Paris is in the details. When I was there in March everything looked grey and tired from the rain but there were spots of colour that seemed all the more brilliant because of the weather. Golden domes shone against the dark skies and white marble statues stood out in the parks among the bare trees.
We took a whirlwind tour of the city by bus, getting out in some places to wander about in the brisk spring air. The bus took us around some of Paris’s most famous sites, such as the Place de la Bastille where the French Revolution was ignited in July 1789 with the storming of the Bastille Prison. The French Revolution and the resulting Enlightenment movement had a far reaching influence on modern political ideology and human rights. Today the square’s main focal point is the July Column, a monument commemorating the Second French Revolution of 1830.
At Place de la Concorde our bus stopped to let us out for a closer look. Running across at least four lanes of traffic we made it over to the center of the roundabout just as the light turned green again and cars whizzed past our backs. Of course no one had told us about the crosswalk only about a hundred metres down the road. Standing at one end of the gigantic square we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, towering over Paris.
The Place de la Concorde was created in 1772 in honor of King Louis XV. Ironically, this square was also the site of guillotine executions during the French Revolution which ended the life of his successor, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette. Gruesome history aside, the square is very beautifully decorated with statues and fountains. At its centre stands the Luxor Obelisk from the temple of Ramses II at Thebes which was gifted to Paris in 1836.
The obelisk is not the only foreign monument on Parisian soil. Overlooking the Seine there is a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty. France gave the original Statue of Liberty to the United States as a gift in 1886 and they returned the favor with a smaller version that now rests on Swan Island. It looks westward over the river towards its bigger cousin in America.
We drove past the Hôtel des Invalides which had been originally created under the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV as barracks for disabled war veterans. This large building housed over 4000 soldiers during the late 1600s and today it serves as a military museum. Coming over the Seine River we drove down the opulent Pont Alexandre III. The bridge took more than 3 years to build and was made for the Universal Expo of 1900.
From the bridge we came out onto one of the most famous avenues in the world, the Champs-Elysées. It stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, spanning almost two kilometres long. The Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1836, commemorating the battles and generals that served under Napoleon. It stands at the end of the Champs-Elysées like a light at the end of a tunnel, beautiful and imposing.
Our last stop on the tour was at the Esplanade de Trocadéro which looks out onto the Eiffel Tower. In some ways the Eiffel Tower is the cherry on top of the cake that is Paris. It is the first image that comes to mind when we think of Paris and despite the many protests against its construction the Eiffel Tower has endured well. Built for the World Exhibition in 1889 the tower stands tall at 300 metres. The Trocadéro Plaza is the perfect spot for a full panoramic view of Paris. It was here that we bought the obligatory over-priced Eiffel Tower key chains off of some questionably legal street vendor who disappeared into the crowd as soon as we made our purchase.
As we stood at the edge of the lookout, gazing our fill of the Eiffel Tower, we realized that the drizzle which had pursued us most of the day had finally stopped. The late afternoon sun broke through the clouds and lit up the golden statues around us, adding warmth to the quiet grey tones of Paris.