You can visit Paris without “climbing up” the Eiffel Tower, this old “Iron Lady” still alive and kicking. Here is a way to see her from afar and discover the French capital through another angle, with some classics and some surprises for the curious Indian spirit.
The Eiffel Tower is a very stubborn Lady. I am familiar with her and used to see her every morning from my balcony when I was a Parisian. She was not meant to live so long though. Now 116 years old and in perfect shape, although she underwent a few liftings, she was designed to be demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. Built especially and only for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889, the lady extended her courtesy for another exhibition of that kind, Paris 1900. Her very useful strategic observation and transmission point for the army during World War I saved her and no one would dare threatening her now. Since it is impossible to totally ignore the most visited paying monument in the world, let us go around, above and beneath the Eiffel Tower to tour the French capital in a different way.
Around the Eiffel Tower
You can walk around the Eiffel Tower, admire it from a boat, a metro line, a bus or even a balloon, without having even to “climb” its 324 meters, this way you will discover another side of Paris.
A café at the Trocadéro
A huge esplanade in the straight lines of the 1930’s style, the Trocadéro is the perfect spot to have a cafécroissant and enjoy the view of the gardens, the Seine River and…the Eiffel Tower, but with a polite distance. If the adjacent National Museum of the Navy, the Aquarium of Paris or the nearby Museum of Modern Art, are not your cup of tea, indulge yourself with an unctuous homemade hot chocolate.
Among the multiple terraces on the Trocadéro square, choose Carette, a pastry shop dating back to 1927, have some macaroons or an “éclair au café” and a look at the elegant “Parisiennes” circling the square in a chic tailleur (suit) or jupe (skirt), in the poach 16e “le seizième arrondissement”, one of the 20 quarters in Paris.
At the Quai Branly museum
Just a stroll away from the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine River, the Quai Branly museum is dedicated to the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. Inaugurated in 2006 by the former French president Jacques Chirac, who considered it as his pet project, it also harbours a few pieces of art from India. Beyond its beautiful façade of glass and luxuriant vegetation walls, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the secret lies in the peaceful museum gardens, a typical mixture of French and Asian styles, by landscape architect Gilles Clément.
Once again, if you look for a chic dinner (Foie gras, Gambas, Mousse au chocolat, for instance is typically Parisian, or just some veggie dishes or delicious salads), stay on the splendid terrace of the Museum restaurant, “Les Ombres”. You will be face to face with the old actress, Eiffel Tower. And here, there is no risk of meeting one of those famously grumpy Parisian waiters. For French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the acid sense of irony of the waiter, who at times acts snobbish, is a way to establish a distance with the client and with his social status. But no such philosophy in this place: just a smile and a good dinner.
Down the Seine River
Once outside the Museum, catch the Batobus, a public boat with many stops down the Seine River. Or embark a classical tour on a “Péniche”, the famous flat boat type on which Cary Grant kisses Audrey Hepburn in the Hollywood film Charade (1963), and also formed the background of one of the scenes in An evening in Paris (1967), the Bollywood classic with Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore.
All the stops are memorable but you should have a famous Berthillon sorbet on the Ile-Saint-Louis. This glacier has dozens of flavours (mango, dark chocolate and coconut are classics). Opened in 1954, this institution can even afford to stay closed for few weeks of holidays in summer, having enough retailers (cafés, restaurants) and clients around.
Enjoy l’Ile-Saint-Louis and from there walk to Notre-Dame Cathedral in l’Ile-de-la-Cité, the antique heart of Paris still impregnated with Middle Age spirit. Let your mind wander and dream about fictitious characters such as the hunchback Quasimodo and Esmeralda, from the novel Notre-Dame de Paris, by Victor Hugo. Then dive in the gargantuan Louvre Museum in the vicinity.
The Louvre is a permanent discovery, even for a local, you never get tired of it, but take a break in the Museum café or in the splendid Café Marly outside, and admire the Pyramid designed by Leoh Ming Pei, an American architect of Chinese origin. This glass Pyramid entrance to the museum has something in common with the Eiffel Tower: it was controversial at the beginning and loathed by the intellectuals. Bear in mind that some people wanted both monuments, now emblems of Paris, to be destroyed.
Don’t forget the Orsay Museum, with its splendid impressionists’ paintings collection but also a fantastic display of Art Nouveau and Lalique jewellery, with butterfly motifs and floral design vases. Then, up the river, discover the modern quarter built in the 13th arrondissement around the Library François Mitterrand, a peculiar edifice near the Seine, named after the late French president who loved to collect old books. Its four towers on a big esplanade have the shape of open books. The great library and some nice temporary exhibitions are a blessing for bookworms. For a night at the movie theatre, a drink with some fusion food, or a trendy cultural shopping, you can rely on the MK2 Multiplex. From time to time, it also screens Indian cinema. From the DVD shop located insight, you can even dig out an old Satyajit Ray film or a recent Bollywood hit.
The aerial metro
Another way to look at the Eiffel Tower, in its general frame of the Paris Belle Epoque, at the turn of the 20th century, is the aerial metro and its mythical Line 6. You will admire Paris and the divine curbs of the river from the two-storey metal-arch bridge of Bir-Hakeim, where a lot of films like Inception (2010) with Leonardo DiCaprio were shot. Towards east are the splendid bridges of Paris like the Alexander III bridge, with its golden ornaments and massive statues. Towards west is a small replica of the American Statue of Liberty, with a few 15th arrondissement skyscrapers in the background, a sort of Paris mini New York with a modest skyline. This statue (about 40 feet, a quarter of the size of the one in New York) was offered in 1889 by America to France, as a thank you note for the original, designed by the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi and inaugurated three years earlier, in 1886. There are many replicas of the Statue of Liberty around the world, including India at Vardhman Fantasy theme park in Mumbai that also boasts of a small Eiffel Tower. But the Paris Statue of Liberty is literally the little sister of the original one at New York.
The best buses on earth
One of the nicest way to discover Paris is to take a normal bus line. With one simple ticket, the amount of discoveries is incredible. Just sit, open your eyes, hop in, hop out and enjoy the ride. Buses can lead you everywhere and some of them, like Bus number 80, let you circle the Eiffel Tower, without bothering a halt. If you want to visit the South Asia quarters of Paris and relish good Indian food, take Bus number 39 and walk around Strasbourg Saint- Denis quarter. For a peaceful night, go down Passage Brady that houses numerous Indian restaurants and shops. Called “Little India”, it is a unique mix of Parisian architecture and South Asian cuisine. An old Parisian “passage” built in 1828, it is divided in two parts by the Boulevard de Strasbourg, one covered with a glass roof and the other in open air. Shopkeepers used to live on the first floor, above their shops. One can enjoy a masala of South Asian cuisine along with that of Mauritius and the Reunion Island.
If you fancy Indian cinema, the Brady cinema located nearby, is the place. You can catch up with fairly recent flicks such as Mary Kom (2014) starring Priyanka Chopra. The movie theatre has an old-fashion charm, with its outdated entrance. A perfect place to watch also an Indian classic, if you are lucky enough.
Above the Eiffel Tower
Experience Paris from above. You won’t necessarily stand at a point higher than the Eiffel tower but you will have a broad view of the “City of Light”. Choose one of the following spots during the day and at least one at night, such as the Montparnasse Tower.
The Arc of Triumph
The Arc of Triumph may be much smaller than the Iron Lady but it is older, and an emblem of Napoléon’s glory. The French Emperor had it built in 1806 to celebrate his military victories. But ironically, it was completed by one of his successors and enemy, King Louis- Philippe, in 1836, long after Napoleon’s death. The view of Champs-Elysées avenue and the Concorde Square from the top of the Arc of Triumph is the best in town. On the other side is the business quarter of La Défense, with its modern arch aligned with a perspective that goes as far as the Louvre pyramid. Champs-Elysées and the Montaigne Avenue nearby are a must for shopping, with famous flagship stores like Louis Vuitton. The area has recently emerged as a luxury shopping destination. However, it has lost its “canaille” charm, when you could meet there French filmstars such as Alain Delon or Jean-Paul Belmondo at the famous Drugstore Champs-Elysées.
The Montparnasse Tower
This offers one of the best views of Paris from 210 meters above the ground. A perfect spot to admire the Seine banks and the Panthéon dome, where famous French citizens like the Nobel laureate Marie Curie are buried. A panoramic restaurant, Ciel de Paris (Sky of Paris), at the 56th level of the tower, for gourmets and other entertainment or cultural events all through the year, make it a popular destination. After that, walk down rue de Rennes towards River Seine and have a drink at one of the Left Bank cafés around the beautiful Saint-Germaindes- Prés Church. Cafés such as Les Deux-Magots and Le Flore are famous for numerous artists like Edith Piaf or Picasso, who used to come there. Go for the lesser known Place de Furstenberg (Furstenberg Square), facing the church on the left flank that offers peaceful and charming design boutiques, few of them with cafés inside.
The Montmartre Basilica
By now, you may have already spotted several times the white stone dome and the noble towers of the Montmartre Basilica. Built between 1875 and 1923, the Basilica of the Sacred-Heart (Sacré-Coeur) dominates Montmartre hill, located in the north, with a breathtaking view of Paris from the stairs. The neighbourhood is famous for its artistic tradition, with the famous painters’ spot of Place du Tertre and also its nightlife, not very far from the hot district of Pigalle that houses Moulin Rouge cabaret and other distractions. There is also the quiet way: when you face the Basilica, go left and visit one of the oldest churches of Paris, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre in the narrow peaceful streets, towards the Montmartre Museum and have some Montmartre wine.
The balloon of André Citroën Park
Lastly, have a ride on the meteorological balloon posted in the André Citroën Park, near the Seine and the metro station Javel-André Citroën, in the 15th quarter. At 150 m of altitudes, the view is magnificent. The balloon also measures the quality of the atmosphere and its degree of pollution.
And finally… Beneath the Eiffel Tower
Still hungry for an Eiffel Tower ride? Then don’t climb it like the usual tourist. Visit the galleries beneath the tower, which will lead you to the garden nearby, the Champs de Mars, through a “secret” entrance. Discover the ingenuous mechanisms for the elevators of the tower, the former military and transmission installations. The tower will then have no more secrets for you.
How to reach
By Air: Air India and Air France have daily direct flights to Paris from New Delhi. Air France also has direct flights to Paris from Mumbai and Bangalore. Jet Airways has a direct flight from Mumbai. Lufthansa and Emirates offer indirect flights.
By Train: Paris is a great starting point to visit Europe in TGV, the high-speed train. London, Bruxelles, Amsterdam, Milan… are just few hours away.
By Car and Bike: Rent a car and go around Paris to visit places such as Versailles. You can even rent the electric car Autolib or its bicycle equivalent, Velib.
Where to Stay
Famous 5 star properties (George V, Plaza Athenée, Meurice…) are a few high end options but you can go for a less expensive and charming 3 star hotel like the Relais Medicis, on the left bank. Or a local Bed and Breakfast (AirBnb.com is convenient) may be a cheaper and also a good way to connect with the Parisians.