Monday, August 25, 2008

See Paris as a writer

Do you want to walk through history and have fun at the same time... Well take your firiend Ernest Hemingway, and you can walk in the writer's footsteps through two neighborhoods on the Left Bank of the Seine - the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Just remember to bring all your EUROS.That includes occasional stops for nourishment and refreshment - just as Hemingway would have done.

There's no set path or order of stops. Get a good map, a few Metro tickets, and create your own Tour de Paris.
From 1921 to 1928, Hemingway prowled these neighborhoods, making his slow climb from promising young writer to acclaimed author. He wrote in the cafes, ate in the bistros, drank in the bars, and when you see one of those that looks inviting, chances are Hemingway thought so, too. Bring plenty of books..maybe you read as a pose to write.
In your travels..You can start at the Pantheon, the shrine to great citizens of France and the resting place of many of them. It is a gloomy building in general, but if you like the Foucault pendulum at the Franklin Institute, check out the one in the Pantheon, which Leon Foucault hung himself in 1851.
Behind the Pantheon, wind your way through narrow streets to the Place de la Contrescarpe, a tidy square bordered by cafes and shops. A few steps off the plaza is 74 Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, where Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, had their first apartment - a third-floor, cold-water walk-up that doesn't look much better now.
When they lived there, a ballet school and dance club was on the ground floor, a setting Hemingway copied in "The Sun Also Rises." He and Hadley were so poor that the family cat often served as a babysitter, yet Hemingway found the money to also rent a top-floor, unheated room around the corner at 39 Rue Descartes to use as a writing aerie.
The neighborhood was dismal then, and even Hemingway avoided the Cafe des Amateurs, a seedy spot he referred to as "the cesspool of the Rue Mouffetard." Today, it is a bright, inviting place called the Cafe Delmas, where you can sit at a sidewalk table, drink a Belgian beer, and watch the world stroll past, as it has been doing for quite some time. The Mouffetard, a narrow, winding street lined with every imaginable shop, was the beginnings of the Roman road from Paris to Lyon. Remember ...bring your Euros..all is expensive..except the memories.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Paris Sightseeing

One of the joys of the city is that the majority of the fabled sites are within walking distance of each other. But if walking isn't your thing, there is an excellent public transport system. Here is a list of our 'must visit' attractions.

Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées

If you are foolhardy enough to drive into Paris, remember that traffic entering the Arc de Triomphe has priority over anything already in the process of hurtling round it. The Arc that Napoléon intended as a celebration of his victories was not finished when the Battle of Waterloo brought his downfall. It now stands guard over the remains of an unknown solider from World War I, with the eternal flame burning under it. Radiating out from its honking, jammed centre are major roads in all directions.

Every conquest since Napoléon has brought images of the liberators and citizens climbing the Arc. From above it gives a wonderful view through Paris' spectacular centre. Look along the Champs Elysées with the Seine glittering underneath. The Arc's gallery and sculpture merits a pause, particularly François Rude's panels.

Champs d'Elysées

The Champs Elysées was designed as part of a triumphal way out from the Tuileries and planted with elms a century before Napoléon planned his arch. To one side lies the Seine, to the other grand houses of the 18th century many of which are now airline offices. It still has a splendour of its own and hints at the wealth of the Triangle d'Or that stretches away from it towards Faubourg Ste Honoré. Walking down from the Arc towards Place de la Concorde look right and see the great exhibition halls, the Grand Palais and Petit Palais built in 1900 and housing museums and touring exhibitions.

Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides and Bois de Boulogne

The ultimate image of Paris has to be La Tour Eiffel. Its fireworks for new year rather eclipsed London's millennium wall of fire. It dominates the city.

Built in 1889 for the World Fair, the tower was saved from demolition in 1909 by the need for a radio antenna. The antennae now are television. It can be seen from almost everywhere in Paris but it does deserve a closer look. The classic view is from the Trocadéro with its great fountains below.

Cross the bridge to foot of this amazing 320 metre high structure, and, if you are prepared to queue, take the lift to the top (always scout to see if there is a ticket window with no queue). The view is like seeing Paris from a light aircraft. Go early in the morning to avoid the worst waits, or late at night to catch sunset. Worry about the bats and moths that die against its frame, attracted by the lights that make it magical by night. French conservationists are persuading the authorities to create dark spots.

You can walk up the first two of the tower's levels and still be stunned – but it takes a lot of energy. Do not eat at the restaurant, which had a superb reputation, unless you are happy to pay an arm and two legs.

Les Invalides

The gold dome to the south is of course l'Hôtel des Invalides an easy walk from the tower. You can pass the white splendour of the UNESCO buildings with the inhabitants doing their bit for children. Les Invalides was built by Louis XIV as a residential village for soldiers wounded in his attempts to subjugate Europe. The Revolutionary citizens 100 years later raided it for weapons and one of its churches, Eglise du Dôme, now houses Napoléon's extraordinary red sarcophagus. Maréchal Foch, whose name is given to a boulevard outside, is also buried here.

Near to Les Invalides is the Musée Rodin which has some of the artists most celebrated work.

Ile de la Cité
Pont Neuf (neuf as in new and not nine) is one crossing point onto the Ile. Near the end of the bridge is the grand department store Samaritaine. Excellent for shopping but also for its café terrace and the panoramic views up and down the Seine

Notre Dame is Paris's metropolitan church. It is an unmissable piece of gothic architecture with rose windows that glow with a warmth reflecting the exuberance of the 13th century. Climb the west facade and see the Seine from above and be reminded of the Hunchback by the twisted gargoyles. The square Jean XIII behind gives a great view of the flying buttresses – a view still popular with any film directors who chooses Paris as a location. By day it is a bustle of people. By night it is unduly quiet.


At the opposite end of the Ile is the Palais de Justice, seat of government since Roman days. On site is also the Conciergerie, the palace that became a prison with many of the victims carted off across Paris's cobbles to Place de la Concorde and the guillotine. Be horrified by Marie-Antoinette's chamber and uplifted by the gothic jewel of Sainte Chapelle. Built in the mid 13th century it was to house what was thought to be the crown of thorns. The intense decoration and brilliant stained glass almost hide the walls from view.
Walk through the flower market to leave the l'Ile by Pont St Michel which will bring you back to bustle.