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Friday, March 23, 2012

How to do Paris in 48 hours

Fontaine de la place de la Concorde, with Eiff...Fontaine de la place de la Concorde, with Eiffel Tower in the background, Paris, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Katy Hyslop

There's no need to worry that you will miss the best Paris has to offer when this guide shows you how to see it all in only 48 hours.
Paris is a city of many faces, the narrow streets contain hidden jewels of patisseries, bars and Parisian café culture that have attracted visitors for centuries.
One of the best places to begin your day is at the Arc De Triomphe, the largest roundabout in France's capital and one of the most hazardous in the world. No insurance company will cover a vehicle travelling around it, as twelve roads feed into the circle with no clear road markings an and even less clear is who has right of way.

Thankfully there is an underpass to get across safely. The view from the arch down the 1.3km stretch of the Champs Elysée ends at the Place de la Concorde and a smaller version of the triumphant arch that stands in the Jardin Tuileries beyond, the Arc De Triomphe du Carousel. The arch itself offers a fine panoramic view of Paris from the top, as well as a good glimpse of that most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower.
The walk to the tower first brings you to the Palace Challiot, a complex of four museums dedicated to French movies, Naval history, a museum of mankind and one for French Monuments. The pathway between leads down to the gardens of the Trocadero but the most striking feature is of course the tower just beyond.
The Eiffel Tower was built as a showpiece of the 1889 world Expo, advertising the quality of French steel, incorporating 10,100 tonnes of iron. Gustave Eiffel felt his creation was a fine example of French engineering. His view sadly was not shared by everyone. Several attempts were made to take it down but its role as a radio antenna in WWI was what eventually saved it.
Today it is one of the best known Parisian landmarks, attracting thousands of tourists to the top every year. The length of the queues depends on the time of year and time of day. There are two points of entry for the lifts, or there is the alternative of climbing the stairs, all 1,710 of them. A great work out for the hips and thighs.
If the lines are short it may be wise to take the chance now to make your attempt to reach the top. If you are lucky enough to reach the third level you may wish to spend 1-2 hours to experience it. There are museum rooms to view with details on the tower's construction and history. Otherwise it pays to arrive early.
Beneath the tower lies the Champ de Mars, a landscaped green area that leads to the Ecole Militaire. Further on to the left of the military school is the Hotel Des Invalides, the site once used as an armoury that supplied the gun wielding revolutionaries in 1789.
Follow the riverside along Quay D'Orsay down towards Pont Alexander III. Cross the bridge an walk towards the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais down Avenue Winston Churchill. Both palaces are now art galleries devoted to modern and ancient artworks, permanent displays as well as new artists. Straight ahead you rejoin the Champs Elysée that will take you down to Place de la Concorde.
The Place de la Concorde is the finishing point for the cycle race the Tour de France as well as the historical site of the French Revolution. The square is worth a few moments to remember it was originally called Place du Revolution, and home to 'Madame Guillotine'.
The Obelisk gifted by Mohammed Ali in 1831 came from Luxor and marks the spot where many French nobles met their end during the French Revolution. The square would have been filled with peasants eager to see their former employers going for the chop in 1789 and during the reign of terror that followed.
You can leave the traffic behind for a bit now as you enter the Jardin des Tuileries. The fountains and pathways were once part of Palace Tuileries but it burnt down during some violent revolutionary riots.
In the gardens you will find statues and artworks on display, including one of Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who led an army against the English in the 15th Century, and later burned at the stake as a heretic.
The end of the gardens is marked by Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe du Carousel, another little present to himself glorifying his achievements. The horses, or Quadriga, on top are copies of the ones sitting above the door of Basilica San Marco in Venice which he was made to give back.
If you spent 20 seconds in front of each piece of art in the Louvre you would be there for 3 months day in and day out. There are literally millions of artworks by thousands of artists covering centuries. Of course the most famous one would have to be Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
It is advisable to devote a day or at least a morning to visit some of the museum rooms. One way is to pick a style or century that interests you and devote to it a couple of hours rather than try to see everything.
There are other entrances other than the obvious one beneath the glass pyramid at the front door. Tickets can be pre booked online up to a year in advance which also helps to keep queuing to a minimum.
Walk through the archway in the centre of the main building and it will take you out onto the riverbank again. Keep following the Quai de Louvre along the Seine until you reach Pont Neuf. Along the way you will pass St Germain-L'Axerrois, the royal chapel of the Louvre. Further down is Chatelet, a huge shopping centre facing the Ile de la Cite.
Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris and joins the two banks of the river to Ile de la Cite, where Paris originated. The island is home to the Conciergerie prison where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution, as well as many other nobles. But perhaps the most famous building here is the gothic cathedral known as Notre Dame.
Often consider by some as the finest example of Gothic architecture the cathedral was made famous by Victor Hugo and his novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The flying buttresses used to hold up the immense walls on the outside are a signature feature of gothic architecture.
There is a plaque on the ground in front of the church that marks the spot where begins the measurements for the arrondissements, or Parisian suburbs. These spiral out of the centre like a snails shell.
The isle has flower markets as well as some typical pavement cafes to enjoy a caffé au lait and croissant while watching the world go by.
You can spend the time people watching or shopping, either in Chatelet or Les Halles, another huge complex that offers some excellent retail therapy. For things a bit more thrifty there is the Latin Quarter.
The Latin Quarter is also a great place to tackle the Parisian cuisine scene. The name does not refer to the ethnicity of its inhabitants but more to do with the fact it was the seat of learning for medieval Paris. Students spoke to their tutors in Latin right up until the 18th Century. The alleyways are now filled with little restaurants, cafes and bookshops that still cater to the student clientele.
After dinner try a river cruise to see why Paris has earned the name 'city of lights' and you may even catch the Eiffel Tower putting on it's sparkly display. There are plenty of companies offering short cruises from Ile de la Cite up the river to the foot of the tower and back.
An early start is essential to avoid the queues, whether you are taking in the Louvre, or a bit of it at least, or reaching the top of the Eiffel tower. Other museums and galleries worth a couple of hours discovering include the Musée D'Orsay, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso and the Georges Pompidou Centre.
Alternatively if you want to experience art, culture and extravagant wealth you can take a train ride out to Versailles, the summer palace built by Louis XIV. The humble beginnings as a hunting lodge were soon transformed into an elaborate complex of gardens, summer houses, follies, fountains and the immense royal residence.
One of the most popular places to visit in Paris is literally the dead end of town, the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. The most visited graves include Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Edith Pilaf and Jim Morrison. If your interest is piqued by the macabre then don't miss the catacombs. 1.6km of tunnels stretch beneath Paris housing the remains of millions of residents from overflowing cemeteries in 1785.
Late afternoon
A great way to finish is to spend the rest of the day at Montmartre, a much more lively location. The steps to Basilica du Sacre Coeur at the top offer a fine view over the city as well as plenty of street performers and a chance to reflect on the day. The area of Montmartre is synonymous with art and the bohemian lifestyle. Although a bit more commercial these days the streets and squares are full of life and artists.
Restaurants and bars attract locals and tourists alike, where you can while away the evening with a boeuf bourguignon or plat du jour. Just down the hill is Place Pigalle, famous for the Moulin Rouge, the red light district and other stage shows. The boulevard is filled with bars and cafes that open onto the street until very late.
From the left bank to the right Paris is filled with class, style and culture. Even in just 48 hours you can experience all the best that this wonderful city has to offer.
Katy Hyslop has been a tour guide and teacher in Europe for the past 6 years.
She now keeps the crew in line at the Plus Office in Italy. If you wish to know more about opening times and entry fees then click here [].

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