Arc de Triomphe
Sunday - March 10, 2002
My last day in Paris. I didn't have any real plans, and since my best days had been spent wandering, I decided to do more of that. First, I moved back to Hotel de la Tulipe for a night, and got another charming room, this one upstairs looking down on the courtyard. Since I was close to the Eiffel Tower, I went over to see it by daylight. I was surprised at the number of joggers in the Champs de Mars, the park at the base of the tower. I climbed the stairs to the first level. The view is fine, but there are many more breathtaking in Paris. Being close to huge steel structure was much more impressive to me.
The first time I was in Paris, the Musee d'Orsay was the most memorable of all the museums I visited. The incredible Impressionist collection is housed in a former train station, a light-filled building with decorative clocks and huge ornate clocks. Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissaro, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and of course Monet are just a few of the artists who grace the walls. On some of the side halls there were also displays of art nouveau and conservative art that predated the Impressionist movement.
After a few hours in the museum, I emerged to a sunny bright day, nearly springtime in Paris. What an amazing last day in Paris. The Orsay is next to the Seine, so decided to walk along the river for a while. The whole city is about 12 feet above the water level. On both sides of the river are lined with walkways, which were packed with people out for a stroll in the wonderful weather. The occasional passing boat would cause waves that spilled onto the path, already disappearing beneath the swollen river.
When I popped up to street level, I was shocked by the noise of traffic and the city. The river splashing on the banks was the loudest sound I'd heard just 12 feet below. I crossed the Pont des Arts bridge to see the majestic willow at the tip of the Ile de la Cite. I crossed back over on Pont Neuf, Paris' oldest bridge (1607) to check out the tree up close. It sits at the end of a small park, Square du Vert-Galante, named "Square of the Old Flirt" after King Henri IV. The park was certainly filled with lovers on this sunny day.
I tried to visit the La Conciergerie, palace-turned prison that held people in line for the nearby guillotine, including Marie Antoinette. But it was closed for the weekend for some reason I couldn't translate. I had a museum pass, so I popped into Sainte-Chapelle for one last look.
After resting for a bit at the hotel, I went to L'Arc de Triomphe and arrived just after sunset. It remains for me the best view of Paris, worth the 164-foot climb on the vertigo-inducing spiral staircase. The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to honor his soldiers. After his exile, it sat unfinished until King Louis Philippe had it complete in 1836. Looking down, traffic was swirling around in the chaotic circle that has 12 different streets connecting into it. Under the arch, a flame is lit each night at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
For dinner, I went back to 7eme Sud, the restaurant that Heidi and I had been to the week before. It was a terrific last meal in Paris, a salade Provencale with lemon-tinged chevre cheese and delicate artichoke tortellini The wine was perfect, and had come highly recommended by the American exchange students seated next to me. I returned to the hotel and prepared to depart.
The next morning, I got up before the sun. The taxi ride to the airport was surreal. We took the expressway that is down by the banks of the Seine, below the city. It felt like I had just selected "Paris" in a car racing video game. It was a beautiful and repeated mix of bridges, tunnels, and the river. We weaved through the traffic at high speed, swiftly changing lanes while avoiding semis and slow-moving cars. I would have been worried if it hadn't been so early. We reached the airport in good time, and I was on my way back to the states. The end of an amazing trip to Paris.
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