Paris - City of Lights, Food, Wine, History and Pickpockets
The first time we went to Paris our son was 5 and our daughter 13. We flew into London toured around and then took the Chunnel Train to Paris for three full days of sightseeing. We hit all of the high spots. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, toured the city at night on a bus (which was a highlight of our trip), took a sightseeing cruise on the river Seine, hit the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Sacré Cœur. We took hundreds of pictures during our trip with our Canon Elph. For those that don’t know the Canon elph is a tiny camera that takes a decent photo and fits in your pocket...on the last day of our visit our camera was stolen. All of our pictures were gone. We were heartbroken.
That trip was in 2004 and the “cloud” was not what it is today and I hadn’t offloaded any images at all. I spent months scouring the internet after we got home expecting our camera to show up for sale. I went on to message boards pleading for the return of our SD card. I realize now how silly it was to think that it would show up somewhere….but I was desperate and desperate people do desperate things.
We still mourn the loss of those images...but the experience taught us a few things. Firstly, pickpockets are very real in Paris and you should always be on the lookout and secure your stuff. Secondly, a bigger camera that doesn’t fit in your pocket is easier to keep track of. After owning three iterations of Elph cameras and having them all stolen or lost, I switched to a much larger Nikon camera. It’s easy to use and is a good cross between an SLR and an automatic. It’s big enough that I can’t put it in my pocket and the camera body is red so it stands out. I’ve had it for years now... never stolen and never lost. Thanks to my husband for realizing that a bigger camera might be a good idea for me.
Despite our loss we fell in love with Paris on that trip. We’ve been back several times since, always finding something new to visit. Once you get the top tourist spots out of the way you can start really exploring the city...finding your favorite restaurants, your favorite parks, your favorite place for pastries and coffee and your favorite place to take in the view with a baguette and a glass of wine. On stressful days we fantasize about sitting on the edge of the River Seine on the Île de la Cité with our feet dangling over the riverbank with a fresh baguette and a bottle of wine. Of all of the cities we’ve been to we could see ourselves living in this vibrant city.
In this blog we have pulled some of our images from the different times we’ve been there since we lost our images on that first trip. There are some cities we’ve been to that we don’t desire to see again but Paris is a place we could see over and over again.
Where to stay in Paris?
Consider the Louvre area; It is in the 1st arrondissement just north of the Seine River. The Tuileries Park is directly next to the Louvre. It is within walking distance to several museums including the Orangerie and Musee D’Orsay. It’s close to the Île de la Cité and Notre Dame and there are convenient metro stops to get you to places like the Eiffel tower and a number of places you will want to visit. Click here for a Google Map of the Louvre.
We stayed at the La Clef Louvre on our first trip with our kids and it was a perfect location (opposite the Comédie-Française theatre and the Grand Louvre museum, and only a few minutes away from the Opéra). During our most recent trip we rented a small apartment in the Le Marais area of Paris. And for a previous trip, we rented (again through VRBO) an apartment near the Les Sablon Metro Station and the Bois de Boulogne park. Hotels in Paris are generally expensive, and using VRBO or AirBnB to find an apartment in a good location is one option to keep costs down. You can cook some of your own meals and keep drinks and snacks in your apartment. Eating in sometimes can save a lot of money and your waistline. We find that after a few days of eating out we are dying to just have something simple. Do your due diligence and read the reviews when renting a place to make sure it will meet your needs. There are a number of reliable apartment rental companies available, you should make sure your selection will be in a good location and would meet your needs & budget. We suggest that you try to find accommodations near a metro station, as that will simplify your trips around the city. See our tips below about where to obtain a Metro ticket.
Tips for Paris
Metro Warning: The police often check tickets inside Metro Stations; if you are using a single use ticket do not dispose of it until you depart the Station or the police will assume you have cheated and they will fine you.
The Louvre Museum
It is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. As the city of Paris expanded, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function, and in 1546 Francis I converted it into the main residence of the French Kings.
You may not have noticed the interesting architecture of the Louvre roof, so the image above is a close-up of one of the roofs (see the larger picture of the Louvre, in particular, the building roof at the right side of the picture).
Fun Fact: The "greyish" area behind the windows, is called a mansard or mansard roof (also called a French roof or curb roof) is a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper. The steep roof with windows creates an additional floor of habitable space (a garret), and reduces the overall height of the roof for a given number of habitable stories. The upper slope of the roof may not be visible from street level when viewed from close proximity to the building.
This mansard roof caught our eye because it was so ornate and unusual to us - you just do not see this kind of architecture in America very often.
Jardins du Trocadero
On our way to the Eiffel Tower, we rode the Metro from our apartment in Le Marais to the Trocadero Station because we wanted to walk over to the Tower via the Jardin du Trocadero and then cross the River Seine on the Pont d'Iéna which would place us near the Eiffel Tower entrance.
As we walked through the gardens, we passed by a statue called "La Danse Triomphale a Pallas Athene" sculpted by Carlo Sarrabezolles. The statue name translates to "The Triumphal Dance to Pallas Athena" in English. This is so typical of Paris, art is everywhere and unless you take the time to notice these things, you might have walked right by it.
The Eiffel Tower and it's surrounding grounds, are beautiful and iconic. French security has been enhanced where a wall now surrounds the entire area, and entrance into that area is controlled by metal detectors & security personnel.
See the two pictures above taken from inside the elevator? Yep, they pack em in tightly and the elevator feels like it is as old as the tower (completed in 1889). The elevators are at a slight angle as you board them on one of the tower legs, and then the elevator proceeds upward.
If you are not a fan of elevators, there is a 1,710 step staircase that you could walk the entire 324 meters (1,063 feet) to the top. We have walked down from the observation level, and it takes a while to get to the ground level because the views are constantly distracting you!
If you want to read more information about the Eiffel Tower including; history, interesting facts and the Tower today, click here for a good source of information at the "Live Science" website.
What do you do while you are waiting for your Tower "elevator time slot" to arrive? You could take a stroll around the Tower Park and perhaps even into the Champ de Mars. The grounds in both areas are beautiful and well maintained.
However you get to the top observation platform, as you look out from the top of the Eiffel, Paris & the River Seine are below you and on a clear day, you can see for miles.
This view is looking west and the island you see below is L'île aux Cygnes, the first bridge is the Pont du Bir-Hakeim and the second is the Pont du Grenelle. The "small" Statue of Liberty is at the west end of the L'île aux Cygnes. That large expanse of greenery on the north side of the Seine, is the Bois de Boulogne Park - a beautiful park well worth a visit. The Stade Roland Garros (where the French Open takes place) is at the southeast corner of the park.
That is the Place du Trocadero from the first observation deck (57 meters above ground) of the Eiffel Tower. We were looking north, and in the distant background is La Defense.
In the center distance is Montmartre, otherwise known as the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. This is worth a visit if you have not been there. Easily reached via the Paris Metro, exit at the Abbesses Station. Its 130 meter height (427 feet) when combined with a clear day, provides visitors with really good views of Paris - not to be missed!
For more information about the Sacré Cœur, click here to scroll to that part of this page.
Strolling the River Seine
The above images were taken during our stroll along the River Seine, beautiful area isn't it? Our destination is now in sight, the Musee D'Orsay. Note to self - the Musee D'Orsay is closed on Mondays.
According to Google Maps, it is 2.7 kilometers from the Eiffel Tower to the Musee D'Orsay. On a beautiful day with these scenic and iconic locations along the River Seine, it is a nice way to get to the museum.
Love Locks on the Passerelle des Arts: Sometime in 2008, people (tourists as well as locals) started attaching padlocks with their first names engraved on them, to the railings and grates of the bridge. By 2012 the number of padlocks had become enormous, estimated to be in excess of 700,000. As of 2015, over a million locks had been attached, weighing approximately 45 tons.
After our stroll down the southern side of the River Seine to the Musée d'Orsay, which turned out to be closed, we crossed the river and visited to the Musée de l'Orangerie.
The Musée de l'Orangerie: is an art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings located in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens next to the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The museum is most famous as the permanent home of eight large Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet, and also contains works by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Alfred Sisley, Chaim Soutine, Maurice Utrillo, and others.
Le Marais area of Paris, France
This is a historic district in Paris that we had not previously visited. Long the aristocratic district of Paris, it hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance. It spreads across parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Paris (on the Rive Droite, or Right Bank, of the Seine).
If you are interested in reading more depth about the Le Marais ("The Marsh") area of Paris, click here to read a good article about the history & architecture of Le Marais. This article is very good, and you will be surprised to learn about the role the Templar Knights played in the Le Marais.
Above the Saint Paul Metro station is an area where you will find several small sidewalk cafes and pubs. So after a full day of exploring, we would stop and have a cold drink before continuing on to the apartment.
And we do mean "above" because most Paris Metro Stations are below ground level.
The sidewalk cafes on the Rue Saint-Antoine in Le Marais do not waste any space, the tables are kept very close to each other, so that as many customers as possible can be seated.
Sidewalk cafes and restaurants are enormously popular in Paris, and they offer a delightful way for a visitor to have a coffee, a drink & snack or a complete meal while watching Parisians walk by.
The King Falafel Palace was one door away from our VRBO rental. This shop might be tiny, but their food offerings were huge. Several competing shops can be found along the Rue des Rosiers which is in the old Jewish quarter of the Marais district.
The Le Droguerie Crepe shop was on the same street as our VRBO rental and there was always a crowd waiting to order. We stopped here and had dessert crepes (instead of dinner) one evening, and they were outstanding! You can also tell by the size of the line waiting to order, that this is a very popular place for crepes.
The Cafe Le Perle was just a few blocks away from our VRBO rental, and we had good food at a decent price (located on Rue de la Perle).
At the Cafe Le Perle, my wife had a very good quiche for dinner, we both felt that it was excellent.
La Defense Paris, France
This panorama picture was taken as we sat on the steps of the Grande Arch, and it shows just how large this area is; it is Europe's largest purpose-built business district with 560 hectares (1,400 acres) of area, 72 glass and steel buildings (of which 19 are completed skyscrapers), 180,000 daily workers, and 3,500,000 square metres (38,000,000 sq ft) of office space. Around its Grande Arche and esplanade ("le Parvis"), La Défense contains many of the Paris urban area's tallest high-rises. Les Quatre Temps, a large shopping mall in La Défense, has 220 stores, 48 restaurants and 24 movie theaters.
This is the Grande Arche in La Defense looking out from the rear of the building.
The steel apparatus that is attached to the top of the arch, is the original transparent elevators, that used to take passengers from the base of the arch, to the top of the building. They were closed in 2010 after a non-injury accident. The museum and restaurant at the top are now accessible only via interior building elevators.
This statue is named "Point Growth" created by Lim Dong-Lak who is a Professor of Fine Arts in South Korea and an ambassador emeritus of Korean sculpture.
There's an outdoor art collection scattered around La Défense that includes works by Calder, Miro, and other world-famous artists like Baldaccini, represented by his iconic sculpture of a 40-foot thumb. On total there are 70 pieces of contemporary artworks found throughout the district. The art route was an ambitious project initiated in 1958, just when the modernization of the area began. Some of the art works are found on the main place of La Défense, others are hidden between skyscrapers.
For a current list of the art that can be found at La Defense, go to this web site: La Defense Art Works
Notre Dame Cathedral
This is the eastern end of Notre Dame, and it shows you how they used "flying buttresses" to support the height of the Cathedral. As they were working with only stone and mortar, and did not have the benefit of steel at that time, the only way they knew how to support that kind of height, was to use these flying buttress supports.
Notre Dame Cathedral Dimensions;
- The building is 130 meters long, 48 meters wide and 35 meters high.
- The rose windows have a diameter of 10 meters.
- The cathedral pillars have a diameter of 5 meters.
- The twin towers are 69 meters tall, and there are 387 steps to the top.
Notre Dame interesting facts;
- It was built between 1163 and 1345. Its construction was ordered by the Bishop of Paris named Maurice de Sully in 1160. Maurice Sully, who ordered the construction of Notre Dame, died in 1196, long before the cathedral was completed.
- The largest Notre Dame bell is located in the South Tower & weighs 28,000 pounds. The bell is also known as the Emmanuel Bell and was created in 1681.
- The magnificent stained glass windows in Notre Dame are original.
- Approx 13 million people visit Notre Dame every year, which makes it the most popular monument in France. People visit Notre Dame more than the Eiffel Tower.
- The best part is that it is free to enter the cathedral.
- In 1804 Napoleon invited Pope Pius VII to come to Notre Dame so that he could be crowned emperor. At the last minute Napoleon crowned himself instead.
- There are many small statues outside of Notre Dame which were placed there to serve as rain water spouts and to support columns.
- Based on a 1905 law, Notre Dame is owned by the French State, but the Catholic Church has the right to use it forever.
Sacré Cœur du MontmartreThis image is the property of PieterjanDC via Dutch Wikimedia
We visited the Sacré Cœur du Montmartre, which is easily one of the prettiest churches in Paris. Due to the height of Montmartre, the church can be seen from all over Paris! And of course the reverse is true as well, the views of Paris (read below) from Montmartre are very good on a clear day.
Word of warning: You can see how the church sits high on the hill? On a hot day, it can be difficult to walk up all those stairs. There is a funicular that you should utilize if you are not comfortable with walking up steep stairs.
For an excellent list of information about the Sacré Cœur du Montmartre, you should visit the French Moments Website.
Sacré Cœur Métro stops: Anvers Station on the #2 (blue) line that runs between Porte Dauphine and Nation with a stop at Charles De Gaulle/Etoile by the Arc de Triomphe. From Anvers, it's a short walk up the Rue Steinkerque to the hill at the foot of Sacré-Coeur.
The Abbesses Station on line #12 (green) line is approximately a 10 minute walk via Rue Chappe and Rue Yvonne le Tac taking you past some nice shops & restaurants. Which station you arrive at depends solely upon which line you took to get there. Note that the Abbesses is the deepest station in the Paris Métro, at 36 metres (118 feet) below ground.
Warning: There is a long (and steep) spiral staircase from the subway car arrival area to the surface exit at the Abbesses Station, look for the elevators if you are not able to climb steep stairs.
Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris located in the 14th arrondissement quartier Montparnasse. We had our teenage son with us, and we had intentionally looked for something unusual like this to visit. Judging by his reaction to what he saw on the tour, he found it to be very entertaining!
It is not known just how large the Catacombs actually are, there are estimates that there are over 200 miles of tunnels, however, only a very small area of that is part of the tour and "legal". The other areas are considered to be dangerous and are off limits with police patrols, etc.
Was it spooky? Definitely!! I doubt that anyone could descend into an area like that, where the bones of over six million people are kept from hundreds of years ago and not feel it!
Once you have entered into the green building entrance, you will immediately descend via a very narrow (and steep) spiral staircase that delivers you into the catacombs. The first thing you'll notice are the very low ceilings - if you're claustrophobic you might want to brace yourself - and for the first three or four minutes you'll be walking through empty corridors with no bones in sight. Once you reach the ossuaries, you will see bones neatly stacked, sometimes to the stone ceiling, frequently stacked all the way back to the stone walls (often a considerable distance) and these bone stacks are everywhere!
There are no elevators at the entrance or exit, you walk down the steep entrance staircase (130 steps) and you will have to walk up the steep exit stairs (83 steps). There are no cloak rooms or bathrooms anywhere, and it is chilly so you should dress appropriately.
The municipal ossuary in the Paris Catacombs is one of the world’s largest and one of only a handful located underground.
There are several YouTube videos that can show you the catacombs in detail, click here to view one of them.
Suggested links for Paris
- Paris Wikipedia Article
- Paris History on 'Local Histories'
- Top 10 Things to do & see in Paris on 'Paris Perfect'
- 25 things to do and see in Paris on Fodors
- Here is a pre-built Google Search for restaurants in Paris
- Here is a pre-built Google Search for accommodations in Paris
- Google list of Paris Catacombs Websites
- There are many other sites, try a Google search.
If you have never been to Paris, or you are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;
Quick Funny Story
On one trip to Paris, we took a train to Bordeaux. We rode the metro to the Paris Gare Montparnasse train station, and we saw our train listed on the train schedule monitors, so we enjoyed a cold drink while waiting for our train's track location to be announced. When it was finally announced, we walked over with our back packs & luggage, got on the train and sat in our assigned seats. Just as we are getting relaxed, an English family walked up and said "you are sitting in our seats", so we asked the train car attendant to come over and sort out the situation. He took one look at our tickets and told us "your tickets are for the express train, and you are on the local train to Bordeaux & your train has already departed". So we gathered up our backpacks and exited the train, and as we are standing next to the train car wondering what we do now, the same train car attendant leaned out the car door and told us "hey, you can ride with us, and someone will get off the train and you can have those seats". Since this was much better than waiting in the train station for the next express train to Bordeaux, we hopped back on spent the majority of the ride in between train cars, sitting on the floor. We eventually got seats as people exited the train.
These things can happen when traveling - keep your cool and have fun along the way.