Europe 2014: a day in Paris

(Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)
La tour Eiffel, Paris. (Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)

Before Perrie and I left for Europe, my brother told me something interesting about Paris. “It looks exactly as you think it would,” he said. Sure enough, he was right.

Whether it is all the movies and photographs I’ve seen over the years, or simply the distinctive architectural style applied consistently across the central city,* Paris was instantly recognizable as such even from our base in the less-traveled 16th arrondissement.

As mentioned in my previous post, on arrival at Orly Airport we caught a cab to Auteuil on the west edge of the city, where we would be staying at an apartment owned by Sylvie, one of Perrie’s colleagues. According to Sylvie’s directions, we picked up the key from her father who lives a few blocks from the apartment. After a short tea and conversation (totalement en français, bien sûr) with him, he guided us to our quarters.

We ate that night at a cozy, casual restaurant directly beneath our apartment, and retired for the evening.

Mirabeau Metro Station (Line 10), Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)
Mirabeau Metro Station (Line 10), Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)

The next morning we set out on the first of our great walks. But before I tell you about that, let me tell you about the Paris Metro. In a word: fantastic. There are 14 Metro (subway) lines covering the core of the city and beyond, not to mention 5 “RER” lines, 7 “Tramways,” assorted suburban rail lines and airport shuttles. And, of course, bus service everywhere. We stuck to the Metro because it was easy and it got us within two blocks of everywhere we wanted to go. It’s clean, fast, and frequent: We never waited more than 4 minutes for a train. All for €1.70 per ride, or €6.80 for the day. Can’t be beat.

So, we picked up our Metro tickets and boarded the next train on the number 10 line by our apartment, en route to the only preplanned item in our Parisian itinerary: la tour Eiffel. Cliché? Of course. Touristy? Even more than you can imagine. But can you possibly say that you’ve been to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower?

We disembarked from the Metro at La Motte-Piquet-Grenelle station, about a block from the park showcasing the famous steelwork. (There are stops closer, but that would have required switching trains for minimal gains.) The weather was beautiful—cool by Parisian standards but warmer than Cleveland, mostly sunny and, more importantly, dry. After orienting ourselves, we walked over to the park. Et voilà! There she was, looking just as you’d expect.

I snapped pictures around the other tourists, then we moved closer. More pictures. Then closer. More pictures. Then closer, until we were right under the thing.

Now, when we first entered the park, a couple hundred yards southeast of the monument, you could see the elevators moving up and down its angled legs. I wondered how much it would cost to go up. By the time we got underneath the tower, I could see it didn’t matter: even at 11 o’clock on a Monday morning in March, there was a line of several hundred people waiting for either the stairs or elevator. Since it was our only full day in France, we quickly decided it wasn’t worth the wait and crossed the Seine to admire the tower from the other side.

We sat down in the jardins du Trocadéro, examined our map and contemplated our next move. We’re not far from the Arc de Triomphe, noted Perrie, and the Av. d’Iéna would take us straight there. So that’s what we did.

We found a sandwich shop near the top of the hill (the Arc is at the top of a bit of a hill—they don’t tell you that), and took our lunch to a bench in sight of the famed memorial. There were numerous tourists milling about the thing, on top and beneath, but it’s encircled by one of the busiest roundabouts in Paris, and we didn’t even consider trying to cross.

Instead, we walked down the Av. des Champs-Élysées, wondering why it was decorated with Chinese and French flags.

La Sorbonne
La Sorbonne, Paris. (Photo by Matthew Ginn © 2014)

By the time we got to the Jardin des Tuileries, we were ready for another rest. Luckily we found dozens of lounge chairs sitting around the bassin octogonal. The fountains weren’t running, but there was a large golden orb in the middle of the pond. We thought this was a permanent part of the garden, but further research tells me that it is a piece of art by James Lee Byars (1932-1997), appropriately entitled “Golden Sphere,” that was part of the 2013 FIAC exposition. While we were there, a cherry picker and crane were maneuvering into position at the pond; perhaps they were there to remove it.

We didn’t stick around to watch, though, because around that time we got a call from Sylvie, who invited us to meet for coffee in the Latin Quarter. Our natural course was to walk to the Louvre gardens, and catch the Metro from there.

About 20 minutes and one transfer later, we arrived at Odéon station. Once we’d tracked down Sylvie, she took us to a delightful little Viennese pastry shop on rue de l’École de Médicine, popular with students since before Sylvie studied there. Tucked into the little hole in the wall, Perrie and I each had an Austrian hot chocolate—equal volumes dark chocolate beverage and whipped cream—accompanied by an unbeatable pastry.**

Sylvie had invited us to the opening of an art exhibit called “Art and Vision” at the École de Médicine, so after coffee we poked around the cloister at the oldest and most prestigious medical school in France while we waited for the event to begin. The show was basically art for (and by?) blind people. The main exhibit was a series of sculptural interpretations of famous paintings, like Munch’s Scream and Degas’ The Tub. There were also marble sculptures, embossed interpretations of works by Matisse and Cocteau, and dozens of letters from Monet to his eye surgeon.

From the university, it was a straight shot on the number 10 Metro line back to our quarters. Having walked more than 7.5 km (about 5 miles), we were ready for a bit of a rest at home. Later, another walk of a few blocks brought us to a restaurant in Porte d’Auteuil where we had a lovely dinner, then it was home again for the evening.

Click the thumbnails below to see more pictures:

*Paris was largely rebuilt during the 1850s and 1860s under the direction of Georges-Eugene Haussmann (commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III). He razed medieval neighborhoods, widened streets, built parks and fountains, and annexed suburbs (including Auteuil, where we stayed), literally shaping the city into what we recognize today. Read more here.

**Amazing the difference a ‘b’ makes, isn’t it?