The Historic Beauty of Paris




The legendary Ben Franklin once said, "all of Paris is a school, you need only to avail yourself to the lessons." I just love that quote, so I applied this philosophy to my stay in the "City of Lights." After traveling through the United Kingdom, it was time to leave the comfort zone of the English-speaking world and venture across the channel to France. We boarded the Eurostar at Kings Cross Station and two hours later we were welcomed to Gare du Nord (North Station) in Paris.

YOUR ARRIVAL TO PARIS IN GARE du NORD

We were going to be pupils of the city for the next seven days, so we had to figure out how to navigate the public transit in Paris. This may have been an easy task had it not been on a Saturday night in the busiest train station in all of Europe! However, we did manage to find a ticket kiosk for the trains and all of the information was provided in English (you have to select the little Union Jack flag ).  Just stay calm here and don't be intimidated by the crowds. Be patient. There are two main types of subways in Paris- the RER (Regional Express- takes you to the suburbs and beyond the city limits) and the Metro (this train stays in the city proper), so make your selection carefully. We took the RER line out of the city and found our way to our bed and breakfast Sourire B&B.  Let me also say here that this was by far the best place we stayed throughout our entire trip. Ilahme is a magnificent host that made us a wonderful breakfast each morning, gave us great tips about the city, and made us feel right at home. If you are going to Paris, do yourself a favor and use the link provided here to book with Ilhame!

Picture of Ashley in our room at the Sourire B&B (Post made by Ilhame on the Instagram page of Sourire B&B)



THE PARISIAN ESSENTIALS

The next few days we explored the essential spots like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is always extremely crowded, and no matter what you do, you will run into huge groups of people. The Eiffel Tower is an amazing piece of history and engineering that has stood tall since 1889. Take a little care around the base of the tower. I am not one of those tourists that is afraid of everything, but things can get tricky around major attractions. For instance, you will see a lot of panhandlers and salesmen trying to get money from you. I hate to be rude, but the best thing that you can do in this scenario is to ignore them. Keep your eyes set in the distance, avoid making eye contact, and definitely don't try to start a conversation.
The Eiffel Tower (the lights activate at the top of every hour)

You can also take amazing boat rides down the Seine River from locations close to the Eiffel Tower. These boat rides are usually guided by informative recordings that can be very useful for learning the history of the city. It is very romantic to go at night, but tours also leave during the day.

Arc de Triomphe

We made our way over to the Arc de Triomphe by using the Metro. The Metro will take you right under the Arc and all you will have to do is hop off and walk up a set of stairs! Being a history teacher that has seen the Arc in so many historic pictures, I wanted to know all about this monument. Ashley helped me to make the video below for my high school students.



Les Invalides

If you love military history and want to learn more about Napoleon I, you need to visit Les Invalides (The Disabled). This was originally commissioned by Louis XIV to be a hospital for disabled soldiers, and also a home for those soldiers that could not be rehabilitated. Under the central gold dome that highlights the building's horizon, you will find the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte and several other officers that helped him conquer most of Europe. The museums here are full of great displays and give you a complete account of the long military history of France. 
                                                      



Montmartre

Montmartre is a beautiful area to visit while you are in Paris. Take the Metro to the "Blanche" station and you will pop up right in front of the Moulin Rouge! From there, it's about a 20 or so minute walk up to the tip-top of Montmartre. Along the way, you will walk through small alleyways with all kinds of shops and a couple of museums. Montmartre is rich in history because the elevation of this area was instrumental in many military conquests. Your climb will be rewarded at the pinnacle of this small mountain when you arrive at Sacre' Coeur (pronounced - "Sack- ree- coor"- French for "Sacred Heart"). The inside of this cathedral is breathtaking, and from the front terrace, you can take in the best view you will ever see of Paris. Entry to the basilica is free, but you will have to pay a small fee to enter the crypt or climb the dome to have another spectacular view of the city. 

Ashley and me on the front terrace of Sacre' Coeur


Trocadero Gardens

Before you cross the Seine River to visit the Eiffel Tower, stop and visit a while in the Trocadero Garden Square. There are two museums here that you need to visit if you love architecture. This is also just a beautiful spot to hang out, rest a minute, and take a couple of pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Be wary here as well for the panhandlers, pickpockets, and salesmen. You can also visit one of the many homages paid to American statesman Benjamin Franklin in this area. Franklin lived in Paris as the American Ambassador from 1776 to 1785. During his stay, he captured the hearts of the Parisians. When you visit  Paris you will see metro stations, roads, and buildings named in Dr. Franklin's honor.

Statue of Dr. Franklin outside of Trocadero Gardens

Ile de la Cite' (Island of the City)

You will find an island in the middle of the Seine River that is considered the center of Paris and all of France. On this island, you find two of the most beautiful cathedrals in all of Europe. The first building dominating the skyline on the island is Notre Dame (French for "Our Lady"). This cathedral, which was constructed over several centuries, houses the "Holy Crown," which was worn by Jesus during his crucifixion.  You can also stand in front of the cathedral and see where all of the roads in France begin! Not far from Notre Dame is the Sainte-Chapelle. This once royal residence turned cathedral has the most spectacular stained-glass windows I have ever seen. It is essential that you try to visit this area during your stay, but beware there will be tourists EVERYWHERE. The lines to get into either of these destinations can be daunting.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris


The Catacombs

Ashley and I are both somewhat claustrophobic, but we decided that we were dead-set on going to visit the Catacombs- no pun intended. I mean we were dying to go! I am glad that we made this decision because our visit here was one of the best times we had on our journey through Europe. The Catacombs were originally underground tunnels used for mining limestone that was in turn used to make all of the beautiful buildings in Paris. These tunnels go for miles and miles under the city. Around the eighteenth century, these long underground mine shafts would find a new purpose. Graveyards in Paris were literally overflowing during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774). On one occasion, the basement of a home was flooded with corpses after the retaining wall of Saints-Innocent cemetery had been breached. The deceased could not be buried deep enough either, which caused a whole bunch of other sanitary problems for the city. The solution was to be done in Parisian style and make art out of the remains of the dead! Louis-Etienne Hericart proposed taking all of the bones to the mines and use the bones to create symmetry and support, and, yes, MONEY! We were officially freaked out by the end of the tour, which meant we were satisfied customers. 



The Catacombs of Paris

Bon Voyage

Paris is definitely a city that will inspire you. I haven't included even half of all the cool places we visited or interesting things we learned during our time there. Everywhere you look in this beautiful city, you will find the story of Paris and you will also find that it is hard to leave.



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