Wheels Down: Paris

It mesmerizes you with its beauty, captivates you with its history, and hypnotizes you with its aromas. With every step you fall deeper in love with a perfect balance of modernity and history. Every few feet there’s an opportunity to gawk at world-class pastries, peruse high-end boutiques, or sip coffee while taking in the everlasting choreography of daily life. Piece together its plethora of pleasantries and what results is a complex and beautiful spectacle of a city made famous by its art, food, design, and romance.

Paris, in a nutshell, is the perfect destination. For the avid sight-seeing tourist there’s more to do than you could possibly dream. Just walking the streets will leave you awe struck, but where they lead is even more marvelous. And for the more casual traveler, it’s a place where you can feel at home, even if you’re living out of a suitcase.

For five days, we zig-zagged through one of the most enchanting cities my eyes have ever seen. We saw the world’s most famous art, visited the world’s most iconic monuments, and sampled a diverse array of the world’s best cuisine. You really can’t ask for much more.

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At the very top of Champs-Élysées, the most famous stretch of shopping the city has to offer, you’ll find the second most famous monument in all of Paris, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Climb the winding staircase to its roof, and catch your first birds-eye view of the city. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was still a bit foggy. But our time at the Arc did teach us an important lesson – when in Paris, look up. Art is everywhere, even on the under side of things. In this case, the designer of the Arc de Triomphe (Jean Chalgrin for the more inquisitive among us) didn’t miss a beat.


It’s more common to see wine than it is to see water. It’s not out of the ordinary to see a glass at just about every meal. To satisfy the demand, liquor stores are plentiful.


If you go a few blocks without seeing a cafe, you’re probably no longer in Paris. The experience alone is reason enough to pull up a seat for a coffee and a snack. But I’ve determined that their overabundance is strategic. The more coffee you drink, the longer you can function, the more you see and buy. Clever Parisians.


The Eiffel Tower is visible from just about everywhere. Climbing its stairs (or riding the lift in our case) is an absolute must. While it is terrifyingly high, a ride to the summit is worth the wait. Even in strong winds, like the day we made it, the views are worth every ounce of fear. The shot above (left) is from the middle level, where it’s just a touch less cloudy than at the very top. Our hotel is in the distance, just beyond the Ferris wheel at the top right of the image. We had a spectacular view. In fact, the image on the right, of the Eiffel at night, was taken from our balcony.


Just about every street you walk down treats you to sights like this. Architecture influenced by Renaissance and Baroque eras of history, with windows dressed in potted plants and antique-styled lanterns. In serious shopping areas, like this one in the Jewish Quarter, pedestrians commonly overtake the roadways. While a car does roll through every now and again, it’s rare. Walking freely through the streets enhances the effect of retail therapy.


While the Louvre’s external design is magnificent, it’s inside is just as marvelous. And rightfully so as the museum house’s the most famous and priceless collection of art the world has ever known.


The Louvre is an incredibly busy place. Thousands of art enthusiasts and motivated tourists snake their way through football field length hallways to admire centuries-old masterpieces on a daily basis. The photograph above was taken in the room that houses the Mona Lisa. The man at the bottom left is looking in her direction. Quite frankly, you need to see it for yourself, not in some picture. The painting on the wall opposite Mona, pictured here, is “Wedding Feast at Cana” by Veronese. It is a massive work of art.


The Tuileries Garden is a well manicured thoroughfare for pedestrians in transit between the Louvre, the Ferris wheel, and museums that line the banks of the Seine River. It’s dotted with sculpture gardens, a merry-go-round, and small cafe’s – and even pretty in the winter when most of the plant life is hibernating.


The Tuileries Garden also offers this vantage point of the Eiffel Tower.


The metro system in Paris is a work of art in its own right. Each station is uniquely designed, and has its own distinct charm.


Its a bustling underground labyrinth that is remarkably easy to use, even for someone who doesn’t speak a lick of French.


Montmartre is an absolutely gorgeous area of Paris. Take a gondola-esque rail car up the hill, and you’ll be treated to a top-three view of the city. The first structure you’ll see is the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. Walk slowly up the stairs to its doors. Take in the sights (and sounds when available).


Montmarte is a hotbed for Parisian history. Among the many things you’ll see here are the Dali Museum, Vincent van Gogh’s apartment, Moulin Rouge, and more. Rick Steve’s has a solid list of must-sees I’d recommend.


Street art is everywhere. Open your eyes and your bound to see some sort of art painted, glued, or plastered to the facades of the buildings around you.


And you’re constantly reminded that you are, in fact, walking in Paris.


Paris is an incredibly romantic city, where love is always in the air… and sometimes on the walls.


Styles of street art vary. It’s likely you’ll come across works by notable artists of the underground like Space Invader and Banksy. But other works are colorful tags by lesser known street artists looking to make a name for themselves.


There’s some kind of beautiful in everything you come across.


Outdoor markets are common throughout Paris.  You can find fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, or in this case, chestnuts right out on the sidewalk.


If you haven’t already guessed, fashion is a staple of French culture. In Paris, everyone dresses to impress. Even the dogs.


From our perch in the Westin, along Rue de Rivoli, we had a front row seat to beautiful sunsets everyday.


It’s difficult to walk more than a few feet (or meters) without running into an ‘adorable’ little shop. Many of them dealing in specialty and gourmet foods.


The aromas in open air markets are intoxicating. From fresh fruits, to charcuterie (meats), and more fromage (cheese) than you can imagine, a walk through even a small one will leave your mouth watering.


Just steps away from the world’s most famous Notre Dame is a small but powerful memorial to French citizens who perished in the Holocaust. While it doesn’t seem like much on the outside, inside you will find a dark cavern wallpapered with 200,000 lit crystals, signifying each soul lost to the Nazi’s atrocities. When we visited, the memorial was guarded by a single man, who counted each visitor that passed through. It is a powerful place and worth a few minutes of your time.


If traveling with a sweetheart, be sure to pack a padlock. Write your names on it, clip it to a bridge, and toss the key in the water below. It’s a favorite past-time of loving couples touring the city. While the enormous volume of participants has forced visitors to find alternative locations, there is one bridge, the Pont de l’Archevêché, that reigns supreme. Walk across it, and on either side you’ll see thousands upon thousands of locks painted with the names of loving couples, dates of their visit, and their countries of origin. These locks represent couples of every race, religion, and sexual orientation from all over the world.


Notre-Dame de Paris is an absolutely gorgeous church. It is massive, and a beautiful representation of Gothic architecture. It’s also a magnet for tourists. Inside though, you can steal a private moment amidst the madness, and light a candle (which you can buy on site for roughly 2 Euros) to say a prayer if you so choose.


La Sainte-Chapelle is one of the most beautiful churches in Paris. It sits safely behind the outer walls of what used to be a royal palace, now government offices. Although it was being restored when we visited, we did have an opportunity to admire its fantastic, handmade, incredibly detailed stained glass windows.


As mentioned, every metro station is unique. This one in particular makes you feel as if you are descending into the bowels of a missile silo.


With the exception of the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay is the most important museum in Paris. It’s housed in a converted train station (gorgeous), and home to the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. You’re guaranteed to see masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and an impressive list of others. While photography is prohibited in most areas of the museum, there are a few exceptions. This clock is a photo mecca for visitors of d’Orsay (if it’s crowded, there are two). The Seine River runs beneath it, and the Louvre can be seen in the distance.


The Eiffel Tower. A tremendous structure, and the focal point of Paris. You can see it from just about any perch in the city. It glows at night, and every hour on the hour between 5PM and 11PM, for roughly five minutes, it twinkles with thousands of strobe lights. It is by far the most iconic monument in Paris, and one of the world’s most recognizable structures. Seeing it with your own eyes is a bucket list staple.


If time allows, hop on a train and sneak away to Château de Versailles. This royal palace is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It ranks among the most famous palaces in the world. And as a result, it is always crammed with with tourists. But it is the perfect place to recall our “look up” lesson from earlier. The art that adorns the ceilings is magnificent. The image above is of the Galerie des Glaces, or the “Hall of Mirrors.” It’s one of the most well-known rooms in the palace.


In the summer months, I’d imagine the place is impossible to navigate. In February, the halls are still packed, but at least there’s a chance you’ll catch a few good views.


Each and every ‘apartment’ ceiling is painted in great detail. Keeping your eyes fixated on the ceilings is probably a satisfying way to move through the palace. But I don’t recommend it. You will trip and fall, I guarantee it.


The palace is enormous, and the gardens are even larger. You can easily spend a full day exploring the main building, the buildings spread throughout the grounds, and the many gardens in between. If you’re a green thumb with interest in seeing these gardens in all their glory, come in the spring or summer. But even in February, with much of the plant life packed in for winter, it’s a majestic sight to be seen.


When you return to Paris, grab a drink and get on with your day. Even the liquor shops have charming entrances.


Look down any street for a stunning view. Whether it’s simply a block lined with shops, or one in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, it’s difficult to find a street that isn’t picturesque.


You can find shopping just about anywhere. Shops and boutiques generally line the streets, but you’ll occasionally find long ‘alley ways’ like this – similar to outdoor malls. That’s a Christian Louboutin shoe store on the immediate right.


If it does rain, make an effort to return to the Louvre. While it was dry for most of the week, February is a rainy month, and it did rain a bit. But it did so beautifully. There’s just something about two people huddled under a bright umbrella, standing next to the glass pyramid of the Louvre, in the pouring rain, that is so very … Paris.


The Louvre


Like I said, it rained a bit, but there is plenty of lemonade to be made on a rainy night in Paris.This photograph was taken from the roof of the Pompidou Center.


A common stereotype of Paris is that everyone gets around on motorbikes. Well, the rumors are true. Not quite ‘everyone,’ but there are more motorbikes per street than anywhere I’ve ever seen. They add to the character of the city, but they do take up quite a bit of sidewalk space. Seeing these two parked on the street, in a designated parking spot, was rare.


In addition to the Tuileries Garden, the Jardin du Luxembourg, or Luxembough Gardens, is worth your time. It is the second largest public park in Paris, and a beautiful landscape. People utilize tennis courts, play chess, stroll along the many paths, or sit by fountains and enjoy the fresh air. The image above is of two of the gardens’ guards.


I grew up thinking that Philadelphia was the pigeon capital of the world. I was mistaken, it might be Paris. They are everywhere, and loud too. I realize the bird in the image above isn’t a pigeon, but I had to address the issue. This bird was captured during take off in the Luxembourg Gardens.


What would a photo set of Paris be without a proper shot of the Eiffel. Rain in Paris just works, and although this photograph was actually taken during a bit of an ice storm, the juice was worth the squeeze.

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Merci Beaucoup!