Thursday, June 29, 2006

Paris : Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and Quartier Latin

The second day in Paris is a bit hazier to remember than the first one. A lot more places were covered and not all of them very famous. Amongst the famous places we did were the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower and the Quartier Latin. Believe it or not we did almost the entire stretch on foot. Covering places on foot of course has its merits. Apart from the fact that you definitely save a lot of money you also experience a bit of the non-touristy side of a city. Walking along big avenues, occasionally taking the odd small lane (and more often than not getting lost) and stopping whenever you see something interesting is good in that sense. On the downside you can do all this only if you have a lot of time at your leisure. We were somewhere in the middle on that parameter. We didn’t have time to lazily stroll along everywhere, but three days were enough for covering the essential Paris (most other people who went on STEP gave only 1-2 days for Paris)

According to our Paris guide book we could easily go to a very good building called Hotel De Ville. We thought that for an hotel to become a tourist attraction it must be really beautiful and exclusive. As it turned out, Hotel in French dosent really mean a Hotel (??) This particular place was infact the City Town Hall !! Cool city! It was good looking no doubt, but the heavily guarded entrance dissuaded us from taking a look inside. I Wanted to see if the innards of their municipal buildings also resemble a 'raddi khana'.

The Hotel De Ville. The city town hall!!

From the Hotel De Ville we made our way towards the Notre Dame. On the way we saw many many beautiful structures all around us. Its amazing...finding a statue at any random corner, a fountain on any arbit circle, a spectacular domed building just out of nowhere...these are everyday things here!! We soon got numbed by the abundance of beauty around us (not just the stone and brick kind :-) )

We couldnt exactly figure out what this building was that time. Now I know it is the Institute De France. Thats me trying to find the place on the map!

This awesome whatever is where you will find the toll booth on most bridges

Moving on to the Notre Dame. The Notre Dame is on an island in the middle of the Seine. Thats the Ile de La Cite, shaped like a ship cutting thru the river. One of the amazing things about the Notre Dame church is that every few metres its facade seems to undergo a change. We were taking a stroll around its perimeter, and after every few steps we would go "hey this looks different, lets take a snap here" Following are three of the many snaps taken outside the Notre Dame

A pic of the inside of Notre Dame. We never missed churches. They are always free to enter. The high domes, hundreds of candles, scents, stained glass windows, frescoes, mosaics and other decorations always make it worth the while to go in. and the And the hush hush atmosphere immediately makes you speak in whispers.

After the Notre Dame we had our lunch sitting at the tip of the island , the prow of the ship. There was a nice garden there so the setting was good. But our food wasnt. We had learnt our lesson and taken food from the local supermarket. So our meal consisted of buns, chocolate flavoured bread rolls and milk to wash it down with. There is a finite number of bread rolls and buns that you can eat, even if they are chocolate flavoured. As we traveled more we got progressively better at eating tastier and healthier stuff while keeping the costs down. I will write separetely about that. The thing to remember is to not let urself get carried away by impulse and splurge on a 5 euro sandwich. You will just find yourself wondering how you ate Rs. 275 in 3 bites. (No, dont tell me not to convert, when you are paying with an SBI Card you are bloody well paying in rupees!!)

In the post-lunch session we wandered around the same area since there were some other interesting things to see according to the guide book. Out of those actually i remember only the following:

This is the Palais De Justice. You may not be able to see it, but there are three words above the entrance: 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite'. The slogan of the French revolution. Somebody has sarcastically said that what it actually meant was that everybody was equally likely to be beheaded. But very important words nonetheless.

Then we finally decided to pay homage to that giant erection of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. We went walking all the way instead of taking a bus or metro like other saner people did. A considerable part of the distance the river was our companion. The famous museum of Musee De Orsay was also on the way. But somehow we completely missed it though we thought we followed the map to the smallest turn and corner!

The Seine River

The Eiffel tower can be seen from almost anywhere in Paris I would think. But in spite of this the sight of the colossal structure from close quarters is awe inspiring. According to a small diagram at the site, we learnt that the height of the tower is about 325 mts. To think that this is about 2.5 times that of the London Eye is amazing. And to think we paid 12.5 pounds for the London Eye is even more amazing! :-)

Amongst the options of walking up and taking a lift, we decided to give our legs a bit of relief and took the lift. There are three levels of the Eiffel tower. You can go upto the 2nd level by taking the stairs. 3rd floor you can go only by the lift. If you want to save money, you can walk upto the 2nd level and then take the lift. If you really want to save money, you can entirely skip the 3rd level. To be honest nobody will miss the opportunity of a view from the top of the Eiffel tower. But once you go there you feel its too much of a good thing. You are really really high up no doubt, and you can see really really far. But its so high that it makes the surroundings dissolve into a homegenous mass. From the second level on the other hand you are high enough to see very far, but low enough to appreciate whetever you see around you. Anyway, everyone will go to the 3rd level. I would also say that the Eiffel tower should be last on your iternary in Paris. If you know a lot of the monuments and buildings and have visited them already it adds to the charm of spotting them.

The huge arches under the four pillars of the Eiffel give an idea of the massive size!

Really makes you crane your neck

A view of the Seine River and one of its many bridges. Taken from the second level of the Eiffel Tower

Its really cold and windy up there

The area under the shadow is Montmartre, and the white building atop the small hill there is the Cathedral of Sacre Couer

We had fun spotting some of the places we already knew. I almost missed the Arc De Triomphe, it seemed so tiny from the Eiffel tower!! As one can expect there are huge crowds everywhere at the Eiffel tower. One needs to stand in line to get a ticket and again to get into the lift, push and shove (as politely as you can) so that you can get close to the railing, patiently allow hordes of people to pass before your picture can be taken or wait to pass people whose picture is being taken, stand in line again to go between the levels and finally to go down. But its all worth it.

After drinking up as much as we could of the Eiffel tower we had to decide the next stop on the iternary. The guide book threw up Quartiere Latin and that is where we went. I dont remember too much about the Quartiere Latin. It is a very old area of Paris and one can find Roman ruins from the time when the city was called Lutetia (Asterix fans would immediately recognize Lutetia as the fashion capital of the Roman empire :-) ). There is also the Sorbonne University, one of the oldest universities in the world. We met an Indian newspaper seller in front of the Sorbonne. He claimed he couldnt speak French or English but had managed to stay there for 40 years. He had also supposedly sold newspapers to prominent French men and women, many of whom studied at Sorbonne. I also remember a film and comic book memorabilia shop, the first one of its kind I had seen. Small toy models of numerous comic and film characters, huge life sized replicas of Batman and Superman, artifacts like 'The Ring' from LOTR etc could be found there.

The other impressive structure in the Quartiere Latin is the Pantheon. The bigger and more famous one is of course in Rome. This one in Paris also looked very beautiful in the golden hues of the setting sun.

The Pantheon in Paris bathed in golden sunlight

Thus ended the sightseeing this second day in Paris. But the day was by no means over. We still had to buy some food for taking home. This was our small contribution to Chiru and gang for their help during our stay in Paris.


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