TOUR de France (Part IV) / by Deborah Clague

Besides art, gourmet cuisine and romance, Paris is also known for fashion. The Galleries LaFayette are one of the best places to indulge in this and also observe human behaviour. I didn't take any pictures of it but imagine a North American-style mall replacing The Gap and Foot Locker with Chanel and Rodarte, and instead of being an ugly concrete monstrosity, visualize a beautiful 19th century architectural marvel with a skylight that rivals the stained-glass at the Vatican. Yeah, I couldn't afford anything in it but thankfully window-shopping is free. The only people who did appear to be buying anything were Asian tourists lined up dozens deep - behind red velvet rope no less - outside some of the boutiques.

The immediate area outside of the Galleries LaFayette has more affordable, trendy stores such as H&M and my favourite Uniqlo (and if you're not into shopping, the Opera House is smackdab right there too). A bit of a hike away is the world-renowned Champs-Elysses, which I learned has so many tourists at any given time that French isn't even the most spoken language. Vehicular traffic is also dense here (and leads to the giant roundabout that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe). Expect to see everything from 60s-era Mini Coopers to Bugattis whizing by. And if you hear cheesy Eurotrash music playing at a volume that could wake the dead, try and spot the "Discotheque Bus" a hilarious nightclub on wheels. 

There are historic locations in Paris that aren't commemorated (such as the spot outside of the Tuileries Gardens where Marie Antoinette was executed in 1793) and others where people feel the need to add their own memorial. The Pont de l'Alma, crossing the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, is one such location. I hadn't read up on this prior to my trip, but in approaching the bridge and seeing all of the flowers laid at its edge, I sensed that this was the spot where Lady Diana lost her life sixteen years ago; the handwritten eulogies covering its surface confirmed it. To this day, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. Being the most famous, most photographed woman in the world, it was hard to escape her image or ignore her life's narrative, even in passing. One of my earliest memories is my mother watching her wedding to Prince Charles on the CBC while I tried to emulate the event with my Barbies on the living room floor. In time, I feel that people have ignored or downplayed how influential a woman she was, so it was nice to see that her memory and spirit haven't been forgotten in the City of Light.  

For my final Paris-centric post, how could I not talk about the Eiffel Tower? It is but the most iconic landmark in the world. With that type of legendary status comes, you guessed it, legendary lines. Despite booking my ticket three months in advance (and even then, not being able to get one for the date of my birthday), I still stood in line for around 30 minutes to get in and then another hour+ to take the elevator up to the top where one can wash down the world-class views with a 15€ glass of bubbly from a "Champagne Bar" (really, a small take-out window in which you half expect the server to ask "would you like fries with that?"). While some consider it overrated and a tourist trap, I felt the Eiffel Tower was perfect. 

Paris is simply perfect. 

Chanel Boutique near Champs-Elysse: 

Art Nouveu building near my hotel in the 7th arrondissemont: 

Me in front of the Arc de Triomphe: 

Blurry shot of the discotheque bus: 

Place de la Concorde, site of the guillotine during the French Revolution (the road is actually made of bricks taken down from Tuileries Palace, symbolic that the monarchy would never rule France again): 

Tunnel where Princess Diana lost her life: 

The Eiffel Tower at night (it sparkles on the hour): 

Me on the Eiffel Tower: 

The Champagne Bar at the top of the Eiffel Tower: 

View from the top (my hotel is somewhere at left):