OK, so you see the "Come fall in love with Paris" advertisement on the back of the city bus?
Well, I did.
This was my very first view of the town. Our hotel, Le Meridien Etoile, was literally down the street from where this picture was taken. So upon stepping out and turning the corner after a quick espresso, this was what I saw.
And I almost choked on the thick French air.
It was absolutely enormous.
But it was absolutely stunning.
The Arc De Triomphe was ordered in 1806 by French Emperor Napoleon after the Grande Armee had conquered most of Europe and was considered pretty much unstoppable. The thought process behind the construction of this building was that Napoleon's soldiers would have a monumental, dignified and elegant arch to walk through after returning back from another triumphant conquest.
It's cost was 9.3 million French francs and at the time, that was an unfathomable amount of cash.
The Arc sits directly in the middle of Place de l’Étoile which is basically a traffic circle like you've never seen in your life. It is the crossway of 12 major streets with no yield signs, no traffic lights, no stop signs, not even any lines painted on the cement to tell you which lane you're in. Our hotel was just a few short blocks away down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, so no matter where we spent the day, we always had to risk our lives in a taxi on the way home. I swear to God I saw my life flash before my eyes at least a dozen times. Imagine French taxi drivers as the stereotypical temperamental New Yorker taxi drivers except on crack and steroids. It is absolutely intense.
Anyway, so clearly it's against the law for pedestrians to cross the street. There are underground tunnels for tourist and locals to get to and from, but if you can imagine the foot traffic around such an epic piece of history, the tunnels are just as...um... for lack of a better phrase, just as much of a clusterfuck as the auto-circle.
The tunnel is full of photographs and information about the Arc De Triomphe. It's one of the top 5 most used pedestrian tunnels in all of Paris. It is also the entrance line if you want to climb the stairs to the top. So you can only imagine the amount of people stinking up this place. It's beautiful, it's informational, it smells like a locker room.
Signs are everywhere to beware of pick pockets.
It takes over 300 steps in this spiral staircase to get to the top so your legs feel like water and you're incredibly dizzy once you finally get up there. There is an elevator but, come on! Suck it up! It's something you'll never get to do again in your life!
Of course there are other views as well...
I guess these will have to do. (!!!!)
On a clear day you can even see The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, locally referred to as the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The Basilica is located on the highest point in Paris which is a summit called Montmartre. There have been dozens of famous artists with studios on the Montmartre such as Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. You know, no big deal.
You can squish the Eiffel Tower from up there too.
Back down at the bottom you have a great view of the belly of the Arc De Triomphe. Engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch are all of the names of the generals whom fought mainly during the Nepoleonic wars.
There are 4 main sculptures on all sides of the legs of the monument all depicting different scenes from 4 different artists.
Many countries have a "tomb of the unknown soldier" and France is no exception, There is an eternal flame ahead of the tomb as well as a ceremony held here every November 11th to pay homage to these unknown remains from World War 1.
The tomb reads "Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918"
Seeing the Arc De Triomphe in person was extreme. It was the first part of history that I was able to visit on my vacation and one that I'll never forget. I can't believe that one city can be just as beautiful as it is beautifully historical.