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Getting to know some places of Paris

A place in Paris is a pedestrian walking area, like a square or large patio. Sometimes a place is hard to get to, such as the Place Charles de Gaulle at the Arc de Triomphe, which you enter and exit through an underground passage. France’s Tombe du soldat inconnu (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) contains the remains of a soldier from the First World War. This memorial with an eternal flame is right under the arch. Faded floral arrangements are taken away and new floral arrangements are placed here every day.

          

A place can have benches, or not. A fountain and sculpture, or not. What all the places have in common is a respite from the motorcycles, buses, cars, and bicycles. Or not. Some places become congested with parked vehicles.

Place Colette is on my walking route to the Louvre. It boasts the most fanciful metro entry I’ve seen in Paris (shown below left), fashioned after, perhaps, the crown jewels displayed at the Louvre. This place also has an entry into my favorite Parisian garden: Le Jardin du le Palais Royale (Garden of the Royal Palace, seen below right). Totally blocked from motorcycles and car traffic, this large rectangle is a perfect getaway on a sunny day.

    

Place Sartre-Beauvoir is on Boulevard St.-Germain-des-Pres and Rue St. Benoit. This intersection is where you’ll find Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flore, two cafes where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir did some writing (they’re shown in the photograph below) and a lot of talking and drinking. Jean-Paul Sartre was an existentialist, famous for writing Being and Nothingness and Nausea. De Beauvoir is best known for her feminist tract The Second Sex.

    

The Place Franz Lizst is disappointing. This small Right Bank square has only an overgrown hedge and could have been so much more to honor this musician. A bust, a piano score, or a stone piano would have been lovely. Lizst played the organ in my neighborhood church, St. Eustace.

Place de la Concorde (Place of Harmony) is home to a giant white Ferris wheel, a gold-topped obelisk from Luxor, a plaque commemorating the guillotine beheadings during the Revolution, and two outlandish fountains. One guide described this place as “the most beautiful square in Paris,” although its windswept pavement and lack of trees make it just a large and open paved plain.

    

Place St. Michel (images below) is a crowded meeting place for hippies, students, and revolutionaries. The place‘s original granite cobblestones were replaced with large, impossible-to-dig-up pavers after the 1968 student riots when cobbles were the weapon of choice.

    

The Place de Parvis de Notre-Dame is one of the busiest in Paris. Tourists from around the world stand, gape, and take pictures here in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral. For me, however, walking around the cathedral is a much more satisfying experience, especially the southside gardens on a sunny day. If you’re really lucky, however, it will start raining, and you’ll get to see water streaming from the mouths of the gargoyles. A name change to Parvis Notre-place John Paul II was adopted in 2006, although demonstrators protested the change (with 50 arrests) and the change has been a hard sell.

    

The place in front of Notre-Dame also contains Kilometre Zero (shown below), the road medallion indicating the Parisian geographical center from which all distances outward are measured.

Kilometre Zero of French national highways, located in Paris on the square facing the main entrance of Notre Dame cathedral, and considered the official centre of the city of Paris.

The Place Vendome is unique in that only jewelry stores, perfumeries, design houses, and expensive hotels are allowed to operate around its square. The Ritz Hotel, the hotel where Princess Diana spent her last night on earth, is on Place Vendome. In the middle of this square is a giant column (shown twice below), modeled after Trajan’s Column in Rome. The propaganda is that the column was made from all the cannons melted down from armies defeated at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Napoleon is standing on top. This statue is the second one of Napoleon, since the first statue of him was pulled down in 1871.  Place Vendôme is also a 1998 French film directed by Nicole Garcia and starring Catherine Deneuve.

     La Colonne Vendôme

La Place Dauphine is next to the Pont Neuf. Although all sand and gravel, several interesting restaurants and tiny hotels face this out-of-the-way square. One owner had hung lap blankets in different colors over the back of each outside chair. 

One of my favorite quiet places in Paris is Square Barye at the eastern tip of the Seine island Ile St. Louis. This little park is named after the sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye (see the book cover below featuring his artwork). The park is hidden and tranquil (below right). Perfect after you’ve spent time in other noisy places.

    

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