As a child, I believed that The Hunchback of Notre Dame played in the backfield for the famed
South Bend, Indiana college football team. To my surprise, after viewing the movie, I realized that the oddly-shaped protagonist enjoyed hanging out more in a Parisian cathedral than on a gridiron. I suppose
that there are worse connotations that might adversely affect France's tourism industry. For example, perish the odious thought that
people think Paris Hilton actually lives there.
Since the 1939 Charles Laughton film and several remakes, I've watched many movies set in Paris: thrillers such as Charade, Night of the Generals, The Day of the Jackal and Le Femme Nikita, historical treatments - Is Paris Burning? and romantic yarns - An American in Paris, Moulin Rouge and Amelie.
With due respect to the aforementioned hunchback, Parisian cathedrals are a main attraction. Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur Basilica garner 12 and 8 million visitors respectively. The Eiffel Tower averages over 6 million, and if you can't get enough of Uncle Walt, Disneyland Resort
Paris draws over 12 million annually.
Of course, Parisian tourism was dramatically altered with fascination (obsession) with The Da Vinci Code, a book and movie that spawned cult-like visits to venues featured in Dan Brown's material. There is a Louvre Tour that features Leonardo's Mona Lisa, St John the Baptist and The Virgin of the Rocks. A typical devilish question - "Are there really 666 panes of glass in the Louvre's pyramid?"
Open since 1793, the Louvre houses a huge collection of
artwork which might take days to explore amidst the 6 million other visitors who visit per year. Expect long queues to get in
and once in, to see Mona Lisa and her friends. Perhaps a trip to the website might help one narrow down a manageable itinerary; however, Mona Lisa and Winged Victory are must-sees.
I visited many museums in Paris including the L'Orangerie with its huge panels of Monet's Water Lilies; however, the museum with the greatest visual impact for me is the Musée D'Orsay along the banks of the Seine. All of the top guns in painting and sculpture are housed here: Rodin, Manet, van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Cézanne, Seurat, Renoir, Millet, Delacroix, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec
and many others. The building itself is a work of art, a converted railway station guarded by a sculpted brass rhinoceros outside. A huge clock hangs on one end wall, appropriate for a former train station with its need for punctuality.
My fondest memory of Paris was arriving at Charles De Gaulle Airport and then romantically re-uniting with my wife at night beneath a brightly-lit Eiffel Tower, hordes of children engaged in soccer nearby on a wide expanse of grass.
There's only one bad memory, and it's associated with my visit
to the Romano-Byzantine style Sacred Heart Basilica consecrated in 1919 in Montmartre. After viewing the impressive church, someone tried to pick-pocket contents from my backpack while I descended the long staircase, but fortunately, our sharp-eyed daughter alerted me to the attempt.
Besides the mosaic ceiling in the apse and the big church organs, the Basilica boasts an 18,835 kg. bell, a full three metres in diameter - the biggest church bell in France. From the church located atop a steep hill, panoramic views of Paris unfold below. For sure, visit, but keep your eyes open on the way out; then wander down the hill through alleys and bohemian cafes of Montmartre where Amelie was filmed to Pigalle's red-light district where the celebrated Moulin Rouge has featured dancers lifting up their skirts to perform the cancan since 1889. If that gives you a rise, visit the nearby Museum of Erotic Art.
An abundance of Parisian icons require several days for one to pack them all in. We found the public transit system, especially the Métro, to be efficient on trips to the Champs-Élysées (the Arc de Triomphe), the 12th Century Notre Dame Cathedral on the Île de la Cité, the Latin Quarter and other areas including shopping at Au Printemps.
Paris claims two airports: Orly, just south and Charles de Gaulle in nearby Roissy-en-France, one of the busiest in Europe. Paris is a central hub of the national rail network of high-speed
TGV and regular Corail trains, and six major railway stations connect this network to the efficient Métro with its 380 subway stations and 221.6 km. of rails. An express network, known as the RER, connects more distant parts.
All you have to do now is decide when to visit. One hint - as the song indicates, beware of summer when it sizzles and winter when it drizzles. That leaves the spring time and the fall.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Mike Keenan: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre: Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Musée D'Orsay: interior and sculpture of nude kneeling, Sacred Heart Basilica, boat rides along the Seine River, Notre Dame Cathedral
If you go
City of Paris: http://www.v1.paris.fr/EN/
Musée de l'Orangerie: http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/
Musée D'Orsay: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html
Paris Info: http://www.parisinfo.com/
What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/