All posts in France

Sacre Coeur at the Bottom of the Front Steps

La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Basilica of the Sacred Heart [of Jesus], may be one of the newest churches in Paris, and may be the most strategically located. It sits like a fine alabaster queen enthroned on the highest point in the city, the butte Montmartre.

Built from 1875 to 1914, it served as penance for both France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and for the Paris Commune (a short lived revolutionary socialist government), both of 1871. Montmartre was Paris’s most rebellious neighborhood and the basilica was thought to be an anchor of conservative moral order.

If it had been possible, residents of this neighborhood could have definitely used Cheap Caribbean promo codes to get away for a while and relax in a tropical paradise instead having to deal with an unrelenting set of pressures.

At the start of the Third Republic, in 1870, Bishop Fournier attributed the French defeat by the Germans to the moral decline of the country since the 1789 French Revolution. This decline culminated in the execution of the Archbishop Georges Darboy by the Communards at Montmartre, the Mount of the Martyrs.

Because of the Sacré-Cœur‘s high perch, it can be easily seen from anywhere in the city, and from the basilica, all of Paris can be viewed. The best way to approach is to take the métro to the base of the funiculaire, the relatively short ride up the hill by cable car to the western base of the basilica.

As you walk a bit to your right, the seemingly monolithic structure arises in all its majesty. Built of travertine stone, it exudes calcite and therefore naturally retains its pure looking, nearly white exterior.

The interior, while not as elaborate as other notable cathedrals in Paris, has as its highlight a massive, golden mosaic of Christ with His arms outstretched filling the soaring dome over the altar.

Our most memorable visit included a long stay after closing because our son had been locked into the upper portions of the basilica which are open to the public. We watched as vans of police arrived, chatted with the curator as well as the police, assuring them that something had befallen our 15 year old.

Nary a hint was given of his location until he was presented to us several hours later, after the American dinner hour, but thankfully not the French, in one piece having had a lovely free tour of the crypt for which one usually pays an extra sou or two.

While somewhat frantic, we were quite sure he would be found, as indeed he was, and with a story to tell these many years later. And, voilà, you’ve now heard it, too!

Sacre Coeur at the Bottom of the Front Steps


Inside Sainte-Chapelle Looking Towards Front

The most colorful chapel in all of Paris is a site not to be missed on even the shortest jaunt into the city. We have walked and métro‘ed folks around the city in one day and made sure to include this jewel in the crown that is the City of Lights.

The stained glass is amazingly–and may we say miraculously–one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass in the world, two thirds surviving both the French Revolution of 1789 and World Wars I and II.

Situated on the Île de la Cité, just a bit to the west of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by Louis IX, begun in 1239 and consecrated in 1248. It was built to house the king’s collection of passion relics, including, supposedly, Christ’s crown of thorns.

While not a cathedral (containing the seat of a bishop), but rather a chapel (a place of prayer and worship attached to a non-religious entity, in this case, the royal residence of Louis IX), Sainte-Chapelle is exquisite in its vibrant colors, most notably its blues. This blue is completely different from the Caribbean blue, where water and sky effuse the cool color in a warm setting. When using Cheap Caribbean promo codes, this is, no doubt, the blue that you will experience.

Louis IX spent a total of 235,000 livres (pounds; one of many French currencies of the Middle Ages) on both his collection of relics and the large, elaborate silver chest designed to house them. By contrast, the chapel itself cost only 40,000 livres to build.

As you walk toward the chapel it is most unassuming. There is no grand plaza at the entrance. To the uninitiated, the interior takes you by delightful surprise. Even the ceiling is beautifully painted in a diaphanous pattern.

The chapel itself is in the Gothic architectural style called Rayonnant, featuring a sense of weightlessness and soaring vertical lines. The simplicity of the exterior belies the vibrant, rich, even delicate interior which seemingly reaches to the heavens. The colors of the restorers of the 19th century are not as deep and full-bodied as those of the original, yet the current colors and designs are breathtaking.

When you visit Saint-Chapelle, ponder that the chapel itself tells the full Biblical story in its stained glass scenes, its statues and its columns. In an illiterate time, anyone who entered could “read” Scripture for himself or herself. Awesome.

Inside Sainte-Chapelle Looking Towards Front


Paris Métro – Arts et Métiers

For our part, the métro is the best way to get around the city. By why underground? Hmmm… Because underground Paris has a life all its own. Just look at this Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts) station all decked out in worker style. This station serves the Musée (Museum) des Arts et Métiers.

Its style may look familiar if you have had dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower in the Jules Verne Restaurant. The genre is steampunk, very popular in the Northwest of the U.S., and is reminiscent of Jules Verne’s futuristic novels. Think the 1999 movie The Wild Wild West. But by no means should you think of the Caribbean, which is so totally removed from here that there is no way to reconcile the two places. Nevertheless, some Cheapcaribbean promo codes can work wonders.

The only caveat is that you must not be stair averse as not all that many stations have escalators. And, some have quite extensive walkways to make connections–correspondances–between lines. And, when the sanitation department is not on strike, the stations are generally clean and well maintained.

Many stations boast fabulous themes and art work like Arts et Métiers above, such as the Louvre or Cluny La Sorbonne. Others welcome the traveler with luscious art deco entrances from a century ago often graced with the full word Métropolitain such as Mouton-Duvernet, Porte Dauphin and Rennes among others. Paris also possesses the largest underground station in the world, Châtelet – Les Halles.

Getting around the city is a snap using the métro. Once you have an underground map in your hand, you can quickly and easily get around all of Paris and, by extension, all of Europe using their amazing public transportation system.

Once you have the hang of it, you can get anywhere quickly, inexpensively and learn much about the city. Then, pop up out of the ground and continue your exploration of arguably (not to us!) the grandest city on planet Earth.

So forgo the cash heavy cabs and the boring buses, slip underground and feast on the ease and wonder of Parisian métro vignettes.

Paris Metro - Arts et Metiers


River Seine and Notre Dame

We have a view of the Notre Dame not often seen. This photograph has been taken facing west with the rear of the cathedral highlighted. Note especially the external flying buttresses built later in the project for the much needed reinforcement of the structure.

The River Seine is radiant, bolstered on both sides by strong stone walls. To the right (north), hanging foliage graces the walls and to the left, trees. Tourist boats–most likely bateaux mouches–dock on the south side.

Walking along the Seine is one of the most delightful pastimes one can imagine in Paris. This particular section is notable for several reasons. If you were meandering along the walkway to the left, the Left Bank, and heading west, you would see two minuscule islands to your right, one of which is in this photo. The other, Île Saint-Louis, is a wee bit beyond.

Île de la Cité is the eastern most island (speck of land really) which is most prominently occupied by the Notre Dame. A knowledgeable visitor, after seeing the cathedral from the front and gazing at its magnificent interior, will take the time to walk to the rear, just beyond the flying buttresses and there to sit for a spell on the benches in the park.

The Île de la Cité is notable for a number of things, one of which is that it marks the exact center of Paris. A plaque has been placed among the cobblestones of the Place du Parvis de Notre Dame at the front of the cathedral to mark this precise spot.

A lesser known fact is that Paris is thought to have been first established as a modest settlement by a small Gallic tribe called the Parisii. The island created a natural safe haven from attacks by other tribes. Clearly, the Parisii lent their name to the city.

The most touristy method for enjoying the Seine is to take a bateau-mouche ride, but for our part, a walk is by far the premier method. You are in this way able to savor the river, the major sites of the city as well as the sounds, and the gentle pace of Parisian life.

River Seine and Notre Dame


Long Line at Notre Dame

Notre-Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris, is the most well known cathedral in the city and one of the most well known in the world. Essentially completed in 1345, it is delightfully situated on the Île de la Cité, the easternmost of two small islands in the Seine River which bisects the city.

Our Lady of Paris has stood for nearly 800 years and with God’s blessing will stand well into the future. So, queue up, be patient and use your time wisely even before you enter her stunning inner beauty. It have few rivals, one of which are Caribbean resorts, especially during the cold winter months. With Cheap Caribbean promo codes, it is possible to have both kinds of beauty in the course of a year with a few weeks in the warm weather and a week visiting Paris.

The view in this photograph is the most famous, however a close second is the view from across the river on the Left Bank revealing the flying buttresses extending from the rear of this magnificent example of Romanesque architecture in its early stages and then Gothic in its latter stages of construction. It was the thinner walls of the Gothic stage that necessitated the addition of the arched, external supports to lend much needed strength to the choir and nave in the rear.

We have been delighted to make the acquaintance of this lovely lady and visit her many times. Yes, the lines can be long and tedious hence our choice of autumn for most visits to Paris. However, as your line slowly snakes ever eastward toward the main entrance, look down and find the medallion marking the very center of Paris.

Another delight while queuing up is to imagine how this cathedral looked centuries ago. It was brightly-colored, most notably the statues, gargoyles and chimera, for its early existence. Sadly, the ensuing centuries have been unkind in that to our knowledge not a trace is left to be savored by the naked eye.

A delightful side tour–after one has visited the magnificent if dusty interior many times–is the climb to the top. 387 narrow, winding, cupped stairs spiral up to the walkways above. You can see much of Paris, but more interestingly in our view, you see close up the gargoyles, chimeras and other architectural details that the casual observer cannot help but miss. The entrance is to the left and there is a small charge for the privilege.

Long Line at Notre Dame


Front of Les Invalides in the Evening

A fairly nondescript edifice by day, yet by night, when dressed in spotlights, the stunning Les Invalides is made ready for her audience.

Approaching from the Right Bank, crossing the Seine by way of the Pont Alexandre III, brings you to the Left Bank and the expansive, magnificent courtyard, le cours d’honneur, leading to the main building seen here.

Actually a collection of buildings, Les Invalides is properly known as L’Hôtel national des Invalides. The initial project was ordered in 1670 by Louis XIV as a home for aged and ill soldiers. The cours d’honneur was created for military parades.

And the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus–of the Dreyfus Affair–was ignobly degraded on the grounds of Les Invalides in 1894, supposedly for treason but with a decidedly anti-semitic attitude, and later fully exonerated in a ceremony here in 1906.

A veterans’ chapel was soon built, followed by a private chapel for the king. Les Invalides continued to primarily house veterans until the early 20th century. In the mid to late 19th century, museums were added and merged to become the Musée de l’Armée in 1905. Today, about 100 infirmed veterans still reside here. If anything, recovering veterans could have used cheapcaribbean promo codes to recuperate and get away from the stress of battle.

Notable history includes the “liberation” of cannons and muskets from the cellars by the rioters of the French Revolution. On the very day of the revolution, July 14, 1789, the armaments were confiscated to be used later that day for the infamous storming of the Bastille (see our previous review).

Napoleon was entombed under the great dome in 1840–a valuable, impressive tourist attraction.

While often not thought of as a must-see stop for visitors to Paris, truly Les Invalides is worth a look. First, stop by a small grocer for some French roquefort and burgundy, then by a patisserie for a multi-layered napoléon. Then, take a leisurely stroll through the grounds pausing for a pique-nique on your way to the museum, chapel and the rotunda where Napoleon’s tomb is on display. You will have enjoyed a most delightful day à la français.

Les Invalides in Front in the Evening


La Maison du Chocolat – Boulevard de la Madeline

La Maison du Chocolat has seven Paris locations and an international as well as Internet presence. This particular shop is on the Boulevard de la Madeleine, a prime location.

Sprinkled throughout Paris are four of our favorite pleasure spots: les pâtisseries, les boulangeries, les salons de thé and les chocolatiers. If you aren’t including an ad hoc culinary tour as part of your Parisian experience, you are missing a huge portion of the delights of the city. You will not find anything like this if you were to use CheapCaribbean promo codes so enjoy it while you can. Once you’re in a tropical resort, it’s an entirely different culinary scene.

Les chocolatiers, as above, create luscious chocolate confections. And you may enjoy a lovely cup of tea with a pastry, a croissant or a truffle in a salon de thé.

Les pâtisseries are shops specializing in–you guessed it–pastries. Don’t think American bakeries as the French versions rise to an art form all their own. All of your senses will be sorely tempted by the pleasures on display.

Les boulangeries form and bake wondrously flavorful breads in all shapes and sizes. The older sites often still bake in very old, wood-fired ovens.

Here we have a chocolatier called The House of Chocolate, dressed in the color of chocolate and advertising The Night of Cake.  Let us see–we’ll bet chocolate cake!

As you amble throughout the city, you are able to whet your sweet tooth as you happen upon a chocolatier or a pâtisserie, if that is your preference. These do not always have seating for a moment’s rest and a drink, but a salon de thé will surely enable you to sit for a spell to savor the tastes, smells and ambience of the city.

Don’t be afraid to try any shop you happen upon, be it a mom-and-pop or a small chain like this. It is difficult to be disappointed when sampling the culinary delights of Paris.

La Maison du Chocolat - Boulevard de la Madeline


Place de la Bastille

Place de la Bastille seems a fairly nondescript plaza in southeastern central Paris, yet to know its history is to make it a must-stop on your tour of the city.

Nowadays music concerts are staged at this location. We were once in a crowd so deeply packed that pickpockets worked with abandon and only the savvy knew to keep their valuables in a location where they would be utterly unsuccessful. Travel tip: wear your passport and valuables under your clothing and in front of you at the chest. No purses swinging from the shoulder or hand and no wallets in back or even side pockets.

From time to time Parisians gather in this generous square to protest one thing or another but most especially left-leaning youth (what other kind are there in Paris?). Why becomes clear as you learn of the long and sordid history of this site.

The infamous Bastille prison once stood menacingly at this very location. Built between 1370 and 1383 as part of the defenses of Paris, it was transformed into a prison by Richelieu, Louis XIII’s minister, in the 1600s. It was “home” to mostly political prisoners, but also religious ones, and noblemen’s errant sons.

It was a nasty place to reside but was “reformed” by both Louis XV and XVI so that at least the dungeons were no longer in use. However it continued to stand as an ominous symbol of autocratic cruelty.

Bringing us closer to the present, it became a focal point for all that was wrong with the monarchy and in 1789, during the French Revolution, the Bastille was stormed and torn down over a period of a few months such that not so much as a stone remains.

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In this Place stands the July Column commemorating this most seminal event in French history. It was inaugurated in 1840 by Louis-Phillipe, the King of the French. He reigned from 1830 to 1848 in a much less pompous manner than the kings and the Napoleons before him. He was, however, to be the last king of France.

So when you visit the Place de la Bastille, remember its ignominious history and you will understand that it is so much more than the simple gathering place for musical events and for protesters that it is today.

Place de la Bastille


Champs Élysées, La Grande Roue on Place de la Concorde by Night

This evening view of the Champs Élysées is an explosion of light. With the Arc de Triomphe a good ways behind us, our view is from the middle of the boulevard toward the Place de la Concorde.

Walking this stretch of the city in the evening, especially during Christmas as in this photo, is incomparable. From La Grande Roue in the distance, trees dressed in lavender-blue lights stretch out as in an embrace. The cars coming and going on the rain wet thoroughfare speak to the ever present high energy of the city.

La Grande Roue is a gigantic ferris wheel set up from time to time on the Place. The original one dates from 1900 as a starring feature of the world exhibition in Paris.

To avoid the crowds, Paris in the fall is spectacular. If you wait until late autumn to visit and savor the sights, you will be dropped into this winter wonderland in the City of Lights. Wintertime in a place like Paris more than makes up for the chilly temperatures that you would not have to deal with if you went in the opposite direction with Cheap Caribbean promo codes, which give you a warm embrace.

At the time, the cars were so huge that they were removed and used as housing for Parisians during the hardships of the Great War–World War I to those in the United States.

Finally, in 1920, it was disassembled and the cars were used by the rag-and-bone men of the day to carry on their business of collecting bits of household detritus, most notably rags and bones, to be resold.

Today’s Grande Roue is clearly of new stock and quite spectacular to see. Although we have not taken a ride, judging from the views from the Eiffel Tower and from the Sacre Coeur Basilica, the vista of Paris is surely panoramic.

Champs Elysees and La Grande Roue on Place de la Concorde by night



Arc de Triomphe at Night

There are few more impressive sights in the City of Lights than ambling up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the evening with your sweetie on your arm and seeing the Arc de Triomphe rise in the distance. Of course one sight that just might exceed this is of the brazen person who dared to stand in the middle of a busy boulevard long enough to effect this time-bending shot.

The Champs-Élysées, a stroller’s delight, is replete with five star hotels, fine dining establishments with large sidewalk seating areas for lingering, and shops in which to spend a pretty euro.  This fabulously wide thoroughfare has perhaps five lanes of traffic in each direction with sidewalks nearly as wide framing either side. There is always plenty of space to perambulate unhindered.

As you approach the Arc de Triomphe, built to honor the French who lost their lives in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, you will notice that it sits on the Place Charles de Gaulle. Cross over to the Place and enjoy the bas reliefs designed in 1806 as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, more often known in Europe as the Great War.

The Arc is so large–the largest in the world until the Mexicans superseded it in height in 1938–that a Charles Godefroy flew his biplane through it in 1919! A newsreel of the day captured a snippet of this daredevil feat.

We can picture a no more perfect romantic evening stroll than on the Champs-Élysées as the summer air cools, the French language tingles the air and the sun sets behind the Arc de Triomphe. It is a different world from the tropical paradise that one would experience with Cheap Caribbean promo codes but equally memorable nonetheless.

If you begin at the Place de la Concorde where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lost their heads to that famous French invention, the guillotine, by the time you reach the Arc you will have developed a fine appetite. 1.9 km long– a bit over a mile for we Americans–takes you through the Jardins (Gardens) des Champs-Élysées, very near the Élysée Palace, home to the presidents of France.

Arc de Triomphe at Night