The next morning following a shower in a recess that was so small I was half hanging out of it, I headed downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was held in the open central courtyard of the hotel with a view to the open sky above. The courtyard was littered with all sorts of junk; an old mini car, rusting bicycles and broken machinery. It sounds awful but it had its own charm and was a pleasant place to eat the cereals and pastries on offer and watch the creeping wines on the internal courtyard walls reach skyward.
I headed out into the Parisian pre-dawn grey that was being washed orange by the first rays of the morning sun with the plan of catching the train to central Paris. The streets were still very quiet, occupied by only a few street cleaners and locals heading home from the bakery with a baguettes under their arm.
As per usual I was lost within five minutes of leaving the hotel but I didn’t mind as the streetscape was so fascinating. After wandering past Ecole Militarie the 18th centry military school from which Napoleon graduated I arrived at Hotel des Invalides, the impressive 17th century complex which houses the tomb of Napoleon and found Invalides railway station. After buying a carnet of tickets I headed into the metro only to find that RER Line C was closed for renovations between Invalides and central Paris. This threw a spanner into my plans as I had organised most of my travel around Paris on the suburban RER trains on line C rather than the busier, more crowded metro trains. Being a bit hesitant of using the metro trains I decided to walk to central Paris, a crazy decision as I was to learn later as the metro trains of Paris are fantastic and secondly my feet never recovered from that first day walking around Paris as I covered around 30km’s on foot.
After a long walk I eventually arrived at the crowded square outside Notre Dame Cathedral and the historical centre of Paris. After a brief tour through the cathedral during which a service was being held as tourists filed through its outer wings, I headed back outside. After bypassing the long line to climb the tower, and avoiding the gypsies and con artists in the square outside I circled around the cathedral. In actual fact I found the flying buttresses on the rear and side facades of the cathedral more impressive than the frontal façade. After touring the attractive small park at the rear of Notre Dame I crossed the street and entered the iron gates into the park at the tip of the island which houses the below ground Mémorial de la Déportation.
The Memorial de la Deportation commemorates the 200,000 French victims of Nazi concentration camps. As you descend into the memorial you are surrounded by walls and as the city of Paris disappears my only view was the sky and small glimpses of the river Seine below. A hallway appeared that was illuminated by 200,000 lighted crystals and at the far end the eternal fame of hope burned.
Leaving the Deportation Memorial I crossed over the Seine to the left bank and walked along the river towards the front end of Notre Dame and the spectacular side view of the church from across the river. Continuing past the Left Bank booksellers with their displays of second hand books housed in green metal stalls spilling out onto the parapet, I crossed the pont au Double strolled past the a small park, place Viviani and past the small rough-stone church of Julien-le-Pauvre.
Walking back towards the river I passed the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore and continued on towards rue St Jacques, a bustling north-south boulevard that was Romans busiest boulevard 2,000 years ago with chariots racing in an out of the city via this route. Turning away from the river I passed the Gothic church of St Severin and into the Latin Quarter. Wandering straight ahead I entered Boulevard St Michel with its café and artsy scene. After a café break I walked to the triangular place St Michel, the rallying point for social upheaval even up to this day.
Continuing on I passed the 13th century gothic Sainte-Chapelle church, the Conciergerie a gloomy prison that was the last stop for 2780 victims of the guillotine and the tranquil triangular park Place Dauphine. Exiting Place Dauphine I bumped into a statue of Henry IV and directly behind it a triangular tree filled piece of land with a boat shaped prow jutting into the Seine. It was the Vert-Galant, a popular park in Paris and one of my favourite spots during my first day in Paris.
Leaving the Vert-Galant I turned right onto the famous Pont Neuf. Pausing at the little nook halfway across I look downstream to the next bridge the pedestrian only pont des Arts, ahead on the right bank the Louvre Museum my next destination and in the distance the Eiffel Tower.
Next up was the Louvre Museum. After finding the place to buy the Paris Museum Pass I gained entry to the museum. The Louvre was very busy and if I’m honest at this stage I was more interested in seeing Paris not being inside a museum. I did quite a quick tour of the Louvre the highlights being; the Venus de Milo, the Apollo Gallery a tribute to the home of the French Monarchy, The Grand Gallery displaying Italian Renaissance art, the Leonardo Da Vinci painting Virgin, Child and St Anne, La Belle Jardinière by Raphael, the Mona Lisa, the Marriage at Canna a huge canvas, the Coronation of Napoleon painting, La Grande Odalisque a nude painting, the Raft of the Medusa painting, Liberty Leading the People canvas, and the two statues of slaves by Michelangelo. This was only a very small part of what there is to see in the Louvre but for me it would do for this trip. It made for a good excuse to come back to Paris one day, if an excuse is really needed anyway.
By this time it was getting late in the afternoon and I wanted to sort out how I was going to get back to the hotel. I had found out that due to the metro line closure a bus was being provided to transport passengers between central Paris and Invalides railway station. However, when I got to the bus stop I was told that it had been cancelled due to a protest that was taking part near Notre Dame. I had noticed an increased police presence around that area but had thought nothing of it. In the end I decided to walk back to the hotel, a bad move as it was another long walk and probably took me more than two hours to get back to the hotel. I ended up roughly following the left bank of the Seine back towards arrondissemont 7 and ended up at the Eiffel Tower. The parks near the Eiffel Tower were filled with people picnicking and at the base of the tower there was a long line of people waiting to gain access to the top of the tower. I decided to give the trip up the tower a miss for today due to the long lines and if I had time I would fit it in another day. From the Eiffel Tower it was a fairly short walk back to the hotel but as usual I got lost but not to badly and anyhow Paris is not a bad place to get lost as there is always something interesting to look at.
After a shower and a rest back at the hotel I headed out to get some dinner. I had no real plans I just thought I would eat at whatever place caught my eye. I ended up having dinner at a restaurant located on a five-ways street with street lamps dimly lighting outdoor tables on a footpath that jutted out into the intersection like a ships prow. Surrounding me scooters flew past taking hair-raising risks on the intersection missing cars and pedestrians by a only a few feet. The low hum of my French speaking fellow diners was only muffled by the occasional thundering from a passing train on the raised metro platform across the road. It all sounds a bit chaotic and a rather unpleasant spot to eat a meal but it tuned out to be my favourite spot in Paris to eat. The food was good the staff friendly, though they didn’t speak English. Unfortuanetly I was never able to find this place again, even though I searched for it the next night. After dinner it was back to the hotel and bed as tomorrow was going to be a busy day.