|The icon of Paris, early evening|
Indeed, strolling along the Seine, and taking in the wide boulevards, tree-lined parks, neighborhood cafés, and fashionable streets bounded on either side by buildings of similar style, structure, and height, it may seem as though this archetypal Parisian scene has long been enshrined in the city’s historical legacy. In actual fact, however, the Paris of today is relatively new when viewed in context with the French capital’s lengthy history, something of which I wasn't even remotely aware until this visit (and an especially enlightening walking tour I took one fine day). Prior to the middle of the 19th century, Paris was indeed not a particularly pleasant place to live or visit, a medieval city of confusingly interweaving streets and alleyways, cramped buildings, and desperately poor sanitation and hygiene standards.
All that changed dramatically under the reign of Napoleon III, who in 1853 launched a massive public works undertaking on a scale that even today defies belief. Together with his appointed prefect of the Seine, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Napoleon III effectively tore down and rebuilt Paris, increasing the size of the city in the process via annexation. It was a colossal citywide renovation program that brought clean water, sanitation, improved passageways, and a large number of open spaces to a city that had, in the five decades prior, become increasingly important on the global stage, cementing itself as not only the center of power, finance, and culture in post-Revolution France, but as a leading city of the Enlightenment that swept across Western Europe – hence Paris being known even still today as the "City of Light." (Nope, doesn't have anything to do with lamps. Ha ha.)
|Wrought-iron balconies, dormer windows, and garret rooms lend their|
forms to the quintessentially Parisian architectural landscape
|Uniformity of height|
Napoleon III also wanted the city to offer its residents plenty of green spaces for relaxation and recreation and ordered that large parks be placed at the four primary compass points in the city and where major boulevards intersected, with numerous smaller parks complementing them throughout the newly enlarged city, with the idea that no neighborhood should be more than a 10-minute walk from a park. The changes wrought by the vision of Haussmann and the French emperor have profoundly impacted the daily lives of Parisians and tourists to the city even to this day.
So there's a very brief snippet of Paris's lengthy history, and this tiny parcel of knowledge made wandering around the city (well, mostly in the First and Seventh Arrondisements) all the more enjoyable as I was able to appreciate all that had been done under Haussmann's grand vision.
|The Obelisk of Luxor|
in the heart of Paris
A top memory of my time in Paris, during which the sun remained shyly hidden behind a veil of gray clouds and the temperature hovered between 40-45°F (about 4-7°C) was – on more than one occasion – getting a fresh, warm baguette from one of several boulangeries near my hotel. It wasn't that uncommon to see people walking around in their coats and scarves, with a small baguette in hand, eating it plain. Good bread is one of life's simplest pleasures, and it's not hard to find loads of those pleasures attached to culinary pursuits while in France. When adjusted to a common currency, it's said that Paris has the most expensive bread in the world. That is likely so, but I was still able to score half-baguettes, plenty for my needs, for half a Euro or so, which is only eight times as much as a similar offering in Kuala Lumpur, but hey: It's freaking Paris, whaddya expect, right?! So, piles of outgoing cash notwithstanding, it goes without saying that the food was j'mazing. J'incredible. J'worth the trip for that alone. Get a tissue to mop up the drool: I'll group most of the food shots together here... :)
|Apart from eating out, one delight was|
bringing fresh bread back to the room
(along with a bottle of wine, of course)
and making a delicious sandwich
|Little explosions of berries and fruit at the patisserie|
just down from the hotel
|Custards, cakes, crème brûlées... though I don't have|
much of a serious sweet tooth, I can't deny this
was a tempting line-up!
|Breakfast in the hotel... fine French cheeses,|
berries, salmon, mini-baguettes, yogurt, and more:
this was a meal not to be rushed at all!
|I had never seen this before... basically spiral-shaved cheese,|
done by a tool called a girolle, which creates rosette-like
slices of this particular variety of cheese,
the Swiss Tête de Moine
|Making crêpes in an open-air shop near the Trocadéro,|
directly across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower
|All French, all the time: a staggering selection of rosé,|
red, and white in a small supermarket I visited
I saw rather a lot in my relatively short time in Paris (just four days and three nights), but among my favorite places surely must have been the Louvre. Quite apart from the priceless collection of art contained within, the palace itself – built, expanded, destroyed, and rebuilt and augmented repeatedly over a seven-century span – is a stunning treasure beyond belief. The architecture, history, and craftsmanship on display simply boggles the mind... and that's before even wandering into the vast museum, a place in which you could easily spend days and days and still not see everything.
|In the oldest courtyard of the Louvre Palace|
|One of the smaller glass pyramids outside|
|In the Cour Carrée ("square courtyard")|
of the Louvre
|Pavillion Mollien in the "new" wing,|
still some 200 years old
|The last addition to the Louvre, the glass pyramids, completed in 1989|
|Pavillion Denon and barren trees contrasted by|
surprisingly green grass in the dead of winter
|Ohhh, the anguish!|
Is he distraught because he's rather
humiliatingly being used as a perch,
or because of his wee tiny penis?
A close runner-up, though, would surely be the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, located on the southeastern quadrant of the Île de la Cité, one of the two remaining natural islands in the middle of the Seine. Construction on Notre-Dame started in 1163 and continued for nearly two centuries (though most of the building was completed by 1250), culminating in what is today widely considered one of the premier examples of French Gothic architecture to be found anywhere. The cathedral, to put it mildly, is stunning. Having undergone an extensive and delicate restoration begun in 1991 (and which may still be underway, but was definitely so as of 2010), Notre-Dame looks terrific today. I eschewed the typical wide-angle shots we've all seen a thousand times in favor of some different compositions, and frankly, the dismal weather didn't lend itself well to the sweeping images of the cathedral's eastern and southern façades, with those graceful flying buttresses, so I stayed on the western side and shot from there. Even for a non-religious person like me, Notre-Dame is a spectacular place to visit, truly one of the most important and historically rich buildings in all of Paris, which is saying something!
|All the little saints, lined up in a row...|
|I know Notre-Dame isn't the only place to|
use gargoyles as rain gutter spouts, but it
may have been among the first
On my second day in Paris, I made what was unquestionably the best purchase of the entire mini Euro-odyssey: a quality scarf and pair of "Thinsulate" gloves from a newsstand around the corner from my hotel. The gloves were good to have, I suppose, but really, it was that scarf that made the difference. I noticed that nearly all the Parisian denizens bopping about on the streets were "bescarved," so I presumed there was something to be said for the things. I've never really been much of a scarf-wearer, personally, but I found that insulating that gaping space where your neck pops out of your under- and over-garments really helps. And so it was that my €4 scarf became an indispensable part of my travel wardrobe.
I was only in the City of Light for a scant four days, and though I squeezed in quite a bit (not everything generated blog-worthy photos), the time sailed by, and soon, I found myself navigating my way through the city, with considerably less clumsiness than days prior, to the Gare de Lyon rail station to catch the high-speed TGV train to Barcelona for the second part of my holiday. A few final photo memories, though...
|This was a special memory. I was in the 7th|
arrondisement one evening – really just wandering –
rounded a corner, and this was what I saw. Nothing
like a big, unexpected steaming pile of Eiffel Tower
to remind you that you're in Paris, eh?
|After the chance sighting, I made a more|
purposeful course correction to catch the famed
tower in the last lingering vestiges of winter's
deep blue daylight
|The awning, the warm neon, the 1920s|
cabaret-style font in the signage... this was
too much to let my camera pass up
|The sentinel of the Seine|
|Though I indeed stayed at the excellent|
Mandarin Oriental Paris, I was not quite privileged
enough to stay in the finest suite there, though I did
get a peek... this is the view from the bathtub... :)
|The entrance and clock tower of the Paris-Gare de Lyon|
|At Paris-Gare de Lyon, just before boarding the TGV for|
the high-speed rail trip to Barcelona!
|And this was another splendid memory... from my seat onboard the|
train, a baguette from a French boulangerie, stuffed with salami and Dijon
mustard, a bottle of Evian, a bottle of pretty respectable Bordeaux, and
a Kindle full of reading pleasures...
Next stop... Catalonia and the historic Mediterranean city of food, fun, and a boundless zeal for life that has made it a destination beloved worldwide: Barcelona, Spain.