I posted about the history and architecture of Notre Dame. It is part of Paris‘ cultural and religious lifeblood. It’s huge, historic, and imposing. I was surprised to find pockets of warmth, small details and intimacy when we visited during a mass.
Paris’ grand boulevard the Champs Elysées runs from the Oblisque at the end of the Jardin des Tulleries to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s France’s most famous street and part of the national identity. Every French person knows it. Many of France’s national events unfold there. Most high school French students in the US learn the song about it, “Aux Champs Elysées.” Unbelievably, I can still sing it.
Bastille Day (France’s national day that commemorates the July 14 storming of the Bastille) parades take place there. The Tour de France concludes with circuits up and down it. Cyclists sprint up and down the storied boulevard lined with bleachers chasing a stage win. When Greg LeMond won the Tour de France in 1989, he did it by outsprinting the sprinters and the great time trialist Laurent Fignon to win the last stage on the Champs Elysées and the time bonus. He won by 8 seconds. Epic. Although I’m a bit fixated on the Tour de France, New Year’s and many other festivities take place there.
The boulevard is ancient, created in 1667 by Louis XIV as an extension of the Tuileries Gardens. It became a fashionable spot to see and be seen. The Champs Elysees connects the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, which used to be a palace (and not a famous museum). The Rond-Point (traffic circle) at the end is usually decorated for the season. Beyond that, the Place de La Concorde contains an Obelisk of Luxor a gift from Egypt in the 1830’s. It was formerly called the Place de la Revolution because a guillotine used to stand where the Obelisk does now. Over a thousand people were guillotined there including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
This famous statue of Charles de Gaulle stands near the Champs Elysées in front of the Grand Palais. After the liberation of Paris, on August 26, 1944, de Gaulle paraded up and down the Champs Elysées. Later, he established the post-war government.
Today, the boulevard is home to hotels, shops, movie theaters, cafes and even fast food restaurants. On a side note, McDonald’s is killing it in France and the rest of Europe. But I digress… Yes, Vincent did not lie in Pulp Fiction. “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?” They don’t call it the quarter pounder because of the metric system. Last century, there were fewer fast food restaurants and more cafes. Elvis probably wasn’t there either…
Don’t worry. There’s still some high end shopping left. There’s even one of the world’s largest Sephora stores. However, if you are really in Paris to shop you’ll probably want to hit up Paris’ neighborhood boutiques and historic shopping arcades for the best stuff. If you want to get some high end luggage for your purchases, I think the guys below (Louis Vitton) might be able to help you out. Balenciaga, Berluti, Céline, Chanel, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Guiseppi Zanotti, Guerlain, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Jimmy Choo, Maison de Baccarat, Marni, Nina Ricci, Petit Bateau and Prada all have shops there.
If all this weren’t enough, the boulevard is lined with my favorite trees from Geneva, Plane Trees.
Notre Dame is a huge Gothic masterpiece. Built in the middle ages (construction started in 1163), it has seen a lot. It survived the French Revolution, allegedly housed the Crown of Thorns, saw many coronations including Napoleons and inspired Victor Hugo‘s story of a hunchbacked bell-ringer (Quasimodo), The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Construction began in 12th century. Two centuries passed before it was competed in 1345, spanning almost the entire Gothic period. At the time, it was an engineering feat; it was one of the world’s first buildings to use “flying buttress” (the support arches attached to the exterior at the garden end of the cathedral that help support the weight of the enormous roof).
The church is known for its size. It is massive and can hold 6000. It is also known for its large stained glass rose window. Like an idiot, I used to look for pink in rose windows. It was awhile before I learned that rose window is a generic term applied to the large circular windows, particularly those found in Gothic churches. They are divided into segments by stone mullions and tracery, the color pink is in no way a prerequisite. Go figure.
I was especially smitten with the hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of humorous gargoyles. The rooftop has amazing views of the city, but we were with older family who couldn’t make the trip up the stairs. Please feel free to comment and tell us what we missed.