Paris by bike, by night, and by God, it was fantastic
Our first lucky break was the location of the hotel! Staying at the Left Bank Hotel was perfect, it was 2 minutes from the metro station, and no more than 20 minutes walk to the Louvre, Notre Dame, l’Orsay and steps away from the Paris cafe scene. The hotel was one of the 5 “charming boutique hotels in Paris” and will be my go to option again.
We took an e-bike tour of Paris entitled the charms and secrets of Paris. This offbeat, back roads, and untraditional glimpse of a world class city.
Our photos of the Louvre without people were achieved on this day. We walked to the bike tour at 7:30 am, the Louvre square was EMPTY. That never happens! So a few pictures were in order.
As a group we met at a royal square (Place Vendome built in 1699). Part of the King’s city planning was to create a courtyard or large green area with controlled access, the nobility or royalty of the time could meet, socialize, and enjoy outdoor venues/concerts without the worry of pickpockets or other unsavory people. The city has 5 royal squares remaining, and afford the traveler a place to enjoy both air and light in the middle of a big city. An over life-size equestrian statue of the king [Louis XIV] was set up in its centre, but it was destroyed during the French Revolution. Today, the green column celebrates the victory of Napoleon over Europe. Its veneer of 425 spiraling bas-relief bronze plates was made out of cannon (180 cannon were captured and melted down) taken from the combined armies of Europe.
La Procope, originated in 1686, is the name of the restaurant connected to our hotel and one of the highlights of the cycle tour. Although we “lived” next door, we did not realize its historical significance. The restaurant was the hangout of the forward minded thinkers of the day. It is known that Benjamin Franklin wrote the 1st draft of the Declaration of Independence while hanging out at this restaurant. It was the total hangout of Napolean, they have his hat encased by the front door; the desk and the picture overhead in the photoblog is the picture of Voltaire and his desk, who was also a frequent guest. The French Revolution was rooted in this place, you walk on the carpet covered in fleur de lis, the universal symbol of the King or Royalty.
Our guide told us about a plan to expand the streets in Paris and when the construction crews began digging they found an Roman arena in Paris. Constructed in the 1st century, it hosted gladiatorial combats, theatrical productions and mock naval battles. Victor Hugo, an intellectual in Paris was part of a preservation committee in Paris and spearheaded the effort to save the arena. (Victor had also recently had good luck with saving Notre Dame cathedral by writing the book “Hunchback of Notre Dame” so there was a renewed interest in the church.)
The church of Saint Sulpice is most well known for its organ. The sound and musical effects achieved in this instrument are almost unparalleled. An organ concert is performed after church services on Sunday, which of course, we enjoyed very much. This church is also known for their Delacroix Frescoes; it contains hidden metaphors for the Knights Templar. (Delacroix was a Masonic member.) I am not sure I can name them all but this church and its fountains were used in the Dan Brown book and subsequent filming of the Da Vinci Code. You might recognize the fountain!
We visited the church that the French Revolution forgot. During the French Revolution all visible of signs of Christianity were removed from churches by revolutionary armies eager to seek revenge against the wealthy and the powerful. Stained glass windows were smashed, statues and works of art were destroyed, and buildings like churches or palaces were converted to stables or warehouses. La Congregation du Saint-Espirit was earmarked for vandalism, but when the mob arrived, the nun invited them all to the wine cellar to enjoy a glass of wine. The mob drank and toasted the Revolution all night. Thoroughly drunk and probably with a headache, they went home to sleep it off. They forgot to vandalize the church that night and they never came back. So this small missionary community is the only church in the entirety of France that retains all its original stained glass (donated by Marie Antoinette), paintings, decorations. Isn’t it beautiful.
Saint Chapelle. This Royal chapel was finished in 1248, it served as part of the Kings residence until the 14th century. It was built to house the the Kings prized possession: Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. As you enter you are greeted by walls of stained glass, everywhere you look. In my opinion this is the prettiest church in France. It was damaged by the French Revolution, but still remains the largest amount of 13th century stained glass collection in the world. The church hosts classical concerts every evening. Brahms, Mozart, and the sun setting through those windows, only in Paris!
The Arc de Triumph du Carrousel is half the size of the famous Arc de Triumph de l’Etoile, includes similar reliefs, sculptures on the Arc pillars as well as a nice group of statues and gilded figure on the top of the Arc. It affords an unobstructed view west towards its sister arc and is perfectly aligned with the obelisk in Place de la Concorde,Champs Elysees. It also aligns with the “big wheel” which normally sees guests at Christmas time, but was still offering the best view of Paris because France was the host of the summer’s European soccer championship just before we arrived.
We used the city bike program to ride to the historic Arc de Triumph down the Champs Elysees. It was a great way to capture this monument without walking. Did I mention we walked an average of 5 miles every day we were in Paris. We were there for 10 days, do the math.
Mr Eiffel’s Tower, built as the entrance for the 1889 world’s fair, but has become a global icon for France and the rest of the world. David and I scored the “skip the line” tickets at 10pm one night and managed to get to all available floors of the tower, including the very tippy top, The view is incredible. At midnight, people are still buzzing from the view, from pinching themselves that they are at the TOP OF THE WORLD!