After being picked up from Charles de Gaulle airport, we drove through Paris in the light of the early morning. My first impressions were that the scenery was typical of any major city. I saw industrial facilities dotting the skyline, traffic jams, and retail outlets everywhere. As we arrived inside the city limits of Paris, I began seeing residential buildings, people walking, and small boutique shops. The driver informed me we were about five minutes from the hotel. Looking up to respond, I saw it! My first Paris landmark: The Arc de Triomphe! Wow, I really was in Paris!
Learning the Art of a Proper Flâneur, a Boulevardier!
After checking in at the hotel, I was anxious to hit the streets of Paris! A childlike enthusiasm had set in, and I felt unstoppable! But business first ...
I needed a French sim card for my phone. The hotelier had been gracious enough to draw a map to the nearest phone store since, at that point, I had no phone data. Being a Paris virgin, I didn't realize he was directing me to the infamous Champs Elysees, the mecca of Paris!
He drew a right turn out of the hotel, left at the second street, 200 meters, and another right to reach the phone store. I hurried in, got my sim card, and upon exiting the store, I found myself standing on the most famous boulevard in the world.
But that wasn't the coup de gras! However, what was was when I glanced to my left, there stood the Arc de Triomphe in all her glory!
A Parisian Stroll on the Boulevard
A flâneur or boulevardier was an act I had only read about. But I was about to add that to my list of travel adventures. An aimless stroll along the Champs Elysees with a stop here and a stop there was how I envisioned the rest of my day. And so, it was.
Along the way, I would visit the Arc, stop at a cafe, browse some shops and let the ambiance of Paris soak in. A grand wish list! Looking at the map below, the Arc de Triomphe stands proudly as the Champs Elysees radiates like the spokes of a wheel. The Arc is also located at the roundabout where the main 12 avenues converge, and because of this, you get a fantastic perspective of the city.
The Arc de Triomphe
As I strolled towards the roundabout where the Arc is located, I noticed the traffic was getting pretty heavy. Honestly, the amount of commercialism is not what I expected, but "sa la vie," right? To cross the heavy traffic lanes, underground tunnels are available to take you to the entrance of this landmark.
My Visit to the Arc
Little did I know the surprises that awaited me!
The first surprise was the 284 steps up to the viewing area and then back down again! No elevator! See what assumptions get you! It never crossed my mind that there was no elevator! 202 steps before you arrive at the mezzanine level and then another 82 steps to the top! I steeled myself for the climb, and off I went! Arriving at the mezzanine level, I found an amazing museum. Small, but in my opinion, perfect!
I learned that Napoleon had the Arc de Triomphe built to immortalize the battle won at Austerlitz and to honor his soldiers. The construction began in 1806 and was completed in 1836. Inaugurated that same year, the monument later bore witness to major national events such as the return of Napoleon's ashes in 1840, the vigil for the funeral of Victor Hugo in 1885, the WWI victory parade by the Allies in July 1919, and finally, the internment of the Unknown Soldier in January of 1921. The eternal flame was lit in 1923 and is relit every day at 6:30 pm, a ceremony organized by the "La Flamme son l'Arc de Triomphe" association.
The views from the uppermost level of the Arc de Triomphe were fantastic. In hindsight, better than the Eiffel Tower simply because of its location and the perspective of the city you received. It was a foggy, misty day but still glorious!
According to the informational brochure I picked up at the Arc, the average visit is about 43 minutes. I spent about an hour, which was plenty of time to see the artifacts in the museum and browse the gift shop.
Moving on From the Arc de Triomphe, Next Up in My New Found Role as a Flâneur
Strolling almost the entirety of Champs Elysees (about 1.2 miles), I stopped for coffee across from the new building housing the Dior House of Fashion. I checked Google Maps to see how close I was to Notre Dame and the Liberty Flame.
Pro Travel Tip
Pay attention to pricing when in tourist areas! My latte on the Champs Elysees was 9 Euros! It was good and I enjoyed it but walked away feeling robbed! Accept the fact that you are paying for your item and the location.
The Liberty Flame
Until my pre-trip research, I had never heard of this landmark, and I found it quite interesting!
The Liberty Flame (Flamme de la Liberte) is an exact, to-scale replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty in New York. It is covered in gold leaf and was donated in 1989 by the International Herald Tribune to honor the restoration of the Statue of Liberty which had been completed three years earlier.
Its location sits right above the tunnel entrance where Princess Diana died in that horrific car accident in 1997. Because of this, it has become an unofficial memorial to the Princess. Looking at the photos just below, you can see the bouquets of flowers and other memorial offerings which are still left on a daily basis.
Although Notre Dame cathedral is still closed and under renovation from that catastrophic fire in April of 2019, I still wanted to see it. So, off I went, and how impressive it was!
The official name of the cathedral is Notre-Dame de Paris which translates to "Our Lady of Paris." Located on Île de la Cité (a small island in the Seine River that cuts through the city), the cathedral of French Gothic architecture is one of the most iconic landmarks in Paris.
Construction began in 1163 and was completed by 1260. Noted for its rose-colored windows, sculptures, and pipe organs, Notre Dame has played an important part in the history of France. It was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War and was the site of Napoleon's coronation. Along with being the inspiration for several novels, it has also served as the cathedral used for the funerals of many French Presidents.
Prior to the fire of 2019, Notre Dame suffered extensive damage during the French Revolution in the 1790s. Similar to the recent fire, the damage suffered involved religious artifacts and interior features but not the structure itself. The 2024 Summer Olympics will be held in Paris, and the plan is that the Cathedral will be completely restored by that time. It was sad to see all the scaffolding and the pictures during and immediately after the fire, but the structure is absolutely magnificent, and the global cooperative effort to restore is truly a reflection of the good in mankind!
From Notre Dame, I walked the quiet streets of Ile Saint- Louis. The streets are narrow cobblestone, and storefront after storefront reminded me of my little girl's dreams of Paris! The smell of fresh bread baking, the artsy window displays, cafes ... it was perfect!
Strolling the city of Paris was an extraordinary experience. My first day, as outlined above, was one of the highlights of the trip. I love to walk while traveling as you are able to see your destination from a different perspective: the sights, the sounds, and the smells become part of the experience. The landmarks become characters in the story of your journey. In a way, walking seems to take the tour out of "tourist," and before you realize you become a flâneur, a person who strolls in a lazy yet relaxed way. Being at the street level adds perspective and spontaneity to the adventure.
Paris is full of spontaneous adventures, whether it be experiencing the many landmarks, the food, the Jazz Quarter, or the village within the city, Montemarte. The city is larger and busier than I had imagined, but the 20 arrondissements are all unique and offer a more intimate experience to the locals and visitors.
I encourage you as you walk through life's journey, whether you be in your hometown or traveling, to become a flâneur or a boulevardier. Stroll and take in all that surrounds in you in this glorious world we live in!
Until next time friends, remember, "To Travel is to Live!"
© 2023 Dee Nicolou Serkin