Saturday, October 2, 2010

Paris, France

September 28th is Czech Statehood Day and this year it fell on a Tuesday. So I decided to take Monday and Wednesday off and give myself an extra long weekend getaway in Paris. Ryanair had a special from Bratislava to Beauvais which is 80 km (~50 miles) north of Paris.

Four of us rented an apartment in Montparnasse which is on the left bank of the River Seine. The apartment was great however, the only problem was there there was only one key for four people. But it wasn't really that big of a deal. I was just happy that my French still works because it made it a lot easier working things out with the landlord.

Paris is an awesome city. Yeah, it's big and at times the metro is ridiculously crowded but it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You can't go 500 feet without coming across a park, a piece of art or something historic. Everyone I spoke with was incredibly polite and helpful. Speaking French didn't hurt, but still. Plus the food was amazing!! This is a city I could very easily live in.

Here are the sightseeing highlights. I've already loaded all of my pictures on Flickr.

L'Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids) was built as a hospital and a retirement home for France's war veterans. Today it also houses a few museums, including the French Army museum, and serves as a burial site for some of the country's war heroes, including Napoléon Bonaparte.

There are two opera houses in Paris. The original is the Paris Opéra, designed by Garnier in the Neo-Baroque style. This was the main opera house from 1875 - 1989 when the new modern facility was built. The original here served as the inspiration for Leroux's Phantom of the Opera.

Construction of the Madeline Church was interrupted during the French Revolution. Napoléon then altered the building plans to make it a pantheon to his glorious army. The building became a place of worship again and was completed in 1842. There is no bell tower or cross on the outside of the building so it looks more like a Greek temple than it does a church.

La Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. During the revolution there was a guillotine in the square and this is where King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, Maximilien Robespierre and many others met their end. The guillotine was removed and, in 1836, eventually replaced with a 3,300-year-old obelisk from Egypt.

On the left bank of the River Seine is the Latin Quarter. This is the university section and during the Middle Ages the medium of instruction was Latin. Here is where you'll find the St. Michael Fountain. It was built from 1855-1860 and shows the Archangel Michael with two dragons that spout water into the fountain.

Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) is the famous Gothic, Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. It was one of the first Gothic cathedrals. More on Notre Dame later.

The Champs-Élysées is one of the world's most famous streets. It runs for 2km (1.25 miles) from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. It is filled with cafés and shops and is the second most expensive strip of real estate in Europe. The annual rent for 1,100 sq.ft. (~93 sq. meters) can run €1.1 million (~$1.53 million U.S).

The Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arch) was built to honor those who fought for France, especially during the Napoleonic Wars. It was completed in 1836. Underneath the Arc is the tomb of the unknown soldier from WWI.

Sacré Cœur is a Catholic church and a minor basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Sacré Cœur is located at the the highest point in the city in Montmarte. More on this one later.

The Louvre was the home of French royalty until Versailles. Today, it is one of the world's largest museums and the most visited art museum in the world. The museum's collection is nearly 35,000 pieces from prehistory to the 19th century and is displayed over 60,600 sq. meters (+652,000 sq.ft.). Definitely more on the Louvre in a future post.

The Orsay Museum is incredible.
The building was originally a railway station until 1939 when the station's short platforms were not suited for longer trains. During WWII it served as a mailing center and following the war, it was the country's most important repatriation center for victims of the Nazis. In 1986 it became a museum and holds mainly French art from 1848 - 1915. It houses an extensive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

The Luxembourg Gardens are very pretty. Located near the French senate, with views of the Montparnasse Tower and the Eiffel Tower, it is a great place to relax and people watch.

And of course, no visit to Paris is complete going to see the Eiffel Tower. It was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair. It is 324 meters (1,063 ft) tall which is about the same height as an 81-storey building. While it is still the tallest building in Paris, in 1930, it lost its claim as tallest man-made structure in the world.

With so much to see and do in the city I never even bothered to try any of the day trips available out of the city. There is still a lot more that I want to see so I'll just have to go back again.

On Wednesday morning we checked out of the apartment and headed to the bus station to catch our ride back to the Beauvais Airport. That's when we found out that due to air traffic control strikes in Spain, Ryanair cancelled our flight back to Slovakia. I know it doesn't make a lot of sense but we had a Spanish cabin crew on our original flight to France. The next flight was Friday morning so there was a mad dash to find a place to stay for two more nights and to let the office know I needed to extend my vacation two days. It was a bit stressful but if you're going to be stranded someplace, let's face it...there are way worse places than Paris to get stuck in.

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