Werner Ulrich's Home Page:  Picture of the Month

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September 2005

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Paris for beginners (Part 1 of 2)  I recently run off to Paris with my girl well, not exactly. When you are in your (later) fifties, that's not what you are supposed to do. So, I simply invited my dear wife for a mini-vacation in Paris, both to celebrate a private occasion and to meet a befriended couple from Latin America who were visiting at the same time. And she accepted! I had been in Paris before but never just for its own sake, as a tourist; the same holds for my wife and our friends. We thus were all beginners and, to be sure, remain so after just a few days of visiting. Here, then, are a beginner's footnotes on Paris. As it would be pointless to address them to those who already know and love Paris – that would be like preaching to the converted – I have conceived them for beginners only, in the form of short dictionary entries: "Paris for beginners."


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Ville Lumière - One of my first and lasting impressions of Paris is that it is a surprisingly light city, "light" in every sense of the word – full of lights and light colors (I am thinking of the white façades of the Quai d'Orléans, for example), but also remarkably easy-going and easily digestible, welcoming and relaxed, a good place to live…. so different, so much less dark, indigestible, aggressive and overpowering than I experienced other major cities. I did not know then, on our very first day in Paris, that one of the official slogans of Paris Tourism is indeed Paris, Ville Lumière (city of light). Of course, as a philosophical mind I realize that the slogan refers as much to the political and intellectual significance of Paris as a center of the Enlightenment and of the French Revolution, but still, it seems an apt way to capture its friendliness; its easy-going, almost Mediterranean way of life.



Les ponts de Paris 

Les ponts de Paris - There are plenty of them and virtually all are beautiful and add to the splendor of Paris: the bridges over the River Seine. Among my favorites were the Pont St-Michel, the Pont Neuf, the Pont Alexandre  III, and the Pont St-Louis. Walk not only across them but also below them, strolling along the shore of the Seine.



Les "Bateaux-Mouches" - When you stroll along the River Seine, you will soon discover the tourist boats with glass pavilions that circulate between the Jardin des Plantes in the east and the blue01_next.gif Eiffel Tower in the west, and which allow you a leisurely way of seeing many of the city's monuments. The Parisians call them bateaux-mouches (fly boats). The origin of the name is disputed, but that should not diminish your pleasure of sight-seeing by boat. You can buy a round-trip ticket valid for a day and then leave and re-enter the boats at major points of your choice – an excellent way to see the attractions close to the river.



Rive Gauche - The left bank of the Seine river or southern half of the city, with the Quartier Latin and its heart, the Sorbonne University. Among the left bank's best-known streets are Boulevard Saint-Michel, Place de l'Odéon, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Rue de l'Université, Rue des Ecoles, and Rue d'Ulm. Stands not only for a geographical part of the city but for the intellectual and alternative scene of Paris; opposite of the blue01_next.gif Rive Droite.



Rive Droite - The right bank of the Seine river or northern half of the city, which is the "modern," business part of the city with elegant shopping avenues such as the Rue de Rivoli, Rue de la Paix, Avenue de l'Opéra, Av. Montaigne, Bd. Haussmann, and of course the blue01_next.gif Champs-Elysées.



Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis - The "City Isle" and "St. Louis Isle"are the two small islands in the River Seine, in the heart of Paris. They are linked by the Pont St-Louis. The Ile de la Cité is the larger and also the better known of the two, as it hosts the gorgeous Notre-Dame Cathedral. The Ile St-Louis is my personal favorite, it's more tranquil and offers superb residential locations such as the earlier-mentioned Quai d'Orléans, where I'd probably want to live in Paris if money didn't matter.





Paris city tours - It would be impossible to overlook the many red and yellow double-deck buses of the two companies that offer city tours to the tourists, Les Cars Rouges (red buses) and Paris L'Open Tour (yellow buses). Taking a city tour by bus is usually an efficient and enjoyable way to get a first overview of the sights of a city. Not so in Paris. Traffic slows them down so much that I did not find this a good investment of time. Most of the time, our bus was not moving at all, standing up to half an hour in the chaotic traffic. Forget the idea. I would suggest that the boats on the Seine offer a better alternative. blue01_next.gif Les Bateaux-Mouches.




Eiffel Tower - Almost as inevitable as blue01_next.gif les crottes, but considerably more worthwhile. Built in 1889 for the World Exposition of Paris and planned to be torn down after 20 years, it has become the hallmark of the City. Still an impressive and very interesting construction. Mandatory for beginners.



The views it offers are overwhelming. The crowds waiting to get in too. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting it in the early evening hours, some time before it's getting dark, so that you can enjoy both the day and the night panorama. At the time it gets dark, the tower will for a short moment be sparkling. On a windy day, you can feel the tower swaying, but don't worry, it has been swaying ever since it was built and will not break down just when you (along with a few hundred other people) are visiting.


Sparkling Eiffel tower

Sparkling Eiffel Tower


Champs-Elysées - Allegedly the most beautiful street of the world. The Arc de Triomphe at its western end is certainly monumental, but otherwise, this is far from being one of my favorites among the streets of Paris. The traffic is just awful. Avoid if you can.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe


Les Deux Magots: the street cafés of Paris - One of my preferred ways of taking in the ambience of a city new to me is by sitting in the street cafés (where available) and watching. For someone like me who counts street cafés among the most important qualities that a city has (or hasn't) to offer, Paris is an Eldorado. Many of the street cafés of Paris have their history, of course, particularly on the blue01_next.gif Rive Gauche. Among the most famous ones are Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore, both on the Boulevard Saint-Germain-de-Prés, where in the 1950s writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoire, Albert Camus, and others existentialists, were discussing.


Café Les Deux Magots

Les Deux Magots


Les crottes de Paris - When you are walking the streets of Paris, it is not advisable to dedicate all your attention to the sights and the life around you. Don't forget to look down and try to spot les crottes de chiens, the dog's muck that is omni-present. Despite all efforts of the authorities to clean the streets and to motivate the dog owners to pick up the muck of their darlings, the dogs of Paris produce no less than 20 tons of it every day anew. Millions of tourists, (dog-)tired from sight-seeing, must have memories of this other aspect of elegant Paris. No wonder one of the ever-popular words of the French is merde!

(To be continued – Part 2 / 2 follows in October)

September 2005

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September, 2005

September 2005 - Ile St-Louis, Quai d'Orléans

 In the heart of Paris: Quai d'Orléans

"There is never any ending to Paris."

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964)



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Last updated 6 Dec 2009 (layout) and 3 Sept 2005 (text, first published 30 Aug 2005)


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