For our last day on the Seine River we were based in Paris – the City of Love, the City of Light. Peter had never been to Paris and it was something like thirty years ago that I was there. Of the options available, Peter and I decided we’d do the bus tour of the city, where we got to see the main sights without expending much energy.
Our Uniworld bus was driven by Crystal, a Belgian lady, so I didn’t expect a white-knuckle ride through the streets of Paris. In fact, she did a great job, negotiating the famous French traffic like the pro she was. Our guide, whose name was something like Antoine, was a treasure, imparting lots of information in a humorous, entertaining way. As an example, he talked about the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, both icons of the Paris landscape.
“We’re good at building monuments that serve no useful purpose,” he explained. As we passed the Arc de Triomphe he expressed his gratitude that the Allies had come to liberate France in 1944. “What took you so long?” he added. Which brought him back to 1940, when far from fighting for their freedom as the Ukrainians are doing right now, the French surrendered. On that subject here’s a fascinating article on what might have happened instead. (I can’t help it – I still love history)
It’s hard to take pictures from a moving vehicle but we tried.
We stopped at the Luxembourg Gardens for a pee and a walk. The Gardens encircle the Luxembourg Palace, built by Marie de Medici in 1612, while she acted as regent for Louis XIII. It’s a popular spot and we walked past people sailing toy boats in a lake, others practising Tai Chi and others taking dogs for walks. Antoine showed us the garden’s statue of Lady Liberty.
Pete and I bought coffee from a stall. Sorry, I don’t like French coffee. I drank a little and donated the rest to one of the trees. Then we looked around for a bin to dispose of the containers. We ended up carrying them around with us until we finally asked Antoine why there weren’t any bins. He explained that bins were removed after the terrorism in 2015 since they were great places to hide a bomb. The only bin was just outside the gardens and it was filled to overflowing.
We drove past the vast complex of the Louvre Museum. The ship offered a group outing to the Louvre for €89 per person. You can buy tickets online for €15, but I suppose you don’t get a guide or transport. Still, after yesterday’s scrum at Versailles we didn’t even think about it.
Napoleon’s tomb is situated in the chapel dominating les Invalides, a complex of museums relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans. It was initially built on the orders of Louis XIV to house injured and aged soldiers, hence the name. But his largesse didn’t extend as far as mingling with veterans. The chapel was his own private church.
Antoine explained that the French are divided about Napoleon. On the one hand, he created their administrative system. On the other, he invaded everybody. The Napoleonic Wars went from 1803 t0 1815, but, as a result of the French Revolution, France had been at war since 1792 with Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. When Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Europe was exhausted, its lands devastated, a whole generation dead. It took decades for Europe to recover.
We drove through the streets of the Latin Quarter clustered around the famous Sorbonne University. It’s called the Latin quarter because in medieval times education was conducted in Latin. I remember the student riots at the Sorbonne in 1968 (my first year at UWA).
The bus passed by the Paris Opera House, another confection of gold and statuary. Antoine disappointed some of us by explaining that there was no phantom of the opera. But there is a lake under the building.
We couldn’t (of course) visit Notre Dame on her island in the Seine but to Antoine’s delight driver Crystal took us as close as she could. He talked about local feelings when the great cathedral caught fire. Notre Dame is like the beating heart of Paris, a much-loved Grande Dame. He was relieved that the worst damage was to the wooden ceiling, which will be replaced. He’s looking forward to her complete restoration in the next decade. He was sorry to tell us that Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, is a fictional character.
I was privileged to see the Cathedral in all its glory all those years ago. Some of the medieval glass in the windows was destroyed in the war, although fortunately not the rose windows. We seem to have lost the art of making stained glass. New glass doesn’t have the inner glow of the centuries-old stuff. It seems that as the German forces closed in on Paris in 1940, the rose windows were hurriedly dismantled and the pieces hidden. After the war, the windows were painstakingly reconstructed like a complicated jigsaw puzzle. May they live on for future generations.
Of course, we had to stop at the Eiffel Tower for selfies etc. One couple asked Antoine to take their picture. He had a wonderful time, hamming it up to get the right angle.
The last part of our Paris overview was a drive down the Champs Elysee. You’ll find only the best brands for sale down this shopping street – Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuiton, Dior, McDonalds, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Raulent. Further along, both sides of the road were lined with temporary grandstands in preparation for the end of the Tour de France the following day, when we would be off to catch the train to Lyon.
If you’re new to this journey and want to find other parts of the trip, go to France 2022. That page has all the posts.