Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

A Magical Tour of the City of Light

After a pleasant breakfast at our hotel near the Eiffel Tower, we boarded the bus on a delightful sunshiny day for a tour of many of the most notable landmarks of Paris.  The trip began in the neighborhood of the Eiffel Tower, where, stopping in front of the Ecole Militaire, the driver allowed us to exit the bus for photos of what is probably the most readily recognized of the city’s monuments, Gustave Eiffel’s creation for the 1889 World Fair.  Crossing the beautiful Alexander III Bridge over the Seine River to the Right Bank, we passed by the Grand Palais and its fellow monument from the 1900 World Fair, the Petit Palais , turning left beside a modern statue of General Charles de Gaulle, commemorating his famous march down the Avenue of the Champs Elysees at Paris’s Liberation in August 1944. We follow the General’s route in reverse by going up the Avenue to circle the Arc de Triomphe at the Etoile, a large circular Place from which 12 different streets emerge.  Descending from the Etoile, we reach the massive Place de la Concorde, once the scene of the execution by guillotine of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution.

Crossing back over the Seine to the 7th arrondissement, we pass the French National Assembly building and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Quai D’Orsay, before approaching the Invalides, originally a Military Hospital built by Louis XIV, and now home to the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte, which rests under the gilded Dome of the building’s former Chapel.  Returning to the Right Bank we see the Church of the Madeline as we follow the Grands Boulevards past the Olympia Theatre and the Cafe de la Paix to Charles Garnier’s spectacular Opera House.  From there we traverse the Place Vendome and enter the grounds of the former King’s Palace, now the Louvre Museum, with a photo stop that allows us to take pictures of the Triumphal Arch of the Carousel and the Gardens of the Tuileries in one direction and I.M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid in the other.  A short ride around the Left Bank’s 6th arrondissement takes us by the Latin Quarter’s narrow streets, the Sorbonne University, the Pantheon, the Luxembourg Palace, and the Churches of St. Sulpice and St. Germain des Pres before we stop on the Ile de la Cite for an hour’s guided tour of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, another of Paris’s most spectacular and readily identified monuments.  Since buses are not allowed to drive to the top of Montmartre, the Smithsonian travelers leave their bus at the bottom of the hill, and either take the funicular or (more courageously) walk up all of the steps to the Church of the Sacre Coeur, gleaming white in the bright sunlight.  On this last major stop of our tour, the travelers are free to visit, at their own pace, the artistic Place du Tertre and the Church of the Sacre Coeur, and to find a nice café for lunch, where they can enjoy their food while contemplating all of the spectacular sights they have seen in this beautiful city.   


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