Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Evening Walk from Opera House to Place de la Concorde

[This turned out extremely long. When I get a chance, I will break it up into smaller posts. There is a LOT here including some of my best pictures. Click on any picture to enlarge.]

Last night (Tue), Amanda was having apple tart with the neighbors (Antoinette and Catherine) so I decided to tour Paris on my own. This is the path.

View Larger Map

I bought a one week pass at the Port-Royal (RER B) station. It's 5 Euros for the Navigo D'Ecouverte, which can then be re-loaded on a weekly or monthly basis. The instructions indicated that I needed to bring a photo which the agent would attach and then I would sign but apparently that is not required, although the instructions on the card appear to ask me to do this.

The subject of the Paris Metro requires a blog post of its own but suffice to say it's pretty amazing.... 133 miles and 300 stations within the 45 sq miles of Paris serviced by 14 metro lines (plus two minor lines) numbered 1 to 14 (each denoted with different color on the map). Additionally there are 5 light rail lines A to E. It has to be one of the most efficient and effective public transit systems in the world.

A one week pass, which is only good for the current (or upcoming if you buy it on the weekend) Monday to Sunday (you can't get it for other 7 day periods) is 17.20 Euros (about $25 currently). This covers zones 1 and 2 which is pretty much all of central Paris.

In any case, back to my walk.

I took the metro to the Opera station, which lets me out literally right in front of, you guessed it, the Paris Opera (or more precisely the Palais Garnier) -- a pretty amazing structure, but then again I say that about a lot of buildings here.

Standing in the middle of the Place de l'Opera

I was not able to enter as everything seems to close around here at 5 or 6 but this was not my real reason for coming here -- Galeries Lafayette, the 10-story flagship location of the French department store. The building dates to the early 20th century and features a glass and steel dome and art nouveau stair cases (I suppose to match the iconic art nouveau metro entrances which were designed about the same time -- see top right picture in my header for an example of the Moulin Rouge metro stop)

This is definitely not your father's JC Penneys. I like the Prada display.

The domed ceiling

Now, if you think I came here to shop, you don't know me very well, although there is certainly a lot to shop for. It has 45,000 sq ft (about an acre) just for women's fashion spread over 3 floors.

I came here because we visited here New Year 2003 and I discovered the 8th floor rooftop cafeteria (since they claim the building is 10 floors, I assume that 2 of the floors are under the main floor because the roof is definitely floor 8). I was wowed by the view. And I've been dying to come back ever since.

This is the only public spot I know where you can get such a view of Sacre Coeur, the Roman Catholic Basilica on Montmarte to the north, the highest point in Paris at just over 400 ft above sea level. Now I am sure there are private offices somewhere which have such a view, but not for the public. The terrace extends the full length of the south side of the department store, providing a panoramic view over all of Paris to the south. You can however get a view of Sacre Coeur if you go through the small cafeteria on the east side of the terrace.

You can also get a great view of the back of the Paris Opera with the Eiffel Tower in the background. This view is towards the southeast.

In fact, two of the pictures in my header are of exactly these two sites and both are also on my wall in my home office -- bottom row, the first and third pictures from the left.

I had a problem however. When I reached the 6th floor by escalator, the next escalator was roped off. I wandered the 6th floor and found stairs on the east side which were also roped off. I examined every possible path upward and there were none.


Not to be deterred, I surveyed the situation some more and noticed that the escalator that descended from the 7th floor to the 6th was NOT roped off. It was getting late, almost 8p, so I quickly stepped my way UP the DOWN escalator to the 7th floor, which appeared to be mostly offices; there was no shopping. Stairs took me to the open roof 8th floor and there it was.... all to myself. (Google satellite view of the rooftop at Galeries Lafayette, 40, Boulevard Haussmann, Paris, France.)

The cafe was closed and no one else was around. Sure there were a few security cameras but what were they going to do? As soon as I start gibbering in English and point to my camera, I suspect they would just tell me it is interdit, and escort me out. In any case, it was worth the risk.

I spent about 20-30 minutes wandering the rooftop on a wonderful Paris evening, taking pictures of everything. The best pictures will be in the photo slideshow to the right, but here are several of the better. There was more light than the last time I was here (which was January so the sun set earlier) but the view was just as magnificent.

I didn't know what time the store closes. I would have like to have waited another 45 minutes to watch the sun set but didn't want to end up spending the night on the roof (!) so I think I will return at the end of October when perhaps the time has changed and the sun sets earlier to get some sunset and night pictures.

I left the way I came up without incident. Nice.

As I left, I wanted a picture of the front of the store. When I was here during the holidays, the front of the building was adorned with colorful lights.

Now, however, it had a more provocative picture on the facade:

If you can't see the poster clearly, click here.

I Googled the ad line when I got home: "L'ete vit plus fort"

I got the translation "The summer saw stronger"

Huh? Something must have got mangled. Perhaps it is a French idiom that doesn't translate well literally.

I get the picture which is stunning in every respect; I don't get the ad. At the bottom it says "Espace Maillons de Bain - 4e Etage" - "Swimwear Department - 4th Floor"

Swimwear? What swimwear? I didn't see any swimwear. Did you see any swimwear?

Apparently, this picture has been plastered on the metro walls for the last two or three years (I haven't seen it). If you google the phrase, you will see it has certainly garnered a lot of attention. See the following article for example (translated into English from French).

Ok... enough of the department store. Onward to other sites.

I had intended to walk towards the Place Vendôme which is the location of the Ritz Hotel (one of the greatest hotels in the world and the one from which Diana departed on her fateful final drive 12 years ago) and then on to the Tuileries Gardens. However, there are 7 roads -- all very significant roads -- that emanate like spokes on a wheel from the Place de l'Opera and I missed by one. Instead of taking Rue de la Paix, I took Boulevard des Capucines (which turns into Boulevard de la Madeleine).

But, as they say, "some of the best things in life are mistakes." And wandering the streets of central Paris is the perfect place to make lots of mistakes because there are no mistakes (at least none I have found yet).

Wandering down Blvd Capucines/Madeleine, I ran across two establishments I had heard of but not quite sure where they were: Olympia Hall and The American Dream Diner. What bothers me is I know that there were probably dozens of other store fronts that each had amazing stories but you wouldn't know it from the street and I just walked right on by.

Olympia Hall (or Paris Olympia) is the oldest (1888) music hall in Paris and one of the most famous in the world and where we will see the incomparable Diana Krall (jazz pianist and singer) on September 15.

But you would never know it from the street. See the two pics below from straight on (partially blocked by trees) and to the side. Unless you actually knew what Olympia Hall was, you could never imagine that concerts were held in this skinny little building. But like so many stores in Paris, the entrance is the tip of the ice berg. It obviously expands and I have included a pic from the home page of the official site to show you what it looks like inside. Who would have thunk it just walking down the street?

The American Dream Diner is interesting for almost entirely different reasons. It is so over-the-top "kitchy" that you can't help but want to go inside (which I didn't --- yet). This reviewer describes it well:

Imagine TGI Friday’s taken to the extreme, with all sorts of bizarre signs and photos and waxworks of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, with the only lights being bright neon stripes encircling the large, open floor-plan diner and a blood-red Tiffany-style lamp dangling over each red vinyl booth. Imagine red stars on a blue circle and the words "American Dream Diner" stamped every five feet into the carpet. Imagine a place mat which reads "American Dream Diner" and features all sorts of strange, lewd sex acts in cartoon form on a fake Manhattan street and you’re not even a tenth of the way toward experiencing The American Dream Diner.

Menu posted outside

I continued down the boulevard, branching off on Rue de Seze, not quite sure where I was heading, and then out of nowhere pops this huge Pantheon-like structure I had never seen before. Surely something this gigantic I must have heard about but I was clueless. It's like living in someone's house for a week only to discover they have had an elephant in their bedroom all along and you never noticed.

Well, this structure is called Madeleine Church (or L'église de la Madeleine). Furthermore, it had a huge face (art?) standing about 20 feet high just inside the fence and no one was around. This was very odd.

I walked around the right side only to realize I had been at the back, all the people were in front, which looked a lot like the back except for the doors and steps covered in plants and it was a lot cleaner.

The Madeleine is built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by the Maison Carrée at Nîmes, one of the best-preserved of all Roman temples. Its fifty-two Corinthian columns, each 20 metres high, are carried around the entire building. The pediment sculpture of the Last Judgement is by Lemaire, and the church's bronze doors bear reliefs representing the Ten Commandments. - Wikipedia

Turns out this is an active Catholic church and I believe the long line was parishioners but I am not sure. Again, I did not go inside but I have since seen pictures and it is -- what do you expect -- pretty impressive. Gotta go back.

It is a wonderful view from the steps of the church down Rue Royale. Rarely will you see three significant structures simply by looking down a road from ground level.

In sequence, you have the Obelisk in Place de la Concorde, followed by the Palais Bourbon (which houses the French National Assembly) across the Seine River and finally the golden dome over Napolean's tomb in Les Invalides. The distance between each is misleading due to zoom lens but in reality, each is separated by about 1/3 miles. That is, the obelisk is about 1/3 miles from the church, Palais Bourbon is another 1/3 mile, and Napolean's Tomb is another 1/3 mile. The golden dome is 1 mile away from the church.

Finally, as the sun was setting, I took a chair on a rise about 15 feet above the edge of the Place de la Concorde just inside the Tuleries Gardens facing the sun. This appears to be a popular spot for watching the sun set. You can see the obelisk, almost see straight down Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and then the Eiffel Tower in the distance, which at around sunset lit up suddenly and then at 9p began sparkling for 5 minutes (which apparently it does at the top of every hour at night). The lights along the Champs Elyees also lit up and around Place de la Concorde. Paris feels palpably different at night. It is no wonder its most famous nickname is City of Lights.

My final picture is probably the best of the night. Without a tripod, I had to rest the camera on a shelf near the metro but it came out amazing.

With that, I took the metro back to the apartment, arriving 2 hours after I told Amanda I would be home.

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