Four Days in Paris

Eiffel Tower pillar

Paris is the most-visited city in the world.  I recently joined the crowd of more than 15 million people who visit the City of Lights every year.  There is lot to see and do in Paris; more than any traveler has time for.  Here are my recommendations on how to structure a short trip of four days in Paris.

The metro sign at Abbesses in Montmartre, the oldest Metro stop in Paris.
The Metro sign at Abbesses in Montmartre, the oldest Metro stop in Paris.

Day 1

Stay in Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement. This area has all of the charm you came to Paris to see.

Walk the streets of Montmartre day and night, taking frequent coffee breaks in one of the cafes.  Browse the local artwork in the Place du Tertre.  Shield your eyes near the red light district of Pigalle.

Moulin Rouge building
Don’t bother seeing the show at the Moulin Rouge…

Climb the steps to the 19th century Basilica du Sacré-Coeur on a clear day for a view across the city.

Place des Vosges square
The oldest square in Paris.

Ride the Metro to Le Marais, in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. Browse the trendy shops, walk the Jewish Quarter, and see some of the oldest buildings in the area.

When you get tired, take a nap in the Place des Vosges.  This is the oldest planned square in Paris. It was established in 1612 for the wedding of Louis XIII and some of the buildings around the square date from that time.

Day 2

Go to the Musee de L’Orangerie to see Monet’s famous painting called the “Water Lilies.”  The painting consists of eight large panels, four panels each presented in a large elipptical shaped room. Go early to avoid the crowds.

Walk over the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf, to Notre Dame. Take a peak in the church and then go outside to the front left of the building for the entrance to climb the towers.  Huff and puff your way to the top of one of the towers for an amazing photo opportunity of the city center. Try to find Quasimodo.

Pont des Arts locks.
Locks shining in the sun.

Head over to the Latin Quarter and wander the tourist-infested old streets. Don’t bother eating or drinking here unless you like vastly overpriced gruel and drool.

Next, hop back on the Metro for a ride over to the Champs du Mars for a view of the Eiffel Tower.  Then get in the extremely long line to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Bring a book to read while you wait. If you don’t care about getting to the top, don’t want to waste time in the line, and are willing to climb more stairs, go to the other leg of the tower and climb up to the first level.

Cross the Seine River to the Palais du Chaillot. Watch the fountains and take the obligatory photos of yourself pinching the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower pillar
The iconic Eiffel Tower.

Day 3

Go to the Musee du Louvre and notice that the Mona Lisa is actually quite small.  The Louvre is overwhelming in size and scope.  It’s tough to see it all in one day or before your brain turns to artistic apathy (unless you happen to be an art history major).  Determine what you want to see most of all, check on those highlights, and then get out of there.

Rest in the Tuileries Gardens and get a gelato.

Walk the length of the Champs d’Élyssées from the Place de la Concorde to Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe.  Peer into every window and imagine you have an unlimited platinum credit card in your pocket.  Don’t miss the Avenue Montaigne for the big designer stores.

Go to the top of the Arc d’Triomphe to look down the length of the Champs d’Élyssées to see why your feet hurt. Go back to your hotel in Montmartre and soak them in the bath.

Pont des Arts
Thousands of love locks on the Pont des Arts.
Paris graffiti
Ssshhhhh!

Day 4

Shop the giant Galleries Lafayette department store and the other stores in the area surrounding L’Opera.

Choose between visiting the Musée d’Orsay (if you like Impressionism), or the Pompidou Museum (if modern art is more your thing).

Take a “bateau mouche” boat ride on the river Seine.  It starts near the Eiffel Tower and goes around the islands called the Íle de la Cité and the Íle Saint-Louis and back to the Eiffel Tower.  On one ride on the river I was mooned by some rowdy youths!

 

 

 

When it comes to eating, I recommend seeking out the tiny ethnic restaurants in the backstreets and avoiding the brasseries.  The menus in the brasseries seem to be the same everywhere, and the food is mediocre.  However, you can find some wonderful and relatively inexpensive meals in the ethnic restaurants.

Not to be missed are Ladureé macarons!  The flagship store is on the Avenue des Champs d’Élyssées.

Paris is expensive, so bring plenty of euros and watch out for pickpockets.  Despite the high cost and the crowds, there is no other city in the world like Paris.

Musee d'Orsay clock
The clock at the Musee D’Orsay.

Scenes from Paris

old car on a flatbed truck for a movie scene

It was a cool rainy day in Paris as I walked across the Pont Neuf bridge over the Seine River. It was supposed to be summer, but this July morning seemed more like April. I was walking from my hotel near the Louvre Museum over to the Notre Dame cathedral to take some photos when I ran into a well-dressed couple loitering on the bridge. They looked at me with disinterest and then looked away. They were dressed in elegant long coats. The woman had a fancy hat on her head. Her dress flowed out from her coat down to her shoes. The man wore a bowler hat and spats. They certainly didn’t look like tourists, and they weren’t dressed properly for the inclement weather.

movie extras in Paris
A well-dressed couple on the Pont Neuf bridge.

Maybe it was a photo shoot. I had seen one the day before down by the right bank of the Seine. A young woman had been sprawled over the hood of a 1970s car, with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. She was dressed in very short shorts and skimpy shirt. Her beau was at her side. The photographer moved back and forth snapping away while his assistant moved the lights.

models on a car in Paris, France
A fashion photo shoot on the bank of the Seine River.

But I couldn’t see any photographer this time.  I passed them by and continued over the bridge.  As I reached the other end I saw an old car and a horse drawn wagon waiting on the bridge.  The car was from the early 1900s.  It had wooden spoke wheels, a hard top, and a large steering wheel.  A man and a woman were in the car, with the man as the chauffeur behind the wheel.  They were dressed in costumes like the couple on the bridge.

I saw a tent on the other side of the road and there was a small crowd of people milling about, eating a mid-morning snack and drinking coffee. I finally realized that I had wandered into the middle of a movie shoot! I couldn’t see any movie cameras and saw no director. I decided to wait around and see how this movie-making magic is done.

Once the crew had gotten their fuel for the morning, they slowly organized the scene. Uniformed police at each end of the bridge redirected traffic to other roads. Crew at each end stopped pedestrians from crossing the bridge. There were actually two old cars along with the wagon. The vehicles were lined up at one end of the bridge. I still couldn’t see where the camera and the director were from my vantage point atop a stone wall past the end of the bridge.

Then a white van drove over the bridge, pulled a U-turn, and backed up to the front of the lead car with the two actors in it. The movie camera, the director, and the cameraman were in the back of the van. The back door of the van had been removed.

vehicles for movie shoot in Paris
Lining up for the shot.

The director yelled “Action!” and the van pulled forward slowly. The cars and the horse-drawn wagon followed the van across the Pont Neuf bridge. Other extras in period costume walked along on each side of the bridge, including one man who folded a newspaper and crossed the street behind the passing cars.

At the other end of the bridge the procession stopped, and then turned around. I heard the word “Encore” from a bullhorn and the parade of vehicles came over the bridge back to me. After two takes, the director was satisfied and the crew and the actors went back to the refreshments tent. I decided to move along.

I turned the corner and promptly came across a second film unit filming another scene for the same movie. Another old car was on the back of a flatbed truck. There were four actors in the car. There was a movie camera on a tripod on the flatbed in front of the car. The cameraman was looking through the eyepiece while the second unit director watched the output of the camera on a big LCD display in the front of the flatbed. An assistant stuck her hands into the car with the scene marker card and the director yelled “Action!”

The two actors in the back seat started talking in French while the car gently rocked back and forth on the flatbed. It must have been attached to some hydraulic mechanism to give the illusion that the car was being driven on a bumpy road. An assistant was on each side of the car holding a large piece of black cardboard. At times during the scene, the assistants rotated the cardboard so that it gave the illusion in the car of going under bridges.

old car on a flatbed truck for a movie scene
How did that take go? Should we do another?

After a few takes I had had enough of movie making for one day. It consisted of standing around for a long time, followed by a few minutes of activity, followed by a coffee break, followed by more standing around in the rain.

I have no idea what movie it is going to be. But if I ever happen to watch a French film set in the early 1900s where the characters drive over the Pont Neuf bridge, I’ll remember that I was there.

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