Saturday, April 18, 2009

Champs-Élysées and More

Bronze statues at Place de la ConcordeThe Champs-Élysées has been called the highway of French grandeur. It is a symbolic gathering place for celebrations, sporting victories and New Year's Eve. It has also been witness to some of France's worst moments, such as when Hitler's armies paraded down the street in 1940. Today this is among the must-visit attractions of Paris, its broad pavements lined with the most upscale shops, hotels and restaurants that draw the affluent and the screamingly fashionable pack.

The stroll down the Champs-Élysées from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe is among the two best walks of Paris (the other being the Quay-side walk along the Seine). We started late after a hearty breakfast and walked past the Louvre into the large gardens of the Tuileries. Spring was in the air and the trees were decked with the freshest of green leaves. Unlike English gardeners who like an element of wilderness, the French are almost mathematical in their gardens. This large garden was laid out with straight paths, manicured trees - every tree almost a perfect cube or a sphere - and flower beds in geometrical pattens. At the farther end of the garden are playgrounds for children with donkey rides and ice-cream stalls.

Park along the Champs Elysees
Park along the Champs ElyseesWe walked out of the large gilded gates of the Jardin des Tuileries and into the Place de la Concorde, a large, impressive square dominated by an Egyptian obelisk from Luxor. The 3300-year old obilisk was a gift from Egypt and once guarded the entrace of the Luxor temple. Its hieroglyphics exhalt the reign of pharaoh Ramses II. Here is a picture of the obilisk with me 'beheaded' - in remembrance of the many who were gullotined at this square during the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution. Public beheadings at Place de la Concorde included the only king of France to suffer such a fate, King Louis XIV and his wife Marie Antoinette.

Obelisk at Place de la Concorde
Detailing on the Obelisk at Place de la Concorde shows how it was transported to FranceWe picked up some more of the crepes we had begun to love so much and a hot-dog for the girl. The hot dog was very good too because of the French baguettes they came in. Today's crepes were savory ones with ham and cheese. Very filling and excellent as always!

Ham and Cheese CrepeThe grandest walk in Paris begins here as you continue to the Champs-Élysées. The first third of the promenade is lined with trees and parks. Tulips, cherry blossoms, pansies and daisies bloomed amongst verdant green vistas. Couples cosied up on park benches while children played. There were painters with their easels oblivious to the crowds. Along with the caricature artists, there was a guy offering to create a silhouette within 2 minutes on a piece of paper. As you can see in the pictures below, he was very good!

Artist at work on Champs Elysees
Artist at Work on Champs ElyseesNow we were amongst the crowded pavement of the final stretch. Fancy shops and restaurants abounded. But the crowd was mostly tourists on their quick pilgrimage to the mecca of high society. We stopped to rest awhile watching the people mill around and tasted some excellent mini-macarons at a bakery; I also bought a loaf of French brioche.

The Arc de Troimph
Details of the Arc de Troimph
Details of the Arc de TroimphFinally, we were at the Arc de Troimph. This impressive arch was commissioned by Napolean and depicts his historic victories. Ironically, the Arc's construction was begun when his empire began to collapse. The Arc has an elaborate frieze of battle scenes and sculptures all around. After figuring out how to get to the underground passage that led to the Arch, we bought tickets to the observation platform at the top. Thankfully, because of our little girl, we were allowed use of the elevator - else, you have to climb 284 steps to get there. Paris was laid out in front of us! The Eiffel tower on one side, the Champs-Élysées all the way up to the Lourve on another. Oh what a view!

View from the top of Arc de Troimph
View from the top of Arc de Troimph
We didn't try walking back, but took the Metro back to the Louvre. The journey was rather pleasant - being a Sunday, not very crowded. After a brief rest and some more grocery shopping - more of that excellent Bordeaux - we were back strolling the Quay near the Louvre in the fading sunlight. I think the French have a better metro than the English.

Details of the Arc de TroimphOn another day, we walked past the Concorde, this time crossing the river towards the Eiffel Tower. We walked past the National Assembly building and past the opulent Pont Alexandre III with its gold adornments leading up to the Invalides with its glittering dome where Napolean now rests.

The area between the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower has lovely streets with great cafes. We sat down in one and had an excellent quick lunch. I had the Croque-Monsieur, a ham and cheese sandwich while my wife decided to try the Croque-Madame but with poulet (chicken). The Croque-Madame comes with a fried egg on top, remembling an old-fashioned woman's hat and hence the name! The girl decided to go for a Nicoise Salad, a French staple. All the three dishes were made well and we gorged on them. The hot chocolates in Paris are excellent too.

Croque Monsieur
Croque Madame
Nicoise SaladThe best way to see the Eiffel is to approach it from a distance, preferably from the Ecole Militaire and stroll through the gardens of Champs de Mars. After the mandatory pictures, we lazed in the gardens surrounded by beautiful tulips, black pansies, and cherry blossoms in full bloom while the girl played around. We stayed away from the hordes of tourists below the tower itself. I think the night-time sight of the tower is much prettier. Which reminds me of Guy de Maupassant : He visited the restaurant on the tower daily and said he did so because it was the only place he could look out and not see the ugliness of the tower! :)

The Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel at Night
Paris at NightOn our way back, we checked out an eclair au chocolat and mille-feuille at an artisan patisserie and both were absolutely delightful. The eclair is a cream-filled pastry topped with chocolate, while the mille-feuille is made by arranging thin layers of flaky pastry on top of one another along with layers of vanilla cream. Parisian bakeries rock!

Next: Museum Hopping
Prev: Walking the Quays

Travel Tips: If you decide to take a Metro to the Eiffel Tower during the day, you may want to consider getting out at La Tour-Maubourg station (rather than Ecole Militaire) and then walking down the pretty streets with their interesting shops and churches.


Rahul said...

Great post as usual Shantanu. To get to Eiffel, another suggestion is to get down at Trocadero station and then walk to the tower. Trocadero offers a great view of the Eiffel and the park surrounding it.

Anonymous said...

@Rahul: Ah, of course! From the other side of the Eiffel. Have to try that too, if we have the time; maybe we will do it during the night.

Lakshmi said...

Great post..No wonder france is so artistic..the caricature artists seem so talented

kyh said...

those meals look delicious. and you're right... Eiffel Tower looks the most alluring at night, when all the light bulbs are lit up. Else it wouldn't do the moniker "City of Lights" justice, isnt it? ;)

Anonymous said...

@Lakshmi: Yes, he was pretty impressive given how fast he worked.

@kyh: Eiffel does look fantastic at night. We went back tonight and it was amazing. Re: city of lights, yes of course!

@Rahul: Thanks for the tip. We went back at night, this time on the Trocadero side. Nothing beats this view of the Eiffel!


RennyBA said...

I was there 40 years ago, so thanks for taking me down the memory lane!

The whole family had our silhouette made too - didn't know they are still there.

Good to see spring is in the air too :-)

Anonymous said...

@RennyBA: Hi Renny! Yes, spring is very much in the air. We were also very lucky to have so much sun and so little rain here. :)

Anonymous said...

We were there ten days ago, and took the same walk ;-)

It is a great walk, from Notre Dame to the Arc de Triomphe. Did you walk by the Élysée as well, the President's house?

Anonymous said...

@Zhu: No, we didn't. Carla Bruni is now old news, so stealing a glimpse wasn't high on our priorities. :)

indicaspecies said...

When will I reach Paris?*sigh*

Lovely post, and pictures. I can sense the freshness of the spring with those beautiful flowers around.