[ SUNDAY TRAVEL ]
Oui, Oui,AMONG the world's greatest cities, Paris is a must for any serious traveler. If you have never been there, you must go, and if you have, you already want to return.
See the major sights of
romantic Paris with a
By Dennis Callan
Special to the Star-Bulletin
It helps to select a hotel in the city's center, within walking distance of main attractions. Take a half-day bus tour for an overview of the city, and use the excellent metro, but the finest way to get around will be your own two feet. Wear comfortable shoes, as this is a great walking city. The art of walking has been called the "flaneur" in Paris, which connotes an aimless stroll sharpened by the keen appreciation of little details. We can modify this approach with planned routes while retaining some flexibility for detours and spontaneous stops. For best results, try our suggestions, but feel free to rearrange them or add your own quirks.
Here's a quick summary of our three-day tour:
>> Day 1: Bus tour; walk the Rue de Rivoli, Marais, Les Halles, Palais Royal; spend an evening in Montmartre.
>> Day 2: Louvre; walk Right and Left Banks and the Islands; boat ride.
>> Day 3: Eiffel Tower, Orsay Museum, Versailles, Champs Elysees.
Day OneStart with a three-hour bus tour to provide the big picture of this complicated place and a general idea of where you're headed the next three days.
There are half a dozen tour companies that provide such services; check with your hotel concierge to see which is most convenient for you.
After the bus tour and lunch, dive into the heart of town with a walk along the busy Rue de Rivoli in the neighborhood of the Louvre. This great art museum is one of our main targets, but not as your first impression of Paris, so we'll save it for tomorrow. Instead, start with an expedition into Parisian street life.
The Rue de Rivoli is filled with locals and visitors hustling to work or shop, and continues past the Hotel de Ville for a mile in the direction of the Marais, one of the oldest parts of town, with the peaceful little Place des Voges at its center -- a good spot for a coffee break. The street forming the north edge of this green oasis, the second-oldest square in town, will lead you back to the center. Ramble along the Rue Rambuteau, detouring up and down the side streets of this trendy neighborhood. Veering off the main tourist track offers glimpses of the "real Paris."
Walking west from the Marais brings you into the largest pedestrian zone in Paris, Les Halles, featuring 30 blocks of shops and restaurants, with people everywhere and no cars in sight.
The centerpiece is the Pompidou Center, an inside-out building covered with pipes and beams, containing Paris' main collection of modern art. Drop in if you are an art lover, and have a look at the wild Stravinsky Fountains next door with their colorful kinetic sculptures. The streets of Les Halles are fun, but don't waste time going into the sterile underground shopping mall.
Depending on your walking pace, you might be ready for dinner by now. Unfortunately, a majority of the eateries in Les Halles are mediocre tourist joints, so be careful. If you would like a fine dinner, try any of these excellent restaurants: Clovis (01-42-711100), Au Chien qui Fume (01-42-360742), La Victoire Supreme for vegetarian (01-40-419395), Au Pied de Cochon (01-40-137700), or Sous Bock Tavern (01-40-264661). If you're not hungry yet, continue three blocks west through the Place des Victories, to Le Grand Colbert (01-42-868788), a belle epoque brasserie in a wonderful old "passage," one of the only remaining covered markets of Paris. Adjacent you will find the similar Galerie Vivienne, with its cafe, antique shops, boutiques and book stalls. Of course, you must take any restaurant recommendations with a grain of salt, for quality can vary from moment to moment, so take normal precautions and double-check with your concierge or the locals.
A surprise is waiting one block south, inside the Palais Royal. From the street it looks like just another building, but pass through the arch at Rue de Beaujolais, and you will enter a hidden garden the size of a city block, filled with fountains, arcades, flowers and trees. This piece of heaven was first built as a royal residence by Cardinal Richelieu in 1636, and occupied by the young Louis XIV.
An excellent way to end the evening is with a trip to Montmartre. A taxi ride is quick and easy, or if you take the metro, stop off at Place de la Concorde while changing trains to enjoy this massive square in the twilight. The Egyptian obelisk at its center is the city's oldest monument, flanked by the glorious fountains Gene Kelly supposedly danced around in "An American in Paris."
Exiting the metro at Abbesses or perhaps Anvers, depending on which way you came, walk to the foot of the hill, and ride the funicular to the top of Montmartre for a view from the city's highest point. On top you will see the spectacular white domes of Sacre-Coeur Church, but you really must visit the little artist's square called Place du Tertre, truly a postcard come to life. This is a slice of the 19th century, with cute shops and colorful outdoor restaurants. Twilight is the best time to be here.
Day TwoFirst on the agenda is tackling the major cultural event of your Paris visit, the Louvre, which requires an itinerary of its own. This is the largest and best art museum in the world, and with the following tips you can cover the highlights in three hours, which is about all anyone can take in one visit without getting dizzy. If you must see more, come back another day.
The first Louvre challenge is to get in. Warning: The main line outside the pyramid during the day is often two hours long.
Montemartre, like a postcard come to life, is one of the most
picturesque neighborhoods in Paris.
Crowds are smaller when the museum opens at 9 a.m., so if you get there early, you may not have to wait. If you must arrive later, there's still hope.
A better option is to head straight to the Lion's Gate. This little-known entrance 50 yards from the Tuileries end of the building along the Seine rarely has a big line.
OK, you're in, now what? The simple-minded approach is to see the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory and Venus de Milo and then leave, but you won't settle for that, right?
Here is an ideal route for getting through it all in three hours. Start with the Italian sculptures, including Michelangelo and Canova on the ground floor of the Denon Wing. Then go upstairs to the large French paintings by David, Gericault and Delacroix. From here, enter the Grand Gallery with paintings of the Italian Renaissance, including Mona herself. Walk in along one wall and out along the opposite wall to find yourself at the Winged Victory, and then around the corner to the crown jewels in the Apollo Hall, with its elaborate walls and ceiling.
Now, go downstairs to classical Rome and Greece, veering into the Room of the Caryatids, and back across the hall to see fragments from the Parthenon, with a vision of perfect female beauty, the Venus of Milo, at the end of the gallery. Descend the stairs behind Venus and confront a dilemma: Go left for the medieval foundations and the second half of the museum ... or, if you must see ancient Egypt, go straight up the next steps into a one-hour stupendous maze of mummies, jewelry, statues and other objects from the Nile that occupy two floors and one end of the Louvre.
You should seriously consider skipping Egypt, for it will exhaust you, and you will never get to the following treasures. In the basement you will find the remarkable 10th-century fortress that was the foundation of the first Louvre palace, only rediscovered during the 1980s improvements. If you are devoting the full day to the museum, now is a good time to break for lunch in the food court in the shopping mall section. Otherwise, power on for another hour.
Beyond the medieval foundation you will find an elevator, tucked off to the right by the toilets, that will take you to the top, Floor 2. Pass through the small Impressionist room, and then turn left (warning: If you turn right you will be sucked into a city block of mostly mediocre French paintings). Turning left will bring you into the Richelieu Wing for wonderful northern Europe masterpieces by Vermeer, van Eyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, van Dyke, et al. Don't miss the Napoleon III Apartments, one level down on the first floor. It's only three rooms, but the breathtaking opulence could bring on a heart attack, especially in your now-weakened state, so be careful as you admire this stunning interior of gold, crystal, crimson velvet, potted palms and Second Empire furnishings that recall the days of Louis XIV. You can see more of this over-the-top magnificence in a visit to Versailles tomorrow.
Right now, you are bushed and must look for the exit, but on the way out, have a last look through some of the objects of art from the Renaissance and Middle Ages on the first floor. Avoid the endless rooms beyond filled with furniture, and avoid the ground floor of Islamic art. You just don't have any energy left.
Get back onto the streets, and breathe in the fresh air of Rue de Rivoli with its eight lanes of gridlocked traffic. Be happy you are not driving, and laugh as you merrily go shopping. You will be instantly rejuvenated by these wonderful arcades, which offer outstanding tourist junk like T-shirts, scarves, little Eiffel Towers, things that say "Paris," postcards, perfume, chocolates, ceramics, you name it. For the world's best hot chocolate, keep walking under the arcades toward Concorde to Angelina's, the legendary teahouse. If you're hungry there are many fine restaurants in this neighborhood, the heart of the First Arrondissement. A one-hour extension to this walk is to continue along the Rue St. Honore, which is just one block in from Rue de Rivoli, and is filled with some of the finest boutiques in town.
Carry on to the Place Vendome, then power through to the Opera Square, two blocks beyond. Behind the Opera you will find the two big department stores, Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, plus many other smaller stores in this prime shopping neighborhood.
According to our ambitious schedule, you now have the late afternoon available for another adventure. We suggest you take a walk in the colorful neighborhoods of the Latin Quarter and continue to the islands in the Seine. If you are still in the neighborhood of the Louvre, you can best reach the narrow old-fashioned Left Bank streets by crossing the Pont des Arts footbridge to the other side of the Seine, or if you have walked all the way to the Opera, you need to take the metro or taxi to get there. These charming cobbled lanes of Paris, with their quiet neighborhood markets, art galleries and pleasant tree-lined plazas, are terrific for people-watching and shopping.
Walk down Rue Bonaparte to the Boulevard Saint Germain and the cafes made famous by the existentialists, Flore and Deux Maggots, across from the ancient church of St. Germain des Pres. From here take a stroll along the lovely Rue de Buci and St. Andre des Arts to Place St. Michel. Continue into the narrow maze along Rue de la Huchette and Rue de la Bucherie, passing a bewildering variety of ethnic restaurants in one of the most magical parts of town.
Before leaving the Left Bank, walk along the river to admire the booksellers with their antique books, posters, magazines and cards, then sweep down the grand steps to the banks of the Seine, and walk the quay at the water's edge for a few blocks. This is romantic Paris at its best, and gives a preview of tonight's boat ride.
Now cross the Seine at Pont de la Tournelle to Ile St. Louis, in the middle of the river. This island is like a small, quiet village in the midst of the city, with some of the oldest shops and mansions, and the best ice cream at Berthillon.
Cross the footbridge to Ile de la Cite, and you will immediately have a grand view of the rear of Notre Dame, the world's most famous gothic cathedral. Walk around to the front and enter this 900-year-old Catholic church, and pay your respects to this overwhelming medieval assemblage of pointed arches, rose windows, flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings and ancient statues. Notre Dame was the tallest structure in Europe, with towers 226 feet high, and was copied by hundreds of other gothic churches. Still used for services, it has recently been restored and looks as good as new.
Hurry over to Sainte-Chapelle two blocks away before the 6:30 p.m. closing because you will want to see some of the world's best stained glass. This holy chapel was built by St. Louis in the 13th century to hold the Crown of Thorns, and has dazzling pictures in blue and red glass from floor to ceiling, wrapped 300 degrees around you.
Two more wonderful attractions await you on this island. Walk west around the massive Conciergerie to the idyllic Place Dauphine, which is the oldest residential square in town. The small park is filled with trees and lined by 17th-century brick buildings of incomparable charm.
Just beyond you will find the Pont-Neuf, the oldest bridge in town. Now is a good time for the classic one-hour boat ride that will show you many great buildings and monuments. You can catch the boat right here, down the steps of the Pont-Neuf on the tip of the island. The ride is especially wonderful at twilight, when the buildings along the Seine are illuminated by spotlights. One of the best deals in town, it costs about $10, and the boats leave every half-hour. When you are done, indulge yourself in a gourmet dinner, then rest up for a final day.
Day ThreeThis morning, it is time to ascend the tower. As the No. 1 symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is another must, but again, you must be clever to beat the crowds that mob the site day and night. A short wait is two hours; a typical wait is double that! But we shall get you up and down within one hour. The trick is to get there early. The tower opens at 9 a.m., so you should be on line by 8:45 a.m.
Two of the legs usually have open ticket booths; the leg farther from the river is the best bet for the shortest line. Avoid the leg close to the river on the side away from downtown, because this is the line for masochists who want to walk to the top.
Being there early is extra wonderful, because you go in on the first wave and avoid the lines that will soon form on the second level to catch the smaller elevator that brings you to the top. During midday the line inside is often slower than the line on the ground, just like Disneyland.
So there you are, at the top of the world! Fifteen minutes is all you need at the top to suck up the view in all directions.
The history of this structure is a remarkable story, for it was a temporary tower that was supposed to be ripped down after the 1889 Universal Exposition. Only the invention of radio created a need for such a tall building to act as an antenna, so it has survived and triumphed. This must be the world's most photographed subject. It was the world's tallest structure and the first truly modern building with total steel construction. Eiffel refused payment, instead cleverly requesting a share of admission tickets for the first 20 years, which made him one of the richest people in France. So perfectly designed that a scale model 1 foot high would only weigh 1/4 ounce, the strongest winds never sway the top more than four inches.
Your next move is to visit the Orsay Museum, an easy four stops away by direct metro. Here you will find the world's best collection of Impressionists, featuring Monet, Renoir, Manet, Degas, Pissarro, Van Gogh and many more. The building is a former train station that is a marvel in its own right, with a soaring barrel vault made of steel and glass. A few tips for navigating here: Briefly visit only four galleries on the ground floor with Corot, Millet and early Manet, then go to the back, walking over the miniature model of central Paris, and catch the escalators that will bring you up to the good stuff, the top floor filled with Impressionism. Be sure to cover this floor all the way beyond the cafe and around the bend to see Gauguin and Seurat.
On your way down the escalators, stop at the middle level to look at the elaborate Reception Hall, the Rodin statues and the rooms filled with Art Deco furniture. The whole museum can be seen in 90 minutes. If you are hungry upon exiting, there are four good restaurants one block inland from the front entrance that will provide a quick, cheap, tasty lunch.
Now you are in perfect position to get to the Palace of Versailles by train. The station is right under your nose in front of the Orsay. Enter the metro station, and take the RER to the end of the line at Versailles Rive Gauche. Round trip is $5, and the palace admission is about $10, so you are saving big time compared to buying a $65 bus tour to get to Versailles. The 40-minute train ride, followed by a 15-minute walk to the palace, is a snap. Before you go inside, walk through the splendid gardens in the rear. On Sunday afternoons the fountains will be spouting -- otherwise, simply admire the formal flower beds and trimmed hedges, with paths lined by romantic statues.
You might be faced with another long line to get into the palace, but it's usually not too bad in the afternoon. If the line at the main door, Entrance A, is spilling into the open plaza, you might consider going to Entrance B or C, which will cost slightly more and include a guided headset tour of the private apartments as well as the glorious Hall of Mirrors. A bonus trick is to time your arrival at the ticket booth for 5 p.m. because they stop charging admission then and throw open the doors to all who have been standing on line, which creates a mad rush for the galleries. You have only 45 minutes to clear the palace, but that's all it takes anyway, and what the heck, you got in for free.
Upon returning to Paris there is just one more spectacular sight to see. Travel back on the same RER train, and transfer at the Champs de Mars station to the metro at Birk-Hakeim for a short ride to the Arc de Triomphe. You already saw this from your tour bus the first morning in Paris, but it is fun to see the famous arch up close and snap some pictures. You can even go to the top for a fine view of the 12 streets that radiate from this giant traffic circle. Traffic is so crazy here, with no stoplights, that any collision is automatically considered 50-50 blame on both parties. Use the underground passage to get across.
Now you are in fine position for another grand stroll, this time along the Champs Elysees, the most famous boulevard in the city. It has the widest sidewalks in town, nicely planted with trees and lined with fine shops, cafes, theaters and showrooms. Keep walking its full mile length, or duck back into the metro at George V station to speed along to your next destination. Or, if you love clothes, take a right on Avenue George V and walk to Avenue Montaigne, an elegant neighborhood home to most of the high-end fashion houses. Pick a great restaurant for a grand final meal, and be satisfied that you did not miss a thing.
Today, we introduce a new monthly travel feature, "Three Days in ...," offering a carefully planned itinerary for helping you map out a tour some of the world's most exciting cities to get a good look at the important sights, while leaving you enough time to pursue personal interests the rest of your trip. Our indefatigable traveler is Dennis Callan, president of the Hawaii Geographic Society, who is on the road about 100 days a year, leading Hawaii groups on tours through Europe and elsewhere. Callan also produces the "World Traveler" series that airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on 'Olelo, repeating 9 a.m. Wednesdays. "Three Days In ..." will appear the first Sunday of each month.