Champs-Elysées Walking Tour

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Champs-Elysées Walking Tour

Place Charles de Gaulle Etoile - Ave. des Champs-Elysées - Rond Point - Ave. Montaigne - Place de l'Alma - Ave. Montaigne - Ave des Champs-Elysées - Place de la Concorde

This is the basic walking tour for Paris. It is impossible to get lost. It passes or offers glimpses of just about everything in the city. It works with experienced or inexperienced teachers, with student or with adult groups. The walk is fairly long but can be broken up with a picnic or some shopping time. You need to allow maybe two and a half to three hours if you want to pace it slowly and take your time. It is best done in the daytime. You will be to a large extent repeating what you see on the city sightseeing tour, but seen from a different perspective and at a different pace. It also gives you the chance to exercise your finest rhetorical skills and show off gloriously to the group. Little or no historical information is given below. You will have that from your local guide. You should concentrate on those other aspects, gossip, titbits, incidental information which will not have already been covered on your tour. The following is just intended to be a random selection of such stuff. Embellish at your leisure. The Guide du Routard is an indispensable source for this sort of thing.

From métro Charles de Gaulle-Etoile take the passage souterrain to the Arc de Triomphe. Give the group a few minutes to look around for themselves, explaining the layout of the rond-point and the twelve radiating avenues before speaking about the arch itself. A couple of points are worth raising though generally there is really very little to say in terms of factual information. It should be more than enough for any group simply to look in awe.

The twelve avenues of the Etoile were laid out by Hausmann as the centrepiece of his great redesign of Paris in the mid C19.

The Place Charles de Gaulle is the only place in the world where no car insurance policy is valid. In the event of an accident, all parties pay, dividing the costs equally between them.

It is approximately two and a half miles between the Arc de Triomphe and Concorde.

Arc de Triomphe  It was built between 1806 and 1836 in commemoration of Napoleon's victories. At the time of completion it was the largest monument of its kind in the world.

This arch would fit twice inside the Grande Arche de la Défense about 4 miles to the west.

The names inscribed on the inside walls of the pillars represent either Napoleon's battles or his generals. Those generals whose names are underlined died in action.

The tomb of the unknown soldier, instituted in 1923, lies underneath the centre of the arch. Every day at 4.30pm the eternal flame is rekindled. On Armistice Day, 11 November, the French President lays a wreath. On 14 July the huge military parade begins here, a tricolor is unfurled and hung from the ceiling inside the arch. It is worth mentioning at this point how the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées serve as a focus for France and French nationalism. When the French recently won the World Cup, the Champs-Elysées was the scene of the biggest party of them all. The Tour de France ends here. All military parades concentrate on this one street. The list goes on.

Champs-Elysées  Traditionally, the Champs-Elysées has always been the most splendid and elegant avenue in Europe, possibly in the world. A few years ago, with the asphyxiating invasion of the car and with the opening up of the RER Charles de Gaulle, the hoi polloi began to invade, somehow degrading this uniquely glorious avenue. In an attempt to recreate the status quo and as part of President Mitterand's grands projets, the Champs-Elysées underwent a maginficent process of restoration. Pavements were doubled in width and paved in a beautiful marble, another avenue of plane (or sycamore) trees was planted, buildings were restored and cleaned, and cars were sent to underground parkings. The Champs-Elysées has now successfully reclaimed its natural place as the greatest street in the world.

The McDonald's 'McDo' here is the only one in the world whose golden arches are not golden, but in fact white. This is because the administrative body responsible for the appearance of the Champs-Elysées felt that the characteristic bright colours would somehow lower the tone.

The Mercedes-Benz showroom is also a boutique. If you have a car loving group, which is inevitable, some may want to sit in the cars, which they do allow. The group can also buy models of the whole Mercedes range, Mercedes bicycles and all associated paraphernalia etc. The boys love it.

The Lido is one of the five great cabarets of Paris. (The others are the Moulin Rouge, the Crazy Horse, the Paradis Latin and the Folies-Bergères.)

Le Queen night club is one of the most notorious in Paris. The lady on the door, who is formidable and whose name is Sandrine, selects who may or may not enter. The clientele is both gay and straight. The music is house.

Here cross over to the other side of the Champs-Elysées.

Fouquet's is one of the most celebrated and the most expensive of all the Parisian cafes (followed by the Café de la Paix near the Opera and the Cafe des Deux Magots on the Blvd. St. Germain). Women are not allowed in here unless accompanied by at least one man. The parties for the French equivalent of the Oscars, the Césars, are always held here. Notice the tiled golden entrance to the cafe on which each brick is inscribed with the names of the winners. Gérard Depardieu seems to appear about 15 times. Alain Delon is there, as is Brigitte Bardot. Kirk Douglas is even there. If you were to sit on the terrace of this cafe, you would be paying something in the region of $15 for a coke, with absolutely no chance of a refill, an attitude of utter disdain on the part of the waiter, and one cube of ice if you're lucky.

Opposite Fouquet's on the corner of the Ave Georges V is the brand new flagship store of Louis Vuitton which is spectacular to have a brief glance at. Here it is worth taking the shortest of detours down the Ave Georges V to see the Crazy Horse Cabaret with its decorative doormen, and one of the most beautiful hotels in Paris, the Georges V. (This, incidentally, is where the movie French Kiss, with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan, was filmed.)

The next section of the Champs-Elysées, between here and the Rond-Point, is just commercial and of no particular interest. They might want to walk down here on their own and at their own pace. Apart from some gorgeous shopping arcades like the Galerie du Claridge, there are a couple of places worth pointing out. The Virgin Megastore is beautiful and has everything, including loos and a really nice cafe for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Planet Hollywood is next door to the Galerie du Claridge.

Rond Point des Champs-Elysees  The guide may already have mentioned this but, if not, you should tell the group that the fountains here were made by René Lalique. The layout of the rond-point was by Le Nôtre, the head gardener at Versailles. This is exactly halfway down the Champs-Elysées. The tone of the avenue now changes from the commercial to the formal. At any rate you turn off right here to walk the avenue Montaigne.

Avenue Montaigne  Pretty much every single fashion house in the world is represented on this avenue. It ranges from the French giants like Dior, Chanel and Christian Lacroix to international couturiers like Calvin Klein and DKNY. (Next door to the main Dior store is Baby Dior, the only one in the world.) You are sure to see the most luxurious of luxury cars and the beauest of the beau monde.

Place de l'Alma  The most striking feature of this square is the Flamme de la Liberté, given to France by the International Herald Tribune in 1989 in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Revolution. It is an exact replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty. Now it seems to have become an unofficial monument to Princess Diana who was killed in the underpass straight in front of you. There are always tributes, flowers, messages, whatever it may be. People love it.

From here you have a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. At some point on the square - keep an eye out for it - you also have a view of the Sacré-Coeur and the hill of Montmartre. Unless the trees are in the way you have a view as well on to the dome of the Invalides (though you will have a much better sight of this later on).

Return to the Champs-Elysées by the avenue Montaigne again, this time on the other side of the road. It is absolutely not repeating the walk because of the myriad haute couture boutiques on both sides of the road.

Champs-Elysées  Skirt the rond-point to the right side of the Champs-Elysées as you descend towards the Place de la Concorde. At this point it just becomes a beautiful stroll. Rather than take the pavement it is a pleasure to walk a little through the parks on your way to the Place Clemenceau. Here you have a marvellous view on to the Grand and Petit Palais. These two exhibition halls were built for the World Expo of 1900. From the Place Clemenceau looking between these buildings the perspective is magnificent on to the Pont Alexandre III, also built for the same world expo, and across the Seine to the Esplanade and Hôtel des Invalides.

Here cross over again to the other side of the avenue and stroll a little through the informal, flower-strewn gardens of the Elysée Palace. This building, which lies more or less hidden behind trees, is the residence of the President of France. Hence the armed policemen. The Espace Pierre Cardin is a chic eatery and a space used for fashion shows, owned by Pierre Cardin who also owns Maxim's. You are now at the bottom of the Champs-Elysées standing in front of the splendidly bombastic set piece of the Place de la Concorde.

Place de la Concorde  In front of you is Paris' oldest monument, the Obelisk of Luxor. It was given to France in the 1830s by Muhammed Ali, viceroy of Egypt. It is 3,300 years old, dating from the reign of Rameses II. You need to point out the complete panorama from left to right: the American Embassy, of which you can only really see the flag; the Hotel Crillon, perhaps the poshest hotel in Paris; the Hotel de la Marine, the headquarters of the French navy; the Jeu de Paume, with its temporary exhibitions of modern art; the Jardins des Tuileries and the Arc du Caroussel du Louvre with the Louvre pyramid behind it; the Orangerie with the nymphéas of Monet; the Musée d'Orsay; the Chambre des Députés, and the dome of the Invalides. And when you turn around, the extraordinary perspective of the whole length of the Champs-Elysées.

There is nothing except possibly the weather or an exhausted group to stop you from continuing this walk to its natural culmination: through the Tuileries as far as the Louvre and the métro Palais-Royal.

Paris est un véritable océan. Parcourez-le, décrivez-le, il s'y rencontrera toujours un lieu vierge, un antre inconnu, des fleurs, des perles , des monstres, quelque chose d'inouï.

Honoré de Balzac

Everything you always wanted to know about the Eiffel Tower  You will obviously pass by the Eiffel Tower as part of your guided tour make at least one photo stop (at the Trocadéro or the Ecole Militaire or both). The guide will give all the necessary information. Even so, you will definitely be returning one evening either for dinner or to go to the top, and any more exciting facts and figures you can dispense are always welcome. You don't need to know any of this but there is fun to be had with this sort of stuff:

How tall is it? 984 ft when first built, 1051 ft now with the addition of the TV transmitter. Until 1930 when it was superseded by the Chrysler Building in New York, it was the world's tallest building.
How high is the first floor? 187 ft
And the second? 377 ft
And the third? 899 ft
How many steps are there to the top? 1,665
How much did it cost? 8,000,000 francs
How long did it take to build? 2 years and 2 months
How many construction workers? 270
How many construction accidents? None
How many pieces of steel? 18,038 (excluding rivets)
How many screws and nails? 7,000,000
How many rivets? 2,550,000
How much does it weigh? Just over 10,000 tons in total
How much downward force does it exert? About the same per square inch as an average man sitting on a chair
How many visitors per year? About 5,000,000 these days
And in total so far? About 180,000,000
How far can you see on a clear day? Between 35 and 40 miles in each direction
How often is it repainted? Every 7 years
How much paint does it require? Between 35 and 40 tons
What happens in extreme heat? It expands by up to 7 inches
And in extreme cold? It shrinks by up to 6 inches
And in high winds? It can sway up to 5 inches
How is it lit? By 352 1000-watt lamps
Have there been any suicides? 369 according to the police; 349 according to the Tower authorities (1995 figures)
Any unconventional ascents or descents? Many, including in 1923 when a journalist rode down from the first floor on a bicycle; in 1954 when it was scaled by a mountaineer, and in 1985 when two English parachutists jumped off the top. Nowadays every year the best mountain bikers in France cycle down in a race from the top.


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