Sunday, October 15, 2006

Saturday, 14th October – Paris

This morning we bought ourselves a picnic brunch and headed for the Tuileries Gardens. On the way we passed a very modern group of buildings, which turned out to be a kind of upside down shopping centre – from ground level all you could see was glass skylights, and the shops went for 3 levels down, with a central courtyard. We did a bit of shopping (bought some very French items – made in China).

The Tuileries are the gardens of the previous Tuileries Palace, which is no longer there. Lovely fountains, flower beds, lots of statues and wide boulevards to stroll. We found some chairs near the fountain and ate our picnic. This park again was full of people – the French (and the tourists) clearly love their parks.

What is left of the Tuileries are a couple of "garden sheds". One of these, the Orangerie, is now home to an impressive collection of mostly impressionist paintings collected by an art dealer in Paris in the early part of the 20th century. The main reason we went there was to see Monet’s Water Lilies paintings, a collection of eight huge canvases which he did as a gift to the country in his latter years. The Orangerie has been closed for the past 6 years while they built a special floor to house them, and it only opened in May this year. We had read about it in the SMH so were keen to go, and it was well worth it. The Water Lillies were stunning, big enough so that you could lose yourself in the image, and worth the visit just for that.

Next to the Orangerie is the Place de la Concorde, at the bottom of the Champs Elysées, home of the tall Egyptian obelisk and site of the guillotine. From there we caught a bus along the Champs Elysées, which must be one of the most famous – and the busiest streets in the world. With the traffic the bus trip took a while which gave us plenty of time to ogle. We got off at the Arc de Triomphe, and discovered, to our relief, an underpass to get across to it. I was sure I heard there was a lift to get to the top, but when we got there there was a sign clearly saying stairs only, so we trudged up 284 steps to the top. The museum at the top is undergoing renovation, but we went out on the terrace to check out the view. It was a hazy day but the most impressive part of the view is the 12 converging boulevards. And as we were leaving we discovered the lift!! Oh well, at least we didn’t have to walk down the 284 steps.

We strolled back along the Champs Elysées and found a café (not difficult – there are one or two). Not only is the road wide (5 lanes in each direction), but the footpaths are at least as wide again as the road. Which is a good thing considering the number of people there. We sat at a table then spent a pleasant hour or so people-watching while we waited for a waitress. After all those stairs it was nice to sit for a while.

Our next stop was the Marais area, an area once favoured by the bourgeoisie, but now full of chic boutiques, elegant cafes and art galleries. A lovely area to wander – which we did because we got lost looking for the Place des Voges (Paris’s oldest square, built by Henri IV in 1605-1612), and then waylaid in a really lovely jewelry store with a very persuasive salesperson (there goes the budget!). We found a nice restaurant on the square for dinner, after a stroll around the square, looking at the galleries (with serious money, you could buy some lovely pieces here!). We’ll have to go back in the daytime to take some photos.

Since Paris is as lovely by night as it is by day, we went on a cruise on a Bateau Mouche, a huge boat with really strong spotlights that illuminate the banks of the Seine (including lots of couples out for a nice secluded walk along the river). Rather chilly but otherwise a very pleasant way to see the city. We took the 10.30pm cruise – no such thing as an early night here!