Saturday, September 26
After our not-so-memorable boat tour on the Seine we were in for a quiet weekend day of not doing much. No museums, no boat rides, no shopping. Just a nice walk on a really nice autumn day. So what to do? Well . . . being less than a mile from the Tuileries, the answer became obvious.
The Tuileries Garden is all that remains of the Tuileries Palace, which was burned and blown up for good in 1870. For many years these gardens had been the exclusive private domain of royalty. Eventually, after many ups and downs in his history, it was turned into a public space
Today it is a vast and beautiful park running from the end of the Champs-Élysées all the way to the Louvre. Thousands of ordinary folk, none of them royalty, walk, jog, bike, frolic, and enjoy its vehicle-free, wide open spaces. There are gardens of various sorts throughout (doubtless nothing of the grandeur of its golden days, but colorful and vibrant), and there are beautifully shaped straight-standing trees in long rows. In the center is an esplanade where thousands upon thousands of people walk back and forth. Here there is way too much room for selfies to intrude. And it’s way to big to ever feel as though you’re being crowded by the many people there.
Two large round pools – one at either end – that have fountains in the summer months (now off for the winter) are surrounded by hundreds of metal chairs on which weary travelers can ease into to soak up the sun, watch the occasional miniature remote-controlled sail boat sail by, or just enjoy the cavorting of ducks and seagulls in and near the water.
For first-timers like us, it was great to have a day where we were going nowhere in particular as slowly was we wanted. Perfect for just taking it all in, enjoying the fall we’re missing in Colorado, lazing in the metal chairs by one of the pools, and people-watching all the many people from many lands who were going to and fro.
There are a few restaurants tastefully embedded into the trees along with a few other concessions, but it’s anything but carnival atmosphere. At one of them, we had good lunch (dare I say I ordered a hamburger!?!) to nourish us for the rest of our day.
As we walked further into the park we started becoming surrounded on both sides by the Louvre, that great, vast art museum. In two words: It’s huge!
We’ve been to the Met in New York City, or the National Gallery in DC, the Getty and LACMA in Los Angeles, and many others. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that all of them could fit within the walls of this immense and beautiful building. With room to spare.
Today wasn’t our day to actually visit the Louvre, so we just gazed at it and saw for ourselves why it would definitely be impossible to traverse it all even if we spent our whole month there.
Standing there encircled on three sides by the Louvre, you just need to turn around and look in the other direction to realize that you’re at one end of a long line that runs some miles from the Louvre, though the Tuileries, and right into the middle of the Egyptian Obelisk that Napoleon looted and brought back to France. From there the straight line continues onto the Champs-Élysées and keeps going for many blocks all the way up a gradual incline to the heroic Arc de Triomphe in the center of Place Charles de Gaulle!
It’s an amazing bit of city planning, this long avenue, and we decided to make the trek from where we stood there at the Louvre all the way to the Arc (with the help of a #73 bus we hopped at the Place de la Concorde, just outside the Tuileries.
The Champs-Élysées is a grand avenue, to be sure. A wide boulevard bordered by sidewalks maybe a hundred feet wide. Shops and stores run the gamut, and here the splendor is lessened a bit as grand names like Louis Vuitton stand alongside The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, and Levi Strauss. Lots of shoppers and all the commercialism make it hard to stand in any one place and imagine what this place looked like, say, during the Belle Epoque, where the only transportation likely being trolley cars and horse-drawn buggys.
But hey, we’re tourists, so that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm, and when we finally got off the bus and had our encounter with the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe is a huge structure, 164 feet high and nearly as wide. It was commissioned by Napoleon and you see him numerous times among the many sculptures and friezes on its façade. It was built to commemorate a victorious war, but has been used since to memorialize numerous many other military campaigns waged by the French, including World Wars One and Two, Tunisia, Indochina (Viet Nam) and others. The names of great French patriots are chiseled into the sides and sculptured tableaux are visible on all sides. And France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from the first World War) can be found there as well. For a few euros, you can wait in a long line to walk up the many steps leading to the top. But we’re not line-standers, and anyway we’d be going up the Eiffel Tower twice – much better views there – so we opted to skip the walk to the top.
Finally we headed home, and after a few wrong turns, we punted and hopped a cab home to rest and relax before going out again for dinner (where I had – for the first time in many years (sorry vegan friends) delicious steak tartare).