Saturday – The Monuments of Paris

Luxembourg Gardens and Palace

We woke up around 9:00 am, which was later than we would have liked, but it was good to reset ourselves to the timezone; no jet lag now. Angela had decided that she wanted to show me something, a surprise, at the Luxembourg Gardens. We took the Metro over to the area and decided to look for a crepe shop listed in out travel guide to get a late breakfast. Of course, it didn’t open until noon. You see, even though the French give pancakes as the English translation of crepes, they don’t actually eat them for breakfast. I think they should just call them crepes to distinguish them, if this is how their going to be about them. We did find a nice place, the Jade Cafe, which did serve Angela her quiche (which also isn’t considered a breakfast food in France) and me a plate of three crepes slathered in Nutella.

Palais du Luxembourg

The Loxembourg Palace, meeting place of the French Senate.

We walked the few remaining blocks to the Luxembourg Palace, which is where the French Senate meets. The gardens surrounding this 17th century palace are really amazing. While many cities have public parks, it seems Paris is unique in the fact that some of its public parks where once royal gardens. We strolled around the grounds for an hour or so, all the while with Angela on the look-out for her surprise. She pointed out the large gazebo where she had played with a high school band on her first trip to Europe. We finally came across what she had been looking for: one of Paris’ small replicas of the Statue of Liberty. We sometimes get the impression here that the French don’t like America. I think they love America, just not what America is doing. I for one, can’t much blame them.

Statue of Liberty Replica
The Pantheon
Pharmacie

The Pharmacie L’Hopitallier, near the Pantheon

From the gardens, we walked towards the Pantheon, but along the way, we happened across a old Paris pharmacy, which we popped into for a look around. Pharmacists everywhere would be impressed with the old charm and class this place has. After completely embarrassing ourselves with the pharmacist and clerk, we let ourselves out and proceeded down the block.


Pantheon

Looking down rue Soufflot onto the Pantheon.

Part church, part tomb, part science experiment; the Pantheon is a fascinating building. While it was originally a church, it now serves a the final resting place for some of France’s most well know public figures. Voltaire, Marie Curie, Descartes… a very long list of France’s most distinguishes citizen’s lie here. One of the most interesting, perhaps, is the section where Louis Braille is entombed. His placard has not only his name carved into the stone wall, but also an additional clear plastic placard with his name and dates in braille, which of course is fitting. Ironically, Léon Foucault, who demonstrated the spinning of the earth by hanging a pendulum from the dome of the building, is buried not here, but up on the hill in Monmartre. He’s in quite good company there, though.

Notre Dame Cathedral and Towers
Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral, flying buttresses and all, as seen from the small park at the eastern end of the City Island.

Next it was down the hill and through the Latin district (named for the once Latin-speaking universities) to the Seine. There we crossed over to the City Island to see Notre Dame. This cathedral is beyond large. Between each of the buttresses on the side of the main structure, there are a number of small chapels, confessionals, and relics. Any one of these would make a small church in-of-itself. The main part of the cathedral is so completely massive (and dark due to passing clouds), that I couldn’t take a proper photo it. The building is riddled with so much Christian symbology, one could study it for a lifetime and possible not take in all the meaning.

Gargoyle's Eye View

A gargoyle’s eye view of Sacre Couer.

We left the cathedral to get in line for the tower tour. We couldn’t go to the very top of the tower due to some construction and renovation underway, but we could go to the Grand Gallery to see the gargoyles and see the large bell. I didn’t actually expect to be so enamored with the gargoyle statues, but I was. Each one is different, and each one has character. These are not simple little stone carvings, but intricate statues; each a individual piece of art that could easily stand on its own. I can see now why so many people have been fascinated by them.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe, as seen from just down the Champs-Élysées

Between the Grande Arche and the Louvre sits the Arc de Triomphe. A massive Roman-esque arch, originally commissioned for one of Napoleon’s greatest victories, it now is to represent Peace. The movement of French consciousness from Nationalism to progressive is apparently also represented in their monuments as well. The view from the top of the Arc is, like anything else in Paris over 120 feet, spectacular. The Arc is the center of Baron Haussmann‘s twelve spoke pattern of avenues, which all feed into world famous round-about that rings the Arc. The Baron was obvioulsy no traffic engineer, as this intersection is know the world over as one great mess.

Grande Arche de La Défense
Grande Arche

Grande Arche de La Défense

On the western suburbs of Paris, at the end of the "Axe historique", is an office park called La Défense. The center piece of the area, is the Grande Arche; architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen’s masterpiece of an office building. It is seen as an office building, a monument to peace, and as structural & architectural stroke of brilliance.

Any piece of modern architecture such as the grand arch is likely to stur up contreversy (or at least the press calls it that). Take the pyramid at the nearby Louvre, for example. People seem to get the mind-set that "this is the way it is, and nothing should change for now on." People still live in Paris, and they might argue that it is most definately a modern city. Why shouldn’t they have modern achictecture to reflect this? Of course it can be done poorly, but this arch which is a modern take on the Arc de Triomphe just down the street is very well done. Architecture can not be done in a vacuum, and this building is a beautiful structure well placed.

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