Week 44 – Paris is always a good idea: Part 1/2

23rd – 26th June 2014



Paris is always a good idea
– Audrey Hepburn in the film Sabrina, 1954.

Zero - the centre of Paris
Zero – the centre of Paris

Now in the city of love. So different to our previous experiences of Paris perhaps because we stayed out of the central city. This time round it seemed cleaner, friendlier and more open minded. Perhaps we have come to know it a bit better and got acquainted at last?

Staying with our wonderful host Pierre, in a Catholic Presbytry in Ris-Orangis, was pleasant and very multi-cultural compared with central Paris. Pierre also has a huge collection of DVD’s. So it wasn’t long before the boys were settled in and enjoying the 1996 animation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A fun introduction to Paris.

The next day we were privileged to have Pierre’s assistance to buy Navigo cards. This gave us the cheapest possible options for travel in and around Paris – we were thrilled.

Pierre was determined to give us a quick personal introduction to his city despite his busy schedule. We took the easy commute into the city via train. Walked along the Seine River under the carved faces of the Pont Neuf bridge. At over 400 years old, this bridge is Paris’s oldest and a UNESCO world heritage monument. Near it we passed the area depicted in the movie, Ratatouille (which the boys watched later that evening).

Louvre1We then walked across the famous Pont des Arts bridge. Here the bridge has been gradually covered with love locks. Romantic and colourful – yes. We spent some time looking at all the pledges of love. Love locks are padlocks which people initial, affix to bridges and throw the key into the river. This idea, immortalised in a WWI Serbian tale and a few novels, became a growing trend in 2000. It is controversial as, in the case of the Pont des Arts, it is threatening the structural strength of this beautiful bridge. P1190447

We walked across to the central square (cour carrée) of the Palais du Louvre. Pierre took us to the lesser known inverted pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall. This sits underneath the famous and well know Louvre Pyramid. Then left us in the Jardin des Tuileries to enjoy our picnic lunch and the nearby playground. This huge, lush, beautiful garden was first created in 1564 and became a manicured public garden after the French Revolution in 1667. Unlike the last time we had visited Paris we were actually permitted to sit on the grass.

We then visited the Arc de triomphe where we splurged on drinks at a lovely ArcParisian cafe nearby, then onwards to the Trocadero for wonderful views of Paris. This is a great way to approach the Eiffel Tower and magnify it’s majesty. We sat on the grass munching apples and the boys rolled down the sloping lawns. Then to our chief destination and Felix’s heartfelt desire – the Tour Eiffel itself.

After a half hour queue we were climbing it’s 800 stairs to the second level and we weren’t disappointed. Spectacular every time. The Eiffel tower is wondrous, huge and magnificent at every angle. (Even HazMat Guy agreed).

A fascinating and exhausting first full-day in Paris. Exhilarated by our adventures we headed home.

What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world! – Charles Dickens

On day two, the boys were no longer satisfied with distant views of Notre Dame and inspired by the hunchback’s story we headed for a closer look.

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Notre-Dame de Paris (French for “Our Lady of Paris”) is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world. The naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture.

Notre-Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress (arched exterior supports). The building was not originally designed to include them around the choir and nave but after the construction began, the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew ever higher and stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral’s architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued the pattern.

Many small individually crafted statues were placed around the outside to serve as column supports and water spouts. Among these are the famous gargoyles, designed for water run-off, and chimeras. The statues were originally colored as was most of the exterior. The paint has worn off, but the gray stone was once covered with vivid colors. The cathedral was essentially complete by 1345.

The cathedral has a narrow climb of 387 steps at the top of several spiral staircases; along the climb it is possible to view its most famous bell and its gargoyles in close quarters, as well as having a spectacular view across Paris when reaching the top. The design of St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia was inspired by Notre-Dame de Paris – wiki

P1190466A picnic lunch at one of Paris secrets – the East garden behind Notre Dame. We rested and the boys enjoyed the playground whilst we filled our water bottle at one of Paris’s many free water points before heading off.

A treat for the boys as we board Jardin d’Acclimatisation miniature train at Porte Maillot. This train has been giving delight to children since 1878 and was the first passenger carrying narrow gauge railway in France. At the Jardin d’Acclimatisation we avoided the paid rides instead enjoying the animals, the playgrounds and especially the wonderful water playground. For the small train fare and entry fee this is a great day out for small children.

Our homeward journey brought disappointment with Paris’s bus system, where several buses just terminated and asked all passengers to get off before reaching their destination. Very frustrating. A final tired walk across the Place de la Concorde and the metro home.

Wednesday started with a great morning enjoying the local markets in Ris-Orangis. The boys got new T-shirts and we bought everything for a gourmet picnic dinner. This was enjoyed with Pierre in the grounds of Versailles. It was a magical evening. The setting sun, the colourful blooms, the high hedges, the glistening waters and the magnificence of the palace.

Once the boys were in bed we had to follow our visit with a viewing of the movie Marie Antoinette. This story featured her famous hamlet.

The Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet), built for Marie-Antoinette in the park of Trianon, in the Domain of Versailles, was an idealised version of the real life conditions of French peasantry. Started in 1783 and finished in 1787, the Queen’s hamlet, built to the designs of her favoured architect, Richard Mique, was complete with farmhouse, dairy, and mill. – wiki

Thursday morning was a disappointment as we slept through our alarm and missed Pierre’s Greeters tour of Luxembourg Gardens – which we really would have loved. (Luckily Graham explored it at a later date). So we took it as an opportunity to finalise all our boys SIDES work and submissions for the term. No more school till we get back. Yay!

Then a visit on the funicular to  Montmartre for the sweeping views and a walk down for a delightful, much anticipated dinner with the boys Great Grandmother Claude and her sister Yvonne.

Every time I look down on this timeless town,
 whether blue or gray be her skies,
 whether loud be her cheers, or whether soft be her tears,
 more and more do I realise that…I love Paris. – Ella Fitzgerald

Continued in Part 2 … Going Solo in Paris …


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