Paris In The Winter
(Click photos for larger views)
(January 31, 2003)
You've heard of April in Paris, but how about January? Even on a crisp winter day the "City of Lights" holds great charm. However, the best part of visiting during the winter months is off-season deals and lack of lines to main attractions.
Paris is a travelers' dream not only for its beauty but for its unique delights. To be in Paris surrounded by texture and richness assaults the senses; it entices visitors to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. From glowing landmarks to the notorious indifferent French attitude, the city is everything it should be in the essence of all things French. Thankfully, the French have always realized the importance of monumental projects. Their passion for preservation has made Paris the most visited city in the world. Below are the must-see treasured attractions:
The Eiffel Tower was erected for the World's Fair of 1889, to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. The tower was almost torn down in 1909 at the expiration of its 20-year lease but was saved primarily because of the antenna used for telegraphy at
that time. Rising 1050 feet, the tower ranked as the tallest structure in the world, until the
Chrysler Building in New York City eclipsed it in 1929. When you're done marveling upwards through the structure, you can take in fabulous views of the city on the three public levels, which can be accessed by lifts. For more information on the Eiffel Tower, visit their website at http://www.tour-eiffel.fr
Sacré-Coeur, the white Romanesque church that dominates the Paris skyline, is the French equivalent of the Taj Mahal. The views from Sacré-Coeur gaze down all across Paris. For a few Euros you can climb up to the top of the church's dome and be treated to the best view of the Parisian landscape. Afterwards, explore the artists' quarter and take in the sights of artwork and smells of oil paints.
Musée d'Orsay is a beautifully converted railway station on the banks of the Seine. The
collection focuses on the period from 1848 to 1914 and includes works by Rodin, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Renoir and Whistler among others. The museum is open daily 10am- 5:45pm, Sunday 9am- 6pm, and Thursday 10am - 9:.45pm. Museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is 7 Euros, except on the first Sunday of every month when it is free. For more information on the Musée d'Orsay, visit their website at http://www.musee-orsay.fr
It is easy to spend a whole day at the Louvre and not even begin to see everything. This enormous building, constructed around 1200 as a fortress and rebuilt in the mid-16th century for use as a royal palace, became a museum in 1793. In the early 1980's during former French Premier Mitterand's "grands projets", the Louvre was given a face-lift with the addition of IM Pei's 67-foot tall glass pyramid entrance. Inside, there is always a crowd around the most famous works, such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Despite the crowds the Louvre has unlimited quiet nooks and crannies allowing more intimacy to enjoy the art. Kids love the Egyptian collection along with the crown jewels. Admission is 7.50 Euros, valid for multiple entries all day. Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month, and the museum is closed on Tuesdays. For more information on the Louvre, visit their website at http://www.louvre.fr
At first glance, the fairy-tale view of Notre Dame is an amazing sight. For kids, it's all about the fictitious Quasimodo, for whom the bells have tolled in many a movie. Considered one of the greatest achievements in Gothic architecture, the construction of Notre Dame began in 1163 and was completed around 1345. The massive interior can accommodate 6000, and is dominated by spectacular and enormous rose stained glass windows, along with 7800-pipe organ.
From the base of the north tower, visitors can get a cardio workout climbing 411 steps up a very narrow spiral staircase to the top of the west façade. It's worth the trip to come face-to-face with the cathedral's abundant gargoyles (Quasimodo territory) conversely the view of Paris is exquisite. From the South tower you'll get a close-up look the flying buttresses, church spire, and peek at the Emmanuel bell, the huge 13 ton bell that is rung for great occasions. After touring the cathedral don't forget to visit the archeological crypt under the front square. Displays include remains of structures from the Gallo-Roman and later periods.
Sainte Chapelle is without question the most beautiful church in Paris. Situated in the middle of the Ile de la Cité within the confines of the Palais de Justice (law courts), this exquisite medieval church was built in 1248 by Louis IX to house Christ's crown of thorns. The most breathtaking part of this beautiful chapel are the floor to ceiling stained glass windows (the oldest in Paris), which on a sunny day are breathtaking. You can purchase a ticket for 5 Euros for a combined visit to the church and La Conciergerie, an old prison, where Marie Antoinette was once imprisoned.
Arc de Triomphe
A climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (284 steps) is a must, especially at night. The views are spectacular and it is a surprisingly tranquil spot to sit and watch the bustling activity below around the Champs-Élysées. There's also a good view of
the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
This mile-long boulevard is world-renowned for over-priced shops catering to the rich and famous. While the popular promenade has lost some glamour over the years, it's still one of the best people watching venues in the city. Take a stroll or sit in a café and soak up the Parisian "joie de vivre" (joy to live). This is the ideal place to take an evening walk and people watch. At the end of the avenue, you'll come to the 18th-century Place de la Concorde.
Cruising The Seine
Ride the Bateaux Mouche on the River Seine at sunset or at night for a great view of the city all lit up. The views of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame illuminated are a souvenir view you'll treasure forever. For more information on the Bateaux Mouche, visit their website at http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/
If you have kids or act like one, riding on one of Paris' numerous carousels is a cheap thrill costing just a Euro or two. Carousels can be found in the Jardin Des Tuileries, on the top floor of the Forum Des Halles shopping mall in the Marais, at bottom of the hill of Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, and in the Parc Des Buttes Chaumont.
Hemingway called Paris his "moveable feast" as there are great gastronomic delights on every corner. There are lots of inexpensive places at which to eat in Paris. Brasseries are basically coffee shops that serve a limited menu of food items plus wine, beer and liquor. The locals generally eat at these places rather than at the more expensive restaurants. After a long day walking around in the crisp air, order up a hot chocolate and éclair at a neighborhood patisserie, anything chocolate in Paris just tastes better. For kids, creperies are a big hit as they can be filled with chocolate, fruit, vegetables or meat. Also, fabulous
fromages (cheese) and pommes frites (French fries) can be found practically anywhere.
Paris is blessed with on of the best subway systems in the world. Riding the Métro is not only inexpensive, but it's the most convenient and quickest way around the city. It's also entertaining because you may come upon unexpected delights, such as an orchestra playing music or a lone violinist, playing for coins. For more information on the Métro, visit their website at http://www.ratp.fr/
What I discovered during my brief four-day visit was even the best laid plans go astray. Notes on places to visit and eat were for the most part useless. Once here, the ultimate thrill lies in just wandering around, somewhat lost, always marveling, and enjoying the Parisian vision of life.
Paris Weekend - 6 days air/hotel/transfers/breakfast from $690
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