"We'll Always Have Paris"

Here is the shortcut to the photos.


This was a very interesting trip for me. I went with someone who was pretty important to me for a long time, although that relationship has since changed. She and I took a long time to decide if we were going to do this trip. Ultimately, we had a good time seeing the city and she was a trooper as we walked all over The City of Light1.

1 - According to our Giverny coach tour guide, Paris was given the name "The City of Light" during the 1889 World's Fair, since it was the first city to switch to all electric lighting.

A Brief History of Paris

Notre DameOver two thousand years ago, a small Gaullic tribe lived on what is now called the Ile de la Cité, an island in the Seine River that now contains Notre Dame. They were called the Parisii. They joined up with other Gaullic tribes to crown a king of the Gauls named Vercingetorix, who then proceeded to go to war against the Romans, in particular an obscure general named Julius Caesar. The Gaullic Wars lasted about 6 years starting in 58 BCE. By 52 BCE, it was all over but the shouting and Gaul was firmly under Roman rule. At this time, the Romans established a strong presence in the city they called Lutetia and the locals eventually came to call Lutèce, building roads and walls and buildings. They built a bath and an arena that could hold 16 000 people as well.

Eventually, Roman influence waned and the named changed to Paris. Through the centuries the city grew and eventually overflowed from the Ile and the nearby areas. City walls were built and then overrun as the city's population swelled.

Paris AlleywayMedieval Paris was a dark, dank, cramped city. Narrow streets snaked their way through the neighborhoods and every available space was used for human endeavours. Soaring high above the city, though, were the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, considered then and now to be the ultimate expression of the Gothic architectural style.

Centuries of monarchy came to an end on July 14, 1789, when a crowd rose up, freed (all 6) prisoners from the Bastille and then eventually toppled the monarchy of Louis XVI and "offed with his head" with the guillotine in what is now the Place de la Concorde. After many years of turmoil, including a dictatorship by Napoleon and a second attempt at monarchy, by the late 1800's France and Paris had settled into a republican government. The city itself had by then begun undergoing a rather extensive urban redevelopment effort, led by a man named Georges Haussmann. A lot of the medieval buildings and streets were demolished, widened and straightened. It was at this time that the great boulevards of Paris were born.

Today's Paris is a combination of the ancient, the medieval, the Renaissance and the modern, all coexisting fairly comfortably. Any new change to the Paris skyline is met with protest and skepticism initially and acceptance (grudging or otherwise) eventually. Thus, the city has the the Eiffel Tower, La Défense and the Montparnasse tower (a glass skyscraper in the 7eme) next to Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Pantheon. It is a busy, working city, crowded and expensive, but full of life and history, art, music and food (!).

Welcome to the Neighborhood, Neighbor!

After we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and cleared French customs we caught the Air France bus into town2. It dropped us off at Gare Montparnasse and from there we walked to our hotel, which was several kilometers. Our hotel was the au Royal Cardinal at 1 Rue des Écoles. It is named after Cardinal Lemoine. I came to that conclusion because number 1 is at the intersection of Rue des Écoles and Rue Cardinal Lemoine. The Metro stop is also Cardinal Lemoine. Pretty clever of me, isn't it?

Notre DameWe had a great location in one of the best areas of town - the 5th district (in French the 5eme arrondissement), also known as the Latin Quarter (Latin Quatier). We were literally a 5 minute walk from the Ile de la Cité, where Notre Dame is located, the Pantheon and the great neighborhood bordering the river.

We were central and close to everything. It was a great place to be.

2 - I'd recommend the Air France bus and then a taxi to your final destination. The Air France busses go to several central areas in the city. The RER/Metro is not the best choice, since most Paris Metro stations, unlike the London Underground, do not have elevators or escalators. You have to walk lots of stairs. Dragging your bags after a 10+ hour flight up 3 flights of stairs is not for the faint hearted (or the heavily perspired).

The Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter got its name centuries ago. It is the home of La Sarbonne, the 700 year old university, which, along with Oxford and the university at Bologna, claims to be the oldest in the world. Hundreds of years ago, the universal language was not English, nor was it French, it was Latin. The students at La Sarbonne were taught and spoke to each other in Latin and thus, the name the Latin Quarter. Today, the universities have been scattered around Paris, but the Latin Quarter is still very student heavy. It is a lively place, full of kids. And, being kids, they have no idea how lucky they really are. :-)

Roman ArenaBut, the Latin Quarter also retains the greatest Roman influence of any area in Paris. It is here that the Arenes de Lutèce (the Roman arena) and the baths were built. The first thing we saw after we arrived and settled in was the arena. It is located a kilometer or so from the hotel. We walked down the street it was on (according to the map I had) and I only noticed the entrance to it by accident. It is located behind a wall of row houses. A tall doorway swings open to reveal a passageway that opens onto the arena itself. It was discovered around 1910, excavated and restored. It is now a park and a playground. Some kids were playing football at one end, using some cage areas as goals. Some old men were using another area for a boules (a kind of lawn bowling) game.

The Hôtel de Cluny is the other building that retains it's Roman roots. It was an abbey owned by the monastery of Cluny in Burgundy and was built on top of Lutèce's Roman baths, which are still visible next to the building. The Hôtel de Cluny is also the second-oldest residential building in Paris, built between 1485 and 1498. Today, the Hôtel is a museum called the Musée de Cluny, inaugurated in 1844. It contains a gorgeous collection of medieval tapestries and also statues and other artifacts saved from Notre Dame and other churches during the Revolution. Entering the museum requires that you pass through the medieval courtyard and through a pair of large, heavy doors. It's all very "castley" and cool.

I visited the museum and was quite impressed with the building and it's contents. The tapestries are quite beautiful. The display rooms are in several cases former rooms of the baths. Several times I just stood in the center of the room with my neck craned back, looking at the ancient walls and stonework, trying to imagine the residents of Roman Gaul enjoying themselves in the water and steam.

The Latin Quarter also has a great pedestrian zone near the Seine, between Boulevard St Germain to the south, the river to the north and centered around Rue St Jacques and the St Severin church. The streets are just a few meters wide and the the ground level is crammed with shops and restaurants. We were constantly being called to as we walked around. "Cous cous? You like cous cous?" We ate in this area nearly every night. It has a lot of "foreign" restaurants, such as Greek and Chinese. The atmosphere of that area reminded me of a combination of the Orange County Fair's midway area, with the carnival guys talking to me, trying to get me to play the game at their booth and the area near the Huntington Beach Pier, with throngs of people gathered to have fun and see each other.

Le Marais

Le Marais (which means "the Swamp" - maybe "the Marsh" is a better translation) is in the 3eme and 4eme districts, across the Seine from the 5eme. It is called "the swamp" because in past times the Seine would occasionally flood this area, creating a marsh or a swamp. By the 12th century, however, the local monks had drained it. This area suffered the least amount of mid- to late- 19th century redevelopment and thus is one of the oldest areas of Paris. I wandered around this area with my trusty "Let's Go Paris" guide while my partner took a nap.

Oldest House in ParisFirst, let's talk about Parisian zoning laws. Those of us who live here in the US, in cities that were designed for the automobile and where something 50 years old is really old and should be put on the national historic register sometimes have a hard time realizing just how old Europe is. A walk around an area like the Marais (or in a city like Rome) brings home just how old Europe is and how difficult it is to solve modern population and traffic problems with 600 or 700 year old streets and buildings.

For many years starting in the mid 1800's, Paris had a law that required a certain street set-back for any new buildings. This was a good idea on the surface, but no one really thought much about how it would be implemented. New building is extremely rare in a city like Paris; buildings are used for hundreds of years. Thus, in a great many Marais neighborhoods, the streets have jagged curbs and 2 or 3 different widths, due to the zoning law changes over the years. Unless an entire street was demolished at once, the patchwork laws guaranteed that the street would be one width here and another width here and then narrowing to the original width somewhere in the middle of the block.

I saw this all over the city, but mostly in the Marais. In 1964, after a century of this silliness, the laws were revoked. Further, starting early in the 17th century, the Marais became a fashionable place for the upper classes to live. They built grand hôtels (mansions with front courtyards) that fell into disrepair by the early 20th century. Eventually, the areas of the 3eme and 4eme arrond's were declared historic zones and preservation became the top priority. Many of these hôtels became museums and the neighborhoods became gentrified.

Half-timber HousesI located several places that were of extreme interest to me. I found the oldest residence in Paris, at 3 Rue Volta, built circa 1300 AD. It's a half-timber house several stories high on a street no more than 3 meters wide. The incongruity of seeing a house that had been there for 700 years next to a laundromat and their equivalent of a 7-11 was amusing to say the least. The previous day, my partner and I discovered a pair of halftimber houses in the 4eme by accident, dating from the late 14th century. I walked a Let's Go-recommended route and saw what is remaining from the Hôtel de Clisson (1380 ACE) and the few meters that remain of the late 12th century early 13th century city wall (behind a high gate down a 3 meter wide alley). I also saw probably the last remaining medieval alleyway in Paris, at 38 Rue Francs-Bourgoise. It was narrow, dark and dank. The buildings had balconeys that overhung the alley and made it feel very claustrophobic. It was easy to imagine this area 400 years ago, with people pitching their shit and piss and whatever else they had out into the street to let it flow on the street surface and out to the river.

My morning in the Marais was probably my favorite of this trip.

Gothic Architecture Overview

Since France and Paris are synonymous with Gothic architecture, and because I have always been very impressed with the cleverness of medieval architects and their construction techniques, I will now subject you all to some basic Gothic architecture lessons.

What Is the Gothic Style?

Two main styles of Catholic churches exist in Europe; Romanesque and Gothic. paris has quite a few Romanesque churches. Gothic never really made it big there. Central Europe, especially France and Germany, have a lot of Gothic churches. Gothic architecture is a product of medieval minds; Romanesque is an adaptation of the classic style of Greece and Rome.

Notre DameThe Gothic style can be described in 5 words: pointed arches and flying buttresses. Whenever you see a church with pointed topped arches and flying buttresses outside, you've got yerself a Gothic church, man! Gothic church walls are very narrow. They are designed only to hold up the roof, not provide any side forces against the arches at the top. A flying buttress is an external wall support that is offset from the actual church wall and attaches to the building at or near the top of the side wall on the outside. A flying buttress provides an inward directed force to hold the arches that create the roof of the church together, since the walls themselves aren't designed to do that.

The whole point of Gothic architecture is to open up the interior of the church in order to create soaring heights and lots of light shining through stained glass windows. The construction techniques they developed allowed that.

Why Did Gothic Architecture Develop?

The Church fathers wanted to create churches that gave the faithful masses an idea of what heaven would be like. They wanted very high structures to humble the parishoners and large glass areas to allow for great expanses of stained glass showing Bible stories in a graphical form. These stained glass windows also provide further imagery of heaven to the faithful. They wanted the church building to demonstrate the Church's and God's power and to be a manifestation of heaven on Earth.

I'd say they succeeded.

Two Fine Examples

Notre Dame

Notre Dame was built on top of the foundations of a Christian basilica which in turn was built on a Roman temple starting in 1163 ACE. It took nearly 200 years for the church to be declared finished, but by 1345 ACE the church could be said to be done. Over the course of those 200 years the architectural styles and fashions of the day were incorporated into the design. As you walk from the center choir area out to the entrance you can see that things change - little details here and there are different. The interior rooftop decorations and the carvings on columns and other decorative finishes are not consistent. But, it still makes for a harmonious whole, nonetheless.

As famous as Notre Dame is though, not much historical has happened there. It was even scheduled for demolition in the years immediately following the revolution. The Kings of France traditionally were crowned in Reims and buried in St-Denis. Henry IV and Napolean III were crowned there, and De Gaulle attended the first post-Nazi occupation mass there in 1944, but other than that, it's famous for being famous.

However, Notre Dame is considered to be the crowning glory of Gothic architecture. The five hundred year history of Gothic in France produced many churches, but Notre Dame is its ultimate expression.

One of the highlights of our trip was the Baroque and medieval vocal music concert we attended on Tuesday night. The sounds of the choir was truly heavenly inside that great old cathedral. It was a wonderful evening, since the sun doesn't set until after 9:30 pm (Paris is at around 41° latitude - about the same as Seattle, WA). At one point the light was streaming through the west rose window and casting a gorgeous pinkish red halo on a column in the nave.

Quite magical.

Ste Chapelle

Ste Chapelle has a deserved reputation as an absolutely breathtaking jewelbox of a church. It was built by Louis IX (later known as Saint Louis) between 1242 and 1248 to house a recent acquisition - the crown of thorns. Louis had purchased it from a cash-strapped Byzantine emperor to help him fund a Crusade.

St ChappelleThe church is in Gothic style, with two floors. The lower floor was a chapel for the servants of the palace. The upper floor was the chapel for royalty. The upper chapel is an incredible space - it's almost entirely stained glass, and two-thirds of the windows are original 13th century.

Both chapels are also very brightly painted in reds and blues, magentas and yellows. The columns have very intricately carved capitals. The detail work is breathtaking. Both of us just sat quietly in the chairs provided for quite a while, drinking in the visions the windows provide.

Iron Beams As An Art Form

The late 1800's saw a change in the construction of monuments, bridges and other structures in Paris. Iron became fashionable and stone was right out. Our Giverny tour guide made the comment as we were driving through town that if you see something made of iron or steel it was almost assuredly built in the late 1800's.

The Eiffel Tower

Everyone is familiar with the Eiffel Tower. It is the symbol of Paris for many people around the world. It was built for the 1889 World's Fair and demonstrated the use of iron as a structural material. Up until then, iron and steel weren't used much in construction. It was designed by two engineer/designers from Gustav Eiffel's bridge building company. When it was completed it was the tallest structure in the world.

It has three levels and you can go to all three for various prices and by various means (stairs or elevators). We didn't go up into it this time - we'd both done that on previous trips.

My impression the first time I saw it (and reconfirmed this time) was that it is an extremely delicate looking structure. It has a very pretty lacey, spider web look to it and even the piers on which each of its 4 legs stands look light. At night it is beautifully lit, which adds another dimension of grace to it.

I love it, quite honestly, and think it has a unique beauty and balance.

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III is a unique bridge over the Seine - it is the only one that is a single span. All the others touch the river with a center support. It is a graceful pair of arched beams across the river near the Eiffel Tower. It's painted a lovely green color and the beams are anchored at each end by four huge piers with huge gold colored statues topping each, representing various periods of France's history.

This is the bridge that was the site of the car accident that killed Diana. The quai3 that they were speeding on passes under the bridge on the north end (the right bank). Her car collided with the thirteenth pillar from the east end as she was travelling east under the bridge, which we drove past on our coach tour of Giverny.

It is considered by some to be the most beautiful bridge across the Seine in Paris. I'll buy that.

3 - A quai (pronounced "key") is a road that parallels the Seine River.

Montmartre Metro Stations

The Paris Metro is one of the most extensive subway systems in the world. No spot in the city is more than 500 meters from a Metro station. It has a very friendly fare structure as well. Any spot in the city proper and therefore any place a tourist would want to go is one fare (8 FrF at the moment). This eliminates the "which zone are we in?" questions that sometimes crop up on the London Underground, for example.

Most of it is underground, but several lines are above ground and have some interesting history and design with them. For example, the bridge in front of Bir Hakeim station (line 6, on the left bank in the 7eme) was designed and built by Gustav Eiffel's company. Several of the lines in the Montmartre section of town are above ground as well. They have some very interesting stations. Barbés-Rochechouart, especially when you take line 2 west from points east offers a very unusual Victorian/Art Deco station. It's quite attractive and similar to Chicago's El in design. The entrances to Metro stations are also very "period" looking, with a unique French Art Deco look to them. They have a real style and class about them.

Taking some of these above ground Metro lines affords you a different view of the city. I'd recommend (and so does the Let's Go Paris 1998) riding line 6 from Trocadéro to La Motte/Picque/Grennelle or Pasteur for an interesting look at the 7eme. You should also get a multi-use day (or multi-day) pass as well. They are a real bargain and easy to buy and use.


Paris is filled with museums. You can't possibly see them all in one trip, but if you want to try I'd recommend you get a Museums and Monuments pass, either when you get there or off the web. One place to try is Bonjour. I bought our passes there and they were delivered to our hotel the day before we arrived. They cost around $40 each, which means after a few museum visits they pay for themselves, but they also allow you to charge to the head of the line. When we went to the Louvre, the line at the Pyramid was at least an hour long. We entered at the special entrance for passholders and just walked right in. My partner looked at me and said, "You were right." We'd had a discussion about the necessity for them prior to our trip and I had made a command decision to buy them anyway. I just smiled to myself. It is nice to hear that sort of thing, especially from her.

Musée d'Orsay

D'Orsay ClockThe d'Orsay is one of the more spectacular museums I've been in - and you can imagine I've been in a lot museums over the years. The d'Orsay is fairly new - it opened in 1986. The building is a former train station, built in 1900 and closed in 1939 because the trains became too large for the station's platforms (See? If it's made of iron it was built in the late 1800's/early 1900's. A useful rule of thumb!). It still retains a very industrial look, with its steel beams, glass and a huge functional clock on the wall. But it is a very easy museum to navigate and it is extremely user-friendly.

The d'Orsay exhibits works from the Second Empire period (1848) to World War I. It has fine examples of Monet and Renoir, Delacroix' epic canvases of French patriotism and nationalism inspired realism propaganda, some Degas (including a ballerina sculpture, of course) and Toulouse-Latrec, Van Gough and Gaugin and even some Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and design examples. I was especially interested in the "Opera" room against the back wall. They have several models of the Opera Garnier (also known as the Paris Opera House, the "Phantom of the Opera" opera house), showing the building layout and design as well as the stage mechanicals. They also had on display a dozen or so shadow box mounted models of various Opera production's sets over the years.

I wish I could have spent more time there, but we had other things to do and see that day. We went back on Monday to look some more, but it was closed.

The Louvre

The Louvre's construction began in 1190 as a fortress to protect the city. Over the centuries it has grown and it's role has changed; it was razed to the foundations and rebuilt starting in 1527. Louis XIV used it until he decided to move to a little place in the country called Versailles and hired the Renaissance equivalent of Norm Abrams and the "This Old Chateau" crew to expand it.

In 1725 the first salon was held here and it has been used as an art museum ever since. The update to the Louvre completed in 1989 included the now famous glass pyramid, into which you enter the musuem if you are of common stock. If you are in possession of a pass you go 'round the back and enter through the Richilieu wing. The glass pyramid is reputed to have - gasp! - 666 panes. Neither I nor the Let's Go folks have counted them.

We went into the Louvre on a whim; we'd both been there before and seen the Big 3 - the smiling lady, the armless lady and the headless winged lady. But we decided to try out our Museum passes. They worked like a charm and we went back to the smiling lady and looked for a few other things that my partner wanted to see. I could have spent more time there, but we also wanted to get to the d'Orsay that day.

Other Places

Crypte Archéologique

The Crypte Archéologique is located at the opposite end of the square in front of Notre Dame. It has several displays of Roman ruins that were discovered when a parking garage was being dug on the site 25 or so years ago. It shows some of the streets, sewers, building foundations and other constructions from Roman and medieval times that were on the Ile de la Cité. It drives home the notion that everything is recycled and reused - stones from Roman houses were used by the Parisians for their own uses and the main street through the area (prior to Haussmann's redevelopment that cleared the neighborhood and created the open square) was laid out on top of the original Roman one.

It seems that every time a medieval property owner dug a cellar he'd hit Roman construction. How frustrating that must have been! The Crypte is about 3 or 4 meters under the current street level (and thus shows how the city has been built up over the years) and is a very interesting display.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The cemetery is on the east side of town in the 20eme. Pere Lachaise has become the final resting place for many famous people, including, of course Jim Morrison of The Doors, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jean Champollion (the Egyptian heirglyphics code-cracker), and many many more. It is a wonderful looking place, with incredibly ornate sarcophagi and tombs.

Over a million people have been buried there, but there's only space for 100 000 tombs. The plots are recycled on a regular basis; if your gravesite isn't regularly visited eventually you'll be exhumed and the space used for someone else. This has resulted in a "mourning" service wherein people come to tend to your final resting place in order to forestall your eviction.

Ol' Jimbo doesn't have to worry about that, though. So much vandalism on and near his grave has occured that a few years ago a full time guard was assigned to his spot, and he will be moved within a few years.

Damned troublemaking American rockers!

Les Halles/Forum des Halles and the Centre Pompidou

The Forum des Halles is a huge underground shopping mall - modern in every way. It is on the site of the old original food market called Les Halles that dates from 1135. By the 1850's a large steel and glass (oops, there goes the rule of thumb!) pavilion was built to house the very large numbers of vendors selling their wares. But, by 1971 the pavilions were demolished in order to build a Metro and commuter rail station and the Forum was built to echo the history of the area as a shopping district. We spent some time in the Forum and bought a few things. She was happy with the things we bought, and so was I. She always looks good and French fashion simply made her look even better.

The area between the Forum and the Pompidou is a very busy, lively, crowded shopping area. We went back to this place several times. It was fun to walk around and mingle with the locals and other tourist types. The Pompidou itself was closed for the most part. it hasn't aged too well and after only 25 years or so it needs a complete renovation. We weren't too concerned, since the Pompidou houses a lot of modern art, which is not high on my partner's list of preferred art styles. We just enjoyed some of the street performers and moved on.

Jardins de Giverny

Giverny PondWe decided to take a coach tour of Giverny after meeting an American couple in a Greek restaurant one night. They had raved about a particular tour company (which we couldn't locate) and about the gardens themselves. My partner is something of a gardener, and we decided it would be a nice thing to do.

We were driven out in a comfortable van with 5 other people and spent the afternoon there. It was very crowded with Americans and I didn't even go inside the house. I wandered around the gardens, saw the famous lake with the famous waterlilies and other flora. It was beautifully in bloom and the colors were riotous. The drive out was very nice as well, with lots of French countryside and small villages.

I think the next time I go to France I will try to see more of the country, rather than just the big city experience of Paris.


We saw a lot of Paris and I enjoyed my partner's companionship during the day and the evening. She was very good about walking around the city, even though some days she didn't feel very good. I saw several things that I really wanted to see and she did some things she wanted to do. The highlight for both of us I am sure was the concert in Notre Dame on Tuesday night. Aside from that, my walk in Le Marais and the Giverny tour were probably our individual highlights.

Here are some photos. I didn't take a lot of photos on this trip, my partner did. Hers are included with mine on both pages.