Paris, The City of Lights

Paris, the City of Lights, is a city most will fall in love with, and like every other tourist visiting, we were anxious to see its many attractions. Some areas of this city date from around 4,200 BC so history abounds. This was definitely brought home to us when we took a cruise down the Seine on our first evening in Paris to orientate ourselves. Seeing this, we were glad we had discussed some of the history of each of the places we would be visiting.

The Louvre Museum, our first stop, had originally been a royal palace. It is now the world's most famous museum with works of art such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus of Milo. The museum originated with a collection begon in the 16th century by King Francis I. Over the years, the collection grew and in 1793, during the French Revolution, it was opened to the public. There are three wings, each housing different collections.

The Sully Wing holds a collection of French paintings, an intense collection of Egyptian antiquities, artifacts and sculptures, a Greek collection and some remnants of the medieval castle of the Louvre. This was the first wing I ventured into and having made the decision not to go on a tour was able to stand at the exhibits that interested me the most, for as long as I wanted to enjoy them. In the Richelieu Wing there are paintings from the Middle Ages to the 19th centure including decorative art and sculptures. It was no less impressive than the Sully Wing. In the Denon Wing is the Mona Lisa plus other paintings of restructured artists, antiquities and artifacts. The crowd surrounding the Mona Lisa was large and surprisingly the painting was much smaller than we expected it to be.

We spent hours in this fabulous museum following our interests from display to display, room to room and wing to wing, the art amazing and the statues beyond belief. Even the floors and soaring ceilings were spellbinding with paintings, carvings and inlays. With over one million works of art, only about 35,000 are ever on display at any one time.

The Eiffel Tower, rising 300 meters above where we stood, was completed in 1889. It was built for the World Exhibition in celebration of the French Revolution. At the time, many protested that it did not fit in with Paris' architecture but is now currently seen as the symbol of the City of Lights. And it is no wonder. We saw it lit up as we went down the river; Beautiful at night and dramatically visual by day. The following day we went back with the intent of going to the top but rumors told us there had been a bomb scare and one of the elevators was not working. Line-ups wound across the grounds like a slithering serpents slowly making their way towards the entrance. Having only a limited amount of time to spend in Paris, and many places we wanted to see, we decided to come back again. As it turned out, we will have to go up on another trip to Paris. But even looking up at this immunity structure while standing on the ground beneath it is awe-inspiring and was worth the visit.

The Notre Dame Cathedral is located on a small island in the Seine in the heart of the city. Begun in 1163, it was not completed until 1345 because of renovations and additions. It has two 226 foot towers and a 295 foot spire. Decorated outside with statues, massive doors and stunning architecture, it was not a hardship to wait in line so as to have a better opportunity to admire it.

Inside the cathedral is quite as amazing with beautiful, massive stained glass windows, statues and candles glowing everywhere. There is a hush while the crowd slowly moves through the huge cathedral as most who visited seemed to be as much in awe as we were.

The Palais de Tuileries was built by Catherine de Medici after the death of her husband Henry II in 1559. Large, by I suspect most standards, she built it in the Italian style to remind her of her native Tuscany. Tuileries Gardens, surrounding the Palais with its large pond and fountain, has walking paths between rows of grass, shrubbery and flowers but I was most impressed with the statues.

Another attraction, the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 was not completed until 1836. It is fifty meters tall, adorned with carvings of battles and at the top of the arch, thirty shields are displayed, each signifying Napoleon's successful battles. It is located at the end of the Champs-Elysees, in the middle of a square, where twelve streets converge. Trying to cross this busy thoroughfare would be suicide but fortunately there is an underpass to the monument. Once there, to reach the viewing platform, there is no elevator only 234 steps making it a heart-pumping hike to the top.

Other attractions briefly visited were the Luxembourg Gardens in the heart of the Left Bank, with ponds, fountains, gardens and sculptures. We picked up a sandwich and had our lunch while sitting on the chairs provided around the huge pond. Established in 1625, these gardens were a joy to visit, quiet, tranquil and away from the rush of traffic that is most of Paris.

Another interesting area was briefly visited the Montmartre district where a walk up the hill on cobbled streets will bring you to the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. There you'd better have excellent lung capacity because the stairs leading up to it are many. A multitude of shops line the streets where we bought souvenirs for family and friends. This area is considered to be the most historic neighborhood in Paris. We also did a quick tour past the Sorbonne University and the Pantheon.

Unfortunately, the clock was ticking and our time in Paris was running out. Having to catch the train for our next adventure, we left with a promise to return again to explore all the other areas of this City of Lights that we had not been able to see.