Destination Europe ? Part II
Taking the 2 a.m. flight from Bahrain, the four of us reached Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris in the morning hours of US Independence Day (4 July). Our cousin priest, Fr Alwyn was there to receive us after we went through a fairly long line at the immigration counter. Out of CDG, we went straight into the train – RER (which a part of the metro rail system in Paris). We dropped our luggage at our hotel reception (as it was early morning and not the right time for check in) and we set off for our sight seeing straightaway!
Fr Alwyn had brought the whole day metro pass (ticket) for us. We set off without even having a Paris breakfast – one reason was that our early hours flight had served a decent meal after our late night dinner at home and the second reason was that, time was precious. Fr Alwyn had already said that 4 days in Paris was not enough to explore the vast and historic metropolis.
As all good things start with holiness, our first visit was to Montmartre (Martyrs Mount) – Basilique de Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica). This is one of the most prominent places to visit when in Paris, both from religious and entertainment point of view. And it was a site that was closest to Gare Du Nord (north rail station) where we were staying. The Basilica was built from 1876 to 1912. Famous artists Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent Van Gogh etc have worked at Montmartre drawing inspiration from the history surrounding the area.
Montmartre is a hill 130 metres high, the place known for St Denis (Dionysius) who was the first bishop of Paris as well as the patron saint of France. He was martyred (beheaded) here in 250 AD and as per belief, he walked up the stairs of this mount without his head and collapsed at the top of the mount where the cathedral is now built. As you see from the pictures, the Cathedral is dedicated to Martyrs and is located on the hill where St Denis died.
In the 19th century when Napoleon III and his city planner Baron Haussmann planned to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe, the original inhabitants had to move away to the edges of the city as well to the heights of Montmartre. Later, when Russians invaded Paris, they used the altitude of Montmartre for artillery bombardment of the city.
The area also developed into a freewheeling and decadent entertainment area at the end of 19th century ? the most popular cabaret show, Moulin Rouge, also is located in this area. Well, that was not in our agenda for a few valid reasons!
The view is fantastic, both of the Cathedral from below and from the Cathedral, of whole of Paris. Our souvenir hunting had started. We gathered our first commemorative coins which cost Euro 2 (the rate is same anywhere in Europe if you buy these coins from vending machines). The slight drizzle had brought the temperatures down unusually for the summer. People were all in their thick jeans and jackets. Not the opportune time for me to see ladies fashion so famous for Paris!
A funicular railway operated by RATP is another attraction, that helps tourists and pilgrims unable to walk up the hill. All able men and women, like the four of us, enjoy walking up the stairs.
As we had spent a lot of time admiring the Cathedral and buying souvenirs, we did not have much time in the morning to see anything else. So, we proceeded to the Capuchin’s Seminary for lunch with Capuchin priests of Paris ? some of them had returned from their African Missions. After a nice and tasty lunch (with first taste of French wine of course!) we set off for the remaining part of our sightseeing for the day. We continued to hop in and hop off the Metro like monkeys jumping from one tree to another and Br Alwyn’s energy levels being so high, it just did not matter that we had a minor jetlag from the night flight and limited sleep!
After passing by a number of palaces and castles we reached perhaps the most important place in Paris ? the Eiffel tower at Pont De l’Alma (Alma’s Bridge). Incidentally, it was here, in the underground tunnel called Rue De l’Alma (Alma’s Road), that Lady Diana had died in that tragic road accident.
Eiffel. How one could explain this? A mammoth structure built over a century ago ? at a time when such structure had called for ridicule from the citizens. The structure does not really hit you until you really go under it. From far, it just looks simple. It is really an amazing experience. Mr Gustave Eiffel was on extraordinary architect with such a masterpiece. We just admired at the way this masterpiece is generating hard revenues for the Authority. On the day we went there, there were more than 20,000 people and each one paid 11.50 Euros (15 dollars) and one can easily do the accounts of Government’s tourism revenues. Well, the tourists are attracted not just to the monument, but also due to the wonderful infrastructure available to reach to each of these monuments, including an excellent transportation system (bus, rail, tram).
Weather was fantastic for us ? especially coming from the hot and humid Arabian Gulf ? cloudy, breezy and intermittent showers. The showers stayed with us throughout the day, but did not affect us a wee bit. At one stage, while we were waiting to get inside the Eiffel tower, it poured for 15 minutes ? we were more than happy at this natural opportunity to get wet!
A View from the top of Eiffel Tower
A giant wheel that controls the elevator through metallic cables at the Eiffel.
South east view from the top of Eiffel (Tower Montparnasse is in sight)
Raincoat, umbrellas and horse cart ? ready to roll.
From Eiffel, we proceeded to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame (our Lady). As it was late in the evening, we could not enter, but the evening view was great for outside photography. The pictures reveal the truth.
Huge walls of Basilique du Notre Dame(Left); A small part of the amazing sculpture at the Notre Dame.(Right)
Front view of Basilique Du Notre Dame. Incidentally, this is also the Zero point in Paris, which means, the city of Paris starts here.
All the running in and out of Metros and jumping trains is not boring at all, thanks to the ever present musicians with their guitars and other music instruments, trying to fill music in the ears of travelers and filling their hats with contributions from the well wishers. Most of the coins that we receive from various places are given away to these musicians found in trains, stations and on subways. We also end up buying two instrumental music CDs from one of them.
Music in one of the underground metro passages
We then took a metro train to see the Concorde tower and Grand Palais (palace) situated on the eastern side of the Avenue Des Champs-elysees (sounds like Shawns-eleezey). called Place Charles De Gaulle. This avenue refers to the Elysian Fields, the place of the blessed in Greek Mythology and is 2 km long. The street is famous for many good and not so good things. In 1940, the german troops marched on this street to celebrate the fall of France and then in 1944, French and American troops restored order. The place is famous for its New Year night celebrations and a French Army parade takes place on the Bastille Day.
This Avenue (street or road) is the broadest and most famous in the world, in fact, as per Wikipedia, it’s the second most expensive piece of real estate in the world (rents are estimated to be as high as $1,250 per square foot), after New York’s Fifth Avenue. It’s a place for the elite, for fun & entertainment, for food & drinks and for the most expensive shopping with all the famous brands from the world.
At one end (east) of the Avenue is the Place De la Concorde, and the other end of it is the Arc De Triomphe (Ark of Triumph) ? a structure that is similar to the one in Delhi (India Gate which is 42 meter tall and completed in 1931). Arc De Triomphe was designed in 1806 inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus and is 51 meters (165 ft) tall and 45 meters wide.
While we see all this, the day is still not ending! Sun shine at 9.30 pm! That was something unimaginable for us in tropical regions. The long day means that much more time to explore and we did just that! Even if you wander around at midnight, it feels it still is a day.
In memory of the unknown warrior at the Arc De Triomphe –
(Similar theme is used for the Amar-Jawan-Jyothi at India Gate in New Delhi)
Arc De Triomphe (western end of Avenue Des Champs Elysees), inspired from Roman Arch of Titus. India Gate in New Delhi, built after 120 years of Arc De Triomphe, is quite similar.
Place De La Concorde on the eastern side of Avenue Des Champs Elysees
Grand Palais (Grand Palace)
Palais Royal at Ile De la Cite
Hotel De Ville – Mairie de Paris (City Municipality ? Mayor?s office)
‘La Cite’ – the City – original city with the palace, the area where Cathedrale du Notre Dame is located. The building seen in the picture : is the one wing of the Palais Royal and Conciergerie. We can see just a little bit of the Gothic structure of the La Chapelle ( The Chapplle which served for the Kings).
Egalise Saint Marie Madelene (St Mary Magdalene Church) Near Place Concorde
Invalides ? Cathedral Church of Military Diocese – has Napoleon Bonaparte?s mortal remains
After going around Paris, we returned late in the night to our hotel. By now, most restaurants are already closed, but we somehow find a Pondicherry Restaurant that serves Asian food. This street is more Tamil (Indian and Sri Lankan as well), invariably named after Pondicherry, the last French bastion in India. Well, prices are very French, to say the least!! Well, first day of our holidays generally involves spending exorbitantly ? cost of learning that is!
Second Day in Paris ? onward to Disneyland Park
It takes about 30 minutes to reach Disneyland Park (Marne-la-Vallee-Chessy station) from the metro station at Chatelet Les Halles. Again, I quietly admire the efficiency of the railway system!
I wont say much about this place ? the pictures are self explanatory. If I say more, it may bore those who have already gone there (I am scared that I may miss a point or two!). Only thing that I can state here is that we brought our swimwear with us assuming that this park will have a lot of water rides (like the ones at Wild Wadi in Dubai or Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur)! We did not have to use it as Disneyland Park contains mainly normal and dry amusement rides.
Main entrance to the Park
By the way, and being the busy summer period, it generally takes around one hour to wait in queue to make use of each of the rides, and therefore, for a period of about 9 hours we were inside, children managed around 7-8 rides.
It costs around 50 Euros per person to enter the Amusement Park which includes an entry to the Disneyland Studio also. We made a mistake of first entering the amusement park and keeping the Studio visit for later part. But Studio closes at 6.30 pm, so we missed visiting the studio.
Two shots of a trapped roller coaster! It stayed there till we finished our ship ride for an hour!
An exciting ship ride
A tree house
A small boat trip that takes the visitors around the miniature designs of different Walt Disney cartoon stories
Old windmill (left) and card fun for kids (right)
Time for some dragons!
Giant tableau parade of Disney cartoon characters.. can you name them?
Green and picturesque settings.
Year 2007 marks 15 years of existence of the Park. Naturally, the festivities were at a high pace.
Long queue to gain entry into ‘Parc Disneyland’
To compensate for the late previous night, and for the next morning’s early rise to go to Mont-St Michel, tonight we wind up little early. Two days had passed so fast, but we had seen so many places and more were to come. It was also time to download the images from the camera to the laptop to keep it empty to fill more for the next day.
(remaining part of Paris in the next episode coming up in a few days)
Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain