So here it is, the big tourist day where we were able to cover a lot of ground without fear of the yellow vest protests. Since we’re the sort of people that enjoy walking around the city and only take metros when we really have to, we ended up walking about 19 kilometres today – which my legs are really feeling as I write this post whilst quaffing some raspberry cola.
To get things started we left the hotel in search of breakfast. Seeing that it was Sunday, we decided to make our way to the Bastille Market – one of the largest food markets in Paris. The route took us past the Victor Hugo house, where we stood outside for a bit before waltzing off again, and soon enough we were there.
The Bastille Market really has all the hallmarks of a great outdoor market. Good number of stands for breakfast, the smell of freshly roasted chicken, displays containing mammoth sized pieces of tuna and an old man on an organ grinder with his chihuahua. For breakfast we ended up sharing a butter-sugar crepe and a sausage-cheese galette. Probably could have had two of these galettes to myself, especially as I’ve never had one made of buckwheat before.
Having purchased some walnuts, to be eaten when I get back to the UK, we walked the 15-20 minutes to our first big stop of the day.
Yesterday I had a bit of a glimpse of what a Parisian cemetery was like with the one at Montparnasse, but that could not prepare me for how big (and quite frankly over the top) this one would be. This isn’t just a cemetery, this is an actual city of the dead complete with houses and the occasional gazebo… although I guess these would technically be called mausoleums.
Like most tourists, we picked out a few key graves to find and used those as an excuse to take a roundabout tour of the cemetery. We ended up finding Oscar Wilde, Fredric Chopin, Edith Piaf, Balzac, Jim Morrison and Marcel Proust. However, with the exception of Chopin and Oscar Wilde, the most interesting graves belonged to other people.
Some of them had statues of weeping women, one had an accompanying West Highland terrier statue perched on top, many had their own stained glass panels – but the most ostentatious of them all belongs to the man who build a 20 metre tall chimney as part of his grave marker. That is a man who clearly has the money, big dick energy and social standing to burn, because it takes nerve to have a gave marker this big.
After being suitably graved out, we took the metro all the way across town to reach the Arc de Triomphe. No visit to Paris would be complete without seeing this huge stone monument, but I had no intention of paying the 12€ to gain admittance to stand underneath it. I see why they’ve done this, because after all it’s on a roundabout, but this feels a bit steep.
We then took the opportunity to engage in one of the most touristy activities possible – a walk down the Champs-Élysées. Compared to how it was in Breathless, the top half of this avenue has so many more tourist traps and fewer actual cafes; a bit disappointing when you hear it described as the world’s most beautiful avenue.
The lower half is so much better. There are parks on either side and the architecture is far more palatial. It felt like a more heightened version of The Mall back in London and I was definitely here for it. We were loving it so much that we grabbed a salami baguette from one of the stands and just took some time to enjoy the surroundings.
At the bottom of the Champs-Élysées is the Place de la Concorde, which is a huge and ridiculously beautiful square with fountains and ornate street lamps. At the centre is the Luxor Obelisk, which was given as a gift by the government of Egypt. Weirdly, this is one of three such gifts and I have now seen all three (the other two can be found in New York’s Central Park and the other is at Embankment in London), which feels like a bit of a mini achievement.
Since we were making good time, we decided to pop into the Musée d’Orangerie. With our Eurostar tickets we were able to get half-priced entry, which made this an absolute bargain even though this is a museum you are unlikely to spend more than two hours in.
The big ticket item in this museum are the two oval rooms featuring panoramic views of Monet’s Water Lilies. It’s impossible to take a photograph to properly show how these rooms are laid out as it is such a 360 degree experience, but these rooms are worth the price of admission alone. Sitting here and staring at his large canvas of impressionist water lilies really does help to bring a refreshing sense of calm after having spent most of the day on your feet.
On the other other floor of the building are a collection of paintings by other French artists like Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau and Marie Laurencin. These were all part of a previously private collection which makes for some interesting paintings, even though they may not be the most renowned by these painters.
An hour or so of the museum later and we were back outside and crossing the scenic Alexandre III bridge to make our way to Les Invalides. We had no interest, or enough time, in going in the actual museums but still wanted to have a look at some of the buildings in this museum complex. We were able to gain free entry to the Cathedral at Les Invalides, but sadly Napoleon’s tomb is ticket along with the rest of the museum and 12€ felt a bit steep for 10-15 minutes of tomb viewing.
15 or so minutes of walking later and we made it to our final big sight of the day. I have photographic evidence of seeing the Eiffel Tower more than 20 years ago, but I really have no recollection of this. I actually expected to be a bit cynical about properly seeing the Eiffel Tower in person – nope I was amazed about how much taller in real life than I had expected it to be (a stark contrast to how I felt seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time).
As cool as it is to see the Eiffel Tower it’s sad just how the surrounding areas have become with all the bootleg souvenir sellers and a bunch of women who are part of the same pickpocketing scam that we came across yesterday at the Sacre Cœur (one of them literally grabbed my husband by the arm). It actually made parts of the visit feel a bit stressful, because who wants to have their wallet stolen.
Things felt better at the top of the Place de Trocadero, where you could enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower that you tend to see in publications. The sun was also getting low in the sky, so it really was getting the benefit of the golden hour light.
Seeing how we hadn’t had much to eat, we figured it would be worth staying in the area to have an early dinner. Tonight it was steak-frites (where the steak came with smouldering thyme stalks, which helped to give a smokey taste) with a shared cheese plate for desert. It definitely scratched the food itch and I’m interested to see what I end up eating tomorrow… as I will be tacking the mammoth of the Louvre.