Paris

On The Road Travel Essays

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Paris

La reine du monde
 

VITAL STATISTICS

Population: Central Paris (intra-muros, 2000): 2,125,246
Paris and its surroundings (Ile de France): 10,925,011
Mayor of Paris: Bertrand Delanoe
Cost of a taxi from the airport: 45 euros approx.
Cost of dinner for one in a restaurant: 15 euros or more.
Currency conversion: 1 euro = 1.10 USD

PRACTICAL STUFF

The sun is out, the sky is blue, there ain't a cloud to spoil the view  But it may be raining. The weather in Paris is fairly unpredictable. The average annual temperature hovers around 55°F. It can reach up to 90°F in August and can fall below 30°F in January. Skies are cloudy more often than not, and you are as likely to hit rain in June or October as you are in February or April. Humidity is rarely high and use of air conditioning is not widespread, although this is changing. This at least should give you an idea:

March  Temperature 40°F to 55°F
Rainfall 1.5"
Daily hours sunshine 4.5

April  Temperature 44°F to 60°F
Rainfall 2"
Daily hours sunshine 5.5

May  Temperature 50°F to 68°F
Rainfall 2.5"
Daily hours sunshine 7

June  Temperature 55°F to 73°F
Rainfall 2"
Daily hours sunshine 7.5

July  Temperature 59°F to 78°F
Rainfall 2.5"
Daily hours sunshine 7.5

Synchronize your watches  France is 6 hours ahead of E.S.T. If it's 8:00am in Washington D.C., it's 2:00pm in Paris. France is in the same time zone as its continental neighbors (Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany) but is one hour ahead of Great Britain.

Money, money, money  The French Franc is dead, long live the Euro! As in the rest of Europe, the best way to get euros is to withdraw money from a bank ATM using your ATM card. If you are using traveler's checks or carrying dollars, change your money at a bureau de change. They offer better deals than banks, where the rates are worse and they can take forever. In Paris, banks generally close on Saturdays, but are open on Mondays. (It's the other way round in the provinces.) The main American Express office is located on the rue Scribe (Métro Opéra). It is open on Saturdays as well as weekdays. You can get much better rates, however, in small independent places. The best bureaux de change in Paris are to be found in the Opera area (the one next to the Fragonard museum on rue Scribe for example) or on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, near the Hard Rock Cafe (Métro Grand Boulevards).

Service compris  Rules for tipping are easy in France. The basic deal is you don't have to do it. All through France, a 15% service charge is included on bar and restaurant checks ("service compris"). You are not obliged to leave any more. You should round up the fare a little in a taxi and give a little extra to a hairdresser, but no one will raise an eyebrow if you don't. You should give a small tip (50 cents or a euro) if you want to be nice or if the service is especially good.

Round, round, get around, I get around  Like any other European city, Paris is best explored on foot. You can't avoid it. But Paris is also too big even for the most dedicated pedestrian to discover without recourse to public transport. So take the weight off your feet. Raise weary Parisian eyebrows at passing taxis. And forget the buses. The Paris Métro is the way to go.

Buying the Tickets  The Paris Métro is pleasantly inexpensive. If you are there for only a couple of days, your best bet is to buy a carnet of 10 tickets, which costs 10 euros. This works out at about half the price of buying individual tickets, which are rarely a good idea. If you are staying longer, maybe 3 or 4 days to a week, the best, most convenient and most economical thing to do is to buy a Carte Orange. Make sure you buy a weekly one (coupon hébdomadaire). This is valid from Monday through Sunday, but is such good value that it is probably still a money-saving option if you buy it on a Wednesday or Thursday. You may want to consider a Paris-Visite metro pass, which is specially designed for tourists and available in various denominations. You can buy all tickets, from single journey tickets to a Carte Orange, either at any Métro station or at your local Tabac. For a Carte Orange you need a passport-sized photo.

Using the Métro System  This is easy, but don't try to follow it without a Métro map in front of you. All you really need to know is where you are and where you are going. Say you've been strolling through the Quartier Latin, in the footsteps of students from the Sorbonne, nonchalant, intellectual, philosophical, free. You find yourself at the Fontaine St-Michel, shops, cafés and crowds to the left and right, the River Seine and the towers of the Notre-Dame ahead of you. A little incongruously maybe, but a tune is running through your head. Allez bébé, light my fire, you begin to sing. It's time to go to Père-Lachaise Cemetery to pay a little homage to Jim Morrison. Too far to walk, it's the Métro to the rescue. Just across the road from the fountain you spot a sign with the letter M, indicating Métro station. Over you go, down the escalators and into the world of the Parisian underground. Take out that map. You're at St-Michel, headed for Père-Lachaise. Quickly you discover that St-Michel is on Line 4, the fuchsia one, running between the two terminuses Porte d'Orléans and Porte de Clignancourt. Père-Lachaise is nowhere to be seen. Your eyes glance right as you search across the map, and there it appears finally, at the junction of two lines, the blue one running between Porte Dauphine and Nation, and the olive-colored one from Mairie de Montreuil and Pont de Levallois-Bécon. You'll have to make a connection. No problem. Tracing north along the map with your finger from St-Michel along the fuchsia line in the direction of Porte de Clignancourt, you see that it intersects with the olive line at Réaumur-Sébastopol. Bingo. At Réaumur-Sébastopol, all you'll have to do is connect with the olive line going in the direction of Mairie de Montreuil and, as if by magic, you will arrive at your desired destination of Père-Lachaise. The research is over. Now for the real thing. Important note: Keep your ticket until you exit the métro!!

Take out one of the tickets from the carnet you just bought at the station or earlier at your local Tabac, insert it in a ticket machine, pick it up and don't lose it. Follow the signs to Line 4, direction Porte de Clignancourt. Wait on the platform a couple of minutes, et voilà. There's usually a knob on the train door to pull upwards. The doors open and in you go. Next stop Cité, then Châtelet, Les Halles, Etienne Marcel and finally Réaumur-Sébastopol. Open the doors and step off on to the platform. You need to change trains now and the word to look for is correspondance (connection). Look for the signs saying correspondance (3), direction Mairie de Montreuil, and follow. You will find yourself on the right platform, twiddling your thumbs for no more than a minute or two before the train arrives. Step on and await your destination. Arts et Métiers, Temple, République, Parmentier, St-Maur and Père-Lachaise. Out you get and up into the open air, following the signs saying sortie (exit). You can throw that ticket out now. Jim Morrison is but a few steps away... www.ratp.fr

Postcards from the edge  Most post offices open from 9:00am to 7:00pm Mon-Fri and 8:00am to 12:00 Saturday. The main one in Paris in the rue du Louvre (Métro Les Halles) is open 24 hours. A stamp for a postcard to the States from France costs about 60 cents. Most post offices also offer the same services as banks. Probably much more convenient, though, than looking for your nearest Post Office is buying stamps at your local Tabac. The tobacconist's is almost certainly the most useful shop you will come across during your stay in France. It's a multi-purpose one-stop shop where you can buy stamps, Métro or bus tickets, phonecards, batteries for cameras, just about anything the tourist will need. They are generally open from about 8:00am to 7:00pm. A Bar Tabac will stay open for the same hours as the bar in which it is located.

I just called to say I love you  The golden rule is this: never call home from your hotel room. It will cost you a fortune. Use a public phone booth instead. There are almost no coin phones any more in France. In a public phone you can either use your U.S. calling card or use a French phonecard which you've bought from the local Post Office, a tobacconist's store (Tabac) or in the Métro (50 units 7.50 euros, 120 units 15 euros).

The access code to put you through to an ATT operator from France is 0800 99 00 11. For MCI it is 0800 99 00 19. For Sprint it is 0800 99 00 87.

Home, sweet home  The address of the U.S. Consulate in Paris is:
2, rue Saint Florentin
75001 Paris
Tel. 08.36.70.14.88

SIGHTSEEING STUFF

As soon as you set foot inside the city of Paris, you begin your unconscious sightseeing. You stroll the Grands Boulevards like a king; you take respite among the shady trees that line the streets; you sit under the red awning of a sidewalk cafe among office workers, tourists and sundry passers-by; you cower from the traffic; you sidestep the dogs; you eavesdrop on couples romancing; you take sides with the policeman berating a lunatic motorist; you stop to inhale the fragrance of the local boulangerie; you look in envy at the windows of world-famous shops; you rub shoulders with the rich and poor alike; you marvel at the incessant honking of car horns; you breathe more easily as you contemplate the stately progress of the River Seine and the illuminated boats that ply its length, showing off its proud surroundings to wide-eyed visitors from all over the world. All of a sudden, a view opens up and there in front of you is the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe or the Sacré-Coeur. The time has come to pay a little more attention to some of those great monuments...

Arc de Triomphe  There are triumphal arches to be found all over Europe — in Rome, in Madrid, in London or Berlin, and there are more than a handful in Paris itself — but there are none that compare with this one. It's the biggest, the grandest, the most splendidly situated, the most beautiful. It's the focus of French celebration on July 14th. It's the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It dominates the scene as you stroll or drive the length of the Champs-Elysées, surely the most famous avenue in the world. To absorb its grandeur, stand beneath it. To delight in its spectacular site, climb to the top to take in the view of the twelve magnificent avenues that radiate from the Place de l'Etoile. To know the glory, the splendor and the arrogance of Napoleon, as well as the vast scale of his ambition, study the sculpted friezes on the outside panels and the lists of his victories and generals inscribed on the inner walls. To realize the significance of the Arch for France, be there at 6:30pm to witness the moving daily ceremony of the rekindling of the flame in honor of the Unknown Soldier. Above all, to see the Arc de Triomphe and survive, take the underground tunnel from the Champs-Elysées. Whatever you do, don't try crossing the road in the midst of the craziest traffic you can ever hope to see. (Métro Charles de Gaulle-Etoile) www.monuments-nationaux.fr

The Opéra Garnier  This is yet another of those Parisian landmark buildings that you just can't stop your camera from snapping. It's a spectacular confection from the days of the Second Empire, towards the end of the 19th century, the largest and most extravagantly beautiful opera house in the world. (Nowadays, with the construction of the Opéra Bastille on the other side of town, this old opera house is used only for ballets.) Ever since its inception, it has been a building for seeing and being seen in. Its grand staircase is unbelievable, its chandeliers are dazzling, its foyer is every bit as magnificent as the auditorium itself. There is ornate decoration at every turn. Don't miss the controversial ceiling by Marc Chagall, a delightfully natural counterpoise to the artifice all around. Good luck if you're searching for the Phantom of the Opera, for this is his legendary home (and yes, the underground lake really does exist). The Opéra Garnier is open to the public between 11:00am and 5:00pm every day as long as there aren't any matinee performances. (Métro Opéra) www.opera-de-paris.fr

The Eiffel Tower  This is the symbol of Paris and probably the best-known monument in the world. Don't miss it. Don't let the crowds put you off. Take the elevator to the top just after dusk to see the truth behind Paris' famous nickname, the City of Light. Lit up at night, the Eiffel Tower seems to belong to a dream world. What more is there to say? (Métro Trocadéro or Bir-Hakeim) www.tour-eiffel.fr

How tall is it? 984ft when first built, 1051ft 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? 187ft
And the second? 377ft
And the third? 899ft
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, the best mountain bikers in France cycle down in a race from the top.

The Sainte-Chapelle  Hidden in the inauspicious surroundings of a courtyard of the Law Courts (Palais de Justice) is a jewel of Gothic architecture that will take your breath away. It is the Sainte-Chapelle, built in 1246 by the crusader king Saint Louis as a shrine to house holy relics, notably the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. The chapel is on two levels. From the dark, ill-lit lower level, take the short staircase up to the top and open your eyes to an assortment of stained glass that you can scarcely believe. If it's possible, save your visit for a day when the sun is bright in the sky. The relics may no longer be there, but the astonishing Rose Window and the symphony of 15 tall windows, many of them with their original 13th-century stained glass, are more than sufficient treasure. The windows are supported by columns so slender that masonry seems absent altogether, giving the whole building an incredible, dazzling lightness. (Métro Citéwww.monuments-nationaux.fr

The Conciergerie  Just around the corner from the Sainte-Chapelle on the Ile de la Cité is a forbidding building that was once a palace. It is called the Conciergerie. It is not just forbidding in its architecture, but in the memories of The Terror that it nurtures, for during the French Revolution, this ancient palace became the prison where so many victims of that revolution awaited the attention of Dr. Guillotin's "philanthropic beheading machine". Among the list of names of the guillotined inscribed on a wall in the prison are the legendary figures of Danton and Robespierre, but more famous still, more moving and perhaps even more tragic is the name of Marie-Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI and mother to his children. You can see a reconstruction of the cell in which she lived out her last days in dignity and quiet resignation. (Métro Cité)  www.monuments-nationaux.fr

Montmartre  When you feel like escaping from the formal "capital city" grandeur of downtown Paris, take the Métro to Anvers, walk up the hill a hundred yards or so and look up to the highest point in the city and the curvaceous white outline of the Sacré-Coeur, the oddly incongruous Byzantine-style basilica which dominates the famous hill of Montmartre. Take the steps up if you like or, better still, take the little funicular railway to the base of the church. Turn round and look below you at one of the finest urban panoramas in Europe. Now go up to the Sacré-Coeur past tourists and locals, hawkers and passers-by, to take a glance inside its quietly somber mosaic interior. A few minutes is enough. Now turn right out of the church and make your way round to the main square of Montmartre, the Place du Tertre, whose old-fashioned village charm is still delightfully intact. Stop at one of the cafes or creperies that dot the square, poke around in the souvenir shops, study the works on display of the artists vying to paint your portrait at every turn, absorb the atmosphere of old Paris at its loveliest. Montmartre, the center of artistic activity in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, may have lost something of its bohemian flavor to the demands of tourism, but it remains, daytime or evening, a highlight of any visit to the "City of Light." Incidentally, there's another way to get back down. Take the steep staircase leading down to the Place des Abbesses. In front of you is one of the prettiest of the photogenic Parisian "bouches du métro" or Métro entrances in art nouveau style. There's an elevator to the platforms, but ignore it: take the staircase, spiraling down through a whirlwind of psychedelic painting, one last refuge of the bohemian spirit for which Montmartre has always been famous. (Métro Abbesses or Anvers)

La Cathédrale Notre-Dame  Dominating the Ile de la Cité, the lovely island on the River Seine where Paris was born, is the cathedral of Notre-Dame, one of the noblest monuments in the western world and more than just the cathedral of Paris, almost the cathedral of France itself. For two thousand years there has been a place of worship on this site. The present building, French Gothic architecture at its finest, began its illustrious life in 1163. It was finished in 1250 with the completion of the twin towers. Its points of interest are too many to enumerate here, but don't miss the Great Rose Window with its stunning medieval stained glass, the famously grotesque gargoyles, the soaring elegance of the flying buttresses, the sculpted portals, or the delicate tracery surrounding the windows. Almost every great figure from French history or legend is intimately connected with this place, from Henri IV who converted to Catholicism here, through Napoleon Bonaparte who crowned himself Emperor here, to Victor Hugo's immortal creation, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame himself. Immerse yourself in a little French culture in the place which marks its finest achievements. (Métro Cité)

Cimetière Père-Lachaise  In 1971, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, made his way to this wonderfully atmospheric cemetery and last resting place of the great and famous to pay homage to one of his heroes, the great Irish poet and legendary wit Oscar Wilde. A few weeks later, Morrison was found dead in the bath of his Paris apartment. He, too, came to be buried in Père Lachaise. Now it's his grave that people flock to. While you're there, look out for some of the other great names that grace this venerable cemetery, including such luminaries as Abélard and Héloïse, Molière, Balzac, Ingres, Delacroix, Chopin, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. (Métro Père-Lachaise)

The Catacombs  If you're looking for something even more offbeat, head under the ground to these ancient Gallo-Roman quarries. Picture Paris in the 18th century, a stinking, unsanitary place where you could trip merrily among the festering bodies and sundry bones left over from makeshift cemeteries dotted at random throughout the city. OK, so that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but anyway, in the late 18th century someone came up with the bright idea of cleaning up the city by relocating these cemeteries underground among the miles of disused quarries to the south of Paris. The Catacombs were created, a macabre and unique place made up of endless corridors of bone chapels. The idea was to rationalize and sanitize the Parisian way of death, and at the same time to create a place of contemplation where people could muse on the transient nature of human life on earth. Among the countless thousands of skulls, ribs, ulnas, radiuses, femurs, tibias, fibulas, scapulas, pelvic bones and humeri are the remains of Danton and Robespierre. One little caution: don't go if you're claustrophobic. Inscribed at the entrance to one of the corridors is a warning line from Dante's Inferno: "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate" or, in English, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." (Métro Denfert-Rochereau) www.catacombes.paris.fr

Le Panthéon  This majestic church was built by the architect Soufflot during the reign of Louis XV and dedicated to the city's patron, Sainte Geneviève, but fell on hard times during the Revolution when anti-clerical tides forced its closing. Instead, the Constituent Assembly decided it should be made a pantheon to provide burial places for the great souls of the Nation. Marat was interred here for a short time — until he fell from public favour — and later the tombs of Hugo, Zola, Braille, Rousseau and Voltaire were added. About the later two, the disturbed Archbishop of Paris once wrote to Napoleon III that the church's congregation was uncomfortable worshipping in the presence of two atheists. The Emperor, famous for his trenchant humor, responded "Come now, how do you think those atheists felt in the presence of your believers?" The Pantheon is also interesting for its severely classical architecture which you can study anytime between 10.00 and 18.00 daily. Admission, including entrance to the crypt, is set at 10FF but this is reduced to 5FF on Sundays. Take the Metro to Luxembourg or Maubert-Mutualité. Don't forget to have a look around the back side of the Pantheon as well — there you will see a jewel of Flamboyant Gothic architecture in the church of St-Etienne-du-Mont.

La Madeleine  The sweeping view of the Madeleine from the Place de la Concorde is nothing short of spectacular and that was precisely how Napoleon had envisioned this monument to the glory of his armies — but when the General fell from power and public favor, a building of this sort was a bit of an embarrassment. In discussing its fate, it was even proposed that the Madeleine be converted into a train station, however, with the establishment of the Second Empire, Napoleon's reputation was reinstated and his nephew, Napoleon III, sponsored the conversion of the building into a church in the honor of Mary Magdalen; after all, she too had sinned and been forgiven. A prime exemplary of Greek revival architecture, the Madeleine can be visited from 7.00 to 19.00 daily. Should you wish to photograph the interior, permission must be obtained in the sacristy. Metro to Madeleine.

The Sewers of Paris  In the mood for some really off-beat sightseeing? The sewers of Paris are for you. You will be taken on a guided visit of the labyrinthine network laid out in the last century by Belgrand through which the city's refuse passes on its way to the farm country. The entrance is on the Place de la Concorde near the statue representing Lille. The sewers can be visited every Monday and Wednesday and the last Saturday of the month from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. They are closed on holidays and one day before and after holidays. The nearest metro is Concorde.

Le Jardin des Plantes  Had enough of the sights? Unwind in the delighful surroundings of Paris' botanical garden. There is a charming menagerie which once hosted Europe's first giraffe — gift from Egypt in l827 —nd a very interesting reptile house. During the Franco-Prussian War most of the stock here was taken to feed the starving city under seige —ven diners at famous Chez Maxim were gnawing on elephant steak for a while — but now things are back to normal and the Jardin des Plantes can be visited daily from 7.00 to 19.30. Metro to Austerlitz or Jussieu.

No city in the world has more to offer in the way of nocturnal diversions than Paris — from cultural entertainment like the Opéra and the Comédie Française to the bawdy spectacles of the cabarets, the Ville-Lumière has it all. To find out what's on while you are there, you can consult any newspaper or one of the programme booklets — namely Praiscope, Officiel des Spectacles or 7 A Paris — on sale at all newsstands. In addition, the tourist board has an entertainment hotline in service around the clock which you can reach by dialing 720-8898.

Les Bateaux-Mouches  To the first visitors to the Eiffel Tower in 1889, from high above in the crow's nest, the lantern-decked barges which ferried tourists across the Seine looked like tiny fireflies flitting back and forth across the water. They called them Bateaux-Mouches then and, although now they are enormous glass-enclosed cruisers, the name has stuck and they still ply up and down the river providing tourists with magnificent vistas of the illuminated monuments of Paris on either side. The boats leave every half hour until 10:30 from the Pont de l'Alma on the Right Bank.

Son et Lumière at Les Invalides  Seeing the historic sights of Paris will make you wish you had brushed up on your French history before departure — but it's not too late. In fact, for a very enjoyable and informative lesson on Napoleon and his empire in the most ideal of settings, you might want to catch a performance of Sound and Light in the courtyard of Les Invalides. The show is done twice nightly and brilliant illuminations highlight details of the magnificent classical architecture while narrators recount the victories and defeats of Corsica's most famous son. Tickets can be purchased on the spot at a small kiosk at the Place des Invalides entrance. Call 720-8898 for program information. Metro to Invalides or Varennes.

An evening in Montmartre  Travelogue film-inspired ideas of Paris always include images of impoverished painters with spattered smocks and floppy berets. If that's what you were expecting you will be disappointed — unless of course you budget some evening time for a visit to Montmartre. There you will see a whole colony of artists in full force, every one of them trying to convince you to let them paint your portrait, sketch your portrait, cut your portrait or etch your portrait. It's all a bit touristy but still lots of fun so head for the Place du Tertre — the one-time market square of a little village far-removed from Paris at its vantage point atop the hill of Montmartre. Far-removed, that is, until artists like van Gogh and Gauguin, fleeing from the artistic constraints of the Paris Academy, decided to move in. Following them was a whole flock of painters anxious to capture the picturesque vistas and plays of light which the place afforded. Maybe you will run into one of their descendants! To get there you must first tackle the hill named in honor of one of the city's patrons, Saint Denis. According to the legend, St. Denis was a bishop sent from Rome to christianize barbaric Parisians. He wasn't received too well — in fact, he was beheaded — but when he took his severed head into his hands and walked around the city, more than a few people were convinced and St. Denis has since been credited with the conversion of France. To reach the base of the mound of the martyr, take the Metro to Anvers, walk straight toward the hill until you reach a funicular station on your right. For one metro ticket, you can take one of the frequent departures of the funicular. At the top, your first visit should be to the church of Sacré-Coeur — this bizarre structure which combines elements of Byzantine, Gothic and Romanesque architecture was built by the state as retribution to God and the people for the folly of the Franco-Prussian War. It is a pilgimage church and is therefore open around the clock.

The Paris Cabarets  In the days of the Grand Tour, Paris was the first stop for sheltered young English aristocrats fresh to the Continent. They were shocked and amazed, but more often amused, by the naughtiness of the French capital and, despite what Samuel Johnson said, were soon convinced that Paris was the city which possessed all that life afforded — including the most risque cabarets ever to be seen! On any night, in music halls like the famed Moulin Rouge, they could run into a handful of barons from the Balkans or perhaps the King of Bavaria incognito while they snatched a glimpse at the ankles of pretty dancers doing bawdy can-cans. The tradition of the Cabaret has continued and these days the shows are elaborate international revues with famous singers and dancers and lots of Parisian beauties clothed in sequins and feathers and not much else. Done with impeccable taste, the shows should be seen by everyone who desires a real slice of Continental life. The most famous and oldest of the revues is the Moulin Rouge where highlights include a dolphin tank which appears magically from the orchestra and Hollywood extravaganza-style numbers. Other favourites include the Folies-Bergère or the Lido de Paris with its world-famous chorus line of blond-haired, blue-eyed Brits called the Bluebells. There's just one catch, all of the cabarets charge high prices — in the neighbourhood of 275FF — but that usually includes a half-bottle of Champagne and you are guaranteed an evening you will never forget.

MUSEUM STUFF

There are so many fabulous museums in Paris that it's hard to choose which ones to visit and which ones to save for your next trip. The Orangerie, the Musée Rodin, the Musée Picasso, the Musée de Cluny, the Modern Art Museum in the Centre Pompidou and countless others are world class. The Louvre is in a league of its own and the Musée d'Orsay is a must. First, a brief description of the best of the rest, premier attractions in any other city and then a little passports walking tour through the treasures of the top two...

Musée de l'Orangerie  This charming little pavilion is home to Claude Monet's huge canvasses of water lilies, Les Nymphéas. Painted towards the very end of his life, they encapsulate his search for the fleeting effects of light. Uniquely, they are displayed in the very place where they were painted. A visit to this museum complements an excursion to Monet's house and gardens at Giverny perfectly. This small and under-visited museum also contains a fine collection of 19th — and 20th-century French painting, including works by Rousseau, Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse and Picasso. (Métro Concorde)

Musée Rodin  The splendid villa which houses this museum was built in 1728 by a wigmaker made good. In the course of its history it has been a dance hall, a convent and a high school. Around the turn of this century, the sculptor Auguste Rodin went to live there and, since his death in 1917, the house has been a museum to his art. Even visitors who are not connoisseurs of Rodin will be impressed with the prolific array of works including familiar ones like the Thinker, the Ugolino Group and the Kiss, all of which were cast as part of a Herculean project for a monumental door known as the Gate of Hell, a magnificent sculptural homage to the Italian writer Dante and his great work The Inferno. (Métro Varennes).

L'Hôtel des Invalides  This former military hospital and its adjoining church of St-Louis des Invalides together form one of Paris' most impressive architectural set pieces. The Hôtel des Invalides now houses the largest military museum in the world. The church houses the tombs of some of France's greatest military heroes, including the most conspicuous military figure of them all, the Little Corporal, the fiery Corsican, Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. For many visitors, this monumental sepulcher, in a crypt directly beneath Mansart's splendid gilded dome, is the highlight of the visit. His remains lie within six coffins sheathed in a sarcophagus of red porphyry marble brought from Russia. For others, the vast array of exhibits relating to France's military history, concentrating on the age of Napoleon but stretching from the time of Charlemagne to W.W.II, is the main attraction. (Métro Invalides). www.musee-armee.fr

Musée Picasso  This museum, housed in a magnificent 17th-century townhouse in the historic Marais district (the Hôtel Salé at 5, rue de Thorigny), contains a vast selection of works donated directly by the great Spanish artist to the French nation, some 200 paintings, 88 ceramics and over 3,000 drawings and lithographs. This is the finest collection of Picasso's work that you can hope to see. Among the highlights are the drawings for his ground-breaking Cubist masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. You can also get an idea of Picasso's personal tastes in art — the museum contains his collection of works by other artists he admired, such as Cézanne, Braque or Rousseau. (Métro St-Paul)

Musée du Moyen Age — Thermes de Cluny  The Romans were everywhere, and Paris, or Lutétia as they called it, was no exception. In fact, in Paris, as in any other town they built, they constructed forums, theaters, libraries, bathhouses and all the other accouterments of civilization Roman-style. The remains of the baths are still in existence and you can see them by visiting this magnificent little museum. Actually, while the collection of medieval treasures, including the famous Unicorn Tapestries is exceptional, perhaps the building itself is even more so. On the half-submerged ruins of the 3rd-century baths, a medieval Burgundian order of monks built an abbey. Within the crenelated walls of this building the likes of Mary Tudor and Mazarin once sojourned. It was later bought by a surgeon who used the oratory as a dissection theater. Afterwards, it was bought by the Ministry of the Navy which converted it into an observatory. Since l844, the Abbey of Cluny has been a museum to the arts and crafts of the Middle Ages and if you are anxious for a break from the hustle and bustle, few places in Paris are as tranquil and restorative as the shady cloisters and cool galleries of this place. (Métro Cluny-La Sorbonne) www.musee-moyenage.fr

Centre Pompidou  Paris is certainly one of the most beautiful historic cities in the world, but it has never been content to sit on its laurels and preserve its ancient beauty in aspic. Every generation has added to the cultural glories of France's capital. In the 1970s, President Georges Pompidou wanted to leave his mark in the form of a vast avant-garde arts center dedicated to the modern cultural world. Even though the Pompidou Center is now over 25 years old, it still shocks when you see it. All its support systems — water pipes, air-conditioning ducts and support beams for example — are shamelessly exposed to view. The center, gleaming once again after recent restoration, contains the national collection of twentieth century art, a library, a roof-top self-service restaurant with good food and even better prices, and a fantastic gift shop where you can purchase the best in art books, posters, post cards and the like. As Pompidou wanted, the square in front is the scene of a constant street fair with performers, musicians and artists doing their share to create some vibrant local color. The Modern Art Museum vies with the one in New York for the honor of being the world's finest. (Métro Rambuteau) www.centrepompidou.fr

Musée du Grand Louvre  Catherine de' Medici thought it a barbaric place to live and her fellow countryman, the architect Gianlorenzo Bernini, when asked his opinion on the remodeling of the first fortress-like structure of the Louvre, declared that — with four years time and permission to raze the structure to the ground — he might be able to do something. Nevertheless, the Louvre has been the scene of more definitive moments in the history of France than any other building except the Château de Versailles. By the time of Louis XVI, large parts of the royal art collection were brought in and the building was opened to the public as the very first museum in the world. Even now, few museums can compare. Art treasures in the Louvre number in the hundreds of thousands and more are in storage than on display. Of those you can see, there are such unforgettable masterpieces as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Vénus de Milo and Mona Lisa. It is useless to hope that the Louvre can be seen or appreciated in one visit — a five hour cram session in the history of world art will leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. The best course of action, if it's feasible, is to break your visit to the Louvre into a few one to two hour segments. On the first visit concentrate just on the masterpieces — any one of the many excellent picture guidebooks on sale in the ground floor giftshop will help you make your selection and pinpoint them and is also a great souvenir of your visit. The next times around concentrate on one particular period which interests you — Egyptian, for example, if mummies are your thing. Or, in deference to the French, you might head to the Grande Galerie on the first floor where one masterpiece after another will vie for your attention — Poussin, Le Brun, Claude Lorrain, Watteau, Rigaud, Fragonard, Boucher and a cast of thousands in a mind-boggling assortment. Another visit might be dedicated to the Flemish school and the highlight of that collection — Rubens' series of gigantic canvases recounting the most memorable moments of the life of Catherine de' Medici. Having approached the Louvre in this manner, you won't be able to say you have seen it all — but what you have seen will become all the more meaningful. And there is always next year! The Louvre is open daily except Tuesdays from 9:45am to 6:30pm. Try to avoid bringing bulky packages along as you will invariably have to check them in and this will slow things up. (Métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre)

For any information not provided here on the topic of Parisian events, sightseeing, activities, etc., consult www.parisinfo.com.

SHOPPING STUFF

You're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!  Don't bother looking for an American-style mall. Malls do exist in France but since they require so much space they are nearly always out in the suburbs or the edge of town. They are frequently anchored by a large chain supermarché or hypermarché such as Auchan or Carrefour. The nearest equivalent to an American-style mall, called Centre Commercial in France, is located at La Défense. The Forum des Halles, located above the RER-Metro interchange at Les Halles, is another possibility. But why bother; prices are no lower and variety no wider than in the multitude of shops and boutiques to be found lining the streets in downtown Paris. And what greater pleasure than sauntering in and out of little boutiques, dodging busy Parisians dashing home with baguettes under their arms and mobile phones in their hands, a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and knowing that you just might bump into Sophie Marceau coming out of the traiteur (deli )? Paris is a joy to shop in because nearly everywhere you go there are always all kinds of stores and boutiques to peer into and browse around in. Paris is different from London, for example, in that the majority of stores are small and independently owned, with far fewer chain stores, and more diversity.

The Seine river runs through the city of Paris dividing it into two roughly equal halves most commonly referred to as the Rive Droite or Right Bank and the Rive Gauche or Left Bank. The inspiration for such denominations is purely logical; if you were to stand on a bridge overlooking the river in the direction it flows — which is westward — on your right hand would be the Right Bank on your left, the Left Bank. Nevertheless, these names mean much more to the Parisian. Right bank conjures images of wealth, elegance and sophistication while the Left Bank signifies the avant-garde, intellectuality and a bohemian approach to life. These ideas are reflected in every aspect of life on the respective banks and especially in the approach to fashion. Therefore, no Parisian shopping foray can be considered completed until a few bridges are crossed.

Starting at the top  Since the days of powdered wigs and crinoline skirts, all the world has looked to Paris as the Grande Dame of Haute Couture and although these days Milan, London and New York provide lots of serious competition, the French designers still come out on top where elegance and sophistication are concerned. All of the great fashion houses are located on the Right Bank — most of them along one street — the rue du Faubourg St-Honoré — where they are in good company: the Embassies of Great Britain and Japan and the Presidential Palace all front on Paris' most elegant thoroughfare. Prices here are as celestial as the merchandise but that won't stop you from some high-style window shopping at the boutiques of designers like Hermès, Lanvin, Pierre Cardin, Louis Féraud, Yves Saint-Laurent and Gianni Versace. Even Maxim's has a boutique where you can purchase tableware and food from the famous restaurant around the corner. Most shops and boutiques here — as throughout the city — are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00am to noon then again from 2:00pm to 6:30pm or 7:00pm. The rue du Faubourg St-Honoré runs almost parallel to the Champs-Elysees and is a short walk north of it. It crosses rue Royale just in front of the Madeleine and continues eastward — with dozens more exciting shops including the Paris address of Gucci — to the Palais Royal. If your time is limited, concentrate on the section east of Rue Royale. If the Faubourg has only whet your appetite, make for the rond-point des Champs-Elysées; leading south from this busy traffic circle graced with fountains made of Lalique crystal is the Avenue Montaigne where stately 18th century hôtels house the maisons of the creme-de-la-creme of Paris couture. You might run into Princess Stephanie of Monaco on her way to work at Christian Dior or Bianca Jagger loaded down with packages from Hanae Mori. There is not much window shoppinghere nor at nearby Emmanuel Ungaro, Guy Laroche and Nina Ricci for that matter but, if you have got pluck, you can phone up in advance and request an invitation to one of the frequent défilés de mode.

Around the time that Haussmann was drawing up plans for the boulevard that carries his name, glass and cast iron were first being introduced as the new construction tools of the Industrial Revolution. Using these materials meant that buildings could be made larger, more rapidly and at lesser expense. A new boom took place in Paris and along the Boulevard Haussmann, not far from St-Augustin — the only neo-Gothic church in the world with cast iron girders in the place of stone vaulting, arose two of the greatest emporia ever seen. Galeries Lafayette and Printemps were among the very first department stores and soon revolutionized Europe's way of retailing. At Galeries Lafayette and Printemps inclement weather would never pose a problem and patrons could find all of their needs satisfied under one enormous stained glass roof. Today, as well as being Paris traditions, these stores are active forces in the commercial life of the city: all of Paris turns out for the after-Christmas (after 6 January for about two weeks) and end of summer (last week of June through mid-July) soldes. Both stores sprawl through several different buildings but are well-organized with merchandise arranged in small 'boutiques' according to designers. On the ground floors are extremely well-stocked cosmetic departments where discriminating shoppers stock up on make-up and famous label French perfumes at prices substantially lower than in America. As is true in many stores in Paris, in either place you can obtain a VAT refund of up to 20%. The difference here is that it is not too difficult reaching the 800FF minimum since purchases from different departments may be bulked together and there is a central office which processes refund forms quickly and efficiently. Incidentally, remember to have this form handy at departure time from France — it must be turned in then and you may have to present the goods for a customs inspection. Your refund will be mailed to you shortly afterward. Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are neighbors in Boulevard Haussmann and both are served by the metro at Chaussée d'Antin-Lafayette. Most department stores are open Monday through Saturday from 9.00 to 18.30. In addition, one or two evenings a week, they remain open until 21.00 or 22.00. www.galerieslafayette.com and departmentstoreparis.printemps.fr

The Soda Fountain on the corner never looked like this  Maybe it was too many Hollywood movies that caused those Parisian entrepreneurs to go a bit overboard when they set out to recreate an All-American drugstore in the heart of the Ville-Lumière. In fact, their version — appropriately called Le Drugstore — at the top of the Champs-Elysées is five stories high, has more than a hundred departments in which everything from hamburghers to toys are sold and is open from sunrise to long after sunset. Le Drugstore has become so popular with the city's youth and foreign visitors that two clones have been spawned — one further down the Champs-Elysées at 1, Avenue Matignon (Métro to Franklin D. Roosevelt) and one on the Left Bank at l49, Boulevard St-Germain (Metro to St-Germain). At all three you will find gifts, records, books and fashion as well as a drug store and soda fountain. Open every day, including Sunday, hours are 9.00 to 2.00.

It's a different world on the other side of the bridge  No one is more conscious of the fact than the left-bankers themselves who are proud to claim the likes of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway as one-time residents of their quarter. People on the Left Bank think differently, dress differently and shop differently. You will notice that after a few minutes on rue Bonaparte — the main shopping street south of the river — where brash Italian designers challenge Right Bank classicism. Have a wander along nearby rue du Four and rue de Rennes as well for a hint of what the future holds for fashion. While you are on the Left Bank you shouldn't miss the famous book stalls along the Quai de Montebello. Centuries ago book merchants on the Ile de la Cité, resentful of ambulatory vendors who congregated on the island bridges and usurped their business, forced a decree outlawing such activity on the island. The vendors responded by simply setting up shop on the left bank quai — beyond the island's jurisdiction but still close to the action. Today they are still there — selling old postcards, books, prints and Paris memorabilia and delighting photographers anxious to capture a glimpse of a Paris of another age. The Left Bank is easily reached on foot from the Louvre or Notre Dame and several Métro lines connect the area with points further out. Your best bet, when arriving by Métro, is to alight at St-Michel — this station puts you right in the heart of everything.

Bargains by the mile  The Parisians have always taken their flea market seriously and there are four miles of stall to prove it. Antique and not-so-antique furniture, used clothes and a quantity of bric-a-brac to defy description await you in the narrow streets around the Porte de Clignancoutr. Open all day, every day, the Marché aux Puces can be reached by Metro — take the #4 to Porte de Clignancourt. Beware of pickpockets and remember to drive a hard bargain.

For saumon fumé like they serve at Maxim's  High fashion is what most visitors to Paris are in the market for but if you simply cannot go home without a tin of white truffles, Paris is home to one of the world's great temples of gastronomic delights — Fauchon. Located just behind the Madeleine, this king of delis merits a visit even if you did your grocery shopping at home. You will find more than 400 types of cheese for sale, lobster flown in from the Caribbean and food displays which will make your mouth water. There is even a great selection of gift edibles like beautifully packaged — and very French — bonbons. Like most food stores, Fauchon is open Tuesday to Saturday from 7.00 to 13.30 and from 16.30 to 20.00 as well as Sunday from 7.00 to 12.00. Métro to Madeleine.

From the people who brought you onion soup  Decades ago the wealthy aristocrats of Paris lived on the Ile St-Louis and played in the cafes around the Opéra. After an evening of reverie, they would make their way home often passing through the old market place of Paris, Les Halles. Farmers from the provinces would be setting up for the morning's activity and, as they did so, they sipped on huge mugs of boiling onion soup to keep warm. Once a daring aristocrat gave the stuff a little try and the rest is history. You will still find onion soup at Les Halles but now it's served in trendy little bistros which are part of an enormous complex akin to an American shopping mall called Le Forum des Halles. To fill in the gaping hole left when disturbances by heavy truck traffic caused the fruit and produce market to be relocated to the outskirts of the city, this 46000 square metre complex of shops, discos, restaurants and cinemas was built. It is the largest of its kind in Europe and along its four levels you will find a branch of FNAC — Paris' favourite book store, Rodier, Daniel Hechter and even a wax museum! You'll probably get hopelessly lost wandering around the maze of corridors, and the sheer number of boutiques is mind-boggling. Since so many subway lines cross under here, there are hoards of people from the most far-flung suburbs every day of the week. It's cool place to hang for teenagers. Not to be missed is the rear section where there is a cinema complex next door to an underground swimming pool in front of which groups of banlieusards practice break-dancing. There are even more cool boutiques here, and don't forget to look up to admire the adventurous post-industrial architecture. The Forum is open everyday from 10.00 to 20.00 except Monday when opening time is 13.00. Métro Chatelet-les-Halles RER: Les Halles.

Not going underground?  Above ground is a vast pedestrian area teeming with all kinds of shoppers and browsers. Especially common are boutiques selling funky clothes and shoes, sometimes fripes (which are trendy second hand clothes). From here go across the Place des Innocents where McDonald's is located in front of a huge fountain, go past Pizza Hut (French people are always saying how awful American food is, too!) and under the arches and straight on until you get to the Rue de Rivoli. Here starts your big dilemma:

Left or Right? Turning right along the Rue de Rivoli (just think of ravioli) will bring you to the part where the Louvre is opposite and you are walking under arches. This is tourist territory and souvenir shops abound, especially good for things like T-shirts, scarves and basically anything that you can write PARIS on.

Turning left will take you on a delicious 2 mile long walk past all kinds of clothing stores, some of which are dégriffés, which means reduced-price designer labels. The Rue de Rivoli becomes the Rue St-Antoine. SOLDES means "SALE"" by the way. As you keep on you will get deep into Real Parisian Territory, and start to come across food stores selling all kinds of produce, meat and fish, much of which is displayed in rather a gory manner and still seems to be alive. Great if you want to bathe in Frenchness. Keep on and you'll end up at Bastille where you can check out the new opera house. If you still have enough energy left to walk, keep straight on and enter the Rue du Faubourg St-Antoine (which to this day no American has been able to pronounce). Here you'll find the most amazing collection of furniture stores, since for centuries this has been the cabinet-maker district. If you want to see what Parisians use to fill their pied à terre, this is the place to be. End with a stroll down the rue de Lappe, where trendy bars and restos abound.

LINGUISTIC CHAUVINISM AND NATIONAL HOLIDAYS

Parisians firmly believe that they hold the monopoly on sophistication and for the past few years being truly sophisticated has meant being able to integrate English and American expressions into spoken French. Even though French pride and la gloire de la France doesn't allow them to think too highly of either the English or the Americans, Parisians seem complete anglophiles when it comes to the language. They are smitten with sayings like "Relax Max" and "Take it easy, man." Everyone uses expressions like "le weekend," "le baby-sitter," "le fast food," and "high-tech living" with such frequency that it has been estimated that 35% of spoken French consists of anglicisms. That's a situation which disturbs a few French purists like Minister of Culture Jack Laing who drastically referred to this verbal onslaught as another manifestation of American capitalist imperialism and then sponsored a bill to outlaw the use of such expressions in public announcements. For days, the evening newspapers would present lists of outlawed words and their new French equivalents in an attempt to re-educate the French into using expessions like "courte publicite musicale" instead of "jingle" or "casque stéréophonique" in place of "headphones." Sometimes a literal translation doesn't even exist in French and approximations had to be invented — for example, "walkman" becomes "balladeur" —literally balladier. Clearly the task is a herculean one, the success of which is doubtful. As one indication, in the same week that the new law was proclaimed, France's Man of the Year was announced ... it was ET ...

Although since the time of the Revolution, France has no professed state religion, the overwhelming majority of the French are Roman Catholics and, therefore, all major Church holidays are celebrated as national holidays with all banks, government offices, museums and businesses closed. These include Christmas, St. Basil (1 January), Easter, Easter Monday, Ascension Thursday, Whit Monday, the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August) and All Saints (1 November). In addition to Christian celebrations, secular festivities commemorate the Armistice of the First World War on ll November and that of the Second World War on 8 May. The arrival of Spring is celebrated with outings to the country and the exchange of bouquets of lilies of the valley on the Fête des Muguets which takes place each l May. But, undoubtedly, the favorite holiday of all Frenchmen is 14 July when the taking of the Bastille on that date in l789 is remembered. Nothing is left of the Bastille today — revolutionaries, perhaps upset to find only seven prisoners inside, dismantled it stone by stone. Only the outline remains — marked by colored pavement in the Place de la Bastille and the stones are now part of the Concorde Bridge but the memory lives on in celebrations which begin the night before with street balls hosted by unions, the firemen's guild and fraternal orders. Early on the morning of the fourteenth, parades march down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées past much waving of tri-colors and singing of the Marseillaise toward the reviewing stand of the President of the Republic — but the real star of the show on this day is Marianne; she is the personification of Lady France who appears on French coins and symbolically leads the troops in the march toward Liberté, Fraternité and Egalité. Later on in the day there are neighborhood picnics organized in the streets and toward evening crowds assemble in the Place de la Concorde to view the extravagant fireworks displays set off near the Eiffel Tower. The predominant colors are, of course, red, white and blue ...

Everyone goes on holiday in August.

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