I bid farewell to my gracious hostess and friend, Catherine, as she stepped out of her disembarking station shouting, “Enjoy!” It was Day2 of my vacation in Paris and therefore only the second time I was using the underground train to get around. The day before, she’d picked me at the airport and we’d travelled part of the way on the train. So this was my first experience on my own.
I listened keenly for the callout of my exit about 3 or 4 stops ahead. Soon enough it was time to join the chaos of those trying to leave the coach while others pushed their way in. I followed the crowds to ascend several flights of stairs before coming to the barrier queues. When my turn came, for some reason my ticket didn’t work to allow me through and I struggled a bit. Fortunately a good Samaritan came to my rescue, clearly moved by my pitiful struggles and enabled me through with his ticket. I suspected there was something not right about that but was happy to be on my way, fleeing towards the remaining stairs.
At the quick pace I was moving, I more or less stumbled forward onto the street above with relief. The temperature was cooler than I am used to, even though the sun was up, skies pretty blue and the air calm.
A bit disoriented as this was the start of my maiden tour around this famous city, I turned around slowly to gather my bearing, to figure out where I was and which direction to go. And ‘voila’! Just like that, I had unexpectedly arrived at one of the most iconic sites in Paris, right before me, and it took me by delightful surprise! Woooow!
Across the wide roundabout, surrounded by very busy traffic, I was suddenly transported nearly 2 centuries back, by astounding magnificence, standing proudly at over 50m tall, 45 m wide and 22m deep, preserved, protected and celebrated over the past 150+ years by dynasties, monarchs and commoners alike.
Even from a distance of about 50 m away, where I stood at the train station exit, it was a humbling moment of gratitude to realise I had stumbled upon the world renowned Arc de Triumph, one of the top 5 iconic sites to see for any discerning traveller within the great city of Paris, France.
And so my day of gawking, ooh-ing and aah-ing began…
Standing at the Centre of 12 radiating avenues, the most famous being the Champs-Élysées, this Arc of Triumph was built to honour those who fought for the country in many revolutionary & Napoleonic battles waaay back when.
Up close, once I started to get acquainted with the astounding work of art in the form of exquisitely sculptured naked French soldiers intertwined in battle against German warriors, read through some of the 100s of names of soldiers and generals who led (those who died underlined), saw the listing of the many battles fought and learned that beneath the arch lies the tomb honouring the ‘Unknown soldier’ World War I, I started to understand the deeply innate patriotism of the French people.
Of course once I spotted a staircase within, I ascended with glee and anticipation to see if it would lead me to the rooftop to behold the city from above. Wow! It did! As I emerged, it felt like time stood still. I marvelled, transfixed at one spot, staring at the ‘perfection’ of the city design around the monument, the different avenues and the picturesque blend of all manner of contrasts, the ancient and modern, greenery and concrete, squeezed and spacious, royal and common, oooold and new – A-a-amazing!!!
And then I spotted my prime target (and where I was originally headed when I got off the train), the Eiffel Tower! Oh dear, there’s soooo much to see in this city! I now had my bearing and had to get moving!
Down the stairs and out I dashed… away from one iconic site to another, this time towards the most famous in the world… whoopeeee!