Strolling along the banks of the Seine was one of my favorite experiences while in Paris. The pedestrian walkways (quays) are fantastic and were surprisingly uncrowded—especially for summertime. We easily transitioned from river level to street level (and back again) via staircases attached to the many bridges spanning the Seine. There were a number of interesting activities and exhibits along the river including an outdoor art expo entitled Les Stars et La Seine, which showcased rare photos from the archives of Paris Match magazine. Among the famous personalities included in the black-and-white collection are Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Rudolf Noureev, Natalie Wood, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider—all photographed in close proximity to the Seine. Another attraction along the famous waterway is “Paris Beach,” a half-mile stretch that is converted into a makeshift beach during the months of July and August. Sand is hauled in and put in place—around 5,000 tons of it—accompanied by chaise lounges, umbrellas, live music, and sidewalk cafes. Though there is no ocean to swim in, Parisians and tourists alike can bask in the sun and watch the river drift by. I was expecting a lot more boat traffic on the Seine; there was actually very little, which adds to an overall sense of tranquility. Several companies offer riverboat cruises on the Seine; we chose the evening “illumination” cruise that begins at dusk. We traveled upriver as far as Île de la Cité before turning around, at which point the sun was setting and the buildings along the Seine were beautifully lit. It was THE highlight of our time in Paris—primarily because the tour concluded in front of the Eiffel Tower, which was blazing in all of its nighttime splendor. Add to that, the spectacular “twinkling” light show for five minutes at the top of the hour. It was truly a memorable experience!
Mention of the Thames River evokes instant mental images of Queen Elizabeth I regally setting forth from Whitehall aboard her royal barge, gliding down the river, and imperiously disembarking at The Tower. (I confess…I am a history buff and an avid reader of historical fiction.) Though we didn’t bump into the queen (past or present), we did acquaint ourselves with the river to some degree by walking along the South Bank. It was quite crowded, however, and detracted from our enjoyment of the river itself. The views from the Millenium Bridge and the Golden Jubliee Bridges were great and offered nice panoramic photo opportunities. There was also a decent view from The Tower—although more interesting than the view of the Thames from there was the view of Tower Bridge. We took a riverboat cruise from the London Eye to the Tower, but were not terribly impressed with the experience. While the narration was interesting and entertaining, we were trapped at a table at dead center inside the boat and could see almost nothing. Add to that the fact that the concession stand was out of basically all snacks and drinks, and it was a less-than-stellar experience. There was a fair amount of boat traffic which steadily increased as we approached The Tower. The Thames, with its imposing size and rich history, is impressive for sure…but it lacks the “personal” feel of the Seine.
If, like me, you watched with wonder the fairy tale wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer all those years ago, you will want to visit the actual site of that notorious event—London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Even if you didn’t watch the wedding, you will want to plan a visit!) The magnificent 66,000-ton dome, designed and constructed by Christopher Wren in the late 1600’s, soars above the city at a height of 366 feet. The cathedral’s interior boasts ceiling mosaics (commissioned by Queen Victoria), an ornate canopied altar, and a number of monuments. The crypt, located in the bowels of the building, is the final resting place for some of Britain’s most notable heroes, including the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Horatio Nelson. It also houses a nice gift shop and a small cafe, where we paused for a quick lunch. The highlight of any visit to St. Paul’s (in my opinion) is the climb to the lantern situated atop the dome. From ground level, there are 560 steps which pass through three galleries. The first is the Whispering Gallery, famous for its acoustics…two people can stand on opposite sides of the dome, whisper something against the wall, and be heard by one another. It is not quite as simple as it sounds, but with persistence—and a little guidance from the employees stationed around the gallery—you can do it. Next, is the Stone Gallery, an open-air space 174 feet up that affords wonderful panoramic views of the city. The stairs end at the Golden Gallery, a narrow perch encircling the base of the lantern 279 feet up. The view from there is quite incredible. For more information or to plan your visit to St. Paul’s, go to https://www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits. My only complaint, if you will, with my visit was the regulation against photography inside the cathedral. That is always a disappointment.
Notre Dame was at the top of my sightseeing list while in Paris but, due to time limitations and its location, we were unable to actually go inside. Unlike most of the famous landmarks in Paris, Notre Dame does not accept the Museum Pass and, thus, no one is allowed to by-pass the line. We had walked from Les Invalides, stopping at various landmarks along the way, and arrived at Notre Dame around 5 o’clock. The line was wrapped completely around the square (Place du Parvis) and the wait to enter was going to be several hours. With precious little time remaining before flying to Ireland, we opted to admire the iconic church from outside and hope to return and go inside another time. We were fortunate enough to hear the bells chime while we were there, so that was a small consolation of sorts. The exterior facade of the church is quite amazing. The rose window, Kings of Judah, gargoyle waterspouts, and flying buttresses are exquisite and worthy of close examination. (The history behind these architectural features—especially the twenty-eight Kings of Judah—is intriguing and worth researching before your visit.) I have been kicking myself since realizing that I completely forgot to look for Point Zero—the center of France—near the front entrance of the church. I’m sure I walked right past it, but my attention was on the crowd rather than focused on the ground. While I would have loved to see the cathedral’s interior and make the 400-step tower climb, the view from the outside was impressive and will have to hold me over until my next visit to Paris. For information on touring Notre Dame, go to http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/spip.php?rubrique70.
View from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
My pick: St. Paul’s Cathedral… This choice may seem skewed since I didn’t actually go inside Notre Dame, but I am sticking with St. Paul’s unless and until a return visit to Paris changes my mind. I am partial to domes, however.
Check in tomorrow as I weigh the Seine against the Thames…
Paris or London…I would be hard pressed to definitively choose a favorite! That is primarily because—in my humble opinion—these two magnificent cities are polar opposites and, as such, make any preference of one over the other completely impossible. I visited Paris first…and immediately fell in love with its vibrance…its beauty…its charm. It was almost like stepping into a movie—or an enthralling book. A little over a week later I traveled to London and—you guessed it—fell in love all over again! Though much more fast-paced than Paris, it retains an old-world, Dickens-esque charm that is offset by the very modern hustle and bustle. So…rather than attempting to choose a “favorite” between two of the most captivating cities in Europe and setting myself up for instant, abysmal failure, I will instead compare a few of the famous landmarks.
The Eiffel Tower vs. The London Eye…
Both are iconic attractions, instantly recognizable on their respective cityscapes. The Eiffel Tower literally “towers” over most buildings in the world at 1,063 feet tall. The London Eye—though imposing it its own right—seems rather short in comparison at a mere 443 feet high.
To me, the Eiffel Tower is the quintessential symbol of Paris! When I dreamed of visiting Paris, it was a vision of climbing to the top of the tower that was uppermost in my mind. The structure itself is grand, magnificent, awe-inspiring…whether viewed from the ground or experienced from within. (Because it is so popular with tourists from around the globe, you should plan to book your tickets well in advance of your visit.) There are three floors that comprise the visitor areas of the tower—not counting ground level. On the first level you can step out onto a transparent deck and look down 187 feet to the ground; the second level offers a glassed-in, circular view over Paris. You can reach these two levels via a glass-paneled lift (elevator, for you Americans), which offers incredible views, or you can choose to climb the stairs. The third level is comprised of an open-air area as well as an enclosed area—both providing spectacular views of Paris. Definitely—in my opinion—a “must-see” in Paris! (For more info, visit the official web site at http://www.toureiffel.paris/.)
I still consider The Eye to be London’s “new” attraction. Roughly 111 years “younger” than its Parisian counterpart, this colossal observation wheel is located on the South bank of the Thames River. Also known as the Millennium Wheel, it makes one complete rotation every half hour, offering outstanding aerial views of London. You can take a ride every day of the week—morning, afternoon, or night. We chose an evening time slot and the only real downside was the setting sun, which created a glare in many of my photos as it reflected off of the glass capsule. For that reason alone, I would recommend choosing either midday or night if your interest is photographic. The thirty-two passenger capsules can hold up to twenty-five people each. While not crowded, per se, it makes for pretty close quarters. For more info, visit the official web site at https://www.londoneye.com/Experience/.)
View from the Eiffel Tower (left) and the London Eye (right)
My pick: The Eiffel Tower…hands down.
Check back tomorrow for my comparison of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Notre Dame…