Overview and History
Welcome to Paris, the City Of Lights, La Ville-Lumiere! We're going to depart from the standard timeline here and just start looking at pictures. You can put the history together in your mind along the way, or live contentedly with an abstract expression of images, whichever you prefer.
For lessons in light from the expressionist masters, blur yourself directly to the Orsay Museum and find Monet, Renoir and Cezanne waiting. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The River Seine divides the city into two halves, called the Left Bank and Right Bank. The right bank is on the north side, left to the south. In general the right bank claims the sophistication and modern development in Paris, while the left bank has the universities, parks and historic areas.
There are two islands on the river in the middle of the city, Ile de la Cite and Ile de St. Louis. Here's a beautiful Flower Market on Ile de la City, which is the oldest section of the city. It's also home to Notre Dame cathedral
The Right Bank has a big hill called Montmartre, literally translating to "Mount Mars" or "Mountain of the Martyr", depending on which time period you take the story from. Its name dates back to at least 250A.D and it's home to the Sacre Coeur Basilica among many other things of note, such as the studios of Salvadore Dali, Picasso and Van Gogh.
And what else? The Champs-Elysees, of course! The Champs-Elysees is the most prestigious avenue in Paris. L'Arc de Triomph stands at the western end of the Champs-Elysees, at the star shaped intersection of twelve major avenues which is called Place d'Etoil. The Arch is a monument to all who fought for France, especially during the Napoleonic wars.
By the way, the sprint finish of the Tour de France -- the most prestigious bicycle race in the world -- comes down the Champs-Elysees. Catch it in the early summer.
You may have heard of a museum called Le Louvre. Before you attempt to visit it, go through some tour de france training to build up your stamina. This is a museum big enough to take your whole summer to walk through, and that's without even stopping to look at any of the art.
Situated right along the river is the Place de la Concord, the largest open square in the city. It's where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and 2,798 of their closest friends met the guillotine during the French Revolution. The smell of blood was so strong, according to the tale, that a herd of cattle refused to cross the square.
Let's see what we have on the Left Bank. How about Les Invalides, a stately group of museums and monuments dedicated to military history, which also houses a hospital and residences for veterans.
The Left Bank has for decades been the center of academic life in Paris, which can be summed up in a word: La Sorbonne. La Sorbonne is the nickname for the University of Paris, founded in 1257. It sits in a historic scholarly sector called the Latin Quarter, which connects La Sorbonne to the Left Bank (Place Maubert). If Paris was a tropical island, this would be the coral reef.
Near La Sorbonne can be found Le Jardin de Luxembourg, where Marie d'Medici's chateau stands. It's a pleasant little country house in Florentine style. They used it for a prison during the French Revolution and for Luftwaffe headquarters during WWII. It now houses the French Senate.
Shakespeare and Co Library sits in the heart of the Latin Quarter and has earned an international reputation for being more than just a bookshop.
Take a look at the Gare du Nord Paris North Station. One of six large train stations in Paris, it's the busiest one in Europe. If you're already on the continent, you very well may arrive here.
As for airports, there are two: Charles De Gualle and Orly. De Gaulle airport is about 25 minutes by train from Gare du Nord station, Orly is a bit closer. Here's the train information for connections to the city.
Here's one of the 380 metro stations in Paris, the Palais-Royale at the Louvre. Looking good! This is Europe's second-largest metro system and it's connected with the buses the commuter rail network to get you around the city.
People and Culture
Beside the fact that Paris contains all walks of life, "people and culture" in Paris is synonymous with food and wine. Here we are smack in the middle of it, La Contrescarpe at Mouffetard Street.
Remember, champagne was perfected here during the Belle Epoque, and you need the proper setting in which to drink it.
And check out this fish shop!! This is what the zoom tool was made for!
In case you're wondering, there's a gritty side to Paris, too. Here's a little mobile graffiti.
In the same vein, by which I mean "cheap" or "free", stroll around Left Bank to the flea market at Place Maubert.
Street musicians are another great thing about Paris. Here are some drummers, some visual artists on the Quai de Conti, and there should be an organ grinder on the corner when you get there. Let me know if you see him.
Things to do & Recommendations
Street food -- get a croque monsieur or croque madam, it's a toasted cheese sandwich with or without ham. They're so good, it's the pizza slice of Paris! I can't for the life of me understand why nobody has shot a panorama of one.
Street food part 2, and I quote:
"the motherfucking best falafel in the world is there in the Marais. it's called La Du's and it's on the Rue de Rosiers. it's the 5th I think, right bank. If you flirt with the take out boys they'll give you more falafel too, I'm not kidding it's a fucking transcendant experience."
"there's also this bar in the 11th, called the baron rouge, where on sunday a friend of the owner drives in from normandy with a truck full of oysters and just parks it in front of the bar and sells oysters out the back and you just eat them on the street and drink Muscadet off the top of parked cars." (Thank you Allison O'Leary)
Spend a little time outdoors in the beautiful Botanical Garden, see if you can find the recycled dragon.
No trip to Paris would ever be complete without... well actually the reason Paris is Paris because you never finish seeing it all.
Move there, spend a lifetime there, walk everyplace you go and you still won't see it all. It's like New York, London or Tokyo; anyplace in such a state of constant change will remain eternally elusive.
I almost said, "no trip to Paris would be complete without going up the Eiffel Tower and seeing the view from the top."
Text by Steve Smith.