Monday, September 14, 2009

Cool Sunday Stroll in Paris

For my first full day with Linda, Joe, Zach, and Zoe, we took the RER B to Châtelet – Les Halles station, the largest metro station in the world.

After exiting, we came up inside Les Halles, a massive underground modern shopping mall. Actually, underground is not the right term; below street level is more accurate as the mall resides in a large pit.

When we left home, it was clear skies but in the low 60s. When we popped up at Les Halles it was now overcast and in the low 60s. There is a big difference between sunny and 60 and cloudy and 60. I only wore shirts and a polo shirt so it was getting quite chilly.

We didn't arrive at Les Halles to visit the mall; I'll save that for another day. We arrived a Les Halles to begin our walking tour and also because Joe was looking for Laguiole knives -- high qualities knives made in southern France -- which we had determined were being sold at 1 Rue Sainte-Opportune, an address just south of Les Halles.

Unfortunately, when we arrived, no such address seemed to exist. A local cafe indicated that the store was no longer there. Sigh.

The map below represents our walk for the day.

View Linda, Joe, Zach, Zoe in a larger map

I will summarize the walk here but provide details in subsequent posts to keep the length of this article manageable.

We walked west along Rue de Rivoli, one of the most prominent roads in all of Paris. If there existed a Paris Monopoly game (and there probably is one for all I know), Rue de Rivoli would be one of the expensive properties.

Having walked this route once before with Amanda, I knew that Rue de Rivoli eventually brings you to the northwest corner of the Louvre and allows you to enter through the back (east) entrance, which I think is far preferable to entering through the open, front (west) side, approaching from the Tuileries Gardens, as illustrated by this satellite image:

I prefer it because as you exit the first large courtyard (the Cour Carree) into the courtyard containing the famous pyramid, you can see everything in front of you: the pyramid, the first (smaller) Arc de Triomphe, the Tuileries Gardens, the Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, and finally the large Arc de Triomphe and even La Defense beyond that. And this view just explodes right in front of you whereas when you approach from the west, you can see the pyramid from a distance already and the great line of monuments disappear behind you as you approach the museum.

When approaching through the east gate, the back of the Louvre and the Cour Carree courtyard obscure all of this until you exit the courtyard passage:

Also, the Church of the Louvre - St-Germain l'Auxerrois - I suspect oftentimes goes unnoticed, but it is prominent when you enter the Louvre from the east gate. The original church, from which only the bell tower survives, was constructed in the 12th century and its current structure dates to the 15th century.

We did not plan on visiting the Louvre today (I had already visited last Sunday) but one never minds walking through the Louvre Courtyards on the way to somewhere else.

We moved on to the Tuileries Gardens, where we ate at the same outdoor cafe as last Sunday, although the weather was notably cooler. Zoe was rather chilly in her short-sleeved t-shirt and her older brother Zach took great pleasure in not sharing his sweatshirt with her.

The view through the gardens along the historical axis:

After a quick lunch, we moved on to the Obelisk in Place de la Concorde and the perfect view up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower hovering off to the left.

Zach taking picture of Eiffel Tower in distance while standing next to the Obelisk:

View through the fountain at Place de la Concorde up Rue Royale to the Madeleine Church:

Joe noticed the large Neo-Classical church (52 Corinthina columns!) to the right so we marched up Rue Royale to visit the Madeleine Church (for my 3rd time already!). It has a single nave with 3 domes.

We walked back down Rue Royale across the Place de la Concorde and then across the Pont de la Concorde to the Palais Bourbon, also know as the seat of the French National Assembly, which houses the lower legislative assembly.

The view over the Seine on Pont de la Concorde is quite nice, with both the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, and Pont Alexander bridge leading to Les Invalides clearly visible to the west and Ile de la Cite (including Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle), the Musee D'Orsay, and the Institute of France to the east.

The view back across the Pont de la Concorde to the Place de la Concorde

We walked east along the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay, the former train station now famous for its impressionist collection (Van Gogh, Monet, etc). We were going to enter but it was already after 4, the line was long, the museum closed at 6p, and tickets were 8EUR so we passed for now with plans to return on a day where we had more time.

By this time, the girls were screaming for a toilet, of which public ones are difficult to find. So we took a quick right down Rue de Bac and stopped at Le Terminus cafe and sat down for a drink and snack (I had beer and creme brulee, thank you very much) so as to justify using the toilets.

At this point, we were ony two block from Rue de Verneuil, location of Serge Gainsbourg's home. You may recall, we saw his grave at the Montparnasse Cemetery, which had clearly received a lot of visitors. I was unfamiliar with the name but Wikipedia claims he has come to be regarded as one of the world's most influential musicians. I had read his daughter Charlotte was maintaining the home on this street which only runs 3 blocks. Since we were in the area, I was curious to see. See separate post for details.

We then turned down several streets arriving at Saint-Sulpice Church, second only to Notre Dame in size. The front courtyard was occupied by a market and fountain. The left tower was encased in scaffolding. As you can see from the picture below, despite its size, Sainte-Sulpice simply doesn't inspire the same awe as Notre Dame.

Saint-Sulpice became the subject of much attention recently due to its reference in the Da Vinci Code as the location of the Rose-Line. See my separate post for more details on this.

Finally, after quite a long afternoon, we headed back to the apartment. Sainte Sulpice lies just several blocks north of Luxembourg Gardens and our apartment lies to the southeast of the gardens.

Zach and I stopped off at the Orangerie du Senat inn Luxembourg Gardens for a few minutes to take a look at the free exhibit of black and white photographs by Albert Moniers as this was the final day of the exhibit of Paris photographs from 50-70 years ago. The Orangere is located next to the French Senate in the northwest corner of the gardens. You can view a video about the exhibit here.

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