“Impressions de Bricker” France Report – Part 4
We had lingered too long at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial mentioned at the end of Part 3 of our Impressions de Bricker Trip Report, and that coupled with delays in traffic led to us arriving late into Paris. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but we were staying at an Airbnb, and were supposed to meet with our host a couple of hours earlier.
As we approached the city, Mark was mentioning how the only place he wasn’t comfortable driving was the Arc de Triomphe round-about. Mark’s concerns were well-founded. The traffic circle is legendary for its dangerousness, a veritable free-for-all that bears more in common with the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King than it is like a traditional intersection. There are legends that an accident occurs here every 7 minutes (seems unlikely), that no car insurance company in the world insures drivers on it (probably a myth), and that all collusions are deemed 50/50 fault (that actually seems reasonable).
Suffice to say, circling the Arc de Triomphe is not exactly how you want to get your feet wet with driving in a foreign metro area. Being the quasi-navigator, I quickly zoomed in on Google Maps, confirmed that we weren’t going to be driving on the Champs-Ã‰lysées, and said, “don’t worry, we’re good.” I might have failed to do my due diligence here by failing to consider the fact that a round-about necessarily includes more streets than just one. Whoops.
Minutes later, we realized we were about to circle the Arc de Triomphe, and there was no way around it. Entering…it wasn’t so bad. Maybe this lulled us into a false sense of security, but that feeling vanished as more and more wildebeests entered the circle, veering towards us without warning or hesitation. Chaotic is too charitable of a term to describe that traffic circle–it’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but with hundreds of Mr. Toads. I can’t imagine driving it on a regular basis; getting into an accident would be an inevitability.
Fortunately, Mark navigated through the circle with ease, nonchalantly steering with his knees while casually muttering, “Nobody drives like me. Nobody. I’m doing things in this car, you have no idea they’re going on.” Unfortunately, I didn’t capture any footage of our wild ride, so this stock photo will have to suffice…
Kudos to Mark not only for navigating the circle, but not taking me to task over my poor navigational prowess. There were several occasions on the trip when he could’ve become irate with my guidance (or lack thereof), but he kept his cool. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’m not sure I would’ve been quite as polite.
Our stressful Parisian driving adventure was not over there! Our Airbnb host had assured us (twice) that there was ample parking around the unit we reserved. I’m guessing they didn’t actually have a car because, while there were parking spaces, there weren’t empty ones.
I’m guessing France is a nation of Costanzas: once they get the good spot in front of the good building in the good neighborhood, they don’t move for weeks. I can imagine them fighting over a parking space:
Michel: “Salut monsieur! You’re not getting that space. I mean, I’ll sleep in my car if I have to. Hon, Hon, Hon!”
Georges: “I’ll die Á l’extérieur! Hon, Hon, Hon!”
About 30 minutes of driving around (including almost inadvertently entering the Arc de Triomphe traffic circle again…just for the heck of it this time), we finally found a parking spot. It was a 20 minute walk from our Airbnb unit. When we got up to the unit, it also was a bit of a disappointment; the first experience with Airbnb we have had that was not very positive. (Guess I’ll have to update our Tips for Using Airbnb post!)
The next morning, Mark and I got up early for sunrise photos of the Eiffel Tower. It was about a 40 minute walk to get there, but Paris is such a beautiful city to walk through that neither of us balked at this, even though the probability of a good sunrise was slim.
After the predictable dud of a sunrise, we headed back to the apartment to regroup. Then we all headed out for the day, with the first stop being Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
We all had been here before, but Sarah and I had only done the main cathedral, and not the towers because they were already closed for the day when we arrived. This time, we decided to do the towers first.
We knew this is one of the most popular tourist spots in Europe, so we arrived early–around 11 a.m. on a day that the towers opened at 10 a.m. Unfortunately, this was not early enough, and we waited in line for nearly 2 hours before going up (on an off-season weekday, no less). Big mistake on our part, and we should’ve known better.
It wasn’t all lost time, as we traded off on holding the spot in line while wandering around to look at the area, taking photos, and also culling photos from my memory cards. Still, far longer than I wanted to wait.
One thing to note about the towers, if you’re planning, is that it’s 400+ steps to the top up a very narrow, spiral staircase. You’d think the least Quasimodo could’ve done was install an elevator.
I’m not sure I can say it was worth the wait, but I’m glad we did it. There is a lot of security netting that does dampen the ‘open-air’ nature of the experience, but gargoyles themselves are really cool, as were the views of Paris.
If I were to do it again–and I would like to someday–I’d definitely pay more money to do a guided evening tour. I’d love to capture night photos of the gargoyles.
After spending a good 45 minutes at the two upper levels, we headed down and went inside the cathedral.
We had to line up again, but we didn’t wait more than 10 minutes this time. The line moves quickly, slowed only by a security checkpoint.
Notre Dame Cathedral is beautiful and a must-see in Paris for its historical and cultural significance, but being inside doesn’t resonate for me on an emotional or spiritual level to the same extent as many other places of worship that we’ve visited (including our next stop). It’s very busy, loud, and commercialized.
This does not detract from the beauty of the architecture and grandiosity of the building, but I think it bears mentioning.
There’s something to be said for the stained glass in the elaborate rose windows, those flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, and myriad other architectural details. When viewed as a building or work of art, Notre Dame is jaw-dropping.
However, if you’re hoping for a contemplative or tranquil experience, other locations are significantly better options.
While I can understand your different experiences of Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame, my wife and I had a notable experience at Notre Dame. We visited Paris during Lent and attended the Friday afternoon mass venerating the Crown of Thorns. This was a very different experience than you describe. But both churches are must sees.
It’s crazy to see your report from Paris and see so many of the same things! We also saw the soccer guy at Sacré-CÅ“ur. He was seriously amazing!
I have yet to really SEE Sacré-Coeur . We’ve been to Paris twice, but the first trip, while we went inside, everything was blocked by scaffolding as they were cleaning and refurbishing the artwork, so we didn’t actually get to see it, though I did by a book so I could see pictures. The 2nd time we went, we got up there only to find they were having a mass, so you couldn’t go in and look around.
But, I agree about Notre Dame…if you look at it not as a place of worship, but a work of art, it is awe-inspiring. But if you are looking for a religious experience, that would not be at the top of my list of places to go looking. My place for worship there was Saint-Germain des pres. It’s one of the oldest (perhaps THE oldest) church in Paris and while it is not the elaborate, gilded masterwork that some others are, it has a peace about it and I sat there for quite a while just reflecting and I just felt closer to God there than I ever have before. It’s not someplace I would necessarily seek out as a tourist attraction, but if you are looking for a place of spirituality, I would recommend it.
You saved the best images for this post. The photos from the Cathedral are simply impressive. I would love to visit that Church someday. The last image with Sarah and you is downright perfect. I can’t imagine a more romantic image that you will both cherish for many years to come.
I can’t believe you haven’t gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It is so amazing! The line was no worse than waiting for a Disney ride and you get as much time as you want at the top unlike a 30 second ride. When I visited Notre Dame it happened to be a Sunday. There was a church service going on and it was beautiful. I felt bad that we were just touring during the service and walking around while it was going on. I wished that I could have stayed and joined the service. I am definitely going to go to Sacre Couer my next trip.
I would be so scared to drive in a different country, let alone around the Arc de Triomphe. I am so happy you guys survived this perilous journey! Sacre Coeur looks so beautiful, my sister and I saw it from a distance when we were in Paris and I would love to visit again and go inside. Your photos are beautiful as always, I love the last one of you and Sarah. Thank you for sharing your travels with us, I am loving the trip report!
My husband and I were also in Paris for the DP Inaugural Half Marathon! (We started at Disneyland then spent the week afterward in Paris.) I would HIGHLY recommend a company called Paris Muse for skip-the-line guided tours of the Louvre. (We also did a city walking tour with them, which was also fantastic; and I imagine their other museum and walking tours are similarly excellent.) It is pricey but worth every single penny, in my mind. The Louvre is ginormous and can be overwhelming (and I’ve visited before on my own), but I came out of our 2.5-hour tour feeling invigorated, vs. drained (which is usually the case with other museums, no matter how much I enjoy them). The tour guides are literally Ph.D. experts in the fields of art, architecture, and history. I wish we had actually done more tours with them! The tours are also limited to 4 people, and for both of our tours we were actually the only 2 with the guide. Loved it and will absolutely book with them again next time.
I never knew so many of these places existed! I would love to do a trip like this someday, but would be worried to do it on my own and drive in another country.
When you and Sarah become tour guides, I’ll be the first to sign up. It would be so fun to join my internet friends 😉 on these adventures and join in for photography sessions. (I promise I’m not a stalker even if that sounds bad!)
Haha, you don’t sound like a stalker at all!
As for being a tour guide…given the number of misadventures we have, I doubt either of us would be qualified to lead others and organize logistics. A few people have actually asked/suggested the same for trips to Tokyo Disney Resort, and that’s probably the place where it would be most feasible (and where we’d be comfortable not making mistakes), but I don’t believe they allow third party tour guides into the park.
The idea does sound pretty fun, and we have a couple of other ideas for how it *might* work, but they’re probably just unrealistic pipe dreams.
Tokyo Disney group trip with you and Sarah as tour guides sounds awesome! Let me know when to sign up!! 🙂
believe me, you have to be a real parisian to drive around the arc de triomphe. 12 roads (some very big) leading to that HUGE round-about (probably one of the biggest in France), I confirm that it seems crazy when you look at it on the sidewalk and it is far worst when you’re inside !!! Bravo to Mark !!! But what a pleasure to join the Champs Elysées (especially at night) with the huge ferris wheel at the end of the street.
Regarding the Notre Dame Tower, I think that it is posible to buy tickets online, like for many museum or tourist places all over the world, with a time of arrival.
When you talk about the commercial district that doesn’t have quite the same charm as Paris, are you talking about Pigalle ? If it’s true, I understand your words 😀
I’m happy that you saw Iya Traore, a real artist in its field. He is well know in Montmartre (probably more that the artists on place du tertre)
Regarding the Eiffel Tower (I see it from my office), have you waited the flashing lights on it (and the lighthouse turning light on the top) ? It’s every hour at night and it lasts about 5-6 mn. It is one one the most beautiful thing to see in Paris !!!
Thanks for the confirmation on the insanity that is the Arc de Triomphe traffic circle. I would call it “organized chaos” but I don’t think there was anything organized about it.
We saw the ‘twinkle lights’ show this visit, and in the past have seen the rotating search light as well, but never saw it this time. I’m not sure why…
I loved Sacre Coeur! I have visited it twice now and would go again. I remember visiting Cafe Les Deux Moulins in Montmartre on the way to Sacre Coeur, made famous in the movie Amelie and ordering the Creme BrÃ»lée that she eats in the movie. Bliss! I did learn to be aware of a particular night tour – I did a city lights tour and we were picked up two hours late for it and then our guide left us sitting in the van for 20 minutes so she could have a cigarette to deal with the stress of being late!
Amelie has long been one of those movies on my “list” of things to watch, but I’ve never gotten around to it. Now that I know Sacre Coeur is included in it, I’ll have to actually make a point of watching.
That sounds awful about the tour guide. Sorry to hear about that experience!
I haven’t been back to Paris since 1991, but one of my most distinct memories was inside Sacre Couer. Looking up at the ceiling literally brought tears to my eyes. I had the overwhelming feeling of being in the presence of God. Powerful!!
I’m actually somewhat glad photos are not allowed inside, as seeing it in person was my first exposure to that ceiling, and it definitely had more of an impactful, wow-factor that way. Really, really stunning!
I LOVE that photo of you and Sarah. So cute 🙂
Did you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower? I think that is a neat experience.
As for cathedrals, when were were in France before we visited Notre Dame as well as Chartre to the SW of Paris. Chartre lets you climb to the top and see gargoyles, but without the netting or the line – I remember it being a far superior experience. (This summer, we didn’t visit Chartre nor did we brave the line for the Notre Dame towers).
I’d highly recommend the Museum Pass. Even for the short time we were in Paris, it was worthwhile. The Louvre is neat, and the Musee d’Orsay has arguably better artwork. Throw in quick stops to places we might otherwise skip (crypts of Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon) and we found it worthwhile.
Me must had followed your path in reverse – leaving Paris to Versaille/Normandy, our GPS took us through the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. It’s definitely memorable!
We have not gone to the top. Sarah is afraid of doing it, and given the time commitment, it’d be rude of me to go and just make her wait. It’s something I’d love to do at some point, so maybe she can get drunk first and we can go next time! 😉
That’s good to know about Chartre–I’ll look into that for next time. I think an experience without all of the obstructions would be a lot better, even if it is hard to beat the legendary status of the Notre Dame gargoyles.
Loving these reports! The photos are amazing and so are the Disney connections!