Europe 14 - Day 4


We were up reasonably early (judged by Parisian standards) and had a very nice breakfast at the hotel - fresh croissants and pastries, fresh fruit, coffee etc. Then we walked across the road to the Seine and headed downriver towards the Eiffel Tower. On the way we passed numerous bridges, the Place de la Concorde, L'Hôtel des Invalides and finally Le Tour Eiffel, where the queues were rather long. So we went back to our Hotel and found a local cafe for a drink and then another for dinner.

Despite the St Michel area being well regarded it is a tourist trap where the bars compete for the worst service (they nearly all win without any effort required) and cafes seem to compete for the lowest common denominator - the cheapest meal possible. There are good restaurants and we found two but on L'Ile de la Cité NOT in St Michel. So read on to learn a little more about the range of cafes and the worst bars in the world.

St Michel to Place de la Concorde

It was a lovely clear warm(ish) morning as we headed along the Rive Gauche. Not many people about, even though it was after 9 am. They are not early risers in this part of the world. In view of the lovely warm morning and the clear air they don't know what they are missing. And I suppose if they did, they would all get up and ruin it for us.

There are many styles of architecture to be seen, but all are ornate. The bridges too, are excessively decorated. Even the most plain of them is now covered in thousands of brass padlocks (with the corresponding keys in the river below). One section of this bridge broke away and fell onto the road a few days after our visit, overburdened by all the brass.

Pont Neuf.
Nothing in Paris is plain - the bridges have incredible detail in their decorations.
Looking down river, with barges moored alongside.
The golden-looking bridge...
is in fact....
PADLOCKS. And it was this section that fell into the river a week or so after our visit.
The architecture is ornate...
The next bridge took us over over the river
with the Eiffel Tower in the background
and into the Place de la Concorde.
Everything is ornate, the lampstand...
the fountain...
even the fish forming their own parts of the fountain.
This explains why the fountain was not operating.
Beside the fountain is the Egyptian Obelisk, with its gold apex catching the morning sun.
The heiroglyphics are picked out in gold.
Classical forms in the buildings.
From here you can look down the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe.
Entrance to the Champs Elysee.
The tree-lined paths...
with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Pont Alexandre II

From Place de la Concorde we walked towards the Arch de Triomphe along the tree-lined Champs Elysées until we reached Avenue Winston Churchill. There are great bronze statues of Clemenseau (a famous French General) and Winston Churchill, who is still revered by many in France. Here we turned left and crossed the Pont Alexandre III, an ornately decorated bridge that took us to L'Hotel des Invalides.

Huge bronze statues abound.
General Clemenceau, after whom the garden here was named.
On the opposite corner is Winston Churchill.
Art galleries abound.
This one also had micro-cars for rent - "Paris in a talking car" it says on the door.
We crossed the next bridge here.
Pont Alexandre III was built in 1900.
It has ornate lampstands
and young figures preparing to jump into the river.
Each pillar has a different golden figure.
And at the end of the avenue of trees is a horseman.
He is Simon Bolivar, "le liberateur" of Venezuela.

Hôtel des Invalides and the Tomb of Napoleon

Des Invalides was once a hospital for wounded French soldiers but today it is a vast military museum, covering armour and armaments from the Middle Ages to the early 20th Century. The building also houses the tomb of Napoleon, his relatives and successors and other famous military figures.

The avenue in front of des Invalides, looking back to Pont Alexandre.
The opposite view, looking towards l'Hôtel des Invalides.
The imposing entrance to the building.
I eventually realised the trees have been formed into the shape of cannon shells.
Once through the entrance you enter the large courtyard.
Where you are greeted by a large collection of bronze cannon.
Each side of the courtyard has a different style.
The side facing the entrance is dominated by a statue of Napoleon.
Inside, the cathedral is immense, with the flags and colours of many regiments.
The organ dominates one end.
And there are memorials to many famous names - this one is General Juin, who commanded the French Forces in Italy in 1943-1944 and who was instrumental in helping to break the German Gothic Line at Cassino.
At the other end of the building are the memorials to Lyautey...
General Foch...
Joseph Napoleon I, and
Napoleon himself...
in the centre of the building
beneath the main dome.
The stairs down to his tomb are inlaid with insignia
Around the walls are more memorials and decorations.
This statue is of Napoleon II "Roi de Rome 1811-1832"
The window overlooking the entrance.


Part of Des Invalides is a military museum, which houses a wonderful collection of military equipment. Here a re a few photos to provide some indication of the scale.

The main exit is also where the tour buses wait.
There is another garden full of green cannon shells.
The entrance pillars are adorned with cannon balls.
Looking back to the main dome where Napoleon lies.
In the opposite direction the Eiffel Tower looms.
View from Trocadero.
There are other forms of life, apart from tourists.
Even a large heron was at home in the park beside the Eiffel Tower.
But the tourists are everywhere, trying to each candyfloss at the same time as taking a selfie picture...
Or looking for food.
Including Paella...
from giant paella pans.

Bars and Cafes - the good and bad of Paris

Be warned. Many of the French waiters in Paris are not there to serve you. After all, they became free and equal to other French (but not foreigners because you were not part of the Revolution). As a result, they do not "serve", which implies some form of "servitude". This is especially obvious in the bars and cafes with the best views closest to the tourist areas. We had the experience of the bars close to the river on Rue St Michel. Plenty of tables, plenty of arrogant, self-important little men strutting around, but can you get a table, or worse, order a drink - what on earth were you thinking?

All I can do is quote from Tom's Guide to Paris in which he explains this problem exactly:

OK, I thought a long time before I put this in, but I decided since you're probably going to end up on St Michel anyway, you might as well know which café to go to. It's Le Départ, at the very beginning of the boulevard, right by the river (1, place St Michel). It's big and sprawling, and there's almost nothing to recommend it. But if you go, you'll be rewarded by two things: a very, very good scene passing by in front of you; and sometimes you'll get a truly interesting waiter - but only sometimes. Generally speaking, though, the service here is actually pretty appalling, and you can wait 15 minutes sometimes before a waiter will bother to look at you. Do not eat here (unless it's a croissant at breakfast). Not even ice cream. But it's a very good place to nurse a drink (once you actually get it). One day if the service gets a little less hostile I might change my mind about this.

But they are not all like that. Some are worse. The area behind Rue St Michel backs onto the Sorbonne, full of tourists and students where the streets are full of people and cheap cafes. You should be instantly suspicious when a restaurant in the centre of Paris has to announce it serves "authentic, traditional French cuisine" - after all, what else would you expect in Paris. To understand what you can get, see the photos below.

There are islands (more like little atolls) of hope in this sea of dispair. We were well looked after in a small bar/cafe almost across the road from the Masters of Gallic Arrogance, (aka Le Départ - the name being quite apposite) at a place named Rive Gauche. We had a tolerable meal at a cafe nearby, and we had the best dining on our whole holiday just a few minutes walk across the bridge at Cafe Paul and Ma Salle a Manger on Place Dauphine.

This is Le Départ which is our pick for the worst waiters in Paris - but the entertainment walking part is priceless.
Across the road is Rive Gauche, a busy little bar and cafe.
And just over the bridge is Place Dauphine where you will find excellent dining. This one is Ma Salle a Manger.
Nearby there is Italian (dubious)
Minute burgers (a reference to the cooking time, not the size I think).
Bustling streets with cafes of doubtful heritage.
Greek and Guinness, shoulder to shoulder.
More bustle. Crepes and pizza have collected here.
Maison Blanche - Cuisine Traditionnelle (French). But fondue...??
Bull's Brothers - Happy Hour when they open.
More Greek.
"Great Sport Experiences" it advertises.
Fondues, Raclettes, Grillades - even sells "French food" !
And of course Route 66 Burgers for the Americans suffering from culture shock (and there are lots of those).
More crowds in the rain. They had a hungry look, as if they could not pluck up the courage to enter one of these places - I could understand their reluctance.
And the most reassuring sight of them all - McDonalds with a McCafé. Actually this one is quite good - it sells reasonable coffee and has good toilets (a rarity in Paris).

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Last updated: 18/08/2014