“Have you heard of Paris Syndrome?” my niece asked me over the phone. We were going to spend next four days in Paris.
“No. What is it?”
“Well, many people when visit Paris say that it didn’t live up to their expectations. So be mindful. Lower your expectations.”
“I shall.” I said that but I was secretly hoping to see the Paris as I had seen in “Devil Wears Prada.” I wanted to see the dreamy wide boulevard where trees were lined with fairy lights, the one Anne Hawthaway walked in the last scene.
My husband and I took a train from London. When we arrived at Paris terminal and the first thing I noticed was the glass panels on the ceilings were not as clean they were on Paddington station. Okay. No big deal. They are probably due for a cleanup soon. We stood in the line to get a taxi. The line was very long and taxis were coming in very slowly. After an hour later we decided to walk to the main road where we would be able to catch a cab quicker. We rolled our suitcases, walked to the front of a hotel and managed to hail a cab but in the next ten minutes it moved just ten inches and meter clocked up ten Euros.
We got off the cab, paid ten Euros and walked back to the train station to get to the metro. The metro map mounted on a wall of the station was in French. We couldn’t figure out where we were. The big yellow arrow saying ‘You are here’ was missing. Thankfully another tourist came, he was as clueless as us, but knew where we were on the map. We were at Gare du Nord, one of big terminal metro stations. Paris mainline network has six large terminus stations and is not one of the easy ones to figure out. Our hotel was just four kilometers away but we needed to change the train twice to get to Place Gharles de Gaulle.
On the way to the hotel we spotted a pub at the street corner which was bustling with Thursday night crowd. Great, this is where we can eat. We checked in, refreshed and came to the pub around ten pm. It didn’t have any spare seats. Many people were sitting on the wooden benches of the nearby fruit shop. The atmosphere was electric. People ware drinking fancy cocktails. Some were even kissing the waiters. Great, we are at the right place. All we wanted was nice food.
We waited for a seat to become available and placed an order for the best food in the house. By the time it arrived, it was mid night and we were starving. My husband had ordered a steak and I a chicken dish. Both meals were massive. We were happy. This is going to be the best meal so far.
It was the worst.
Was this part of Paris Syndrome?
Next day, we decided to walk to Arc de Triomphe, which was not far from our hotel. We walked on the Avenue de Wagram for half an hour but there was no sign of the Arc. Rain started. We took shelter and consulted our map. It turned out that we had been walking in the wrong direction.
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to honour French army. While it was under construction, Napoleon had a wooden replica built so that he and his second wife, Marie Louise of Austria, could pass underneath it when they entered Paris for the first time as a married couple in 1810.
The Arc was finally inaugurated on July 29, 1836, 30 years after it was first commissioned. In 1840, Napoleon passed under the arch himself – when his body was taken to its final resting place.
It is an intricately sculpted masterpiece – relief sculptures at the base of its four pillars depict four victories and several war scenes, and the top of the arch lists the names of successful battles which took place during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. Less significant battles are inscribed on the inside walls, along with the names of 558 generals. Underlined names belong to those who died in battle.
On November 10, 1920, an unknown soldier who died in the First World War was buried under the arch. An eternal flame was lit to honour those who died in this conflict. Since then, the flame is lit each evening to honour the fallen. A few weeks after the end of World War II, aviator Charles Godefroy flew a Nieuport fighter plane through the arch to honour the airmen who lost their lives in the recent war.
We took a boat tour of the river Seine which was turned out to be an excellent way to see the main buildings between the Eiffel Tower and the Saint-Louis Island.
The tour started from the Vedettes du Pont Newf on City Island. You can walk to that point from the Louvre Museum.
The first building we spotted was of course the Louvre, which was first built as fortress in the 12th century to protect the city of Paris. When it was no longer useful as a fortress it was turned into a royal palace. Then in the 18th century when Louis the 14th moved to Versailles it was turned into a museum.
The river Seine has 37 bridges. We crossed under many of those during the boat tour.
The first one we went past was The Royal Bridge, It is one of the oldest bridges in the city. It was a gift from the Sun King Louis the 14th to the people of Paris because he wanted to makeup for the expensive building work of Versailles.
Next came the Concord Bridge which is a symbolic bridge because it was built with the stones from the Bastille prison after it was destroyed during the French Revolution in1789.
The Alexander the Third Bridge is considered the most beautiful bridge in Paris. It was build for World Fair in 1900. It celebrates Franco-Russian friendship. On one side it has a gilded coat of arms of St Petersburg in the middle flanked by tow statues symbolizing the Russian river, the Neva. On the other side it has coat of arms of Paris, with a statue on each side symbolizing the River Seine.
The Invalides Bridge is the lowest bridge on Seine and it was built to celebrate the victories and battles of Napoleon.
Next was the Modern Alma Bridge was rebuild in the 1970’s which is why it is called the modern Bridge of Alma. It still had the old famous sculpture called the Zouave. Parisians used to measure the level of the river by this statue. In 1910, during the great floods, the water reached its neck, while in June 2016 it came up to its belt!
Then became visible the Eiffel Tower, the most famous monument in Paris. It was build to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. When it was presented at the world fair in 1889, Parisian hated it. They thought it was ugly and it would collapse one day. Now they are very proud of it. It is now the best-known French symbol in the world.
Initially it was built for 20 years but was saved from demolition in 1906 when radio and TV antenna were put on the top. 1000 feet high and 10,000 tons heavy, for a long time it was the highest monument in the world. It is a work of art by Gustave Eiffel on whose name it is still known as.
Our boat took and turn from here and we started going back the direction we came from. On the way we spotted the Gilded Flame that is the exact copy of flame from the statue of Liberty in New York. We were told it was a gift from the United States to France. It very close to tunnel where Princess Diana died. Most people think it’s a memorial dedicated to her.
We could see the roof of The Grand palace which was built for the World Fair in 1900. It impressive glass roof weighs 8,500 tons, almost as much as Eiffel Tower. They used to organize car and horse races inside. They still organize horse races there along with exhibitions and fashion shows.
We the went past the New Bridge which is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris. It was built in the 17th century. It was called the New Bridge because it was the first bridge which people could walk and enjoy the view over Seine. In those days houses used to be built all along the bridges because they thought it was better for the foundations. A pedestrian bridge was something very new hence the name the New Bridge.
It has funny and ugly faces all along it which are known as Mascarons. They represents the friends and minister of King Henry the Fourth who didn’t believe the bridge was solid enough to stand. The king decided to mock them by having their faces there permanently.
We then came close to Notre Dame Cathedral which was burnt a couple of month ago. Thankfully the front was undamaged. We could see the scaffolding at the back.
Notre Dame Cathedral is the gothic jewel of Paris. It was built between 12th and 14th century and took almost two centuries to complete. It is famous for its statues, its gargoyles, its stained glass windows and also for its large rose glass window. It measures thirteen meters across and is made of 32,000 pieces of glass. It is on the south side which makes the entire cathedral to lit up from inside.
The next bridge to cross was Tournelle Bridge which has the great statue of Sainte Genevieve, sainte patroness of Paris. She is carrying a child in her arms which represents the people of Paris.
We then sailed past Saint-Louise Island which is the quietest and the most expensive area in Paris. It has several beautiful mansions dating form the 17th century.
We went past The Mary Bridge, the most romantic bridge in Paris, the city Hall which used to be the main square where executions took place and the Clock Tower that houses the oldest public clock in Paris dating from the 14th century.
Then came in view the majestic building of the Conciergerie. It was initially a Royal Palace and was turned into a jail in the 14th century. The Queen Marie Antoinette spent the last tow months for her life here before she was beheaded in the Palace de la Concorde.
By this time I had forgotten all about The Paris Syndrome. I was happy in the city of dreams.
I will write more about Paris in my next few posts.