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Paris is for Travel Lovers

by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Feature Columnist

Mention romantic destinations around the globe and the chances are that Paris will feature in most people's top 10. It's also a destination that usually makes any top 10 list of the cities that you should visit around the world, so what makes it so special? Cheryl Pendry takes you on a trip down the Seine and through cafe society...

My husband and I are fortunate enough to live almost halfway between London and Paris, two of the most popular and beautiful city destinations in the world. Although much of London's beauty is in its history dating back more than a thousand years, the beauty of Paris has a more recent grounding, with its most famous landmarks dating from the last couple of hundred years.

Of those landmarks, the one which springs most readily to mind is probably the Eiffel Tower. Originally constructed for the Centennial Exhibition of 1889 by Gustav Eiffel, who also designed the Statue of Liberty, at first the tower wasn't a popular addition to the French capital and was seen as a hideous eyesore.

On my visit to the city in the early 1990's, I will admit to being one of those who wasn't too keen on it, but that was when the tower had suffered a serious lack of attention. With the arrival of a new Millennium, it has been spruced up and just like the Empire State Building, is now beautifully lit at night and makes a stunning addition to the skyline. On our most recent visit, the metal framework even seemed to glow during the day. The "Queen of Paris" is once again looking regal!

But admiring it from outside is only half the fun. To fully appreciate this structure, you have to head for the top for views of Paris. As it's the first stop on many visitors' itinerary, it's best to get there first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon and to cut the queues further, you can climb the stairs to the first level. It isn't as daunting as it sounds (or looks!) and the climb only takes about five minutes.

Once you've seen the city stretched out in front of you, you get a better idea of the geography of the place. Cut in half by the River Seine, the roads radiating like a star from the Arc de Triomphe just north of the river can clearly be seen.

Originally planned by Napoleon I as a monument to his military success, the Arc de Triomphe was never completed in his lifetime, but now stands at the west end of the Champs Elysees. It's possible to climb to the top of this monument and although nowhere near as high as the Eiffel Tower, it still gives a unique and very different perspective of the city. And once at the top, you can see one of Paris' biggest problems -- traffic.

You'll quickly learn that the car is very much king in this city and the pedestrian is a poor relation. Although things have improved somewhat, crossing the road still requires taking your life in your hands to a certain extent and there's no point in attempting to reach the Arc de Triomphe by tackling the traffic. Instead, a pedestrian subway system takes you there.

From there, it's a pleasant, albeit very long stroll down the Champs Elysees, one of Paris' most popular places to shop and eat. Cafes abound along this street and this is one part of Paris life that shouldn't be missed. It may not be cheap to sit outside, enjoying a drink and watching the world go by, but it's a wonderful way to spend your time and take a break.

The other end of the Champs Elysees gives way to the beautiful Tuileries garden, offering superb views back to the Arc de Triomphe and further down to the famous Louvre museum. Best known for the woman with her enigmatic smile, the Mona Lisa, the Louvre is housed in an intricate building, which has in recent years been joined by a giant glass pyramid in the courtyard housing the museum's main entrance.

Containing one of the world's largest art collections, it may surprise you to know that the Louvre is so big that many visitors to Paris decide to skip it altogether, as they don't have the time to spare to do it justice. And I'm ashamed to say that I'm one of those people. It's not a cheap museum to visit and like many others, I've never had the time to visit it properly.

Perhaps that's because one of the things I must always do on any trip to Paris is take in a trip down the River Seine. I'm a lover of river cruises anyway and believe they're one of the best ways to see any city, but in Paris, many of the major attractions line the riverbanks, including the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and the Tuileries gardens. Other sights you can see from the water include the Conciergerie, with its imposing round towers, a prison for nearly six centuries and the beautiful Notre Dame, famed for the Hunchback story and so beautifully worked into the Disney movie of the same name. This is another sight that's undergone significant restoration in recent years and is looking better than ever.

It's certainly worth a visit inside to see the superb architecture and, after resting your feet on the river trip, if you're feeling brave, take the 387 spiral steps to the 75 meter high north tower -- the view is worth it!

There are more steps at Paris' other most famous church, the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, on the hills above Paris. On a hot day, the steps beneath the church will be packed with people enjoying the views over the city.

If it strikes you that Paris involves a lot of steps to get to a lot of the good views, then you'd be right. Fortunately it also involves lots of good food, allowing you a chance to rest your feet after all those steps. Whatever type of food you're after; the chances are you'll find it in this city. The French are a nation who loves their food, so there are lots of fine places to eat. Cheap dining, like many cities around the world, can be found, but you have to hunt hard. One of our favorites is the cafe on the top level of Samaritaine 4, one of Paris' biggest department stores. Offering views over the River Seine, it also offers reasonably priced, good quality lunches and is always a regular call for us on our visits.

There's so much more to Paris and I've only scratched the surface. You could easily spend a week here and still have things to see - trust me; I speak from experience on this! Museums abound on most subjects, including the amazing inside out building at Centre Georges Pompidou, home to modern art, there are churches, squares and boutiques everywhere you look and outside of Paris, more wonders await.

Versailles, the monumental palace built by Louis the sixteenth, is probably the most decadent palace in the world. Situated to the southwest of Paris, it's a 35 minute train ride from the city center, but well worth the traveling time. If I say that there are 2,000 acres of grounds, containing 80 miles of rows of trees and 210,000 flowers are planted there every year, you start to get an idea of the enormity of the place. But the stunning figures are reserved for inside the palace. With 700 rooms, more than 2,000 sculptures and 6,000 paintings, you can see why this is one of France's great treasures. And I haven't even mentioned the gold or the chandeliers in the palace! If you're in the area for a long enough period of time that you can take a day out of Paris, then this is the place to head for.

Of course, there's also Disneyland Paris, but that's another story!

Some useful websites on Paris:

Visit Paris -
The Paris Pages -

About the Author: Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to America.

This article appeared in our October 27, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 04/16/07 

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