When I was in school, I had watched a Bollywood blockbuster An Evening in Paris starring the most famous actors of that time Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore. The movie was made in 1967 and the shooting of the movie was predominantly done in Paris. The movie had couple of very good songs and was able to capture the splendour of the city beautifully. The best part of the movie was its cinematography by V Gopi Krishna which had left a craving in me to visit Paris.
To the uninitiated, Paris is the capital of France and is situated on the Seine River. It was founded in the 3rd century BC by Celtic people called the Parisii, who gave the city its name. By the 12th century, Paris was one of the largest and a prosperous trading centres as well as home to the University of Paris. In the 18th century, it was the main stage of the French Revolution. Paris is known for its fashion designers, high-end boutiques and Paris Fashion Week, as well as for most of France's major universities and major newspapers. When it comes to sports, Paris hosts the annual French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament (aka Roland Garros). It has played a host to the 1900 and 1924 Summer Olympics, the 1938 and 1998 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Rugby World Cup. In a nutshell, it is one of the “it” cities in the world.
Finally, I got the opportunity to travel to Paris few years back when I travelled frequently on business to London. During those travels, I would always get a couple of weekends on each trip which I started using for catching up on movies, as well for exploring over a period of time, but a visit to Paris was always on my agenda. The four main things apart from having the “feel of the city” that were drawing me to Paris were:
- Walk on Champs-Elysee from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe
- The Eiffel Tower
- The Notre Dame Cathedral
- The Louvre and the Pyramid nearby which was made famous by Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code
Incidentally, for one of the trainings which I attended in Amsterdam, I got the Schengen visa. It was to expire on November the 11th and I decided to make use of it for a trip to Paris. Finally, on the 5th, I was on my way. I got a good deal on the Eurostar, with a same day return ticket for about 150€. I booked a ticket for an early morning train which departs from the Kings Cross St Pancras railway station at 6.30 am and reaches the Gare du Nord station in Paris at 9.30 (losing 1 hour due to time difference). The evening train was at 9.30 pm and reaching London 10.30 pm (gaining 1 hour).
While in London, I purchased an unlimited travel day pass for local train for 10£ at St Pancras railway station. I just wanted to make sure that I won’t have to waste my time on such small things as I only had a day. I also picked up a copy of a map of Paris that is abundantly available on the Eurostar platforms. I must highlight the fact that these maps are extremely precise on a street level.
I checked with a couple of friends and they suggested to take a metro train to Louvre Rivoli station from which I can walk to the Louvre. After that, I could move towards the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower as they are at a walkable distance.
When I reached the Gare du Nord, I took a metro and reached The Louvre within 30 minutes after changing at Châtelet. There was a long queue of visitors waiting to get inside the museum. Initially, I thought of queuing, too, but after a couple of minutes, I decided against it, as I felt I should make a better use of my time by moving around the city rather than just standing in line. The painting of Mona Lisa was not on my “must-see” list, anyway. I spent some time roaming the campus, especially around the Pyramid made famous by Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”.
The Louvre or the Louvre Museum is one of the world's largest museums and a historic monument. Nearly 35,000 works of art ranging from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 60,600 square meters (652,300 square feet). The Louvre is the world's most visited museum. The Louvre was originally famous for the painting of Mona Lisa. This museum found mention in the novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown back in 2003 which has reignited the interest of many visitors and tourists wanting to see the Pyramid, as well as the point of the rose line or the Paris Meridian which passes through the Pyramid.
After that I crossed over to the Place de la Concorde and thereon to Champs Elysee towards the Arc de Triomphe. I decided that I will keep walking through the city, following the map until 7.00pm and then I will go to the nearest station and take the metro for the Gare du Nord, which gave me, more than sufficient, two hours to catch my London train.
The Avenue des Champs-Elysee is a roughly 2km long street which runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe is located. It is famous for its theatres, cafes and luxury shops and for the military parade that takes place each year on the avenue on 14 July to celebrate the Bastille Day.
I spent some time walking around Arc De Triomphe taking pictures. It seemed as if the whole of Paris had descended down there to enjoy a sunny day. After that, I started walking towards the Eiffel tower which took me about 30 minutes, navigating through the streets, enjoying the roman architecture of the buildings. The place was very crowded but the view was unbelievable. Since my childhood, I had seen the pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but seeing the tower itself was an amazing and a marvellous sight. It is so huge and towering that you need some time to absorb the whole view.
Next stop was at “Wall for Peace” which is a glass wall with word PEACE written in 49 languages. It was inaugurated in 2000. Couple of clicks and I was onto my trail, towards the Notre Dame Cathedral. On the way, I passed the UN office and snailed through more alleys, relishing and absorbing the architecture of the city.
Suddenly, I found myself in front of a building which seemed magnificent when I realised it was the Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and among the largest and most famous churches in the world. The work on this cathedral was completed in 1345 AD. I went inside. A mass service was going on, and the whole atmosphere was very pious and serene. I spent an hour inside the cathedral, watching the paintings and the ambiance. Overall, the view was stunningly beautiful.
I was aware of the time, as it was already 6.00pm. I headed towards the République Statue. The monument was inaugurated in 1880. The Statue has a close connection to the forming of the French Republic. The Statue depicts a lady in solemn clothing, holding a branch in her hand. This lady is one of the major French symbols and her name is Marianne.
Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, a symbol of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. She represents France as a state and its values. She can be found in many different places, such as postal stamps or the French euro coins. The local saying goes that if you are visiting Paris and don’t visit this statue, then your visit is incomplete.
By the time I was finished at the République Statue, it was 7.00pm. It was time to hurry and take a metro to the Gare du Nord. Frankly speaking, I was dead tired and fully depleted of energies after a day long walk. However, looking back, I think it was the day well spent given the time I had at my hand and it was the best decision not to spend time at the Louvre. Else, I would not have been able to see so much of Paris.
Some quick tips (for travellers who are on very short trip)
1. Buy a Unlimited day pass for the Paris metro
2. Pick up a copy of Metro map and try to understand how to use it. If needed, ask for help from the Metro staff
3. Get a city map. It is extremely useful and very accurate.
4. Identify main metro stations and, if possible, mark them on your copy of the map
5. If you are a vegetarian and don't know any French, carry some snacks with you. There are lots of shops, but very few items will have wrappers in a language other than French.
6. If you are planning to travel from London, you can cover major points in Paris in a day. Just make sure that you have a valid visa, and you start very early in the morning from London and book the return on the last train back.