arc de Triomphe and bought tickets to head to the top of this monument, thinking a lift or elevator is going to bring visitors up. How wrong we were, as the only elevator in operation is for disabled passengers only and the rest had to climb a spiralling staircase up towards the top. Needless to say, it was a tiring trek to the top, and there was a small museum of sorts explaining the murals on the Arc de Triomphe before another level to the observation deck from the top of the Arch. The view from the observation deck was amazing providing us a platform to admire the Tour Eiffel and we could see as far north towards Montmartre which is the highest point in Paris and the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Furthermore,due to the perfect placement of the Arc de Triomphe in sync with Avenue Champs-Élysées and Avenue Charles de Gaulle, we got a nice view of the traffic along these 2 grand avenue all the way to the Louvre looking southeast and the skyscrapers of La Défense looking northwest.
At the bottom of the Arc de Triomphe lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I and a small military ceremony is held here every evening to rekindle the flame that burns. The whole Arch was built to honor those who have fought for France. We took a walk along Avenue Marceau from the Arch as we had planned to go on an evening sunset River Seine cruise and intended to have dinner around Pont de l’Alma. Eventually we picked Bistrot de Marius at the southern end of Avenue George V for dinner as they seemed to have a variety of seafood dishes which Mum prefers at a reasonable price. During our meal, we noticed the shellfish platters here was very popular, though my parents weren’t a fan of those which meant that it was struck out from the menu. The food was alright and decent for the price, though I would recommend seafood and shellfish lovers to head down here for a meal. After the meal it was a short walk towards the dock where we would board a river cruise along the Seine. It was a very windy and chilly evening when we went for the cruise and it totally felt like winter nights again when it was in June.
Cruising the River Seine is perhaps one of the most amazing things to do in Paris, though I would have preferred an early evening cruise during cold weather. The sunset cruise in the late evening was nice though as one gets to experience the beautifully lit bridges along the Seine. Not only that, these river barges which carry tourists have spotlights on their sides, illuminating the numerous landmark buildings which was explained as we pass by each one of them. Starting just after Pont de l’Alma, the cruise headed east initially passing under Pont des Invalides, Pont Alexandre III, Pont de la Concorde, Pont Royal, Pont du Carrousel, Pont des Arts, Pont Neuf, Pont Saint-Michel, Petit Pont, Pont au Double, Pont de l’Archevêché, Pont de la Tournelle and Pont de Sully before turning around at Pont d’Austerlitz and continuing onwards to Tour Eiffel. With the major landmarks starting from the Hôtel des Invalides, the National Assembly, the Louvre, the French Institute, and the buildings around Île de la Cité including Notre Dame covered, it showed the importance of River Seine to the development of the city in just an hour.
The Seine River cruise wrapped up this packed day of ours while in Paris and truly shows how much of Paris one can explore in a day! We headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep and look forward to another half day in Paris tomorrow where we will visit its most famous landmark – the Eiffel Tower. Thus far, Paris doesn’t disappoint even with my high hopes for this marvelous city. From its grand avenues and tree-lined boulevards, Paris has much to offer in terms of culture, fashion, food and sights! It is little wonder then why so many tourists visit this city as it is extremely beautiful and has lots of charm which I definitely would have to return to discover. Unlike many cities which has a definitive city centre and a central city core, Paris is made up of distinctive neighbourhoods. In Saint-Germain and the Latin Quarter, one can enjoy the numerous cafes and small lane eateries while Avenue Champs-Élysées provides the grandeur of this city. It is as if there is something for everyone in Paris which will draw visitors again and again to this city!
Must-visit in Paris: With so much to see and more that I have yet to discover, my present favourite at the moment in Paris is a stroll around the River Seine, specifically in the riverbank between the Louvre and Saint-Michel, as I found this area to provide some of the most glamorous architecture that symbolizes the opulence of the city of light! Needless to say, linger till the evening when the lights come out and be truly charmed by the city!