Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best Views of Paris

When you come to Paris, you will visit the top of the Eiffel Tower. I have, twice already, and will probably do so again before I leave in May. As one of the most visited attractions in the world since its erection in 1889, it is almost shameful not to go to the top while you are here. If that is not enough of a reason, just think of how you will be forced to repeatedly explain upon your return home.

Family and Friends - How was Paris?
You - Great
Family and Friends - So did you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower?
You - Um, nope.
Family and Friends - Why not?

During the day you are likely to encounter heavy haze. Nonetheless you will be able to get a good idea of the city layout and will observe that Montmartre really is quite the hill. Trace the Seine as it envelopes Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis, straight out into the suburbs that surround Paris in every direction. At night the most spectacular sight is looking up at the thousands of lights that decorate the tower. Just be sure to go early and avoid the lines. At the least you will enjoy the four elevator rides you will have to take up and back.

Now that I have given that winning endorsement I can get to the point: there are much better places from which to view the lights of the city.

best day view

I am not one for modern art but I am eager to absorb all of Paris and having received rave reviews from friends, I was happy to accompany Alex to the Centre Pompiodu on a Sunday afternoon. In the end I really appreciated, even liked, a lot of the artwork in the museum. Even if I had not, the visit would have been worth it just for the experience travelling up through the hamster like tubes that serve as the building's main artery between floors.

I had just finished reading Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. Of all the places I have been to in Paris, the view from the Pompidou is the one that most closely matches the description I took from the book. More exactly, it matched perfectly the image of Paris I had before arriving in the city. The Paris of dreams. Namely, Paris rooftops.

If you are short on time don't bother skip the lineups for a ticket to the museum and go straight to the hamster tunnel where you will find an escalator to the café on the top floor. I have heard from friends and read in reviews that the George Pompidou is overpriced and serves terrible food, yet, despite their complaints, everyone continues to recommend it.

best sunset view 

Take the metro to Abbesse and enjoy an afternoon exploring the historical artist neighbourhood of Montmartre. As the day is coming to an end, take a seat among the crowds of tourists on the front steps of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur and watch the City of Lights unfold across the horizon with the sunset. Off to the left look for the two towers of Notre Dame, straight ahead is Montparnasse and to the right you'll see the Eiffel Tower.

A group of local teenagers will provide the music, strumming on their guitars. Don't expect a romantic moment to last however: it is sure to be interupted more than once by someone trying to sell you an overpriced heineken from the 12 pack under their arm. Thankfully you came prepared with wine!

When you leave be careful to go straight south to Boulevard de Clichy or even better west to Metro Abbesse. To the east is the neighbourhood surrounding Gare de Nord where you should not be caught after dark.

best night view

When my parents were here last fall we braced ourselves against the evening breeze and climbed the 284 stairs to the top of the Arc de triomphe. The street lights and billboards line the full length Champs-Elysées so that you can see straight down to the Obélisque de Louxor in Place de la Concorde. Turn around and you'll see what looks like a doorway into another world but is actually just the massive cube shaped monument known as the Grande Arche. What is most special is the spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. After dark the metal structure is illuminated by 20,000 light bulbs, which sparkle for five minutes every hour on the hour.

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