A Weekend in Paris #3 : Hitting the shops (I wish!)
Our first stop of the day was the Opéra de Paris, personally one of my most favourite buildings in the city; a true symbol of Paris and one of the world’s most famous Opera houses, perhaps due to its setting for Leroux’s novel the Phantom of the Opera. The structure of this grand building is embellished with gold, and many statues and figurines (including two golden angles) which can be seen adding to the spectacle. What’s not to love?
Leaving the Opera building behind us, a short walk found us in the 9th arrondissement and the area of the Grands Boulevards – which houses the city’s flagship department stores of Printemps and Gallerie Lafayette, as well as a host of other high street stores.
Top Tip: Make sure you venture inside Gallerie Lafayette. You will be amazed by the wonderful interior and magnificent glass dome and for any fashionistas out there, you will also find the largest shoe department in Europe! There is also an open air viewing gallery on the top floor that is completely free! Although not as high as the terraces of the city’s other monuments, the panoramic platform offers views of the Grand Boulevard district, Notre Dame and even as far as the gold roofed Pantheon on the Seine’s left bank. Printemps also offers a free-platform, with a great outlook leading to L’église de la Madeleine, the Eiffel Tower in the background and closer by, the handsome Haussmannian buildings lining the boulevard.
After a spot of ‘window shopping’ we veered off the grand Boulevard Haussmann and onto the Rue Tronchet leading down to Madeleine.
Navigating our way across the busy roads, we turned off down into Cité Berryer, a scenic passage tucked away off the main road, where we found a group of designer shops and boutiques as well as a rather fancy looking restaurant.
At the other end of this passage we stumbled out onto the Rue Boissy d’Anglas, where we found yet more designer shops waiting for us. Browsing these was indeed a lovely experience, but as I had only travelled with a little suitcase, I couldn’t go crazy and buy everything my heart desired. That’ll just have to wait until I’m back in England when I can fill up Dom’s car instead..!
We diverted onto Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, another picturesque street which we later found out claims to be the ‘most fashionable street in the world’. I can certainly see why! Almost every major global fashion house can be found along this street – Hermès, Lanvin, YSL, Louboutin – you name it, you’ll find it there (well, not Poundland!)
Also along this stretch of road are numerous embassies, (they evidently have taste!), hotels and Le Palais d’ Élysée, the official residence of the French President. Something important seemed to be happening as there were camera crews, paparazzi and blacked-out luxurious cars scattered around in this area, although we couldn’t see anything in particular.. (unless they were waiting for me and Dom!!)
Walking along the perimeter of the Presidential Palace we soon met with the one and only Champs Élysées and began to walk up in the direction of the Arc du Triomphe.
With cinemas, cafes and restaurants, luxury as well as high street shops, and the Lido (a Las Vegas style cabaret) this world-famous avenue really does offer something for each and every person. Spotting our beloved Mark’s and Spencer’s along the street, we duly paid a visit and couldn’t resist the temptation to pick up a sandwich for our lunch. We then found ourselves a bench, made ourselves comfortable and watched the crowds of people go by, whilst appreciating our sandwiches and the taste of home. We can now proudly say we have dined on the Champs Élysées (at great expense!)
Once we had finished our lunch we continued up the Avenue until we reached the Arc du Triomphe, standing proud as a memorial remembering and honouring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Not having had time to climb the Eiffel tower, we decided to undertake the challenge of climbing the 400 steps up to the viewing platform. We made it but with aching legs to match!
Top Tip: The Arc du Triomphe is part of the Centre des monuments nationaux who all offer free admission to 18-25 year olds on presentation of a valid student ID and photo ID (passport, driving licence etc). Definitely worth making the most of! Other notable sites included are the Pantheon, Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle.
Due to work being carried out on one half of the monument our panoramic views were restricted but it was still worthwhile with impressive views straight down the Champs Élysées to Place de la Concorde as well as to the Grande Arche of La Defense on the opposite side.
Back down on solid ground we took some time contemplating the hundreds of names inscribed onto both inner and outer surfaces of the Arch, before paying our respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in remembrance of all those unidentifiable heroes who lost their lives during WW1.
We then took the metro back to Opera and stopped off for another refreshment break, this time in possibly the worlds fanciest Starbucks, where we even tried our hand at speaking French and surprise, surprise, succeeded in getting exactly what we ordered! Woohoo.. although this did happen.
Well done Starbucks!
After our short break and refuelling session we were off again, taking the metro from Opera to Bastille – no, not the alternative rock band, but the Place de la Bastille, where the Bastille Prison once stood.
From here we ambled our way down the busy Rue de Rivoli, regarding the grand buildings and trendy boutiques as we passed by. Soon we found the side street we needed and turned off the road towards Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square and one of the most beautiful in the city. Located in the atmospheric district of Le Marais, this intricate square with buildings of varying heights (be they only small variations) is a popular haven for tourists and locals alike. Interestingly No.6 was also where Victor Hugo lived when he wrote Les Miserables! The surrounding colonnades have a great number of galleries and design shops for art fanatics although if you’re more of a culinary fan (like me!) there are a handful of restaurants and cafes situated around the perimeter.
Leaving the Place des Vosges we negiotiated some of the areas back streets until we finally found the Cirque d’hiver Bouglione in front of us. The Cirque d’hiver is a place where many circuses, musical concerts and other events are held, all taking place in this rather wonderful building..
Eventually it was time to think about dinner and so we caught the metro from here to Montmartre. Once at Blanche we ambled up Rue Lepic, although we didn’t appreciate the hill after climbing the many steps of the Arc du Triomphe, and visited the charming Restaurant of Le Basilic.
Top Tip: Despite being rather small, this restaurant is terribly popular and it is worth getting there early or expecting to wait a while if you want to ensure you get a table.
We enjoyed a delicious 3 course dinner there.. The ambience was something special and the menu typically French, but as the saying goes ‘all good things come to an end’ and it was soon time to bid our farewells. Our short break in Paris was fast coming to an end, which was a bit depressing, but with so many memories tucked away in the corners of our minds, the experiences which we had added to our collective history was something that Dom and I would savour for a long time to come.