Paris, France - Day 1
Trip to Portugal and France
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Tags: Travel, Paris, France, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower
Today was my first day in Paris! I decided to move to a hotel because I didn’t feel totally safe at the hostel I was staying at. I normally don’t care too much about my sleeping accommodations and can sleep anywhere, but just something about the vibe didn’t sit right with me. I was a bit concerned about leaving my things at the hostel, even locked up. Maybe it was just that my expectations were skewed by the great hostel in Lisbon… Regardless, I’m not on that tight of a travel budget, so I spent the first part of the morning moving to the new hotel (the citizenM).
After getting that sorted out, I had another adventure trying to get on the subway. I had bought a set of tickets for the subway earlier, but for some reason none of the magnetic strips would work. After trying to use different turnstyle and ticket combinations, I ended up giving up and cutting my losses. The tickets are relatively cheap (€1.90), and with the exchange rate being so good, it was worth it to just eat the cost.
Place de la Concorde
My first destination was the Place de la Concorde. I got my first daytime glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!
I decided to walk around one of the fountains in the Jardin des Tuileries. It’s a beautiful garden and there’s statues lining the main walkway. The two closest statues that I looked at were both erected in the plaza before the founding of the United States! It hit me that the founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin probably also walked past the same statues during their time as diplomats and ministers to France.
The obelisk in the centre of the square is from ancient Egypt. I think it’s so amusing that such an ancient treasure is displayed as the centerpiece of a Parisian square.
I proceeded to walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe. On my way, I got a sandwich from one of the bakeries. I have no idea if it was an “authentic French sandwich”, but it was good nonetheless.
Arc de Triomphe
I eventually made it to the Arc de Triomphe. I took a few minutes taking in the historic significance of the arch. Many an army had walked through or past the structure through the centuries. I bought a ticket to go up to the top of the Arc, but before I went up, I spent some time admiring the size and looking at the reliefs depicting many French victories, primarily Austerlitz from what I could gather.
It is quite an imposing structure. In many ways, it epitomises the pride of the French people. Despite their reputation in the Anglophone world as being the side that is “always surrendering”, France has been a cornerstone of Western culture and identity for centuries. As the first ally to the United States, France has continued to be an ally even through its various iterations of republics, empires, and monarchies.
After scaling many more stairs that I expected to have to, I reached the top. The views all around are magnificent, and it was amazing seeing the city sprawling beautifully away in all directions. It has a great view across the River Seine to the Tour Eiffel.
My next destination was the Eiffel Tower, but rather than ride the subway to it, I decided to just walk from the Arc de Triomphe to the tower. I took a route via some side streets outside the main tourist-y area. The area that I walked through had lots of streets named after scientists and explorers. There was Rue Galilée, Rue Kepler, Rue Newton, and Rue Euler. The streets were very nice, and seemed more residential. There were lots of people who looked like locals walking around. I even saw a boy walking to or from his fencing practice.
Then I came to the Place des Etats-Unis which is a road that goes around the Thomas Jefferson Square. The square holds a monument to the Americans who volunteered to fight in the French armed forces during WWI and died in service. Oddly, there is a plaque on the back which was added much later that commemorates something about American volunteers during WWII who joined the resistance in Vichy France. I did a bunch of searching online and found nothing about why the additional plaque was added.
In general, I was surprised by the amount of monuments and statues which commemorated Americans. Given that France is our oldest ally, I guess it makes sense, but it was still unexpected.
Eventually I arrived at another square with a statue of somebody on a horse. I have no idea who it was of, but he was looking straight at the Eiffel Tower, so he has a pretty nice view.
I took my time walking down to the Eiffel Tower, enjoying the fountains that lead down to it.
I wandered around the grounds of the tower, it’s base is larger than I expected. I guess I should have expected such a large structure to have a fairly wide base, but hey, I studied computer science, not civil engineering at school ;)
I bought a ticket to take the stairs up the tower to the first and second level viewing platforms. I accidentally got in the line for the elevator, but quickly realized my mistake. There are 674 steps to get to the second floor, and if you decide to visit and are willing and able to do that many stairs, it’s worth it. I hate standing in line unnecessarily, so avoiding the line for the elevator was ideal.
I then had to take the elevator to the top. The views were absolutely spectacular. The sky were clear and there was a beautiful view in all directions.
At this point, it was fairly late in the evening, and I headed back to the hotel. I asked for a recommendation for a French restaurant, and went to Bistro Lyonnais which was a very short walk from my hotel. I got French Onion soup, and steak and frites. It was a fantastic meal, and the service was excellent as well. I think I like European-style service better than American-style: they leave you alone to enjoy the food. They also seem to pay more attention to detail. The plates had the name of the restaurant on one side, and I noticed the server placed the plate down so that the name was the right way up.
The meal was a reasonable price as well. The exchange rate from USD to EUR is so favourable right now, which makes all of the prices a lot more palatable. It’s hovering around 1:1 right now, so it really is the time to travel to Europe.
Anyway, tomorrow is an early day: I’m heading on a day trip to the Normandy beaches, so I’m off to bed!