Dates visited: September 12, 2004 – September 13, 2004, and September 20, 2004 – September 21, 2004
One of the jaw-dropping Parisian sights that’s permanently etched in my mind is coming face-to-face with the imposing Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Actually, face-to-face isn’t the correct phrase since this beautiful monument is 164 feet high and 148 feet wide, but the grandeur with which it reveals itself as you exit the Charles de Gaulle – Étoile metro station is an experience to remember. I loved the layout of the Place Charles de Gaulle roundabout with Arc de Triomphe in the center and twelve avenues (including Avenue des Champs-Élysées) lined with horse-chestnut trees, radiating from the arch like a symmetrical sunburst. Prachi and I had our “romantic walk” down the Champs-Élysées amidst a throng of tourists and locals, but the experience was still unforgettable. It was truly a magnificent experience walking down this grand avenue lined with cafés, trees and shops, all the way till the Place de la Concorde with its 75 feet high Luxor Obelisk and Fontaines de la Concorde.
Another attraction to remember was the ubiquitous Eiffel Tower—all 1063 feet of it! I had expected it to be very tall, but the layout and architecture of the surrounding area is that you can keep seeing the tower from pretty much everywhere! Visiting the Louvre was yet another captivating experience. Sure, we spent around five hours taking in priceless works of art such as Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and The Madonna of the Angels, but my favorite piece was the 1954 painting “Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs” (Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters); here’s what Louvre’s web site says about it: The models have been identified as Gabrielle d’Estrées (1571-99), the favorite of Henry IV (1553-1610), and one of her sisters: the Duchess de Villars or Madame de Balagny. The oddly affectionate way in which the sister is pinching Gabrielle d’Estrées’ right breast has often been taken as symbolizing the latter’s pregnancy with the illegitimate child of Henry IV. Go figure!
We spent rest of our time seeing elaborately decorated churches and cathedrals such as La Sainte-Chapelle, Notre-Dame (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and gorgeous gardens. And we ended our trip with a fine Parisian cabaret at the Le Crazy Horse Saloon. When I was booking my tickets for the Crazy Horse cabaret from the US, my credit card transactions kept getting denied. Finally, I called the bank only to have the customer service agent apologize and say, “We thought you card was stolen; your spending behavior has not involved any visits to cabarets until now!”