You could spend weeks in Paris and still leave not seeing everything so this time around I decided to visit some of the things I missed the last time around and they did not disappoint. The first thing I’d recommend is to go buy a Paris Museum Pass. If you plan on doing a lot of sight seeing during your visit it is worth twice what you will pay for it. The museum pass enables you to have access to sixty different museums and monuments. Not only do you have unlimited entry to places like the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Truimph, but the best part of all is you go through a specific line for pass holders so you essentially have V.I.P access. Let me tell you how good it feels to bypass a huge line of people waiting for tickets outside of the Louvre and you just present your little pink pass and get to walk on through. It’s a time saver and for 54 euros it was worth it. You can have it mailed straight to you before your visit for a hefty fee but to keep the cost savings I suggest either picking it up at an airport information desk (CDG) or at the Paris Tourist Office (25 rue de pyramides, metro: pyramides). The line for the Rodin Museum was short so I picked mine up there at the ticket line. Check out the Paris Museum Pass site for more info!
Les Invalides and my Fairy French Godmother
I skipped over Les Invalides on my previous trip because frankly, the idea of going to Paris and spending time in a military museum seemed a little boring. I decided to at least go over and see Napoleon’s tomb and because the building is so spectacular, like every building in Paris. My plan was to go to take a few photos and then head on to my next destination. As I walked down the outdoor corridor following the sign for Napoleon’s tomb I walked past an old French woman. She wore a brown trench coat that was cinched tightly at her waist, a thin red silk scarf revealing itself at the top around her neck and her gray hair pulled neatly into a chignon. As she slowly walked her cane slapped the floor and echoed through the hallway. As I passed her I quickly asked if I was headed the right way to Napoleon’s tomb. She replied yes, pushing up her glasses as they slid down her wrinkled nose. In french she began to describe to me how wonderful the museum was and how I should not miss any part of it. She explained the history of the building, and how when she was a girl they used to come over at dusk to see the rabbits hop through the square. I told her that I learned about Les Invalides in a french class in school but had forgotten a lot about it because it had been so long ago.
“Things in life that you see,” the old woman lifted her hand, her slender finger pointed to her eye and then to her heart, “you will always remember here,” tapping to her head.
Adjusting her scarf, she instructed me to look, listen and take good notes. With a chuckle she waved farewell and continued her promenade down the rest of the hallway and out into the square. After an encounter like that how can I NOT go see the museum?!
Les Invalides is not only a museum, but also a veterans hospital, and a burial site. Originally, it was constructed just as a hospital for injured soldiers. Shortly after they added the royal chapel which was completed in the early 1700’s. The parisians rioted here during the revolution and it’s Napoleon’s final resting place so not only is the building beautiful but it oozes with history.
The Musée de l’Armée was created in 1905 and is a labyrinth of war artifacts. It is organized into departments that are by century and it boasts to be one of the largest military art and history museums in the world. The dark halls are lined with hundreds of antique guns, swords and bayonets. Officers uniforms from the 13th century onward are delicately placed on forms. A war and history buff’s dream, this museum is also intriguing for a novice historian.
The tomb where Napoleon rests is in the church, the sound of chanting prayers in deep low voices echo through the cathedral ceilings from unknown mouths, with no choir to be seen. I sat for a few minutes listening to chants, then lit a candle and marveled at the huge organ overlooking the pews from high in back of the church. Upon leaving Les Invalides I could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance so I decided to stop over and hang out in the park and enjoy the rest of the beautiful day.
Because of a staff walkout for several days during my time in Paris tourist were unable to climbe the iconic tower. I was uninterested in climbing it as I am perfectly happy hanging around the base, photographing it from below and sitting in the Champs de Mars people watching. As I headed in the direction of the tower, I crossed the street and ran into my old French woman again at the crosswalk. Since it was too much of a coincidence to see her again, I asked her name.
“Frances, comme le pays,” (Frances, like the country)
She said she was happy to see me traveling alone. “You can see what you want, when you want. If you are tired, you come and go as you please.”
“A demain,” she says as she slowly walks towards her house waving to me as she turned away. Frances must be my french fairy godmother, she pops in and out of my day with such wise words!
The greens around the tower were covered with people, laying out soaking up the sun. I sat on a bench for a moment taking in the scene. Built by Gustave Eiffel for the Worlds Fair in Paris in 1889 the tower was originally intended to be taken down after 20 years but became useful for radio transmissions and telecommunications and is now the symbol of the French capital. It is one of the most visited monuments in the world and seems to bring out the Parisian in all of us.