It took me almost two years to get around to seeing Paris, but I spent a few days there in the month of August. I lost pretty much my entire first day to a stomach bug of some sort. I did about 60% of a Louvre tour before I went back to the hotel to sweat out a fever or three. I skipped a tour I’d booked for the Eiffel Tower that afternoon, and started over on the second day.
I have a few thoughts about visiting Paris that I’d like to share with you before we go on to the photographs.
Don’t go to Paris in August. Seriously, it’s not an ideal time. For one thing, July and August are the hottest months to visit and that’s just… sticky. For another, that’s when the tourist levels are at their highest. If you’ve ever walked into a restaurant immediately after an entire Japanese tour bus was seated, you know what I’m talking about. Wait times for big draws like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre can go up to several hours in August. Just pick another month. You’ll be glad you did. I’ve said this about other cities as well, because it holds true in any city that gets a lot of tourism: Skip-the-Line tours are worth their weight in gold. Book them wisely.
Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is not as confusing and horrible as people say. CDG, sometimes called Roissy Airport, has a reputation for being an awful, terrible, very bad airport. People say it’s confusing and lacks good signs. I didn’t find this to be the case. I found the airport to be logical and simple. The big problem with Roissy Airport is the sheer size of the place. Charles de Gaulle is roughly the seventh busiest airport in the world, and the place is improbably huge. A walk from terminal 2C to terminal 2F can take you fifteen or twenty minutes, although there’s a free shuttle at regular intervals. In other words, you need to figure out what terminal you’re going to ahead of time, or you need to allow yourself enough time to move between terminals. If you plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time, CDG is easy as pie. Pie with lots of walking.
Parisian waiters are not rude to tourists. Not exactly. I found them to be friendly and polite. I think a lot of this misconception is because Americans aren’t used to European dining mores. In Europe, wait staff will not hurry you along. To an American used to dining in restaurants where they bring you the check before you finish and check on you every ten minutes, this can seem like you’ve been forgotten. That’s not the case, however, and you simply need to get your waiter’s attention to call him or her back over. So no, Parisian waiters aren’t rude. However, I did find that I was shortchanged no less than three times in a four day span. I could chalk it up to a language barrier if I was feeling charitable, but I suspect that they heard my English and assumed I was just another dumb American tourist who could be easily fooled because he isn’t used to the Euro.
On a side note, Paris is officially the most expensive city I’ve ever visited. More expensive than London or New York City by an order of magnitude. At one dinner, I asked for a large Sprite. The dude brought me an entire liter in a giant mug, then charged me €16. The entree was only €9, so you can imagine my surprise at the beverage costing almost twice the food. That was the first full meal I ordered in Paris. It was also the last full meal I ordered in Paris.
I also took pictures! I took about four hundred shots, most of which are not in this post. If you really want to look at the rest of the pics not in this post, there’s an entire gallery over here.
Let’s move on, shall we?
This is the front entrance of the Louvre. Or rather, it’s the archway in front of the glass pyramid in front of the doors to the Louvre.
The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. It’s also one of the world’s largest museums- a collection of enormous buildings full of antiquities and master works. If you stopped to view each item in the Louvre for three minutes, you’d be there for roughly three months. Here’s a Sphinx.
Here’s the Venus de Milo, one of the best known pieces in the museum.
This one is called The Nike of Samothrace. It’s considered a symbol of triumph, despite the fact that the head and arms have never been found.
This hallway contains a lot of things from the French nobility. Crowns, swords, tables, and so forth.
Last but certainly not least is the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece from the early 1500s is situated behind an enormous pane of bulletproof glass. I took this picture from a good distance and didn’t get to spend any time looking at her up close because this was the point at which I abandoned my guided tour and ran for the exit before shuttering myself into the hotel for the next eighteen hours.
The next day, after I was done with the worst of my sick time, I had a tour booked that I’d been looking forward to for a while- a Segway tour of Paris with Ellie from Fat Tire Bike Tours. This proved to be fortuitous- I wasn’t really up to a walking tour yet after being sick the day before; my energy levels were still pretty wrecked. Riding a Segway was a fun, less strenuous way to see large swathes of the city. (Except the parts that were closed while they were shooting scenes for a movie. I wish I’d actually seen some filming- I heard there were people in period costumes with old cars from the early 1900s.)
But anyway- Segways! They’re fun! They’re also pretty easy to ride- the hardest part is in the first two minutes, including your first mount and dismount. I was comfortable enough for basic movement in about five minutes, and I felt like an experienced rider after twenty minutes. The weather was absolutely perfect for this tour.
What visit to Paris would be complete without seeing Notre Dame de Paris? I didn’t actually get to hear the famous bells of Notre Dame, but I think I’ll live.
The Eiffel Tower is not the only super tall place in Paris. There’s also Montparnasse 56, which is this building here. The top floor is an attraction called Tour Montparnasse, which is an indoor observation level with a stair up to a rooftop observation level. Since I have a tendency to love tall places, of course I went there.
This is the view of the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse 56.
The Paris Metro is kind of strange. Most of the cars are an older type where you have to lift a little metal handle to get off at your stop, and some of them use rubber wheels like this instead of train style all-metal rail wheels. It’s very odd. It’s also the second busiest metro in the world, and it’s pretty much all Art Nouveu inside the stations. Charming, yet disconcerting.
On my third day, I tried to go to the Cinémathèque Française, a museum of cinema. They have a lot of very interesting exhibits that I was curious to see, but it turns out that the museum was closed for a few weeks. My timing astounds.
Instead, I went to Père Lachaise, perhaps the most visited cemetery in the world. I initially misread the map near the entrance, and so I wound up walking around a bit less efficiently than I would have liked. That’s ok, though, because this little fuzzball totally made my day when she walked over, sniffed my hand, then sat with me for a few minutes.
Let’s talk famous people. Père Lachaise has a bunch of ’em. After I figured out that I’d misread the map, I was easily able to find Abelard & Heloise and Oscar Wilde. I was unable to locate Balzac‘s grave. And I got turned around looking for Jim Morrison, but I don’t feel badly about that because that’s when I stumbled across Frederic Chopin’s grave.
There are many non-famous graves in Père Lachaise also, and it’s possible to walk around for hours without becoming bored. I took fifty or sixty photographs inside the walls of the cemetery. I particularly liked this symbol, on one of the tombs, because I like the symbolism of time slipping away on feathered wings.
Speaking of angel wings, this gravestone was positively gorgeous.
So was this one.
After a few hours walking around Père Lachaise, I decided it was time for a break. I went back onto the Metro, to the area near Montmartre, where I had a nice crepe with butter and sugar for lunch. I was still recovering my strength from being sick, and so that sugar was entirely necessary. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
After lunch, I took the Funicular up the hill to see Sacre Coeur Basilica.
There were a ton of people hanging out around the Basilica. This guy was practicing antigravity with his soccer ball on the steps. He was talented enough to catch my attention for a while.
A short distance from the Basilica is Espace Dali, a substantial and amazing Salvador Dali museum. Again, I took a metric pantload of pictures, but I’m only including one here- one of Dali’s famous melting clocks.
The Espace Dali had a photo booth that would superimpose your picture into Dali imagery. I got this one. If I’d had another €3 in coins, I would also have gotten the one that puts Salvador’s mustache on you.
Walking back down the hill from Montmartre, I saw this graffiti on a building. Come to think of it, I saw a lot of cat-centric graffiti on buildings on this trip.
Meanwhile, back on the other side of town, there’s a little known archway called the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. It’s much larger than I thought it was. Also, you can climb it. I didn’t realize at first that there were people on the top, looking down. I’ll come back to this.
I spotted this building on my walk back to the hotel, and I thought it was kind of interesting. It certainly didn’t match its neighbors.
This is the dome of L’Hôtel national des Invalides, which is also the tomb of Napoleon. Yes, that’s real gold.
This is the Musée d’Orsay, an old train station which has been converted into a gallery full of the world’s finest Impressionist painters, including Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. I didn’t actually have time to go into this one, but it’s a lovely building.
This is just a street. There’s nothing particularly special about this street, except that it’s in Paris and it looks kind of nice.
This is some of the bouquinistes, or permanent used book stores attached to the side of the River Seine near Notre Dame. Apparently, the wait list to acquire one of the 250 locations along the Seine is about eight years.
This was along the river also. I just thought it was neat.
This tower marks the location of the Bastille, but the prison itself is long gone. After the prison was torn down, the bricks from the Bastille were used to make one of the bridges across the Seine.
I mentioned I’d get back to the Arc d’Triomphe. When I finally went back, I stumbled across a nightly ceremony to relight the flame on the grave of the Unknown Soldier from the Great War.
Next, I climbed the Arc, because it was tall and because that’s what I do. This is what the famous shopping stretch of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées looks like from the top.
Last but not least is the Eiffel Tower. I had blown my pre-booked tour (and lost about eighty bucks) by getting horribly sick at the start of the trip, but I gave it another shot on my last day, before I flew back to Germany. The first elevators to the summit opened at 9am, so I got in line at 8:30. Good thing I did, because I was definitely not the only one who decided to get an early start. By 9:30 I was in the structure, and by 10:30 I was back down. I took pictures from the summit, but they don’t look that different than my pictures from Tour Montparnasse or the Arc d’Triomphe, so I won’t put them in this post.
I will, however, put a picture of the counterweights here. The gargantuan elevators that go up and down the corner pillars of the Eiffel have these huge counterweights that were just amazing to see. According to Old Man Wiki, the counterweights are 200 tons each, and sit atop hydraulic rams for the lift system. I’ve read a description of the hydraulic lift system four times in a row now, and I still don’t quite understand it, but it’s amazing to see in action. I wish there was something in this picture to give you a sense of scale- the counterweights were easily three times my height.
One final picture, looking up from near the center of the Tower. They’re building new stuff. There’s also a cafe on that first elevated level that I didn’t have time to check out.
What’s your favorite part of Paris?