A short walk from Notre Dame, across the Seine, is the lively Boulevard St Michel that bisects the famous Boulevard Saint Germain. St. Michel, better known as the «Boul Mish» has an abundance of appealing French bistros. Nearby is the Palais de Justice in whose courtyard sits the enchanting Ste. Chapelle, a small chapel renowned for its astonishing stained glass windows, best to be seen in the late afternoon. There are frequent chamber music concerts held in the upper level of the chapel surrounded by these windows…not to be missed! Walk along the Blvd Saint Germain and grab an espresso with a croissant or a glass of wine at legendary Deux Magots opposite the Eglise St. Germaine de Pres. You might even see the ghosts of Piaf, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, et al.
Next saunter along the quay to the Pont Des Arts to the Louvre Museum where I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid overpowers the grand entrance and upsets some purists. But I love it. Of course, this iconic museum achieves even greater notoriety in «The Da Vinci Code». See the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and other masterworks. Please don’t let that famous New Yorker cartoon be your guide, in which a «touriste Americaine» dashes into the Louvre shouting «Quick, which way is the Mona Lisa, I’m double parked!»
When you exit the Louvre, turn left then right along the Quai and over the Pont Royal bridge to the Musee D’Orsay, a superb transformation of Paris’ grand old railroad station of the same name. It is one of the world’s most remarkable museums entirely devoted to all the artistic fields of the second half of the XIXth century (Impressionist Period) with over 3000 works on three levels. Don’t miss the great rooftop photo ops.
Or if you prefer, when you leave the museum, walk through the Petite Carrousel, a small replica of the L’Arc de Triomphe. From this point, on a clear day, the view extends through the Tuilleries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, up the Champs Elysee, crowned by the majestic Arc de Triomphe. It is a long stroll but well worth the effort. When hunger pangs set in, there are any number of bistros and cafes along the Champs Elysee. You can’t get better «steak frites» anywhere else. Continue along until you reach l’Arc de Triomphe. Take the elevator to the viewing roof for Paris’ best photo ops.
Back at street level head for the Eiffel Tower. You’ll need this long walk to burn those French pastry calories and it sure beats the treadmill. Take the elevator to the top of the tower where you can dine in one of the two restaurants. If you want to have dinner, reservations are a must. You can call either «Altitudes 95» located on the first «etage» or «Le Jules Verne» situated on the second «etage».
Now for a treat! Walk a few blocks to the entrance of Des Egouts, the sewers of Paris. You may ask «Is this your idea of seduction?» Yes. (I was seduced here many years ago!!!) You descend into the sewers only to find a wonderful museum that depicts the history of this underground treasure. Remember Jean Valjean from Les Miserables? These were the escape routes he used. No need for a nose clothespin, the air is clean. Now how many people do you know who have done this? Great conversation fodder when you get home.
Montmatre is a must see. Visit in the daytime and have one of the local artist do a quick souvenir sketch of you in the square to the left of Sacre Coeur, the beautiful domed cathedral. You are also near the Moulin Rouge of Toulouse-Lautrec fame. A bit of a tourist trap, but hey, when was the last time you saw someone do the can-can who wasn’t in drag? Try it, Mikey, you’ll like it!
Of course, this is a minimal look at Paris. There is so much more to experience; i.e. the Canal St. Martin, the Marche aux Puces (fabulous flea market in the north of the city); the Place des Voges with the Victor Hugo Museum tucked into one corner; endless fabulous (there, I got fabulous in twice) restaurants, one better than the other; the Opera at the Bastille; the Jewish quarter (Joe Goldenberg’s restaurant..yum) and so much more. We may have missed April in Paris, but May through November offers the perfect time to visit «Gay Paree». Paris is a must!
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