Well, I didn’t win the Beau Monde’s contest – but I have been abroad for the first time in ten years, which is also something to celebrate. My fourth visit to Paris, but at seven days away it was the longest time I’ve ever spent there, and enabled me to revisit some of my favourite sites as well as see others I’d never managed to reach before.
It may sound incredible, but the Eiffel Tower was one of these latter. I had never taken the time to visit it before, as my interest lies in earlier buildings. Now, though, I was determined to reach the top – which actually needed a second visit, as the top was closed the first time so I could only go as far as the second stage. Using the elevator, naturally. I hadn’t realised just what a massive construction it is. It’s tall, of course – over a thousand feet – but there are lots of tall buildings now. What really impressed me was the massiveness of its construction, with hundreds and hundreds of girders in a complicated latticework, like a giant’s version of Meccano. And it has toilets at the top! – though I have no idea where the flush goes…
Around the lowest stage were the names of 72 French inventors and scientists. I’d only heard of one – Ampere – but it struck me as I was going around Paris how many streets and subways stations are named after people the French want to celebrate and remember, which I thought was admirable. There are other ways the French celebrate their history, too; admission to all the national monuments in Paris is free for children, so that families can show their children their heritage.
The Eiffel Tower, of course, is the internationally recognised symbol of Paris and France – even the logo of the airports is a little Eiffel Tower with wings – but centuries ago it was the fleur-de-lis which represented France and the French monarchy. Many pre-Revolutionary kings and queens are buried at St Denis, my favourite place in Paris. I’d visited it nearly thirty years ago, and just fell in love. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, even in July it was almost empty, which really let me appreciate its scale. I love the intersecting voids which you see when you look between pillars to more pillars and the spaces between them. There is some stunning stained glass in the little ring of chapels on the east.
The shape of a Christian Church is meant to represent Christ on his cross, and early churches often had the choir at a slight angle off the straight to indicate this. I’d completely forgotten until I realised that the first bay in the choir was squint! My guide to Paris recommended Notre Dame and the Museum of the Middle Ages to visitors interested in the medieval period, which may explain why St Denis was so empty – but if you do go to Paris, don’t miss it. It even has its own station on the Metro network, Basilica de Saint Denis, so it couldn’t be easier to get to, and it’s just stunning.