Editor's note: This is the third article in a series by Phyllis Britt, former editor of The North Augusta Star. She recently traveled through Europe and is sharing stories about its sights and sounds.
Paris is definitely the capital of romance. Yes, Paris offers any number of sites to educate you or inspire you, but there’s definitely something to be said for strolling along the Champs Elysee and simply taking in the atmosphere.
From the iconic views of the Eiffel Tower and the Arch de Triomphe to the grandeur of the Louvre, the beauty of Sainte Chappelle or Notre Dame, you can cross over the romantic Seine River at nearly every block. Or there’s nothing wrong with picking a spot to dine al fresco and to watch the world go by.
There is so much to see and feel and enjoy in Paris, it would be impossible to cover them all in one trip, but one of the first stops might be the Louvre.
Originally built in the late 12th century by Philip II as the residence of French kings, the Louvre was eventually turned into a museum after Louis XIV established Versailles as his official residence. Since its opening in the late 1700s, the museum has amassed around 38,000 objets d’artes located in nearly 11 miles of corridors. (If a visitor stopped at each exhibit for 30 seconds, it would take more than 13 days – if you toured 24-hours a day – to see everything.)
Because the Louvre is daunting by its sheer size (so easy to get lost there), an introductory tour would be helpful to guide you to some of the highlights. Among the must-sees in this repository of art and artifacts through the ages are the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, Egyptian artifacts from the time of Moses, numerous paintings by masters, such as the 15th century portrait of an “Old Man and His Grandson” by Domenico Ghirlandaio, and so much more.
The main entrance to the Louvre, known as The Pyramid, was designed by I.M. Pei, who also designed the former Metro Chamber building on Broad Street in Augusta.
And when the artwork becomes overwhelming, step outside into the central courtyard to watch a soccer game or see kids playing with bubbles or snack on roasted chestnuts from a nearby vendor. Or walk across the street to the Jardin de Toulieries, a garden park filled with statuary, water features and a grand display of flowers.
Also not far away is a smaller but impressive museum, the Musé d’Orsay, which includes many, many examples of Impressionistic art in a series of smaller galleries dedicated to such artists as Monet and Vincent Van Gogh – his self portrait is there, for example. Also in the Musé d’Orsay is a replica of the Statue of Liberty, the original of which was a gift from the French to the Americans after the Revolutionary War.
The Eiffel Tower, visible from almost any locale in Paris, affords an incredible view of the entire city (as well as offering a chance to dine while you take in the city), but if the crowds are too much, climb the Arche de Triomphe instead. There the view of the city is likewise awe-inspiring, and you can see the Eiffel Tower in all its glory, as well.
Churches abound in Paris, so don’t miss Notre Dame (though following the fire last April, you might have to settle for a stroll around the outside). This renowned church was begun in the 12th century in a classic French Gothic style (including one of the earliest uses of flying buttresses). Significantly damaged in the French Revolution, Notre Dame received renewed interest in its restoration with the publication in 1831 of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.”
Still a functioning cathedral today, the church has depicted on one façade a series of statues of all the kings of Israel. And nearby is Sainte Chappelle, a church with breathtaking stained glass windows that cover the walls floor-to-ceiling. The residence of kings when it was built in the 13th century, Sainte Chappelle was later converted to a full-scale church with two “holy chapels” (the meaning of Sainte Chappelle) – the lower chapel originally for the “common” man and the upper for royalty.
A little off the beaten path is the Memorial de la Shoah, dedicated to French Jews who lost their lives during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Outside is a memorial wall with all the names of those who died, and inside are artifacts, photos and videos of the many Jewish families touched by the war.
For a slight diversion from Paris, take a short trip out to Versailles, the home of Louis XIV. Begun as a small hunting lodge, Versailles began to be transformed in the 1660s to became the primary residence of Louis XIV and his successors (particularly his grandson, the infamous Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette).
The last three kings prior to the French Revolution took Versailles to new heights of opulence, complete with gold-gilded fence posts surrounding the castle plus furnishings and architecture that could easily be described as gaudy. It’s not difficult to imagine important visitors from other countries worldwide being duly impressed with the wealth, and thus power, of the French kings at Versailles.
And when you’re ready to return to a more familiar lifestyle, go back to Paris, sit down at one of the many outdoor cafés and enjoy some onion soup (they don’t call it “French onion soup” in Paris), a baguette, a glass of local wine and exquisite crème brûlée.