And so, in mostly chronological but no geographic order, I give you my Petit Tour of Paris…
Metro Stop: Palais Royal-Louvre or Louvre
Crowded, full of photo-snapping tourists, and difficult to stand and appreciate the art let alone get close to it. Nonetheless, an incredible experience just to see the collection, and the building itself, which was once a castle (well, I suppose it still is).
Metro Stop: Tuileries
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. A lovely place to go for a walk or enjoy some gelato, as I did after our tour of the Louvre.
Metro Stop: Pigalle
No, we did not go see a show at Moulin Rouge. But we did stumble across it one night on our way to a bar in Pigalle. Perhaps my favorite part about this lovely landmark is that is surrounded by sex shops and hookers, but it remains one of the most frequented stops on tourist buses. This area is fantastic simply because the sheer amount of tourists makes it incredibly safe, even late at night, despite the seeming sketchy surroundings. Also, there is a bouncer in the McDonald’s.
Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise
Metro Stop: Pere Lachaise
One of my favorite places in Paris. It is absolutely enormous, but beautiful and tranquil amidst a bustling and often crazy city. Among the most famous graves are Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde (I didn’t make it to the former, only the latter) as well as hundreds of incredibly important people. Oscar Wilde’s grave is famously covered in red kisses, which I find sweet but simultaneously gross.
Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe
Metro: Champs Elysees-Clemenceau or Franklin D. Roosevelt
What to say about the Champs Elysees…it is always very crowded, and for some reason 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the city. There are lots of stores that I will never be able to shop in, and some that I can afford but I don’t bother entering because of the sheer amount of tourists crowding there (ahem, Sephora). It’s lovely to stroll down, but the side streets are much nicer. The highlight is always seeing how long the line is outside of Louis Vuitton.
The Eiffel Tower
Metro Stop: Bir Hakeim
Ah, the Eiffel Tower: France’s Iron Lady. Up close, it is actually not attractive at all. It is impressive, yes, but not beautiful. It is crowded with people selling key chains and little souvenirs, tourists and school groups, and over-priced crepes. It is a must-see, but not my favorite part of the city. I didn’t go up, so I guess I’m slightly unfit to judge, but it was just as impressive standing below and looking up at one of the world’s most recognizable symbols. It is in its true glory, however, at night.
Cimitiere du Montmartre (Montmartre Cemetary)
Metro: Place de Clichy
One of the coolest and most underrated places in all of Paris. Some incredible people are buried here, but more so than that it is just awesome. I didn’t get to see much because I was on my way to Sacre Coeur and I didn’t get to do a full tour, but the best part is the simple fact that it is intertwined with the road – it is literally under an overpass. It’s hard to explain just how cool this cemetary is, but it is a trip worth making on your way up to Sacre Coeur or to dinner in Montmartre (a must-do, it is the coolest neighborhood in Paris and has some of the best and cheapest restaurants and bars).
Metro Stop: Abbesses
My favorite place in the whole world. I love this church. It is more beautiful and simple than Notre Dame, though younger, and is a quiet yet strong symbol of unity that sits like a jewel on a hill in Paris. Though it is often crowded with tourists, there is something special about it: many of the tourists who come are ones who come to pray, or to light a candle, or to appreciate the truly divine beauty of this sacred place. They want to be close to God, not to just snap photos (well, some do, but many go inside and pray). My favorite part about this church is its story. It was built at a time when France was divided, following the Paris Commune and the newly formed Troisieme Republique (Third Republic), which went through several assemblies and presidents, and saw the scandals of Dreyfus and Boulanger. France was split. The church was built as a way to try to unify the country, as a symbol of solidarity and strength. I love the idea that something so beautiful and strong can be born out of something disastrous and ugly, and stand the test of time to become a proud testament to the character of a country and its people.
Shakespeare and Company
Metro Stop: I’m not sure because I walked there from Sciences Po, but I suppose Notre Dame or St. Michel
Only a true dork such as myself would include this on their list of sightseeing stops, but it was entirely necessary. As a former English major and eternal literary fanatic, I of course read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast before coming to Paris: the memoir recounts his time in Paris as an up-and-coming writer, and his brushing of elbows with other notable authors such as James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein (among others). Mentioned in his book is this petite book store, which was once owned by Sylvia Beach. She was somewhat of a hero to the young author, as she would often let him take books without paying for them (he was, after all, the starving artist) and lend him money. The book store was frequented by Hemingway and his contemporaries, and you can still feel their presence upon walking in: the non-pretentiousness, the abundance of great literature, the localness and slightly disheveled appearance. It’s a hidden gem.
Centre George Pompidou
Metro Stop: Chatelet-Les Halles
An incredible museum. It is a bit off-putting upon first arrival: the museum itself is very out of place in this tres-Parisien neighborhood, but it is spectacular. It’s a building that you love or hate, but inside its art is the true beauty. Ranging from modern art that is more familiar to your average, educated traveler such as Picasso to the bizarre and contemporary works that make some feel uncomfortable, the art in the Centre will make you think, feel, and react. It is unnerving and at times unsettling, but a necessary experience for anyone with an open mind and bit of curiosity. My favorite part of the museum was the temporary exhibit on women artists. Though a bit shocking and slightly inaccessible, it was a powerful commentary on women’s place in society and their general exclusion from the art world. I will be heading back there soon to check it out again.
Musee de Cluny (Musee du Moyen Age)
Metro Stop: Cluny-La Sorbonne
A lovely little museum devoted to French and Parisian life in the Middle Ages (le Moyen Age, en francais). It is probably one of the less tread-upon places in the city, but is worth a visit. Some of the items in this collection are incredible: rings from the pope, stained glass windows of the most incredible craftsmanship, and many other priceless discoveries. It is another hidden gem that I would highly recommend, especially if you are planning on spending some time in St. Michel anyway.
Metro Stop: Solferino
My favorite museum in Paris. Housed in an old train station, the M’O, as they abbreviate it, is by far the museum most worthy of your time in this city so consumed by tourism. What makes it so beautiful is the seemingly scattered works all over the museum: statues are placed randomly throughout the entrance hall, and the natural light coming in makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon some great collection in an abandoned station that no one knew existed. The works begin with the rejection of romanticism, and you see the progression of art as the painters began to revolt against standard conventions and begin to paint more realistically. Degas, Gaugin and Manet feature prominently in this impressive collection of art, and you cannot make a visit without paying a visit to Manet’s “Olympia” (my personal favorite).
Metro Stop: Tuileries
This humble little museum is tucked in the far corner of Tuileries (the side closest to Place de la Concorde), and boasts a rather impressive collection for such a small one. It is the home to Monet’s “nympheades”, his huge, landscape, panoramic paintings of the gardens that he is so famous for depicting. Monet was nearly blind (or all blind) when he painted them, and so they were painted solely from memory – and are perhaps all the more beautiful because of it. They are displayed in oval rooms, slightly curved, and lit by natural sunlight that comes in from the circular sun roof in each room. It is peaceful, quiet, and absolutely stunning.
Place de la Concorde
Metro Stop: Concorde
One day, while meandering through Paris, you will happen upon this “place”. There are plenty of these around Paris: Place de Clichy, Place de Madeleine, Place de St. Michel (okay I may have made that one up, but I swear the other two exist). There is nothing, however, like Place de la Concorde. I don’t really understand its purpose, or why it exists, but it is the midway point between Tuileries and the beginning of the Champs Elysees, and is nearly impossible to cross from one side to the other without being hit by a moped or a tourist bus. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the obelisk, which is ironically the oldest thing – for lack of a better word – in Paris, as it was imported from Egypt. It is flanked on each side by a rather French-looking fountain, and is usually swarmed with people just out of the Tuileries gardens and enjoying a crepe. I am guilty of this as well, and I enjoyed every moment.
Visite des Egouts de Paris (The Sewers of Paris Tour)
Metro Stop: Alma Marceau or RER Pont de l’Alma
Well, I finally did it. After years of my father begging me to do this tour, I have finally done it. My dad spent years as a wastewater engineer, joking about sewers and other unpleasant concepts throughout my childhood, and I have finally justified his career with this one visit to the historic sewers of Paris. We were expecting sewers that were no longer in use, and oh how wrong we were. They are still very much active. Be prepared for a serious funk. Although poorly organized as a tour, it is a pretty cool sight to see if only for the fact that not many tourists are brave enough to do it.
But I encourage you to be one of the few, the proud, the stinky!
Eglise de Madeleine
Metro Stop: Madeleine or Saint Lazare
One of the less photographed but more beautiful churches in the city, l’eglise de Madeleine acts as somewhat of a border between the northern part of the city (Saint Lazare, the amazing shopping area and Place de Clichy) and the heart of the city that begins at Place de la Concorde. Standing on the steps of the church gives you the best view of the obelisk at Concorde and some really big, seemingly important building behind it. The inside is beautiful as well, although not as elaborate as Sacre Coeur, but there is something understated and elegant about it.
Les Jardins du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens)
Metro Stop: RER Luxembourg
Aah…beautiful. Palm trees, fountains, people actually doing forms of exercise. I would have like to have spent more time there, but the gardens are just as incredible as they are hyped up to be, especially on a beautiful summer day. The only downside: all the smoke. It’s hard being in Europe when you’re used to MA non-smoking laws…
Metro Stop: Not sure, I followed a techno parade there. But probably something really obvious like “Bastille”
So, I didn’t really go the the Bastille to see it, but rather ended up there as a result of the Techno Parade, an annual celebration of techno music that starts in the Latin Quarter and ends at La Bastille. Picture thousands of people in the streets, drinking and dancing, in the middle of the day, in Paris. Incredible. Bastille is the symbolic start of the Revolution: the people stormed the Bastille on July 14, 17-something. I’m not really sure what the Bastille was. I think it was something to do with the monarchy or the government…I don’t know, but they stormed it, and then they started the French Revolution, and then France became a democracy. Something like that.
Hotel de Ville
Metro: Chatelet-Les Halles I think, or somewhere around there
This building fascinates me. It is the building for the mayorship of Paris, and it is truly Parisienne. It is like an over-decorated cake that stands as a pretentious reminder of just how much Paris is truly the center of the Universe. Fortunately, I got to see it during Nuit Blanche, when it was turned into a piece of living artwork.
Whew! What a trip. As much effort as that took, it is nice to sit down and really think about everything I’ve done so far – it’s been a lot and I haven’t really taken the time to let it all process. There is so much to see and do here, and I have only just begun.
More posts to come – next up: Versailles!