Tuesday, April 26, 2011

View the Amazing Sights of Romantic and Historical Paris


"Sous le ciel de Paris s'envole une chanson!"

This famous song, written by Maurice Chevalier and recently used in the movie "An Education", epitomizes the carefree yet classy feeling one gets from walking along the streets of Paris. The line, roughly translated, means "Under the skies of Paris, a song flies". Or something like that. My French is pretty rusty. But I understand the emotion Chevalier was trying to convey - Paris puts a song in your heart! The blue-roofed buildings, the gold-gilded railings and roofs, the flowered balconies - it all meshes together to create the classic vision of Paris.

Posing outside the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero

When I traveled there in 2010 with my school Travel Club group, I fell in love with the look and feel of the city. It is rich in history and beautiful in architecture. We were able to accomplish some amazing feats of sight-seeing considering we only had about two days in Paris: the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles, and riding to the top of the Eiffel Tower.   However, this post will give you information on how to get a feel for Paris by seeing multiple sights at once, in true tourist style.  (You will want to explore these sights in further detail if you have the time... passing them by via boat or bus just doesn't cut it.  But if you are crunched for time, this post will be useful!)

The Eiffel Tower as seen from the Seine boat cruise

One of the first things our group did was learn to ride the Metro.  Once you know how to navigate the Paris Metro, you are golden.  Paris is fairly straight-forward to travel around in, as long as you can feel comfortable using the Metro.  We had reservations at the Eiffel Tower, so that's where we headed first. After snapping several artistic photographs of the lovely and impressive Eiffel Tower, we boarded a boat in order to complete a Seine River tour, which offered glimpses of many of Paris' landmarks.

Preparing to board the Paris Metro and head to the boat cruise

Our particular Seine River cruise was located right at the base of the Eiffel Tower, just across the street and down some stairs towards the river. Called Seine Cruises, this tour company begins and ends at the Eiffel Tower, and offers a narrated tour of the sights along the banks of the river. Our boat tour was included with the Explorica experience, so I don't know how much it would cost regularly.  When I look at their website, I don't see any offers for just a river cruise - they have bus and river cruises, dinner and lunch cruises, and champagne evening cruises, so I'm guessing our package was part of a deal they had with our tour company.

One of the Seine River Boat Cruise boats

Our boat sailed past many notable landmarks, including the Palais du Louvre, which we would explore in detail later.  We floated by Île de la Cité, the island found in the middle of the Seine River upon which rests the towering Notre Dame Cathedral. We would also later walk past the cathedral, but unfortunately did not have time to go inside.  That is one of my goals for next time I visit Paris - go to the top of the cathedral, and also explore the catacombs below.

Our view of Notre Dame Cathedral as we float past on the Seine River cruise

Other landmarks we were able to lay our eyes on included the Grand Palais, Musee d'Orsay, Assemblee Nationale, and Pont Neuf, to name a few.  The tour was both wonderful (we got see a lot of Paris in a short time) but also excruciating (I wanted to get off the boat at every stop and explore these wonderful monuments and feats of architecture).  I recommend it, but I also recommend... go to Paris for more than two days so you can see it all!

The Grand Palais, seen from the Seine River

Floating under Pont Alexandre III during our Seine River boat cruise

Another great way to see a lot of Paris in a little time is to go on a bus tour of Paris to see some of the ‘inland’ sights. Once again, I would have preferred to travel around on my own time, checking out each building in detail and having time to explore, meet locals, and taste the local fare, but when towing 23 junior high students and 10 parents along for the ride, it is much easier and safer to keep everyone as a group on one bus. Even so, we did manage to feast our eyes upon many fabulous sights, including the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, and the Rodin Museum.

Driving around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during our bus tour

Cruising through Place de la Concorde in Paris during our bus tour

We stopped outside the Paris Opera House to do some shopping, but did not have time to venture inside the building. No massive chandelier, opera ghost, and underground lake for me, at least, not this time around. As a tour group, we visited a perfumery called ‘Fragonard’, which is located just down the street from the opera house.  I bought a lovely scent called “Les Etoiles”, which I'm terrified to use because then I won't have it anymore!  Makes no sense, I know.

The majestic Charles Garnier Opera House in Paris

I know this type of travel and sight-seeing does not appeal to many people - it is too fleeting, too 'skim the surface' and perhaps too 'touristy', but in the case of my 2010 trip, it was just what the doctor ordered.  We had very little time in the city, a giant wish list, and an even bigger group of people to keep contained and accounted for.  Had we actually stopped to savor each landmark, we'd have been in Paris for at least two weeks, and probably would have come home at least three students short.  Therefore, I do recommend the Seine River boat cruise, and the Paris City Bus Tour if you want to see a lot in a little time with little stress. 

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