Thursday, April 16, 2009

Paris: Walking The Quays

Louis XIV seated on a bucking horse at Place des Victoires. An earlier one showed him on a pedestal supported by four chained prisoners.Paris is a fairly compact city which is best discovered on foot. Even around our apartment, we discovered a treasure trove of history, not even counting the Louvre. We found the gardens of Palais-Royale in the neighbourhood. Once the Cardinal Richlieu's private mansion, it is hard to believe these quiet gardens once hosted key personae of the French Revolution who ate and drank in the coffee-houses here sparking debate and dissent.

Galerie Vivienne near Palais Royale
In the gardens of Palais Royale
In the gardens of Palais RoyaleOn our first full day in Paris we decided to take a walking tour along the Seine. The Seine splits the city into two connected by many bridges which tell their own tales. Pont Neuf is the oldest one; it was the first to introduce pavements for pedestrians (at that time to protect walkers from horse dung rather than traffic!). Pont de la Concorde was built with what was left of Bastille after the storming of 1789. Pont Alexandre III with its gilded, opulent embellishments leads the way to Napolean's tomb. And Pont de l'Alma has its Zouave statue which has long been used as a flood warning - when the toes of the statue gets wet, the state raises the flood alert and closes the quayside roads!

Bridges of Paris

Bridges of Paris: Pont des ArtsWe had ventured out early in the day towards the river through the Louvre. As we entered the Place du Carrousel, we got our first glimpse of the glass pyramid in the courtyard. I can understand why this structure was so controversial when it was built - it looks quite incongruous in the old-world surroundings.

Past the Lourve and on the riverside quays we encountered the most splendid panoramic vistas of this city. Trees lined the Quay as we walked on the Right Bank. Fresh leaves glistened brightly in the morning sun. The majestic palace of the Louvre on our side and the Musee de Orsay on the other side of the river added to the magic.

Quays of Paris
Quays of ParisWe crossed over to the Left Bank on Pont des Arts, a charming wrought-iron and wooden bridge and continued walking on the Left Bank Quay. Incidentally, this was the first bridge built solely for pedestrians. Vendors were setting up stalls with old drawings - scenes of Paris monuments, nudes, posters from during the World War along with used books, comics and maps.

Vendors on the Quay in ParisWe then took the Pont Neuf to Ile de la Cite, the larger of the two islands on the Siene, where the city of Paris actually originated in 250 BC. The bridge was completed in 1604; in those days peddlers and entertainers went there to seek a few coins, even duels were fought on it.

The island of Ile de la Cite had become a fortified city called Lutetia in 2000 BC and was connected to the right and left banks by wooden bridges before the Romans captured it. However, it was only in 1100 AD that Paris began emerging as a great city attracting scholars and artists from afar; kings and emperors began building the imposing cathedrals and other buildings during this time too. Even now, distances in Paris are measured from a point within this island.

We climbed down the steps to the riverside on the western tip of the island as the girl chased after some ducks. There were tulips blooming brightly in in the garden here as we passed the statue of Henry IV, known for his roving eye and his countless mistresses. This square with its little garden was built in his memory and continues to attract lovers.

Seine in ParisWe traversed the length of the island passing by Sainte Chapelle, known for Montreuil's stained glass. A few steps ahead, and we were at the Notre-Dame cathedral. An exceptional masterpiece of Gothic architecture, the Notre-Dame is breathtaking to look at. With intricate detailing and statues carved on it's tall exteriors, it is an obvious magnet for tourists. We got in line to tour the large cavernous interiors but didn't climb to the top. It is amazing to think that they had almost decided to demolish the building and only the popularity of Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame kept that from happening!

Sainte Chapelle Paris
Notre-Dame Cathedral
Notre-Dame Cathedral
Notre-Dame Cathedral
Notre-Dame CathedralBy now we were hungry; we got ourselves a sandwich, a chocolate crepe and a waffle and hungrily ate them in the gardens behind Notre Dame. With cherry blossoms and tulips in full bloom, the gardens were a pretty sight.

After crossing the bridge into the delightful second island of Ile Saint-Louis, we wandered aimlessly, admiring the many quaint cafes, creperies and bistros in the narrow streets. The gelato we bought was wonderfully smooth while the Le Baba aur Rhum, a Paris delicacy made of sponge cake dunked in rum didn't hit the spot.

Artisan cheese in Paris
Baba au Rhum in ParisWe finally got off the islands at Pont Marie and made our way into the Marais neighbourhood. Marshland at one time, this is one of Paris' oldest and fascinating quarters. While most of Paris was over-hauled in the 19th century, this is the only area that preserves the narrow streets and styles of the Medieval and Renaissance eras.

Hotel de Sens Marias Paris
Medieval remnants in Marais ParisWe walked past the 15th century Hotel de Sens and part of the wall that once surrounded Paris in the 12th century and into a village called St. Paul which was filled with art galleries and antique shops. We bought some stuff from a friendly old lady who spoke about her trips to India before beginning our long walk back. The Marais houses the Jewish quarters of Paris; ironically, the same wall I mentioned earlier was once used to keep them out of the city. This area is also known for being the hub of the gay scene in Paris and is also home to the oldest Chinatown in this city.

ParisThe quays seemed even more beautiful during the evening as we walked back. By the time we reached the Louvre, a group of musicians were playing in the square outside in the fading sunlight. I had expected the temperature to be a little chilly in Paris during this month; however, it has been extremely pleasant. A far cry from the Pune summer left behind!

Next: Champs-Élysées & More
Prev: Bonjour Paris

Travel Tips: If you are staying here longer than a few days, carry an umbrella along with good walking shoes. While we have been lucky thus far, it can rain any time in Paris (like in London).

18 comments:

amreekandesi said...

Is that a bike with a roof?

I have seen some stained glass paintings in NYC in the St Patrick's cathedral. Absolutely captivating.

Ashish said...

Glad to see you and your family having a good time. The pics in this post are beautiful. Enjoy your vacation.

Am planning to add your blog to my blogroll, with your permission of course !

kyh said...

Romance exudes from every corner of this city. So amazing!

I love the huge selection of cheeses in that pic. I've never actually seen so many of them in my life!

प्रियांक said...

Nice! I like the book street. Have a great time!

Shantanu said...

@amreekandesi: Yes, those are BMWs! On two wheels. Also saw bikes with two front wheels here.

@kyh: You could eat a different bread, a different wine and a different cheese every day of your stay here. :)

@Priyank: Not very unlike the second-hand book vendors in Delhi.

Shantanu said...

@Ashish: Of course, please go ahead. Thank you.

Anu said...

hey shantanu have a wonderful trip n wish you n yr family a belated shubho nabo borsho.Lovely pictures and great naration...aaaaaaaaawwwwweeeeeeeeee am reminded of Mr Beans holiday just in case u havent seen it pls watch it :))))

Lakshmi said...

You are invoking the romance of Paris I can see it in your pics ..:)great to see you guys having a good time..proves that recession is a myth :)

Cuckoo said...

I am reliving my days in Paris through your eyes again.

Next is Champs-Élysées ? Waitinggggg...

Go up Arc de Triomph as well.

Shantanu said...

@Anu: Thank you. No, I don't think I have seen that movie, but then I am no Mr. Bean fan. :)

@Lakshmi: Ha, ha. Actually, this is a good way to forget the recession. :)

@Cuckoo: Did go up the Arc de Triomph!

Zhu said...

You're right, Paris is quite compact. Tip to visitor: walk around, because you are missing out below ground in the subway!

Glad you are having a good time, and some of the nice weather (we left some for you :D )

Shantanu said...

@Zhu: Absolutely! Especially when the weather is as good as we had here. :)

indicaspecies said...

Nice to see you having a good time in Paris, one of the romance capitals of the world. Lovely pictures.:)

Shantanu said...

@indicaspecies: Luckily, all the hype surrounding Paris is for good reason. I can return back here and spend days without getting bored.

KIKI Vol-au-Vent said...

Hi Shantanu
I upload the occasional photo on Flickr, an international photo site where everyone can join. I looked for a short quote or tale to go with my upload and typed 'quays of Paris' and the first hit landed me with your fascinating and quite incredibly correct and well written 'tale'.... I could underline every word you wrote and I shall give a link in my photo to your site, so that my contacts and friends may read YOUR story too.
Well done and congrats to such a superbe work - et bienvenue à Paris, at any time! I live not in Paris itself but not too far either so that I visit frequently when having guests from all over the world.
Fond greetings
Kiki (Vol-au-Vent)

Shantanu said...

@kiki: Thank you very much! I will try and locate your pictures on Flickr. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Very informative blog-post about the historical surroundings as well as the food! I may mention that although Lutetia was the original name of the city (of Celtic origin), the denomination "Paris" likely came from either a tribe called the "Parisi" or from none other than the Egyptian goddess Isis (I have read somewhere...)! The expression "par Isis" could have "boiled" down to the nowadays well-known and used name of "Paris", but this is just a theory. In any case, this shows how prominent the worship of that goddess had become during the "multi-cultural" days of the Roman occupation of France/Gaul.

Anyway; keep up the good work of reporting about delicious foods around the world (with gusto)!

Best Regards
/Khargosh Agha

Shantanu said...

@Khargosh: Thanks for your comments and information on how the name Paris originated.