Paris Part 2: Hidden Gems

JULY 2010…

While the sights mentioned so far are prominent and unmissable, the Sacré-Cœur or Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a different story. For starters, it is tucked away out of sight from the main road. I probably wouldn’t have found it if not for the friendly Parisian who led me there.

Like a gem to be discovered, the Sacré-Cœur demands that you walk up a small alley before reaching an open space, where the domed basilica comes into view, sitting majestically on the highest point in the city.

The Sacré-Cœur in Paris.

The white castle of Sacré-Cœur at the top of Montmarte hill…

Then, as if seeking advice from the sage residing on the mountain top, you slowly make your way up the steps. And as you ascend, the white castle inches closer and closer, and its presence looms larger and larger. By the time you reach its doorstep, you are staring up at it, humbled and enlightened.

The view of Paris city from the Sacré-Cœur.

And the panoramic view of the city 130 m above ground.

This was by far my favourite stop on the whole itinerary. Not only did I get a good workout from climbing the stairs, enjoyed the cool breeze at the summit, the view of Paris city from the high vantage point was gorgeous as well.

The Paris Panthéon.

The Paris Panthéon, originally a church, now a final resting place for France’s national heroes.

The next location gave me a bit of a déjà vu – the Panthéon. If you’ve been to Rome before Paris, you may have the same question as me: there’s a Panthéon in Paris too? The answer: yes, there is!

The facade of the Panthéon in Paris is modelled after the Panthéon in Rome, but that’s where the similarity ends. Originally built as a church, the Panthéon now serves as a final resting place for France’s national heroes. As does the Hôtel des Invalides for military greats.

The Paris Panthéon.

The imposing dome of the Paris Panthéon.

Speaking of which, I must admit that the Hôtel des Invalides wasn’t a must-see item on my itinerary. I practically stumbled upon it while exploring the area around the Eiffel Tower. And it was the cute conical bushes that attracted me to this building.

Conical bushes on the lawn of the Hôtel des Invalides, Paris.

Cute conical bushes on the lawn of the Hôtel des Invalides.

Turns out, this is the historic Hôtel des Invalides, a hospital and retirement home built in the 1670s for war veterans. Today, it houses several military museums, a church and burial site for some of France’s war greats, including Napoleon.

Hôtel des Invalides, Paris.

Hôtel des Invalides, a hospital and retirement home built in the 1670s for war veterans.

After the encounter with the conical bushes, I realised that green spaces in Paris were not mere patches of grass. This is evident in the Luxembourg Gardens, one of the many green spaces in Paris. Originally created as the gardens to the Luxembourg Palace in 1612, it is now a public space owned by the French Senate, who holds their meetings in the palace.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris.

The beautifully manicured grounds of the Luxembourg Gardens.

The gardens’ beautifully designed grounds come complete with lawns, flowers, sculptures, ponds and trees, looking every bit like a winning art project. There’s plenty of space for everyone to see and enjoy at 23 hectares wide, but again, I was more interested in the oddly (or uniquely) manicured life-forms. Tree-flavoured lollipop anyone?

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris.

Trees that remind me of lollipops at the Luxembourg Gardens.

Champs-Élysées, more than just a shopping street
Last but not least, the final activity (or some say main activity) in Paris was to wander down the tree-lined boulevards of Champs-Élysées. Better known as the shopping street, it also hosts the annual military parade on Bastille Day and is the finish line of the Tour de France. But, as you might have guessed, I was too busy shopping to snap a photo for my travel collection. Maybe next time…

A stressless trip to the end
I had an 8am train to catch on the day I was to leave Paris. Since I did not want my last memory of Paris to be that of missing the train, I had chosen a hotel within walking distance from the train station. Therefore, I did not have to worry about getting stuck in rush-hour traffic or squeezing into the Metro crowd with my luggage. All I had to do was take a leisurely morning stroll to the train station. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the trip. Advance planning always pays off.

Paris has many world-class attractions and famous sights, but it is not just that. It exudes a vibe that other cities do not have. A Parisian vibe that makes the mere act of walking down the street an attraction itself. Such is the charm of Paris and it is no wonder that people come back again and again. Indeed, Paris is not just a city of attractions, but the entire city is an attraction itself.


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