Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

Paris – Along the River Seine   15 comments

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All truly great cities are built on water. I read that somewhere and whilst it’s not exclusively true (Rome doesn’t have a truly memorable river) it certainly helps. The Seine is an integral part of the Paris city-scape so what better to see it from a different perspective than by boat.

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We used the well named but interestingly spelt Batobus service. As the name suggests a bus boat that for a fixed fee you can use as often as you like during a day. As it’s a slow and leisurely way to get about we thought a single trip in daytime and a return one at night would be the best use and was significantly cheaper than two separate conventional boat tours (although without a commentary).

We started off at their downstream location and were surprised to find the Statue of Liberty there. So the story goes it was built in the US but they decided to give it to France as a gesture of thanks for their support during the war and built a much bigger one. Very strange to see it in the middle of the Seine

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The boat trip was a lovely relaxed way to pass through the city and I spent the whole journey up on deck

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It gives splendid views of the Eiffel Tower

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And a variety of other interesting buildings from below ground level as it were

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This is the Pont Alexandre III with its ornate golden statues and street lamps

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A distant view of the Grand Palais

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The Musee D’Orsay, once a major railway terminus now a museum and art gallery

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The Palais de Louvre

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The pedestrian Pont des Arts we walked over earlier in the trip

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The beautiful Pont Neuf

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And then Notre Dame which looks especially grand from the river

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We returned later in the evening to see Paris at night from the river. Clearly a popular activity as the boat was packed. It takes a slightly different route around the other side of the Ile de la Cite. Not entirely sure which bridge this is, there are several on that stretch.

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Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame

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Pont Louis Phillipe

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The Conciergerie

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The Pont Neuf

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And lastly the Pont Alexandre III and the Eiffel Tower

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It’s a grandstand spot to view the Eiffel Tower and we got our timing right this time to see it do its hourly sparkle. I’ve added in the video again

 

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The service hops from side to side of the river and it does a nice 360 turn just past the tower to maximise the views

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It was our last evening in Paris and a wonderful way to finish. 2.5 days was not even close to long enough and so much was left unseen. We were astonishingly lucky to have two days of glorious sunshine to see the city and our trip around Europe was off to a fabulous start. Time to cover some distance!

 

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Paris – A Tales of Two Churches   23 comments

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Most of the cities we visited were well furnished with wonderful ornate churches. Paris most famous two deserved a post of their own I thought.

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On our first evening, still full of first day on holiday enthusiasm we went out for a post-meal stroll. No particular direction in mind but before we know it we came upon the Ile de la Cite. We wandered across the Pont Neuf and then along the banks of the river to the majestic Notre-Dame

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We were lucky and caught the setting sun perfectly. It transforms Notre-Dame (and most of the buildings around) from their white daytime look into an evening gown of pure gold

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I think it was this evening stroll that sealed the deal for me on that first day as to what a wonderous city this is. Golden churches, a beautiful river with walks along the banks, cosy restaurants and tall buildings. Life was pretty damn good at this point

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The setting sun over the river was a grand finale to our first day

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We came back for another look at Notre Dame on our last day to see it in its day outfit. The colour difference is pretty amazing

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We had thought about going in for look and maybe climbing the towers but were put off by the long queue

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Instead we headed off to find the second of the city’s landmark churches. Via the Tour Saint Jacques

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And the Pompidou Centre. Home to modern art its an odd-looking place. I’d thought about having a look around but they wanted serious cash or even £3 just to see the view from the roof terrace. It’s renowned as a piece of modern architecture but it looks like something a child would build if they didn’t have enough Lego to finish. I thought it looked dated and shabby so we didn’t dally and moved on

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The Basilica de Sacre Coeur at Montmartre is everything you expect. Striking, unique, stunning, beautiful and busy! Most packed place we went to after the Eiffel Tower

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It’s very geared to tourists and the surrounding streets are a bit tacky if you ask me

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It doesn’t detract from the beauty of the building or the views from the terraces. If you click on the panorama below you can see a larger version

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A close up view of the Pompidou Centre. It gets uglier every time I look at this photo

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A bank of cloud passed over while we were up here so we didn’t see it at its gleaming best. We did want to go inside for look and climb the dome but the queues were long and the afternoon was drawing to a close

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We did escape the crowds in a lovely park around the back with view of the rear of the church (minus people in shot)

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Capped off with an excellent view of the Stade de France for you stadium fans out there

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To close the post a few photos from around the vicinity of Notre Dame as I had no better place to put them in a blog post and I like them

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Not bad having these views just round the corner from your temporary home.

Paris – A walk Across the City   12 comments

It was a glorious sunny Sunday after our visit to the Tour Montparnasse so we decided on a walk through the city to tick off some sites. The famous Champs Elysees is closed to traffic on a Sunday so what better place to start. We pitched into the Metro and popped out at the famous landmark at the head of Paris most famous avenue.

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Unlike the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe was much bigger than I thought. It was built by Napoleon so he could march through it – triumphantly – when he won the war. Just one tiny flaw in that plan. He lost. Still he got the dubious compensation of having his ashes paraded through it. Not the same somehow

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It sits in the middle of a vast and seemingly free for all traffic roundabout. It was scary just watching the traffic race around and especially the bikes nonchalantly wandering through. There was even one guy who sauntered straight across the lines of traffic without a care in the world. He could have been run over numerous times but he just gave a gallic shrug and wandered off.

The view towards La Defense

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The tomb of the unknown soldier and eternal flame

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We had thought about climbing to the top but we’d already had a great high view, there was a long queue and most importantly it cost money

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We headed off down the Champs Elysees

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Despite its fame I was underwhelmed. It is a rather grand broad boulevard but it’s just lined with expensive shops and hotels. I didn’t think it was anything special and there were certainly far better places we saw in Paris. We ate lunch from a cheerless chain sandwich shop sitting on the pavement. It was Sunday and all the bakeries were shut

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Things improved from there. We wandered down a side street and found the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais and they were rather grand. Both were built for the Worlds Fair at the same time as the Eiffel Tower

The Petit Palais

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The Grand Palais

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The Grand Palais appeared to want more of my hard-earned cash but the Petit Palais was free. Easy decision

It was very impressive both inside and out. It had a fine collection of art and paintings but it’s not really our thing

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We had a little wander about (the gardens were rather nice), used the loos and moved on.

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Next stop was the Place de la Concorde with its granite obelisk gifted to France by Egypt in 1831 and is actually 3300 years old

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It’s an impressive expanse and quite a feat to cross the flow of traffic to reach the centre. Fine views back along the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe

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This is the Fontaine de Mers. It was rather odd but I really liked it

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There seemed to be various mermaid types all with a keen hold on a fish. We called it the Fountain of Throttled Fish

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From our travels I can safely say is that they do fountains really well in Europe. Almost every square has one and they are almost always well maintained and either interesting, intriguing or simply magnificent. I’m sure the UK has great city centre fountains but I’m struggling to recall one

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Onwards into the Jardin des Tuileries. They were busy but magnificent on a sunny Sunday afternoon

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They are packed with wide avenues, perfectly manicured lawns and flower beds and more fountains and ponds

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Seating space was at a premium though so we admired while we moved through

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At the far end of the gardens is the Palais de Louvre and its famous museum. I’d had it my mind that the museum would be an imposing yet bland building but is absolutely huge and quite stunning

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At the centre is its famous pyramid. Again I had a preconceived idea that it would garish, modern and out-of-place but I loved it. To me it seemed an appropriate merging of new old and it’s certainly unique. You stand by it and know its The Louvre

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The fountains outside were also rather lovely and we sat outside and people watched for a few minutes and to rest our weary feet.

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We had decided well ahead of time not to go in. as I said fine art is wasted on us and the queues and high cost were not worth the expense. From what I’ve read even if you only have a passing interest in art, the collection is magnificent, varied and absolutely vast. I read that if you merely glanced at every piece within you’d be in there for 9 months

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We headed for home over the rather lovely footbridge, the Pont des Arts

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Fine views across to my favourite bridge the twin spans of the Pont Neuf spanning the Ile de la Cite

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And back downstream towards the Eiffel Tower

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As we headed back to the flat for some rest and recuperation before a meal out we passed by the church of Saint Sulpice again

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An absolutely splendid day in a beautiful city

Paris – Tour Montparnasse   14 comments

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I like tall buildings and I like looking down on cities from the top of them. When I looked at the cost of going up the Eiffel Tower I wanted a better alternative. The Tour Montparnasse ticked more boxes. For the same price I could visit twice so I could see the view in the daytime and at night. It was walking distance from the apartment. And of course it was well sited for excellent view of the Eiffel Tower itself

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Its renowned as the ugliest building in Paris and you can see why when compared to Notre-Dame, the Basilica de Sacre Coeur or indeed the Eiffel Tower itself. I liked it though. It sits out on its own in a not particularly attractive part of the city anyway and doesn’t really detract from the rest of the feel of Paris. As smoked brown glass buildings go I thought it was quite stylish. 209m high and built in 1973 for you fact-meisters out there

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While we’re on that subject. The buildings I do find offensive are those that sit right in the heart of glorious historical cities and their architectural gems where no effort has been made to make them blend in. I lost count of the times when walking through a particularly glorious neighbourhood I’d turn a corner and there would be an ugly concrete block or sheets of plain glass right next to a renaissance building or medievakl church or palace. This was especially true and particularly galling in Venice and Rome where architectural gems abound and the city feels like a living outdoor museum. My theory is that these buildings are almost exclusively local authority, banks or hotels. The Town Planners who allow this should be shot. There I’ve said it.

And on the subject of High Street Banks, why do they have glass and windows anyway. Who goes window shopping at Banks. What do they think people are looking at. Point of Sale Literature displays for current accounts. Bloody hell! Rant over, sorry!

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Back to the story. We booked in advance but there was absolutely no need to. There was no queue at the ticket office and there were no more than fifty people up there. Which was a surprise for it was a glorious clear sunny day and the views were magnificent. The Eiffel Tower of course takes centre stage and as I’d hoped the Tour Montparnasse was a wonderful vantage point. La Defense where we went on first day is behind it here

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I like this photo as it shows the elevated section of the Metro. A bit Train-Spotty I know but I liked that section for some reason

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You can stay indoors and look through the glass but the best views are from terrace on the roof. The glass walls protect from the wind (and from jumping off), but there are gaps so you can take photos direct as it were. Here’s the Jones family looking summery

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And some zoom shots of famous landmarks. This is the Palace of Les Invalides and its gorgeous golden dome

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The Arc de Triomphe

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The Pantheon

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Basilica de Sacre Coeur at Montmartre. Me and TJS were massively chuffed when we looked at the photo later and realised we’d captured the Stade de France in the background! 🙂

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And the church of Saint Sulpice round the corner from our apartment

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Possibly the only photo of me from the entire holiday. Enjoy it while you can

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From up here you realise just what an immense city Paris is. This was especially true when looking down on some of the other cities we visited. Rome seemed especially and surprisingly small by comparison

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This is the cemetery of Montparnasse. We were all staggered at how big it was. Jean Paul Sartre and Serge Gainsbourg are in there somewhere

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Our apartment is somewhere in this shot. Right hand side of the road about 2/3 the way up I think

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This shot shows just how quiet it was while we were there. Going in the morning was a great plan. The sun was in the SE and most of the main city sights were to the north and west so the light was just perfect

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A view over the Jardin de Luxembourg to Notre Dame and beyond

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And over the Seine towards the Louvre and beyond to Montmartre

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Stylish ladies having a sit down with a weird teenager behind

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And a final classic shot across to the Eiffel Tower. The top one is from the roof terrace and the second one through the glass on the floor below

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I could have stayed up here all day picking out sights and features but there was more Paris to see. Satisfied with our experience we headed off to do more stuff for the rest of the day. In the evening we returned for our second visit to see the city at night

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It was much busier and we timed it just wrong to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. The night-time views were still amazing though

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I never really got the hang of night shots with the camera. Most are a little blurry as I had the shutter speed low to allow enough light in. I probably should have pushed the ISO Sensitivity much higher so I could increase the shutter speed and reduce the shake. I need to practice more.

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I don’t think I could enlarge any of these for the wall but at this size hopefully they show just how great the views were. Saint Sulpice.

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Notre Dame

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Basilica de Sacre Coeur

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Our road, the Rue de Rennes

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The fair at the Jardins de Tuileries

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And last shot of course goes to the Eiffel Tower

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Late finish but well worth it. Stupendous views over a wonderful city

Paris – Eiffel Tower   14 comments

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The Eiffel Tower. Paris most recognisable landmark

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Throughout the trip we visited a huge host of famous sites and I’m not planning to pad out the posts with long rambling background information. You can look that up yourself! I may throw in a few facts and numbers here and there and stuff that I found interesting.

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So a few facts and numbers. 324m high with 6.9m visitors per year. It was finished in 1889 for the World Fair and was supposed to be temporary. It was planned to be torn down in 1909 until someone realised it was quite handy for radio and telegraphy transmissions. It gets repainted every 7 years and takes 25 people with 60 tonnes of paint 18 months. Oh, and there are 2.5million rivets if you’re interested.

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My trusty Lonely Planet guidebook (used extensively in all cities and are excellent in my humble opinion) said the best view was from the L’ile aux Cygnes under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim so that’s where we headed

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Added bonus of travelling on and looking at an overground section of the Metro. Well I liked it anyway

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We walked along the banks of the Seine admiring the changing angles and perspectives, shading our eyes from the blistering sunlight having forgotten to take shades out with us.

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In a funny way it seems much smaller than you think when you first see it from a distance. You expect it to be massive and totally dominate the skyline. In fact you can only really see it in Western Paris or from other high spots. Up close however and you can truly appreciate its size, weight and mass. Both in terms of iron and steel and tourists (its unsurprisingly heaving with people)

It was in the parkland surrounding the tower that we began to notice Paris has a serious rat problem. They were scuttling about in quite significant numbers around the major tourist spots and especially here. One even ran over my foot near Notre-Dame. Nasty little buggers.

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After our first visit we walked back to the apartment and stumbled across the magnificent dome of the Palais Les Invalides. This image is in effect the back garden!

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We saw the tower from several other places. Here in the Place de la Concorde

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And from a boat trip along the Seine (more of both in later posts)

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When the tower truly comes alive is at night

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When lit up (20,000 6 watt bulbs and 40km of cables if your interested) is when it really dominates the skyline and is truly wonderful sight

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But there’s more! On the hour it “sparkles” for a few minutes. I took a little video of this which you can see below. Cool eh!

 

We took a stroll around it (and the rats) on our last evening to appreciate it fully in its night-time attire

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Of course you can’t visit Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower. Well, actually you can and we didn’t. I figured that the one thing you couldn’t see from the Eiffel Tower was the Eiffel Tower. I had a much better plan for expansive views over the city to include the tower. More of that in the next post

Paris – La Defense   12 comments

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For our first proper outing in Paris we headed for the skyscraper and glass towers of La Defense. It sits just outside the city on a small rise. It was the only area of Paris I’d been to before so I was keen to see it again for curiosity sake. I also remembered the Grande Arche and the views from the top being quite good. We hit the Metro and headed over there.

It’s a glittering palace of architectural styles and a lot of glass.

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The metro exit pops you out right under the Grance Arche.

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A stunning building with intriguing lifts that run in the open “hole” and a roof terrace on the top. We didn’t need much convincing to head on up

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The views from the top are exceedingly good although not as good as I remembered. You get a great view down over the towers but they somewhat obscure the views of the rest of the city

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It does give a good view of the Eiffel Tower with the Tour Montparnasse directly behind. More on both in later posts

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It must have been windy up there judging by TJF’s lively hair. We’d struck lucky with the weather. It had rained on the train through France and it rained all day when we left the city to travel on to Turin. In between our 2.5 days were gloriously sunny

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I’d say that with other lofty heights in Paris to ascend for city-scape views its probably not worth the expense to ascend the Grand Arche. Its impressive to look at though, up close and the view from the top of the steps leading up are almost as good

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We decided to take a stroll down to the wide pedestrian arcade towards the Arc de Triomphe to explore. There were loads of water features fountains and modern sculptures like this one

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Any many weird and wonderful shaped buildings. Its very like Canary Wharf in London and I like both immensely. I love sky-scrapers and tall buildings and in the 21st Century, architects seem to be trying outdo each other in terms of unusual shaped buildings. Not exactly in keeping with the older side of Paris but its tucked away from there and adds a different dimension to thecity I think. Also being primarily an office and business park it was deserted on a Saturday afternoon.

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The water features were just as interesting as the sculptures and buildings

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I found this one intriguing

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And this one looked like it was made from drinking straws

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One of the slightly odd things about the Grande Arche is its position. The avenue in La Defense and the buildings alongside it seem perfectly aligned with Avenue Charles de Gaulle that leads to the Arc de Triomphe. When you look back at the Arche it seems to be offset such that the centre is not pointing precisely down the Avenue but off at a slight angle. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or indeed if its just a trick of the light and shadows. I got the same impression looking from the Arc de Triomphe. Very odd

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At the end of the walk there is another water feature and you can look straight down to the Arc de Triomphe while watching the Metro trains slide underneath

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A worthwhile first outing and something different which we all enjoyed. Not exactly a classic area of Paris or likely an area for nightlife, bars and fine dining but well worth a visit.

The Metro station beckoned and it was time to move on to the most iconic of Paris landmarks

Paris – First Impressions (and other stuff)   26 comments

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It felt rather strange starting a holiday by walking out of the house, with a pack, to the end of our road and waiting for a bus. Every holiday for us, even on the odd occasion we fly starts with a car journey. Standing at the bus stop felt strangely liberating, freed from the confines of the modern automobile.

I like this photo, plenty of smiles which is an abiding memory of the trip

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Bus to Hereford, train to Birmingham and on to London Euston. Playing the Advance Fares game means First Class travel is within reach so lapped up a bit of luxury on the London Train. A slightly strange experience as the attendant serving food was a little quirky. He practically threw boxes of sandwiches and crisps at us (in a nice way). It was all we could do to suppress the giggles as he moved on. It became a running joke on every train as to whether food would be served or chucked but sadly it was presented in the expected manner from here on

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Overnight at the Crestfield Hotel near St Pancras Station (pretty decent family room and prices by London standards) then up early next morning to catch our Eurostar to Paris. St Pancras really is one of the worlds most iconic stations

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Seeing as the UK is “special”, Eurostar is the only rail trip where we had to go through the airport style security checks and the like, creating some queues and small degree of chaos as well as a ratio of train seats to waiting area seats of about 5:1!

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We seemed to be on the one of the newer trains and even in second class the experience was pretty luxurious. Just as well seeing as Eurostar was by an order of magnitude the most expensive train journey we took when considering the relatively short distance. We were chuffed however to see the train get very close to its 300kmph top speed

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And so we arrived in Paris. I’ve only been once before on a business trip for about 24 hours so I was keen to see it properly. It wasn’t on the original itinerary but when I realised we would have to change both trains and stations I though we may as well stay for a couple of days. A sensible choice because Paris is wonderful

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We rented an apartment on the Rue de Rennes in Saint Germain (the photos above and below are from outside the front door. You can see the Tour Montparnasse at the end of the road (more on that in later post)

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The neighbourhood was wonderful. I went out for early morning walks to collect breakfast and explore. I wanted to live on every street. I loved these 5/6 storey buildings with their iron railings and balconies, typical of Paris it seems

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We had shops and restaurants a short walk away and the Seine and the Ile de France with Notre Dame a further 10 mins. What started here became a feature of our trip. Simply walking through the city and admiring the different architectural styles across five countries and eight cities

In each city there always seemed to be something new around each corner and it made walking and exploring a simple (albeit sometimes crowded) pleasure wherever we went

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Paris is however a very big city. Just as well it has a wonderful metro system to whisk you about

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On our first evening we came across the church of Saint Sulpice pretty much by chance, one of those corners I mentioned above

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In a city packed with elegant churches it was staggering to see this marvel I’ve never heard of while just walking around the streets. It was this endless pleasure that was a real highlight for me.

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Sometimes we ate in the apartment but there seemed little point spending your holiday in cities and not sample the city life of an evening. We dined out, frequently and enjoyed some superb food. Just people watching was great, sitting in a street side restaurant watching the world pass by with a beer. Another pleasure of not having car, being to take a cold glass or two of beer whenever we wanted without the drag of the “who’s driving home and drinking cola” discussion. I drank many beers on this trip

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Saint Germain is restaurant heaven. Another of the pleasures of city life is walking through the streets looking in at dozens of cosy restaurants and bars that you just ached to eat in or sit at the bar with a beer or glass of wine. I’d been in Paris a few hours when I decided I loved city life and I had over 3 weeks of it to come!

All that and we had Gregg Wallace from Masterchef playing the drums while we ate (no photo alas) and Paul Nuttall from UKIP on the table behind us. Does life get better than that 🙂

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A trip out the business district coming next

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