The French leg of our journey began with its capital city Paris, and I would like to mention it in the beginning itself that the four days we spent in Paris were not among our favourite. It’s not that the city isn’t beautiful or doesn’t have some marvellous sights but maybe it has been hyped up to such an extent that it couldn’t meet our expectations; or maybe it could be due to our aversion to big and populated metros. Disappointments aside, Paris was a must do city (especially on our honeymoon) and there were many aspects of it that we still remember quite fondly.
We reached the Paris-Gare de Lyon station at 1:30 pm via a high speed TGV train from Bern. The first thing we did after disembarking was to buy a Lebara sim card with suitable plan from a Relay store located in the station premises. After that we bought two Paris Museum Passes. We had booked an apartment in the residential neighbourhood of Montparnasse which we reached via metro. Our apartment was a little crammed but comfortable and was close to many of the major attractions of Paris.
It was late afternoon by the time we settled in our apartment. We knew that most of the tourist attractions would close soon but from our earlier research we also knew that Musee d’Orsay remained open till 9.45 pm on Thursdays so we decided to visit the museum.
Located on the left bank of River Seine, the Musee d’Orsay building was originally a railway station known as Gare d’Orsay which was eventually converted into a museum.
The museum mainly contains 19th century French art with its primary attraction being the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The list of featured artists reads like a Who’s Who of the great painters of that era – Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cezzane, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Seurat, Signac, Tissot etc. The stroke techniques and new styles used by some of the artists were indeed fascinating but in comparison to the magnificent frescoes and wall paintings which we had seen in Italian palaces and cathedrals and in Vatican museums just a few days back, these modern paintings didn’t seem that impressive.
Along with the paintings we also saw some sculptures and beautifully carved and decorated furniture. Thereafter we went out on to the terrace of the museum which gave us our first view of the Seine and on the opposite bank of the river was the magnificent Louvre. After exiting Musee d’Orsay, we walked over towards the river and sat on the river bank enjoying the late evening ambience.
ARC DE TRIOMPHE
Another monument which remained open even later than Musee d’Orsay was the iconic Arc De Triomphe so it was our next destination that evening in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe, located in the centre of a road junction called Place Charles de Gaulle, was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victories and was ultimately completed in 1836. It is a deeply patriotic monument which honours the martyrs of French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. Underneath the arch lies the tomb of an unknown soldier who died in World War I and an eternal flame which was lit in 1923 to remember the dead. The arch also holds great symbolic value and many victorious armies like the Germans in 1871, the French in 1919, the Germans in 1940 and the allies in 1944-1945 have marched under it.
We took a metro from Musee d’Orsay and by the time we reached Arc de Triomphe it was almost 9:30 pm and the sky had become dark. We stood in the middle of a street and took some photos of the monument.
We then reached the arch via an underpass and observed it from all sides admiring the intricate sculptures that adorned the arch. After that we entered the arch and saw the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame following which we climbed up to the top of the arch.
From the top we got a breath-taking 360° night view of Paris which included the 12 streets emanating from Place Charles de Gaulle and the legendary Eiffel Tower. We spent time absorbing the view and clicking pictures until we were finally asked by the security to leave as it was closing time. While coming down we quickly visited a small museum which is located in the attic of the monument. It contained models of the arch and some sculptures.
After exiting Arc de Triomphe we took a metro back to our apartment and with that our first day in Paris drew to a close.