Walking Paris: I AM CALGARY’s Summer of 2019

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.

Thomas Jefferson

From A to Z, Art and Architecture to Zeste de vivre, Paris seamlessly morphs between her alias personas – The City of Light and the City of Love – perhaps depending on your disposition, location or the company you keep.  There is no denying it: Paris is seductively captivating.

My first encounter with the city was alone as a bachelor on the back end of a business trip in 2009.  Many of my memories remained vivid although, over time, I may have romanticized and dramatized some of them in my mind.  Returning ten years later with my wife in arm, my experience was very different.  In my opinion, the allure and beauty of Paris is incrementally enhanced when enjoyed with meaningful company.  My 2019 experience was one hundred-fold better than my first sightseeing scurry-about.

As it goes with our type of sightseeing exploration schedule, everything is up for negotiation and no plan is cast in stone.  This way we don’t know what we’re missing out on as we explore, but we do soak up every moment.  Unless we are walked off our feet or faint with hunger.  Then just become quietly desperate.  That happened a few times, too.  But, for the most part, our three days of sauntering along tree-lined streets or absorbing the atmosphere at historic attractions teeming with tourists was arguably the highlight of our four-week vacation.

Looking from the Louvre through the Tuileries Gardens past the Place de la Concord down the Champs de Elyses to the Arc de Triomphe: Tourists and traffic abound

London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.

G. K. Chesterton

The heaving masses of humanity were nowhere nearly as overwhelming in the wide streets, squares and plazas of the French capital as we had encountered in London.  Somehow, even the bowels that make up the maze of the Metro transit system were more agreeable than London’s equivalent underground.

The Paris Metro

We stayed in a hotel adjacent to Gare de l’Est in the 10th borough (“arrondissement”) of Paris.  We chose this location because it was convenient for our inbound and outbound journey to and from our travels abroad.  It was also cheaper than most equivalent accommodations in the heart of historic Paris bordering the Seine River.  With the option of various Metro lines that could speed us off to the main tourist destinations, it proved to be a very convenient location for us.

What follows is an insight into our walking highlights over three days.  Enjoy exploring Paris with us as we cover more than 56,000 steps or 38.5km and climb the equivalent of 97 flights of stairs.

👣 Exploring Paris on Foot

🏛 Musée de Louvre:

While we weren’t ready nor eager to join the throngs of visitors standing in the insanely long lineups to visit the Louvre, recognized as France’s greatest tourist attraction, it was still surreal to be able to stand beside the iconic glass pyramid located in the courtyard of what is arguably the most revered and wealthiest museum in the world.

Jardin des Tuileries:

Explore the symmetrical gardens.  Meander the criss-crossing, tree-lined pathways.  Discover the multiples of less-than-discrete historic statues.  Feed the birds in fountained ponds.  Rest or read on any of hundreds of benches or bistro tables.  Watch the milling crowds.  Avoid being guilted by bypassing locals enduring their lunchtime exercise outing.  Listen to skilled buskers serenading passers-by.  Perhaps even take pity on one of the many illegal hawkers selling their flashing Eiffel Tower trinkets.  If you’re lucky to be here during the height of the summer season, be prepared to be overwhelmed by funfairs and Ferris wheels.  These are glimpses into some of the activities that overload the senses when strolling through the Tuileries, sandwiched between the Place de la Concorde to the west, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel forming a gateway to the Louvre Museum at the east, and the Seine to the south.  The Gardens are also home to the Musée de l’Orangerie (or the M’O), formerly the nursery for the orange groves in the area but now home to an extensive art museum.

Flowers, trees, statues, fountains, seating, hawkers and pigeons are all in abundant supply throughout the Tuileries Gardens

📸 Place de la Concorde:

Visit Paris’s largest square and the location of numerous executions during the French Revolution.  Bounded by the Champs de Elyses on its west, the Tuileries to the east and the Seine to the south, it affords visitors innumerable selfie opportunities.  The obelisk at the centre of the Place was a gift from the Egyptians and is one of two such obelisks, the other still in its homeland of Egypt.  It once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. 

The two grand, captivating fountains, one dedicated to the rivers and the other to the seas, flank the obelisk.  The Arc de Triomphe can be seen from the Place as you look down the bustling Champs de Elyses.  You can also catch glimpses of the iconic Eiffel Tower from the Place.

📸 Champs de Elyses:

A walk along this iconic boulevard, westbound from the Place de la Concorde towards the Arc de Triomphe, takes you along tree-lined sidewalks bounded by extensive parks that then give way to shopping heaven – flagship stores that are home to some of the world’s biggest brand names – as you approach the Arc de Triomphe.

A view down the Champs de Elyses from the Place de la Concord towards the Arc de Triomphe

🏛 Grand Palais and Petite Palais:

As you amble down the Champs de Elyses, take time out to appreciate the beautiful buildings of the Grand Palace with its glass domed roof, ambitiously built to house the Exhibition of 1900.  Across from it lies the Petite Palais, no less impressive and home to eclectic fine arts. Access to some of the exhibits here were free.

Don’t be fooled by it’s name: the “Petite Palais” is hardly petit!

📸 Arc de Triomphe:

This iconic arch, built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories, is also the centre of crazy traffic. 

With eight avenues converging on this traffic-circle-on-steroids, it’s well worth spending time sitting watching the dare-devil drivers, cyclists and pedestrians navigating this whirlpool of insanity. 

The imposing but impressive monolith that is the Arc de Triomphe

Take a few moments to focus your gaze and appreciate the detailed architecture and stories that are portrayed in the figurines cast into the massive monolith.  If you’re not here in high season, consider visiting the observation deck.  The lineups were inconceivable when we were there, so we settled for a street-side view instead.

📸 Place du Trocadero:

We walked from the Arc de Triomphe, down Avenue Kleber where we stopped for tea and dessert, to the Trocadero. 

There is perhaps no better approach to seeing the imposing and beautiful form of the Eiffel Tower up close for the first time as walking from one of the approaching avenues to the Place du Trocadero, then walking out onto the plaza at the Palais de Chaillot and seeing the view unfold before you.  It’s quite breathtaking. Needless to say we sat and soaked in the view and vibey atmosphere here for an extended period of time.

🗼 Eiffel Tower:

Less than a decade after the Great Exhibition, iron as a structural material was finished–which makes it slightly odd that the most iconic structure of the entire century, about to rise over Paris, was made of that doomed material. I refer of course to the soaring wonder of the age known as the Eiffel Tower. Never in history has a structure been more technologically advanced, materially obsolescent and gloriously pointless all at the same time.

Bill Bryson | At Home: A Short History of Private Life

A visit to Paris would feel incomplete without gazing at, standing near, or ascending the iconic Eiffel Tower. 

The gorgeously illuminated Eiffel Tower photographed during our sunset Seine Cruise
You never know what you’ll see at the Tower

Having resigned ourselves to the fact that the lineups to visit the tower would be distastefully long, we merely settled for a walk past it one evening before sunset.  We were astounded to discover no lineups.  So, without hesitation, we scooped up two tickets that entitled us to climb to the second platform of the structure.  It wasn’t until we were inside the secure zone that we discovered the lineups!  But, by now, it was too late.  We had already committed and geared ourselves up to climb the imposing chunk of metal.  We’re so glad we did.

Somehow, walking up seemed faster than having to wait for the elevators.  It’s funny how you can fool yourself into stupidity.  But there was still something very satisfying about climbing the hundreds of stairs to get to the first then second observation decks as the sun was setting and the tower was transformed in her glittering nighttime adornment.  It was also quite gratifying to feel like the hundreds of tourists, still at ground level that were using flash photography to capture the 300-metre tall structure, were there just to see and applaud us for our climbing feat.  But, it’s more likely that they were there trying to catch the captivating lighting display!

📸 Pont Alexandre III:

A walk along the Seine or through the streets heading east from the Eiffel Tower brought us back to the ornate and beautifully architectured Alexandre III Bridge that traverses the Seine between the Grand Palais and Petite Palais to the north and the Esplanade des Invalides to the south.

A view across Pont Alexandre III towards the Esplanade des Invalides and the Army Museum
The Grand Palais near the north end of the Pont Alexandre III

It was on the lawns in front of the Army Museum, where Napoleon’s gilded tombs are housed, that we picnicked and absorbed all that we’d seen.

📸 Notre Dame:

Our first sightings of the boarded up and damaged remains of the now-inaccessible grand cathedral were during our nighttime cruise along the Seine.  Despite the flashing of cameras as we passed by, there was still a respectful and hushed silence on the river boat as we floated beneath the darkened ruins of the structure. 

We made the effort to walk by the cathedral to see the repairs being done after the 2019 fire damage during the daytime, too, as we sauntered the streets of Saint-Germaine, saw the Fontaine Saint-Michel and took in views of Île de la Cité from the south bank for the Seine.

📸 Sainte-Chapelle:

Located within the walls of the Palais de Justice on the  Île de la Cité, this captivating 13th century chapel was built for King Louis IX to house some of the relics of the passion of Christ.  It boasts some of the most ornate stained-glass windows you will ever see anywhere.  Depicting 1,113 scenes from the old and new testaments of the Bible on 15 glass windows, each 15 metres in height, the ornate detail will leave visitors spellbound. 

The vast 15-metre high stunning stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle

Don’t forget to appreciate the architectural design, figurines and stories captured in the outdoor stonework of the Chapel, too.

📸 🏛 Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre:

Located away from the tourism centre of Paris, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris stands on the highest point in the city in the historic and trendy neighbourhood of Montmartre.  The white-stoned Basilica can be accessed via stairways through symmetrically architectured gardens that lead up to the Catholic Church.  A paid tramway (or funicular) also escorts visitors up the steep hill to the Basilica for a small fee, payable with public transit tickets or cash.  The forecourt and gardens in front of the Basilica are overrun by tourists.  However, it’s worthwhile enduring the crowds and lineups to see the inside of the Church. 

Watch a time lapse video on our YouTube channel of our view from the steps in front of the Basilica enjoying the view, dodging the crowds and admiring an entertainer on here.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, Sacré-Cœur, atop the highest point in the city

Proceed on to historical Montmartre and catch the atmosphere and artists at the Place du Tertre. Audio tours of the Basilica as well as the surrounding historic area of Montmartre are available from the tourist centre near Anvers Metro Station.

The views from Sacré-Cœur are impressive.

What about the food?

Finally, you will want to fuel your walking endeavours with some great food. Read up about our European culinary experiences and discover what we enjoyed in Paris here too!

I close with an appropriate quote that sums it all up.

Paris is always a good idea.

Audrey Hepburn

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