Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paris on Foot

"How will you go around Paris?" asked Simon, a Venezuelan backpacker who was also lodging at the same hostel I stayed in two weeks ago. I told him I might join a guided tour to save me from the hassles of having to guess the must-see places.
"Well, you can check the places all by yourself," he said.
It’s obvious why Simon, like the rest of the new generation of travelers, was averse to joining a guided tour. After all, these travelers, many of whom go to places on a tight budget, would avoid unnecessary expenses including fees for tourist guides.
And, with the most jaded of tourists complaining about tour guides giving them just enough time to check out a certain place, guided tours are definitely out of the itinerary.
But for someone like me who had only 48 hours to spare for one of the most visited cities in the world, a guided tour was exactly what I needed
I have to admit, though, that what caught my fancy was the brochure screaming "free walking tour" offered by a Berlin-based firm, Sandeman’s New Europe GmBH. It never occurred to me that it might be a scam since it was endorsed by the hostel.
Nothing’s free nowadays, and here’s the catch: the tour is tip-based, meaning participants can give any amount they want based on their appreciation of the tour.
And so after that brief conversation with Simon, I took the Metro Line 4 going to Place St. Michel at the historic Latin Quarter where the three-and-a-half-hour walking tour was supposed to commence.
As it turned out, quite a number were interested to join the tour as the guides had to split us into two groups of 15 persons each.
My group was led by Amelia, a Mexican national who, like other Sandeman tour guides, decided to stay in Paris for a while after several months of studies.
The tour proved to be very interesting as her in-depth knowledge of French history gave life to what would have otherwise been a pile of centuries-old edifices in the middle of the gloomy, chilly weather.
Amelia started talking about the Latin Quarter, called such since students at the Sorbonne University spoke Latin during medieval times.
A few steps from Place St. Michel is the famous Notre Dame of Paris which according to Amelia was saved by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame from being torn down in the 1800s for being in a state of disrepair.
Also nearby is the Palais de Justice. If we were not told that this was where Marie Antoinette was detained before she was led to the guillotine, would be just one of the many elaborately decorated buildings in Paris.
The banks of river Seine by Ile de la Cite would have been a tiring walk if we were not told that it was where the medieval city of Paris was founded.
I could have easily dismissed the buildings along Boulevard Saint-Germaine at the 6th Arrondissement across the Seine as a row of cute classical residential condominiums without knowing that it is the most expensive neighborhood in Paris.
As we walked on, we were told that the expressive faces etched on the Pont Neuf or "new bridge," the oldest stone bridge in Paris, were not mere ornaments. They are actually faces of King Henry V’s wasted friends after he commissioned his artist to do their sketches after a drinking spree.
"This is probably the first Facebook," Amelia quipped.

Pont Neuf, the oldest stone bridge in Paris.
Institut de France, also a beautiful building not far from Pont Neuf, is still the home of academies, the most famous of which is the Acedemie Francaise that serves as the vanguard of the French language until now.
Fans of the hit TV series Sex and the City will be delighted to be at the Pont des Arts, just across the Institut, where the famous Will-you-marry-me scene of Carrie and Mr. Big was shot.
We also passed by the Louvre, which is not just the home of the Venus de Milo and the Monalisa as it is also an artwork in itself and the former residence of several French rulers.
Amelia said it would be impossible for one to see the entire Louvre in a day as looking at each artwork for 30 seconds would take three months.
Next on our itinerary was the historical Palais Royal, where we saw the same café where the birth of the French Revolution took place.
Next was the Jardin du Tuileries, named since it was previously the site of a tile factory. Sadly, the garden with replicas of statues that can be found at the Louvre looked like a sandy, deserted beach in the winter.
We also passed by several important buildings like the Musee de L’Orangerie, which is a repository of Impressionist artworks by Cezanne, Monet and Picasso; the Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde, which was given by the Egyptian government; and the Hotel de Crillon, the most expensive hotel in Paris, where winners of the Tour de France are billetted.
We viewed the Arc de Triomphe from afar before heading to the Grand Palais and Petit Palais where the walking tour ended.
I joined some of the other participants who opted to continue walking to the Eiffel Tower after we were told it was just three blocks away.
And the verdict? For the very entertaining tour teeming with historical insights, I would have given Amelia 20 euros. However, I gave her only half but promised to join the walking tour of Montmartre that night.
To be continued

Here are some pics that were not included in my story. The weather was kinda gloomy at that time so these are natural sephias.

The Petite Palais, just off Avenue Champs-Elysees.

A church right at the back of the Louvre (sorry, the name escaped me).

A view of the River Seine.

A view of the Latin Quarter as I emerged from the St. Michel station of the Metro.

(This article was published at the Feb. 13-14 edition of BusinessWorld. Or you may click here.)



Anonymous said...

ka-inggit! love your pics. let's meet up soon for your kwento.

Barb Lorenzo said...

Walking sure is fun! Driving is great, too... especially if you're running on free gas! Get a chance to win P3,000 worth of fuel this month. Visit for details! Mwah!

Anonymous said...

Oliver Fernandez(GBR)...
be weary when using the Metro(Paris'version of MRT)there are plenty of pickpockets around. they're very young and well dressed and are very good at spotting willing victims-who else but people like you who are typical tourists. avoid backpacks or better yet avoid the Metro during crowded hours. be very aware of your surroundings. after all, you could only appreciate the beauty of the place if all your experiences are positive.