Wilsons spend a day in Paris

We chose to take the full-day excursion called "Highlights of Paris and the Louvre, an Elegant Cultural Capital and Its Prized Treasures," leaving the ship at 9, returning at 6 and including lunch. Much of the trip is driving by major sights, but we will enjoy a guided tour of the Louvre Museum, a visit inside Notre Dame Cathedral and a photo op at Eiffel Tower.

David and I are thinking this will be a nice introduction to the city and assist us in navigating when we are here for three days on our own following the cruise.
The guide provides a basic history, which informs us that Paris was still a dark and dirty Medieval city when Napoleon came, and after his time in much-more-modern London, he decided to do a complete makeover of Paris. He tore down slums and built the now-traditional sandstone apartment buildings which line Paris' streets. He enjoyed using designs of Roman architecture.

Today in Paris is Assumption Day, a very important holiday to the many French Catholics. Businesses are closed so there is not much traffic. Our bus drives along the famous Champs-Elysees boulevard with our guide pointing out the sights and high-end shopping districts. With its inviting riverside promenade, 37 graceful bridges and splendid view of all things Parisian, it is France's most beautiful boulevard.

We first drive around the Arc de Triomphe, a colossal 164-foot triumphal arch ordered by Napoleon to celebrate his military successes and inspired by Rome's Arch of Titus. Names of Napoleon's generals are  inscribed on the stone facades – the underlined names identify the hallowed figures who fell in battle.

The traffic circle surrounding the Arc is named for Charles De Gaulle, but Parisians call it "L'Etoile" or "the star" in reference to the streets that fan out from it.

We continued our drive past the Palais Garnier Opera House and stop in front of the Paris Town Hall to disembark for our walk to Notre Dame, the famous towering 13th-century cathedral built in the French Gothic Medieval architectural style complete with flying buttresses and gargoyles. It opened in 1345. It is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world. 

Despite the holiday, the line right now is not long, at least according to the guide. We get in line, wait our turn, and are pleased to see that there is Mass being celebrated. The seats are nearly full, but we can watch the priest as he speaks on televisions mounted at the rear of the chapel. We are able to walk around the center nave of church where mass was being held, to view the various side aisles and chapels, rose window and life of Christ frescoes. As we left the church, mass ended, and the celebration bells pealed out in magnificent glory. We feel privileged to have been able to get inside for a close-up and personal view.

We now have time on our own, and wander among the souvenir and coffee shops, stopping at the ATM to get more cash. The guide says Paris does not like credit cards unless for major purchases. I buy two French flags for the great granddaughters' collection and three Paris fashion scarves.

We sit at a coffee shop table for tea and coffee, chatting with two UPS pilots who are on layover. Our group meeting time is noon, so we walk a few blocks back to the bus and drive to a restaurant which has reservations anticipating our entire group. We sit outside to dine al fresco on chicken breast with a sauce and apple tart with ice cream for dessert.

When we re-board, we drive to the Louvre Museum for a 2-hour guided tour, with an amazing private guide, Pascal, who knows the layout of this, the world's largest art museum and historic landmark of Paris. He is very knowledgeable about the art displayed here from almost every civilization in the world.

The museum has three wings shaped like a horseshoe, with the huge glass pyramid entrance nestled outside in the middle. Our guide provides a history of the building and shows us some of the medieval foundations on the lower level. We are actually walking through the moat of the ancient fortress, with its tall rock walls rising high above us. 

The building also has the royal apartments of Napoleon III with a dozen elaborately decorated reception rooms. Pascal shows us some of the major art works, including the Nike winged victory, Venus de Milo, and of course, the most famous painting in the world – Mona Lisa.

There is so much to see, David and I are glad we have tickets to return when we are back in Paris on our own.

Our drive continues through the Latin Quarter and past the Luxembourg Gardens, d'Orsay Museum, Grand Palais and Petit Palais. We see the les Invalides complex of military buildings, which houses Napoleon's tomb and the Ecole Military School.

The final stop on the tour is the iconic view of the Eiffel tower.
This is a photo op and there is no time to climb, but again, David has purchased tickets for us for Sunday evening when we get back to Paris from the cruise. The Eiffel Tower is to Paris what the Statue of Liberty is to New York and what Big Ben is to London – the ultimate civic emblem.

French engineer Gustave Eiffel – already famous for building viaducts and bridges, spent two years working to erect this iconic monument for the World Exposition of 1889.  It is hard to believe that Parisians at first did not like the tower and wanted it taken down after the Exposition, but eventually it became part of the city's topography. Today it is most breathtaking at night, when every girder is highlighted in a sparkling display.

The tower does not appear as tall as I expected, but we can see tiny people on the various levels and the elevator going up and down. We get our picture, boarding the bus for the final time today and returning to the ship for dinner.

EDITOR'S NOTE: North County Fire & Medical District Board Director David Wilson and Bonnie Boyce-Wilson are in Italy and France for six weeks. Mrs. Boyce-Wilson is writing a daily journal of their experiences. They had some technical difficulties sending the daily journal so we're behind on sharing their stories.

By Bonnie Boyce-Wilson



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