PARIS — It is known as the city of lights, but even on a more typical autumn day of drizzle and dreary weather, a one-day stopover can allow for a wonderful taste of Paris’ "je ne sais quois." Given the limit of one day in Paris, it is easy to understand why using the River Seine as your guide is an easy answer to seeing the most for the least cost on metro transit, as the walkabout is a cornucopia of history and beauty.
The sites you are able to take in will be limited; as with the Louvre, Paris offers such a rich historical and artistic story that one day is just the cherry on top. A good place to start is to follow the River Seine. Most of the postcard locations lie on the Seine: The Louvre, Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Musse d’Orsay, and a Frommer’s-book full of other photographic havens.
When starting at Bastille, the Eiffel Tower is an obvious finale, and a fairly realistic goal when spending a day on foot. Paris has an extensive metro system, but be prepared to log some serious miles in sneakers. The metro system is similar in operation to the NYC subway, or the London underground, with a variety of rainbow-inspired lines, but also with a regional train system to service the outer lying Parisian reaches, and of course the TGV high-speed trains which blast passengers to Brussels, London, Spain or the French countryside in record time.
The Bastille is the perfect place to start the walkabout, and the neighborhood during the day is a gallery of shopping and eateries. Starting with a lovely breakfast at one of the many brasseries, the French equivalent of a diner, albeit with a much different menu comprising quiche, omlette’s and other free-from-fried options, is imperative. Be warned, however, that Paris is one of the more expensive travel destinations. A jar of orange juice, roughly 6 oz. and perhaps some of the best orange juice to sample, cost just over $7.
At night, the "city of lights" effect drapes the streets of the Bastille and Dicken’s "St Antoine" with an other-worldy rhythm. The cobblestones echo the jive of the residents and the streets at once fall into a synchnopatic melody with the city. With the Bastille monument centered in a roundabout near the heart of Paris, a walk in any direction could go on for miles and not extended beyond the Parisian lines. Ominous and modern, the Bastille Opera house both contradicts and encompasses the Parisian aesthete. It is the home base of the Op©ra National de Paris , and was inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.
Near the Bastille are two of the six heaviest traveled train stations in Paris, incorporating the use of regional and high-seed transit. On the right bank of the Seine, the same as Bastille- lies the Gare du Lyon. Named after Lyon, France- a city en route, construction was initiated for the World Exposition of 1900. The train station boasts a restaurant in service since 1901-Le Train Bleu. The Gare d’Austerlitz, built in 1840 as the Gare d’Orleans and eventually re-named after the famed Battle of Austerlitz during Napoleon’s reign, is situated across the river. Just before the train station on the river is the National Library of France which contains over 20million volumes. Originally contained in the Louvre, the modernization and relocation of the library was completed late 1995.
As the Seine arcs to the west, a magnificent park, the Jardins des Plantes precedes the two Seine-islands, Žle Saint-Louis and the Žle de la Cit©, which are must-see marvels and home to magnificent monuments. The Žle Saint-Louis is an enchanting place, meticulously laid out, and the French Renaissance style is still nearly intact. The Žle de la Cit© is home to the Cathedral of Notre Dame- perhaps the most iconic of Paris’ attractions, subject of movies and novels alike. The grandiose gothic construction of any cathedral its size is awe-inspiring, and Notre Dame does not disappoint. Completed in the middle of the 13th century after nearly 100 years of construction, Notre Dame is not only a beautiful representation of an era when Gothic structures began their page in history, but also boasts use of unseen modern architectural techniques of the time, like the "flying buttresses, making it a staple in the history of religion, art and design. A smart tourist will plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the cathedral, as both the tower and crypt below are open for tours. The island was a center for French Revolutionary action, with many of the buildings stolen for use as prisons, which are now government owned buildings, focused on social welfare- the Police, Palace of Justice, and Paris’ largest hospital.
Just beyond the Žle de la Cit©, on both sides of the Seine leading to the Louvre, are strands of green metal stalls. When opened by the local booksellers in the late morning, the walk is a magical stroll through an outdoor bookstore. The sellers offer books, mostly in French, tourist curios and art. Some of the books and art are truly treasures, some are reproductions. The Parisian folk who run the booths are storybooks themselves of the city and the Parisian life.
The Louvre is a very typical hot spot in Paris, but for a one-day stop-over, it is best to take in only her exterior and lush gardens, the Tuileries. Many boast that days on end could be spent in the Louvre without seeing her in entirety. Her floor space is an expansive 123.5 square miles in total, and began life as a fort in the 12th century. Not only does the Louvre house the collection of history through art, but as a piece of art herself has many stories. Expanded successively throughout time, once the Palace of Versailles, and a place for art students, the French Revolution’s National Assembly decreed that the Louvre serve as a museum in the face of the destruction of many Parisian monuments in that frenetic time.
Near the Louvre is a trinity of vision- the Musee d’Orsay, Avenue des Champs-‰lys©es and Les Invalides. Closest to the Louvre is the Avenue des Champs-‰lys©es, which the Parisians refer to as the "most beautiful street in the world". Starting at the Place de la Concorde and ending at the Arc du Triomphe, the one and a quarter mile avenue boasts a lack of commercialization, although not entirely safe from modernization. The avenue originated as a farmer’s market, but by the 17th Century was a hotspot for living and business properties. The oldest standing committee in Paris, in fact, is the Comite Champs- ‰lys©es, who still control much of the rental market and improvement of the Avenue as well as lobby to the authorities for business practice rights.
Across the river from the Louvre complex is the Mus©e d’Orsay, originally a train station, most well known for its impressionistic and post-impressionistic collections. It, like most Parisian monuments has served the city’s officials, citizens and eventually tourists. Near Mus©e d’Orsay and across from the Champs-‰lys©es is Les Invalides. The museum and administrative facilities all relate to the military, and history thereof; the grounds include a hospital and retirement center for war veterans. A masterpiece in French Baroque designs, and inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Invalides is also the burial site of Napoleon, his family and officers, and many other military heroes. From the Invalides, presumably at this point by moonlight, the Eiffel Tower is a luminary reflecting off the day’s tour guide, the Seine. Prefaced by the Parc du Champs de Mars, the tower was built as an entry-way to the 1889 World’s Fair.
Like the Eiffel Tower to Paris, Paris herself has become a beacon in the world, a symbol of romance, and of struggle. Like the tower, Paris has had the strength to rise above all maintaining her integrity, and just a 24-hour escape into her arms will change the way anyone sees Europe, as a mecca of the collaboration between history and art.