Originally Posted by Voltron
I'll be visiting family over the holidays, and it looks like I might be able to squeeze in an overnight stopover in Paris. I might be able to line it up with the New Year.
Given that I've never been to France, would this be as cool as it sounds? Or would I be better off stopping by on a non-holiday?
This is a ski site and you ask 'is it cool squeeze in Paris?'
Maybe Paris Hilton...
Chamonix would be better. Probably not.
Only the best questions in this forum.
But since you will be in Paris. Here is some advice.Paris: Marais WalkBy Rick Steves
When in Paris, the natural inclination is to concentrate only on the big sights. But to experience Paris, you need to spend time in a vital neighborhood. With more pre-revolutionary buildings than anywhere else in town, this is Paris at its best, with the body of yesterday and the pulse of today. Ride the Métro to Bastille and follow the directions detailed below and in the Marais Walk chapter of my Rick Steves' Paris
guidebook.BastilleStart at the west end of place de la Bastille. From the Bastille Métro, exit following signs to rue St. Antoine (not the signs to rue du Faubourg St. Antoine). Ascend onto a noisy square dominated by the bronze Colonne de Juillet (July Column). The bronze god on the top is, like you, headed west.
There are more revolutionary images in the Métro station murals than on the square. While place de la Bastille is famous for its part in the French Revolution of 1789, little from that time remains. The actual Bastille
, a royal fortress-turned-prison that once symbolized old-regime tyranny and now symbolizes the Parisian emancipation, is long gone. Only a brick outline of the fortress' round turrets survives (under the traffic where rue St. Antoine hits the square), though the story of the Bastille is indelibly etched into the city's psyche.
For centuries, the Bastille was used to defend the city (mostly from its own people). On July 14, 1789, the people of Paris stormed the prison, releasing its seven prisoners and hoping to find arms. They demolished the stone fortress and decorated their pikes with the heads of a few bigwigs. By shedding blood, the leaders of the gang made sure it would be tough to turn back the tides of revolution. Ever since, the French have celebrated July 14 as their independence day — Bastille Day.
The southeast corner of the square is dominated (some say overwhelmed) by the flashy, curved, glassy-gray facade of the controversial Opéra Bastille
. In a symbolic attempt to bring high culture to the masses, former French President François Mitterrand chose this square for the opera house that would become Paris' main opera venue, edging out Paris' earlier "palace of the rich," the Garnier-designed opera house. Designed by the Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, this grand Parisian project was opened with fanfare by Mitterrand on the 200th Bastille Day, July 14, 1989. While tickets are heavily subsidized to encourage the unwashed masses to attend, how much high culture they have actually enjoyed here is a subject of debate.
You'll now turn your back on this Haussmann-style grandeur and walk down what was — before the Revolution — one of the grandest streets in Paris, rue St. Antoine. In 1350, there was a gate to the city here, Porte St. Antoine, defended by a drawbridge and fortress — a bastille
.Passing the Banque de France on your right (opposite a fine map of the area on the curb), head west down rue St. Antoine about four blocks into the Marais. At #62 rue St. Antoine, enter the courtyard of Hôtel de Sully (open until 19:00, fine bookstore inside). If the hotel is closed, you'll need to backtrack one block to rue de Birague to reach the next stop, place des Vosges. Hôtel de Sully
During the reign of Henry IV, this area — originally a swamp (marais) —
became the hometown of the French aristocracy. In the 17th century, big shots built their private mansions (hôtels)
like this one close to Henry's ritzy place des Vosges. Hôtels
that survived the Revolution now house museums, libraries, and national institutions.
The first (of two) courtyards is carriage-friendly and elegant, separating the mansion from the noisy and very public street. Walking through the passageway to the back courtyard, notice the skillfully carved and painted ceilings in the bookshop and stairway. The peaceful back courtyard, as was common, has an orangerie
or greenhouse for homegrown fruits and veggies through the winter — it's behind the French doors at the far end, now warming office workers. The bit of Gothic window tracery (on the right) is fun for a framed photo of your travel partner as a Madonna.Continue through the small door at the far right corner of the second courtyard and pop out into one of Paris' finest squares.Place des Vosges
Walk to the center, where Louis XIII on horseback gestures, "Look at this wonderful square my dad built." He's surrounded by locals enjoying their community park. Children frolic in the sandbox, lovers warm benches, and pigeons guard their fountains while trees shade this retreat from the glare of the big city. (Or is it raining?)
Study the architecture: nine pavilions (houses) per side. The two highest — at the front and back — were for the king and queen (but were never used). Warm red brickwork — some real, some fake — is topped with sloped slate roofs, chimneys, and another quaint relic of a bygone era, TV antennas. Beneath the arcades are cafés, art galleries, and restaurants — it's a romantic area for dinner.
Henry IV (r. 1589-1610) built this centerpiece of the Marais in 1605 and called it "place Royal." As hoped, it turned the Marais into Paris' most exclusive neighborhood. Just like Versailles 80 years later, this was a magnet for the rich and powerful of France. With the Revolution, the aristocratic splendor of this quarter passed.
To encourage the country to pay its taxes, Napoleon promised to honor the district that paid first by renaming this square in its honor. The Vosges region (near Germany) paid first, and place Royal became place des Vosges.
In the 19th century, the Marais became a working-class quarter, filled with gritty shops, artisans, immigrants, and Jews. The great writer Victor Hugo
lived at #6 from 1832 to 1848. This was when he wrote much of his greatest work, including his biggest hit, Les Misérables.
You'll wander through eight plush rooms and enjoy a fine view of the square (marked by the French flag in the corner closest to the Bastille; free, open Tue-Sun 10:00-18:00, last entry 17:40, closed Mon).Exit the square at the northwest corner. (Walk behind Louis XIII's horse, cross the street, and turn left in the arcade and sample the dazzling art galleries.) Follow rue des Francs Bourgeois west one block and turn right on rue Sévigné to the Carnavalet Museum. For a self-guided tour of the Carnavalet and the remainder of this walk, see the Marais Walk chapter of my Rick Steves' Paris guidebook.