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Category Archives: France

Views from the Top: La Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe

As a novice traveler, I was rather – how should I put this – ravenous in devouring the new experiences in a city. Suddenly, money is no longer a concern as long as I get to do EVERYTHING the city has to offer. Silly, I know! I religiously abode by the “you are here, so you might as well do it” attitude, which, suffice it to say, is not the wisest advice to follow (that is, except for Gaudi in Barcelona – you ALWAYS visit all of Gaudi’s works!). Needless to say, I spent a significant amount of money for entrance and/or climbing fees during my first trip abroad. And as you may have guessed from the title of this post, I climbed to the top of both the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. I know, I should have added Notre-Dame and Sacre-Coeur while at it, huh?

Since I already made the mistake of spending money unnecessarily, I’m going to share my experiences with you and hopefully it’ll help you decide which one to go up to. That way, you don’t have to make the same mistake I did. Unless, of course, you have money to spare. Actually, even so, I’d suggest you spend the extra Euros on macarons or other french pastries!

La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower)

Metro: Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel or Ecole Militaire or Bir-Hakeim

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I really have nothing to say about La Tour Eiffel except this: It’s probably the most-famous landmark in the world, so GO!

The view from the first observatory deck of the Eiffel Tower.

The view from the first observatory deck of the Eiffel Tower.

The view towards Montparnasse from the higher observation deck.

The view towards Montparnasse from the higher observation deck.

The Arc de Triomphe as seen from the top of the Tower

The Arc de Triomphe as seen from the top of the Tower

Arc de Triomphe

Metro: Charles de Gaule-Etoile

Built between 1806 and 1836, the arch serves to commemorate the bravery of those who fought for France in the Napoleonic Wars. Underneath its vault sits the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I and the Memorial Flame, the first of its kind in Europe.

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Located at the western end of Champ-Elysees, the monument is built in the middle of the converging point of 12 very busy avenues in Paris, making it one of the busiest round-abouts I’ve ever encountered (see picture above). You CANNOT jay-walk this and I advise you to not even try it. The view from the top, though, is definitely much better than the one seen from the Eiffel Tower.

Looking down Champ-Elysees

Looking down towards Champ-Elysees

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The view towards Sacre-Coeur

The view towards Sacre-Coeur (please pretend the crane doesn’t exist!)

If you want to hit 2 birds with 1 stone, I suggest you get off 2 stops earlier at Palais Royal/Musee du Louvre and walk down Champ-Elysees. It’s not a very far walk and you’ll have lots of things to entertain you along the way. Plus you’ll get amazing views of the arch as you approach it.

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Also, this is the chance to grab an authentic Parisian crepe from one of the stands that are ubiquitous throughout Paris. Take note, though, Parisians don’t EVER walk and eat at the same time. So, make sure you sit at the nearest bench while eating your crepes lest you risk being stared at (true story!).

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I no longer travel this way, though. I now pick and choose what I want to do/see, so I come out of the experience feeling more satisfied. I think the more you travel, the more you learn the how of traveling. But, that’s an entirely different post – next time, maybe!
What do you think? If you have to choose, which one would you climb? 

Beautiful Churches: Paris Edition

Quasimodo. Remember that guy? The hunchback of Notre Dame who fell hopelessly in love with Esmeralda, the beautiful and kind-hearted gypsy. He is the cathedral’s bell ringer and he lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame. Among his friends are the humorous gargoyles that keep watch over the city of Paris at the top of the cathedral. Aside from the Titanic, this was the more age-appropriate movie my parents took me to when I was a child. It captivated my imagination and it certainly got me infatuated with Notre-Dame de Paris. So, of course we had to visit it when we were in Paris!

Notre Dame, seen from across the Seine.

Notre Dame, seen from across the Seine.

Just like any other famous landmarks, the Notre Dame was packed with tourists and travelers alike. We had the opportunity to attend the International Mass on Sunday, which, while beautiful, was definitely the most distracting Mass I have ever been to in my life. Sure they closed off the main nave of the cathedral for the Eucharistic celebration, but that certainly did not stop people from using their flash while taking pictures around the interior of the cathedral. Disrespectful, much? That said, the church IS gorgeous and I highly recommend a visit when you are in Paris. However, it is not the only beautiful church in the city. If you have enough time, consider going into these 3 churches that are less popular, but just as stunning.

Sacre Coeur Basilica
(La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre) 

Metro: Abbesses (Line 12), Anvers (Line 2), or Lamark Coulaincourt (Line 12)

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Although getting to its entrance requires you to climb many, many stairs, the view of the city of love from the top of the hill makes it worth the climb! Its inside smells of old, musty wood, but make no mistake, it is very majestic. Photography is not allowed inside, so I don’t have any picture to show you. But, trust me on this – go to Sacre-Coeur and you won’t regret it! FYI – For those who are not able to climb the steps, there is a cable car available to take you up to the entrance of the basilica.

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Locals and travelers chill out on the steps of the Basilica

Saint Augustin Church
(Eglise Saint-Augustin de Paris)

Metro: Saint-Augustin (Line 9)

We had no plans of going into this church. In fact, we didn’t even know it exists! We had plenty of time to kill as we were waiting for our train to depart to Lisieux from Gare St Lazare. Not ones to sit around and twiddle our thumbs, we took a gamble and started walking around the area. We ventured into a small alleyway, through a playground, and eventually came out to the side of this gorgeous church.

Front facade of St. Augustin

Front facade of the Church of St. Augustin

One of my absolute favourite saints: St. Augustine. If you don't know his story, look it up!

One of my absolute favourite saints: St. Augustine. If you don’t know his story, look it up!

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The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle

 It is certainly an off-the-beaten-path landmark, but a beautiful one at that!

Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
(Chapelle Notre Dame de la Medaille Miraculeuse)

Metro: Sevres-Babylone (Lines 10 and 12) or Saint-Placide (Line 4)

Being the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine Laboure (then a Novice sister in the order of the Daughters of Charity) in 1830, this chapel is a very busy and relatively well-known pilgrimage site in France. Like the Met in New York, its humble and very simple exterior boasts nothing of the beauty inside the chapel. Because of this, It is tricky to find. So, pay attention when you are walking on Rue du Bac. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a statue of the Virgin with child over the entrance way.

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Why the miraculous medal,  you ask? The Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine imploring her to create a medal, which was distributed in 1832 during a deadly cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 20,000 lives. As the story goes, many cures were reported, along with conversions and protections after the distribution of the medals. Hence the name miraculous.

Inside the chapel

Inside the chapel

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I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of visiting the less-famous landmarks of the city. It almost feels like I have uncovered the city’s best-kept secrets *snickers*. Do you feel the same way? Do you make it a point to visit these relatively “unknown” landmarks? Share the wealth with me!

Paris: C’est La Vie

Dear World, Happy Easter! I hope you had a wonderful celebration this past weekend. I realized I’m SO DELAYED with my greeting – I’m not even going to lie, it’s because I’ve enjoyed myself too much over the weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve spent a 4-day weekend in town; I usually use those to go on a quick trip somewhere. Ah well, better late than never, right?!

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Now that I’ve finished updating you with my most recent travels, it’s time to take you way back to when it all started: Paris.

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Outside a neighbourhood boulangerie. LOVE!

Outside a neighbourhood boulangerie. LOVE!

I can’t recall how Gaby and I started talking about going to Europe. All I remember was my pure joy and excitement as we were planning it. Call it the obsessive-compulsive in me, but I find so much fun in trying to figure out how to go from one city to the other, researching what needs to be seen in each destination, and hunting for the best flight deals (by the way, that was the best deal I’ve ever gotten to date: $560 for YYZ-CDG-FRA-YYZ). The fact that there is so much to see and learn out there continues to fuel my love of travel until today. It’s really why I travel in the first place.

And so, there we were, bleary-eyed, and having spent our first day marveling in the lifestyle of the rich and famous at Versailles, we returned to our hostel in Montmartre, gave into our jet-lag, and slept for 12-hours straight, only waking up at noon the next day.

With stomachs growling, we crossed the street and stepped into a cafe, outside of which sprawled a row of neatly organized round tables with sidewalk-facing chairs that are placed side-by-side (prime spot for people watching, right here!).

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Its inside was warm and cozy. Soft, yet audible, music reverberated through the restaurant; it had that distinct harmonica sound that is so quintessentially French. I find it humorous how mundane, every-day things, like the simple act of eating lunch in a restaurant, can be such a novel experience when you are outside the confines of  your comfort zone. Ah, such is the consequence of displacing yourself from the familiar into the unfamiliar.

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With this new found wonder and curiosity, we put on our travelers’ goggle and started to explore Paris on foot and via its highly-efficient-but-insanely-complex Metro.

Photo courtesy of mappery.com

Photo courtesy of mappery.com

We walked its cobble-stoned streets and its countless round-a-bouts, each one posing to be a challenge for us to jay-walk across.

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We made our way to the Notre Dame, trying our best to simultaneously capture both its monstrosity and its details.

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Notre Dame in all its grandeur

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Notre Dame as seen from its details

We walked along the Seine, passing by many makeshift booths, selling vintage posters, books, and souvenirs. In hindsight, I very much regret not buying anything from them.

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Our feet eventually led us back to Montmartre and there, on the steps of Sacre-Coeur, we sat among both locals and travelers, listening to the occasional burst of singing and guitar-playing, while marveling at the panoramic view of the city of love under the moonlight.

Sacre-Coeur Basilica

Sacre-Coeur Basilica

Paris basking under the moonlight

Paris basking under the moonlight

C’est la vie, indeed.

Have you been to Paris? Did you like it? I didn’t LOVE it, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there (minus the fact that some parts of the city smells like urine. Ugh!). Do you feel the same way as I do about traveling? How every.single.familiar.thing becomes a novelty all over again? Did you get lost trying to navigate the Metro? If you haven’t been and now that you’ve heard (read) me wax poetic about it? 

Only Fit for Royals

Heaving our huge and heavy suitcases up the spiraling staircase, we finally made it to the 4th floor where our room is. We walked to the end of the hallway, opened the door, and collapsed on the bed. After catching my breath, I looked around and realized how tiny this place is: 2 single beds, a puny closet, and a sink in the corner. The bathroom is outside, shared with the rest of the floor. The only “treat” was the window that opens to the street, allowing the sounds of Paris to sneak its way inside.

It was our first day in Paris and the start of what would be an epic Euro-trip across the Western side of the continent. I had always, always wanted to go to Europe; it’s a lifelong dream of mine and to finally make it into a reality gives a very satisfying sense of accomplishment. Plus the fact that this happened 2 days after I finished writing my last-ever undergrad exam made it that much better! With our excitements mounting, we quickly freshened up and stepped out the door into the melodies of bustling traffic and the scents of freshly-baked baguettes.

Because we bought a day pass to make our way from Charles de Gaule (CDG) Airport to Paris city centre, we decided to spend the day in Versailles so as not to waste it. To reach Versailles, you have to go on the suburban train, specifically the RER C line, that breaches into zone 4 and is not covered by a regular Paris Metro ticket. Along the way to the station, we passed by a tourist information booth where we grabbed our entry ticket into the Château. Tip: If it’s possible, ALWAYS buy your entry tickets in advance! Trust me, you will be eternally grateful that you did since this will save you TONS of time (See below)!

The 45-minute train ride was supplemented with our oohs and aahs as we passed by suburban Ile-de-France; everything was so novel to us: the small houses, unkempt front lawns, graffiti arts, and rusting bikes. We even ate our sandwiches in silence – in awe that we were actually in Europe! Oh, the keen sense of wonder of a novice traveler! We arrived in Versailles along with a throng of other camera-totting tourists and dutifully made our way to the front gate, where there were two lines snaking its way through the palace ground: one is the ticket line and the other is the entry line. Beaming with pride and generally feeling really victorious, we marched to the entry line and waited. And waited. And waited some more until we cleared security and were FINALLY allowed into the Château.

LONG queue

Château de Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an exemplary form of the 18th century French Art. What started out as Louis XIII’s humble hunting lodge was transformed by his son, Louis XIV, into a palace worthy only for kings and queens. In 1682, he transplanted the court and the government of France to Versailles, an arrangement that lasted until 1789, before it was moved back to Paris.
Inside the palace are wide, open rooms filled with antiquated furnitures, their walls adorned with centuries-old paintings, and majestic chandeliers are hung from the ceilings. One of the most famous rooms is the Hall of Mirror or Grande Gallerie. Constructed in 1678 with 357 pieces of mirrors, it was used daily as a passageway as well as a waiting and meeting place frequented by courtiers and the visiting public. It was also the location where many important celebrations were held, including the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which marked the end of World War I.

Photo by Jean-Marc Manaï

We wandered through the rooms absorbing the overload of information from the audio guide (yet retaining none of it) and taking the obligatory pictures of significant paintings before we finally made our way outside to the gardens.
Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre to design and create the gardens surrounding the palace. Built over 800 hectares of land, the gardens are filled with 200,000 trees and 210,000 flowers that are planted annually.
Countless fountains and canals were also built throughout the ground.
The Château’s is also home to the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, neither of which we visited as we didn’t know they exist.

Ah well, now I have an excuse to return to France (and stuff my face with pain au chocolat while I’m at a it!)