Exploring Paris in four days
When you’ve been hearing praises and stories about somewhere your whole life, actually visiting that said spot seems not only unreal, but also undoable.
The pervasive feeling that there is so much to see, do and experience takes over your entire mind, until you almost lose any hope of actually cramming in all the exhibits, monuments and places into the time allotted for the trip. This is what I felt as I boarded the early morning flight to Charles de Gaule Airport on my way to Paris at the beginning of summer.
I decided to make my life easier and purchase some of the tickets to venues I knew I was definitely going to visit, beforehand. There are many reliable websites which cater for this, however it is important to make sure they are legitimate by checking out the customer reviews.
Although personally I purchased a number of individual tickets because it was convenient for me to do so, one can also buy one of the many city cards available, such as the Paris Pass, which is a sightseeing, all-in-one, comprehensive package bought once and thereafter providing one with entry to a number of venues.
When visiting a major city like Paris, it is also important to think about transportation. Walking is all well and good for small towns and cities, but when the city is as densely populated Paris, containing approximately two million people (more than four times the Maltese population), one generally needs some other means of getting around quickly.
I opted to use the Paris metro, which is a huge and efficient network of underground trains. Transport travel cards for the underground can be purchased online, providing daily unlimited use of the metro and offering a wide price range depending on the number of days one chooses the card to be valid for and the zones in Paris to be visited (there are five zones).
I first sampled the tube by using it to travel from the airport to the tiny apartment I had rented for my stay. After dumping my luggageand eating a snack, the first step of my trip consisted of paying my respects to a very important historical personage. I did this by visiting Les Invalides, which is a historical building housing a number of museums and exhibitions pertaining to the military history of France, as well as a large church containing the remains of some of France’s war heroes, most notably, the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
After viewing the historical landmark, I immediately made my way to another unmissable spot – Place Charles de Gaule, which in its middle features the well-known Arc de Triomphe, an honorary monument for all of those who fought and died in France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Inspired by Roman architecture, it has an overall height of 50 metres and it stands right in the middle of one of Paris’ busiest roundabouts.
My third and last stop of the day took me to the Paris landmark – the Eiffel Tower. Taking its name from its engineer, Gustave Eiffel, this wrought-iron lattice tower was constructed in 1889, is 324 metres tall and held the title of tallest man-made structure in the world for 41 years, until the construction of the Chrysler Building in New York.
Although I had already purchased a skip-the-line entry ticket online, there was still a queue of people waiting to be checked by security before entering, so I used my waiting time to take some selfies with the Eiffel Tower as a background. Because, seriously, how could one resist?
The tower itself has three levels accessible to visitors. Be warned, not all entrance tickets cover all three, so be careful which kind of ticket you buy. One climbs up the tower gradually using an elevator (for which, obviously, there is usually another long queue). There are side-stairs as well, but I would not suggest using those unless you have the stamina of a professional athlete and lots of time to waste.
The first and lowest level is the largest. It holds a cafeteria, bathrooms and a souvenir shop. The main attraction, however, is the panorama, which one can admire from a large observation deck running all around.
The second level is the second largest, has even more breathtaking views than the first (being higher up), and holds a fine-dining restaurant. The third level, the summit, brings the viewer up to 276 metres above the ground. Seeing the sprawling city of Paris from this altitude makes one really appreciate its largeness, not to mention its beauty.
By the way, did I mention that the elevator taking one up the tower is made of glass and is situated on the outside of the monument? One can see the whole of Paris dwindling further and further away as one ascends. Definitely not for anyone suffering from vertigo!
On the second day in the city of love, I started off by visiting the Conciergerie, a former prison currently used to house the Law Courts and Palace of Justice. Part of it is still used as a museum to portray what the prisoners held there during the French Revolution went through, since these were usually taken here before proceeding on to Madame Guillotine. Queen Marie Antoinette herself was the occupant of one of the tiny drab cells, which has now been converted into a chapel dedicated to her memory and housing several artefacts previously belonging to her.
The Conciergerie is situated on the same street as the Royal chapel of La Chappelle, which is where I went next. La Chapelle is a small, gold-encrusted gothic building sporting shrieking gargoyles, very intricately painted ceilings, pointy arches and an eerie atmosphere. A tiny jewel box of a church, which houses one of the most extensive 13th century stained glass windows in the world.
By the end of my visit, the one thing I had concluded was simply that I had to come back and spend more time here to appreciate such treasures further
After lunch, I grabbed the metro once more and made my way to the Picasso Museum, where I was immediately overwhelmed, not only by the artwork itself but also by the many interesting posters and political fliers representing the spirit of the turmoil prevalent in the 1950s. Pablo Picasso had given vent to his political opinions through his art work and was in fact, very much criticised for this.
His most famous painting, Guernica, impressed me not only with its presence but also with its portrayal of the agony and suffering brought about by war. It was, in fact, created in response to the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica by Nazi Germany.
Another painting which moved me was his Weeping Woman, one of a series of paintings depicting weeping women as a metaphor of the fragmentation, torture and pain prevalent in human beings.
Following the Picasso Museum, I visited the Atelier de Lumiers, which was hosting an immersive exhibition dedicated to one of my favourite artists – the Austrian Gustav Klimt. This interactive spectacle was amazingly different from any other art exhibition I had ever seen. It took place in a whitewashed empty hall, devoid of any art or painting itself.
Art lovers and curious people sat on the floor or meandered slowly about, and gazed mutely around them in wonder, as a number of projectors seamlessly showed Klimt’s golden artworks around the four walls and floor. The ethereal music in the background complemented the feeling of awe and harmony perfectly.
Going outside after such an experience was like rediscovering a new world. As I blinked in the sunlight, I made my way to the Tuileries Gardens, where I walked along the man-made lakes and sat down to look at the ducks peacefully for half an hour. As the sun was beginning to set, I boarded a small ferry for a riverside trip on the River Seine. This was really relaxing and romantic. As the ferry navigated the river slowly, I could see a number of monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as a number of people waving at us cheerily from the riverbank.
The third day in Paris had only one destination – the Louvre Museum. Chock-full with paintings, sculptures, frescoes, mosaics and any type of artwork imaginable, the Louvre Museum was originally built as a fortress and palace and houses the world’s largest art museum. I spent eight hours walking with my head craned upwards and my camera clicking madly, and at the end of the day, exhausted and fulfilled, I had to admit that I had hardly seen half of what the place had to offer.
I did, however, see the most popular attractions – Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the haunting eight-foot-tall headless sculpture known as The Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. Other countless works of art, including those found within the Islamic Arts section, not to mention the ancient Greek and Egyptian sections, were also truly amazing. By the end of my visit, the one thing I had concluded was simply that I had to come back and spend more time here to appreciate such treasures further.
My last day in Paris was centred around a two-hour tour of the Catacombs of Paris. The tour guide, who took a small group of people through the enormous underground ossuary, brought the history of the city alive, which added an extra flavour to the experience. Of course, ascending tons of steps to see more than six million skeletons in the largest ossuary in the world didn’t actually need further embellishment.
However, knowing the hows and whys while gaping at corridors full of stacked skulls and femurs, was quite interesting. The bones themselves, perfectly clean and devoid of any residue, were stacked neatly on top of each other with no grid or net to hold them back or to separate them from visitors. Of course, we were severely warned not to touch or try to take any bones home with us, as apparently many people do.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame was my next stop after the Catacomb tour. I didn’t meet Quasimodo. However, I did take my time to admire the fine stained glass, the gothic architecture, not to mention the golden artefacts held within the Treasury chamber.
I have to admit that allocating four days to Paris is simply not enough. I hadn’t had time to visit a number of iconic landmarks such as the Moulin Rouge, the Paris Opera and so many other places I wanted to see, which means that although this was my first trip to Paris, it will certainly not be my last.