You may find it hard to believe that I was in France for two days before I actually went into the city of Paris. It was nice to get my bearings in the small village before venturing into the city though. This morning, my host mom, Agnès, took me to the train station to help me purchase a Navigo pass and make sure I got on the correct train. The pass is an excellent value for anybody riding the train or metro in Paris on a daily basis. There is a weekly, monthly, or annual fee that the pass holder can purchase for unlimited travel within that time frame. Since I plan to go into the city several times a week, this was a no-brainer decision for me. Luckily, Agnès’ skills as a translator were superb and I was on my way quickly.
The train ride into the city center is only 20 minutes from the Maisons-Laffitte station. I arrived at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station and immediately headed for ground level. This large train/metro station would easily connect me to many other parts of Paris, but I was interested in seeing my first taste of the city tout de suite! Also, this may come as a surprise to the friends with whom I’ve traveled before, but I had NO IDEA what was on my agenda for the day. Meaning I had zero agenda. Meaning that I did not bring a map or book or travel guide of any sort with me. And I didn’t even have a water bottle in my purse! Nothing by way of preparation except for an umbrella (which consequently meant that the weather stayed beautiful), my camera, and a few euros in my purse. I may be taking my new-found carefree, spontaneous lifestyle a bit too far since a map would have really been helpful. I have already vowed to “plan” out my next excursion better.
As the escalator ascended aboveground, I was caught off-guard by how massive the Arc de Triomphe was right in front of my face. I’ve always been a little underwhelmed by the Arc, so it wasn’t my goal to stick around that area for long. The Arc de Triomphe stands as a triumphal arch honoring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I rests beneath the vault. It was designed by Jean Chalgrin in 1806 and boasts the names of all French victories and generals on its inner and outer surfaces. Standing almost 50 meters tall, it was the largest triumphal arch in the world until construction of the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang in 1982. You can learn more here.
I actually didn’t take any photos of Arc de Triomphe today, so these are from December 2011 when I visited Paris for the first time.
Since the Arc de Triomphe also marks the start of the Champs-Élysées, I decided to take a walk down this iconic street. Spanning over a mile long, the Champs-Élysées is home to some of the most expensive shopping in Europe. Needless to say, I was not planning to purchase any goods, but it is always fun to look. One must note that if you are planning to cruise the Champs-Élysées, you must always start at the Arc de Triomphe and walk down (southeast) the street. Legend has it that when Hitler occupied Paris in 1940, he brazenly marched up the Champs-Élysées, ending at the Arc. By walking down the street, we are stomping out the footsteps of Hitler.
It happened only two minutes into my leisurely stroll down the Champs-Élysées: I saw it. I honestly wanted to enjoy a nice walk without any distractions. The sun was shining, birds singing, a perfect day to stroll. But one does not simply catch sight of the Eiffel Tower and not immediately run as fast as they can! I would challenge anyone to visit Paris and wait until their last day to see the Eiffel Tower. C’est impossible!
After a few quick stops for pictures of legendary shops on the Champs-Élysées, I had the arduous task of finding my way to the tower. You would not think it possible to lose sight of a 1,050 foot tower, far higher than any other structure in Paris, but it is. It’s possible, and I did it. Without knowledge of how far my walk would be, I decided to descend underground to the metro. Within a short period of time, I was located in the Esplanade du Trocadéro, offering some of the best views of the Eiffel Tower. From there, I made my way across the Seine to the tower itself. Having no reading material or English-speaking companion, I spent a few hours casually strolling, savoring a pistachio ice cream cone, and enjoying the fabulous weather. I’ll save my Eiffel Tower facts and stories for a later date, as I’m sure there will be plenty of them in the future and in the meantime, please enjoy a few pictures! Au revoir!