MAR 30,2011 - APR 04,2011 (6 DAYS)
For a long time I’ve wanted to go to Paris. Yet, when I had the opportunity to travel abroad, another destination always came up. When my daughter celebrated her 12th birthday, I suggested we'd travel somewhere, just the two of us. Fortunately (and surprisingly) she chose Paris. It was a special trip; a trip of a mother and her daughter. The following trip report will include the daily tours we went on, the main attractions, and some relevant links. I'll put an emphasis on each one of our personal experiences.
Our journey began at noon in Haifa and ended at night in Paris, after successfully facing many unexpected difficulties. Quite a lot of adventures for one day: beginning with losing the Car keys while leaving home, continuing with strange experiences in the airport and during the flight, and ending with a nightly battle against the intercom of the apartment we booked.
My daughter and I found the apartment entrance, and called the elevator. It's written that the elevator’s capacity is three people. However it appeared that hardly one of us could get inside. I didn't even consider leaving the young lady alone in the lobby, or sending her upstairs alone. Hence, we shoved both of us into the elevator with our entire luggage. Like in the movies, it's a classic French elevator, half rounded, with a collapsible grilles door, which let you be inside, but feel like you're outside, surrounded by a spiral stairway with a red carpet.
We reached the 3rd floor, finally escaping the elevator, and got into the apartment which turned out to be very nice. It's neat and clean, fully equipped, including a laundry machine and a dryer, a fully equipped kitchenette, air-conditioning + heating radiators backup, Internet, TV, large stock of towels - in short, everything a traveler could ask for while not being outdoors. We have no complaints, except one small area in the parquet, stepping on it makes a lot of noise, we fell asleep as soon as we got settled.
We woke up early, a slow wake up, getting used to Paris. The girl says: “I can't believe we're actually in Paris”. “Neither can I!” I said. We go looking for some breakfast. It's a cloudy day, a bit rainy, people rushing to work, wearing dark clothes. We find two fresh croissants, just down the street - what a lovely way to begin our day… Our apartment is located at Rue Chauss'ee-d'Antin 58. The Galeries Lafayette is just around the corner and opens since the early morning. We're heading there, to stare at the shops’ windows. Heading back down the rainy street, walking slowly among the rushing crowd, we arrive shortly after at Galeries Lafayette. It's huge inside! We're passing across some fancy umbrellas that cost "only" 105 Euros each, continuing our tour inside, to more and more shops, more and more floors, arranged as soldiers around a rounded stunning stained glass in the building’s dome. Staring up, can't control this whole beauty and space. We go around, feeling, taking photos, going up, going down, and going up again. Everything is so expensive. Before leaving the building, I try to take a photo of the umbrellas I had fallen in love with, but the guard would not allow me to do so. Disappointed, we go out, crossed the street and entered the opera house, which apparently was under construction. Despite that, it's still very impressive and magnificent. We were impressed by the moldings, sculptures and domes, but decided not to go inside, keeping something for the next visit in Paris.
We continue walking the streets, without any purpose, through the wide and crowded avenues. Suddenly, passing by, the Madeleine Church (L'église de la Madeleine). A huge and impressive building, its architecture reminds us of a Greek temple.
We walk up its stairways, behind us lies the Concorde square (Place de la Concorde) with its Obelisk. Inside the Church we listen to an organ’s music and a priest’s sermon. After we began to feel a bit exhausted, we decided to go back to the street. We turned around for another glimpse over the Madeleine, and surprisingly we see the priest going down the broad steps followed by people in black coats carrying a coffin on their shoulders respectfully inserting it into a black car. It turns out we were at a funeral...
Now, we're on our way straight to the Concorde square. Everything is so beautiful, refined, friendly and colorful – such things we’d find only in Paris. The Concorde plaza is huge and crowded by many cars and people. In its center lies the famous Obelisk with the golden edge. While being thrilled by this incredible height and wealth, we suddenly notice the Eiffel tower among the trees and buildings. I whisper to my daughter: “Look, we're actually in Paris!!”
We naturally continue to the Tuileries gardens. It's the beginning of the spring, and the some trees are starting to bloom. Other trees are still bare and hibernating for the winter. We wander in the beautiful gardens. The girl was running from one statue to another, while I was trying to catch her. The local fountains didn't work (later we found out the entire city’s fountains were disabled). We realize we're approaching the Seine River, and just ahead of us, a bridge.
Keeping the other part of the Tuileries for our next visit, we climb over the bridge, discover all the love padlocks left by lovers. Just next to us, a man bends down and picks up a golden ring, as he had just found it by accident. He showed me that it didn't fit him, and offered it to me using hand gestures. I'm almost tempted to try it, but suddenly a red light turned on... I remembered I read once about pickpockets who work that way. I strongly hold my bag, actively refuse to take the ring, and quickly leave the area; an unpleasant experience.
We returned back to the Concorde plaza through another bridge, and we felt a bit tired. We agreed to get back to the apartment for an afternoon siesta. First time, we reach the metro, we spend a few minutes on basic orientation and tickets purchase. We bought "carnet" – what means a stack of 10 individual tickets. I must say the metro is completely useful and helpful. Though we were walking quite distance, it was always there to save us at the right moment while we ran out of power. We continued to our apartment, and two hours rest pass quickly. Now, again, we go out to explore the city, this time on our way to the Champs-Elysees.
The road leads us into the 'Arc de Triomph'. I had wanted to climb up and have a view of the city, but my daughter seemed to be frightened to climb at the monument. I lead her moving forward with more confidence; encouraging her, convincing, begging... threatening. Eventually we start to climb the steep spiral stairway up front. Breathing heavily, and holding hands. In the middle we stopped for a rest while reading some interesting stories about the monument and watching similar 'Arc de Triumph' interactive videos from all over the continent. Going up to the next floor, there is a souvenir shop in which we bought three Eiffel tower key rings. We took a deep breath and climbed to the roof. Wow! What a gorgeous view.
The girl has no fear anymore, she hops and skips around, wanting to catch everything, right away. We were thrilled what the nice views had revealed to us and we decided to wait until after the sunset to watch the lights of the city at night. We are hanging around, but no sunset seems to be coming. After spending two hours there, we realize that the city of lights is not becoming dark so fast, so we gave up, taking another short tour in the Camps-Elysees, tired but happy we took a metro back to our apartment.
A day starting at the Eiffel tower is probably going to end there too. I woke the girl with the blessing of "Bonjour Mademoiselle". She smiled and naturally answered: “Bonjour”. The forecast was telling us it was going to be a sunny day with 20 C degrees, but my intuition made me put some scarves, wool hats and gloves into our bag – Later that day, it saved us. We take the metro to the army museum, not to enter inside, but just as a starting point to our tour in champ de mars gardens leading to the Eiffel tower. Even during the metro drive, and later during the garden walk, my daughter already starts to worry: “What if I fall?” “What if I die”, “And if something I have will fall down the tower?” questions are raised together with other “optimistic” thoughts of that kind. On the other hand, I'm encouraging again, convincing, begging, and threatening...
We continue to march through the gardens, in which the fountains are disabled again, and quickly reach to the tower's foot. What an impression! It's huge! We notice several queues, and look for “our” potential queue, which is supposed to be the queue for online reserved tickets. The wind is blowing, and though we're still on the tower's foot, it's very cold so we enter the souvenir shop to warm up a bit. It is already noon, and our queue is starting to grow. Exactly at that time the gates are being opened, and we burst out with everybody to the elevators, not before we defeat a young kid who tried getting around without signaling before… We go up in the fully stressed elevator to the first floor and then to the second. In the second floor, we reach another queue leading to another elevator that takes you to the top third floor. The queue is quite long, and we are freezing. It was time to take out of the bag the wool hats, scarves and gloves. Finally we reach the top floor. The views revealed from the transparent elevator and from the top floor are spectacular. We're going around the floor's balcony several times, watching the 'Arc de Triomph' we visited the day before. From here it looks like a small toy. From the top view, you feel like you've got all of Paris in your hand, like a drawn map. We forgot about the fears of falling, dying or letting something fall down... We decided to get down and wait in another queue to the elevator going to the second floor. My daughter suggests we go down from the second floor through the stairway, and I accept the challenge. We reach back to the foot of the tower, and turn to the Seine riverbank.
We look for a boat in which we'll be able to sail to Île de la Cité. The boat is sailing through a round path while stopping in major sightseeing attractions. One daily ticket allows you to use the boat as much as you want. We take this boat and after few stops we get down at Île de la Cité. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame is being revealed on the other riverbank: big and beautiful, surrounded by a gorgeous pink blossom. We cross over the bridge to the other riverbank, and discovered that even here there's a queue leading inside the cathedral. The line was moving very fast, and we found ourselves already inside, thrilled by the enormous size and beautiful stained glass. We go around the cathedral hall and then go out.
Then we decided to look for the ultimate girl’s shop – Claire's which supposed to be located just across the Seine on the same bank we came from. Short navigation led us straight to the temple of earrings, scarves, rings, and chains. We buy a few things just to make us happier, and continue on the short way to the Île Saint-Louis. On the main street (and single one) we cross the island; we found many souvenirs in a well-designed small shop. We enter each one of the shops, check out what there is to offer and enjoy ourselves.
We bought a few souvenirs and two ice creams at Amorino's. The delicious ice cream looks like flowers that seemed to have opened specially for. We continued to walk and explore the area almost until the evening; we felt like time had no meaning in this trip. It passes without any notice, but our feet remind us that they’re running out of power, so we return back to our apartment by metro.
Two hours pass and it's already dark outside, but we didn't feel like we could call it a day, so we decided to go out and see the Eiffel tower at night. The Eiffel tower is lit up at night, and during the first five minutes of every rounded hour, it is shimmering with thousands of stars. We dress up with warm clothes, and go out, this time to the Trocadéro square. Despite the late hour, Trocadero metro station is very crowded. It seems that some other tourists had the same idea, and everybody is rushing, like us, to watch the shimmering miracle. We stand next to the tower, together with all the other people. Exactly at 22:00 all the stars are starting to blink and dance, a truly gorgeous sight. Five minutes and it's over.
The first three days had certainly left their mark. We started the morning a bit tired, slowly organizing, and leaving to the Montmartre. It was Saturday, and the metro was full with people. The first time we experienced the metro path up-ground, having a chance to have an additional different view of the city. We reached the Anvers station, and from there we headed to La basilique du Sacre-Coeur for a short impression, and then went out to enjoy the street performances and the warming sun. We walked around the street, and quickly reached to Place du Tertref surrounded by coffee shops.
In Place du Tertre, there were a lot of artists and painters, and all of them were so busy. Some artist using their imagination, some replicate famous Parisian touristic attractions, and others try to hunt tourists for portrait paintings. We went around the square again and again, then entered into one of the small restaurants for a quick lunch. During our search for the famous windmills, we passed the beautiful alleys. Quickly we found the first windmill, and suddenly we noticed it's already a bit late, and we might be late to the meeting with our friends. We skip the second windmill rushing through the main streets to the metro.
On our way, we pass through colorful vegetables, fruits, clothing and seafood shops but we didn't stop. Again, we're at the metro that leading us to the Corvisart station, which is our meeting point. At this stage, it was clear that we were going to be very late. We arrived to the station, surprisingly before our friends. We sat on a bench in a small garden nearby the station waiting for them.
After a short time, our friends arrive, smiling, fitted with two scooters. What fun! We walk together - two mothers, and two young ladies, to the 13th quarter. It's a great opportunity for us to get familiar with other less touristic parts of the city, which we probably wouldn't get to know by ourselves. We passed a small-decorated garden in which a local party was being held, and continue to the china town, where we sit down for a snack.
After we recover, we find another beautiful flourishing garden in which the fountain is actually working! After entertaining in the garden, we head to the French National library. The library is located in four giant buildings, making you think about the amount of books that actually may exist there. The foot of the building has a big wooden yard where the girls could freely drive the scooters without any fear. It was almost dark, and we found a restaurant to have dinner. The girls go for the pasta, the mothers took their chances on something more special and at the end, no one gives up for a good desert. Full, tired and happy, we said goodbye to each other and hoped to meet again sometime. One girl and her mother are going right to the parking lot, and the other girl and her mother go to the metro. Good night.
On the first Sunday of every month, many sites in Paris are free for visitors, and this is a great opportunity for us to visit the Louvre museum. We walked along the Tuileries that were filled by puddles. It led us to the short Arc de Triomph decorated with the golden horses chariot. The Louvre museum was revealed, and we immediately noticed the long queue of visitors along the museum's walls. We followed the line trying to reach it's beginning. We keep walking until the end of the yard, asking ourselves where the hell the line starts? The line continues through a gate and we continued to follow it entered another big yard, and another gate. We found ourselves outside the museum area, and just nearby a man holding a sign saying that if you just joined the line at this point, you'll wait three hours. Wow! What could we do? After a short discussion, heavy heartedly we decide to leave the place. A bit disappointed, we continued to the gardens located behind Forum Des Halles. After a short walk we arrived, and realized that the gardens were under massive construction and closed for visitors. Apparently it was not our lucky day, but we did not give up and we continued to the pedestrians near Forum Des Halles. The pedestrians are gray and empty, and it started to rain, while we felt we hadn’t done anything today.
Then rain is still falling and we chose to go to Pompidou Center, located just around the corner. Pompidou Center has a very unique look. Its pipes are exposed with strong colors and the external stairway located inside a transparent tunnel – Only in Paris you can see such beautiful ugliness. Climbing the transparent tunnel is an uplifting experience, reaching the top; we discovered a lovely view point over the rainy city of Paris. The glass is full with raindrops, and through it, the city looks like a picturesque sight. Downstairs, outside, colorful umbrellas fill the floor just like flowers.
We entered the museum and watched an exhibition of the artist 'Jean-Michel Othoniel', which magically creates realistic views reflected through colorful glass balls. The rain stopped. We went outside to the yard, watching an artist producing giant soap bubbles. A bunch of kids were jumping around him, trying to blow the bubbles. The soap bubbles remind us of the glass balls we saw in the exhibition, and we continue to the Stravinsky Fountain, with its colorful kinetic sculptures. We went around the fountain, wondering what to do next.
We felt like going back to the islands as we felt we had missed some of it during our previous tour. We arrived to the islands quickly; exploring some shops, and continuing to the Latin square. The streets and alleys were full of people, the restaurants were open and the shops were lovely. We just randomly walked around, to smell, see, and watch, until we became tired. We looked for an ATM to withdraw some cash, and also for something to eat. We checked both tasks and it was already evening, and it's time to go back to our apartment.
This is our last day in Paris. How can we end such a trip? We chose to go to Bois de Boulogne. It's not a trivial destination for a first visit in Paris, and certainly not with youth, but we wanted to have an atmosphere change, have a little outdoors/nature experience. We went down to the metro and got back above the ground at Porte Dauphine station, trying to figure out our current location on the map and how to navigate to our destination. Each metro experience feels like we’re emerging as moles in the middle of an unfamiliar territory. It requires an orientation reset each time, according to the ground locations and hints, like street names, signs, squares and special monuments. This time we couldn't find any guideline so we just started to go deep into the forest at the first path we found. The Boulogne is a huge forest combining a wild and pristine area with other parts that are more civilized and well organized. We reached more and more paths and junctions, but as usual we just let our feet lead us ahead, without carefully planning. It was pretty quiet around, and we could hear the birds singing.
We walked on the road until we reached a nice lake. We had plenty of hours to spend, so we decided to walk around the lovely lake. The lake was quite big and had a small island in the center. On our way around the lake we met what looked like a dog’s morning walk - some dog walkers surrounded by many dogs. When they reached the lake they started playing with the dogs. They threw objects away into the water and the dogs went chasing after it, swimming in the water, and returning it to the owner. We spent some time watching this funny play.
We continued to walk, looking for a Kiosk and compensate ourselves by the fact that we have one snack in our bag that will save us if we were to fall into a real hunger crisis. The lake is alive, breathing, flourishing and lovely. Nice reflections appear all over, secret gardens, trees full with flowers, families of ducks and other water birds floating on the lake. The young lady decided to give up her snack and feed the small ducklings and their parents. It was so close and at the same time so opposite and different from the busy city. We reached the southern end of the lake and started heading back along the other bank after completing a full circuit of the lake. On our way we saw a boat that goes back and forth from the lake bank to the island. We decided to give up the sailing and continue walking to the Kiosk and bought ourselves something to drink and eat. To our surprise, we met again the dogs and their walkers; we walk slowly and enjoy the beauty and silence.
We still had a few hours before the flight and we considered how to spend them. We took the metro to the Champs-Elysees. At the foot of the Arc-de-Triomph we watched some street dancers and continued to the avenue shops to eat something. We needed to go back to our apartment and collect our luggage, so we took the metro one last final time to our apartment at Chauss'ee-d'Antin. We typed the entrance code one last time, and took the "like in a movie" elevator up to our apartment. We organized the bags and went straight to the airport, and leave Paris, which is lighted by thousands of lights especially for us.
© Writing and photographs by Ora Gazit
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