Bastille Day (Part 1)

Paris Travel Blog

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Musee D'Orsay

We woke up the next day, which was Bastille Day.  While getting ready for the day, we were able to see different French Military aircraft flying overhead.  Through our screen-less window, which opened up to the busy street below, we counted as many as 14 jets and larger aircraft fly in formation toward the Bastille Day parade.  Outside, we saw military personal beginning to block off our street.  We later learned that our street was one of the streets used to stage the various artillery vehicles once they finished their portion of the parade route.   We saw some French children lifted from the street to take a quick tour of one of the heavily armored vehicles.  We stopped for petit dejuener at a café next to our hotel, and watched the parade on television as we enjoyed our delicious ouvre brouillent (scrambled eggs) with ham and cheese.

 

Once we got past this unexpected spectacle, we hit our first museum:  the Musee D’Orsay.

Don at Place de la Concorde
 Our first stop was at the Louvre, however, because it was Bastille Day, the Louvre was free and therefore mobbed with people.  Don narrowly escaped falling victim to the old “did you lose this piece of flashy jewelry” scam outside the crowded plazas of the Louvre.   Thanks to a quick cloudburst on this rainy day, the long lines outside the D’Orsay dispersed temporarily, which shortened our wait considerably.  The D’Orsay was incredible - we enjoyed hundreds works by the most famed impressionists: Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Van Gough (including his renowned self portraits) and sculptures that captured the beauty of the human form all set in an inspiring setting - once a train station of Paris. 

 

Some Paris luck allowed for a walk without rain through the Place de la Concorde.

Obelisk at Place de la Concorde
  Here, we were able to marvel at a gift to Paris from Egypt:  The Obelisk of Luxor.  The Obelisk, capped in a pyramid of gold, faced the Arc de Triumph and was the central point in this historic place.   The clouds seemed to disappear as we headed up the Champs-Elysees towards L’Arc de Triomphe.  The sky was so blue and the white fluffy clouds seemed to be just out of reach.  It reminded Rob of the big summer skies of New Mexico.

 

The first part of the Champs-Elysees seemed nearly vacant - the Bastille Day parade had dispersed, leaving behind barricades, portable bathrooms, and all sorts of trash.  We stopped to have a quick bite at one of the few open street vendors.  A bite of French hotdog (served in a warmed baguette, with Dijon mustard, of course!) and a crepe with ham (jambon) and cheese (fromage) was absolutely the most delicious street food we’ve ever tasted.

Street lunch - hot dog and ham & cheese crepe (delicious!)
  The Champs-Elysees had perfectly manicured gardens and trees.  We passed the Grand Palais (which has a grand Art Novou Glass Ceiling visible from viewing platforms throughout Paris) and the Petite Palais, which is home to Paris’s city museum.  As we approached the Arc, we once again compared the City of Light to the Big Apple.  This was Paris’s Times Square, complete with all the high end shopping you can hope for (including the flagship store of Yves Sant Laurent), restaurants, and throngs of people one of which told Rob he had a “lucky face.”    It was fun to see people at every crosswalk stop to take a photo of the Arc in the middle of road.  We couldn’t help ourselves, we did it too.  Finally, we made it to the Arc - we were thrilled to see an enormous French flag dangling from the top of the arch which made for a great Bastille Day photo. 

 

Our Paris Museum passes allowed us to skip the ticket line, and we climbed the Arc for our first birds-eye view of Paris, which was well worth the effort.
Le Grand Palais
  The buildings, which seemed to all be fashioned from white stone, gleamed in the Parisian sun.  Again, the blue sky offered memorable contrasts.  We could see the Eiffel tower and, yet another surprise, the Parisian downtown skyscraper district to the Ouest (La Defense).  Paris had offered us another surprise - who knew it had a cluster of towers with an especially unique modern Arc of its own?
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View of Place de la Concorde from the Champs-Elysees

Because rain threatened our plans for most of the day, yet the threat had only interrupted our Louvre plans, we feared that the Bastille Day fireworks at the Eiffel tower would be cancelled. We decided to gamble a bit and based on some advice from an English-speaking Parisian we had met the previous day, we planned a picnic at the grand lawn facing the Tower.  We purchased baguettes of chicken and ham, some cheese and crackers, and of course a bottle of wine.  We were at the site at around 9pm.  The place was filling fast.  We managed to find a spot for two directly in front of the Tower.  As the light faded and the clouds starting to turn pink, the Tower’s light were ignited.  They burned with a low-light glow at first then slowly brightened to an unforgettable golden hew.  The revolving spot light at the Tower’s summit gave it a timeless feel.

Le Petit Palais
  Then, the modern addition to the tower was turned on – the flashing strobe light show created by what must be thousands of small bulbs fasten to each side of the tower.  The mall was crowded now, a general theme of European cities as it were, with couples and groups of friends sharing laughs, food, wine, and good company.  Folks began to chant “C’est la…c’est la” (“it’s here!”)….and then the music came on.  And then, the fireworks began.

 

As if a vacation in Paris wasn’t romantic enough, fireworks (feu d’artifice) beneath the Tour Eiffel on Bastille Day was taking it to an unbelievable extreme.  The music began as Charles Azvenour began to croon, and the red, white, and blue plumes started low behind the tour, gradually rising until they presented a bright white light which silhouetted the entire tower.

L'Ace de Triomphe
  The music changed to France’s Algerian-influenced pop with a faster tempo, and changed again to the slower romantic moods.  Watching the fireworks together, and seeing the crowds enjoy this day was clearly the highlight of the trip.

 

After the fireworks ended, we witnessed the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of people leaving the park.  We strolled along, with no particular destination in mind, to watch the scene unfold.  Seeing cars, bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians, all sharing the roads was quite a sight.  Paris seemed to effortlessly absorb these people within a few blocks.  Where did they all go?  What were they going to do next, we wondered?  We walked around several new neighborhoods near the 5th, 6th, and 7th arondissments, and enjoyed the wandering small streets and 18th century residences.  We attempted to board the Metro at one point, but discovered a huge crowd of people stretching well outside the platform.  We eventually crossed the Seine, walked back towards the L’Ouevre to capture some night photos.  We then walked all the way back to our hotel at the Bastille (quite a long journey from the Tour Eiffel).
Musee DOrsay
Musee D'Orsay
Don at Place de la Concorde
Don at Place de la Concorde
Obelisk at Place de la Concorde
Obelisk at Place de la Concorde
Street lunch - hot dog and ham & c…
Street lunch - hot dog and ham & …
Le Grand Palais
Le Grand Palais
View of Place de la Concorde from …
View of Place de la Concorde from…
Le Petit Palais
Le Petit Palais
LAce de Triomphe
L'Ace de Triomphe
Rob climbing LArc
Rob climbing L'Arc
View of La Defense from LArc de T…
View of La Defense from L'Arc de …
View of La Tour Eiffel from LArc …
View of La Tour Eiffel from L'Arc…
Awaiting fireworks in Champ-de-Mars
Awaiting fireworks in Champ-de-Mars
Tour Eiffel at dusk
Tour Eiffel at dusk
Dinner in the park - wine, cheese,…
Dinner in the park - wine, cheese…
Tour Eiffel lit up at dusk
Tour Eiffel lit up at dusk
Feu dartifice commence!
Feu d'artifice commence!
Louvre at night
Louvre at night
Fireworks on Bastille Day at the …
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photo by: Sweetski