Friday, 29 March 2013

Paris Day 1 - La Defense, La Grande Arche, Eiffel Tower

Picasso's Architectural Fans. And his Thumb?

sunny4 °C 

I must be not only a weary bone traveller, but a truly jaded one. Not only I didn't get excited when Etta said we're going to Paris, I'm actually feeling it's bit of a drag. "Not again!" was my immediate reaction (it was an inner voice to spare hurt feeling). I remember I was over the moon when I got to visit Paris the last time some 10 years ago. Today, I'm very much heavily grounded about the prospect.

I couldn't believe I wasn't jumping for joy about going to Paris after only one visit. I'm not trying to be blasé about Paris. I used to reread The French Revolution 3 times (yeah, it's revolting). My love for France was so strong that I called myself Francis to reflect this. This name is a portmanteau of 'France' and 'is'. 'Francis ' also means 'Free', which I like, having inculcated by the spirit of the French Revolution: liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom is the 1st and foremost of the 3 mottos of the Revolution). This is a stronger declaration of love than tattoo your lover's name on your arm or derrière. In France, of course, I should be called 'François'. And that's what I told the Starbuck staff when they asked for my name).

My adolescent Francophilia isn't strong enough to rekindle my passion for this old flame. Maybe I'm just too promiscuous. Francophilia was my 1st love, and then I left her for Anglophilia and lately Sinophilia. All that passions have been spread so thin 3 ways. My love for France is fading to l'oeuf.  As China is my latest infatuation, France has no chance really. I'm not only promiscuous, I'm also fickle (is there other kind of promiscuity?). I'm hopping from one culture to another like a whore. Pardon moi, like a gigolo (even if it's a cultured one). To be fair, all the auto name calling is uncalled for, and more importantly misleading. I never got paid for all that hopping. It was done purely out of innocent love and fun. So, if you have a culture you want to sell it to me, go ahead, I'm very easy.

All is not lost, at least Etta seems to be thrilled. Ok, enough insider nonsense of my romantic liaison of my cultural quadrangular affairs. Ok, seriously, old age had cured my travel bug.

A driver from Fraser Suites drove us there. The driver remarked that the winter hasn't over. It should be well over 10°C while it was only 4°C. With wind chill, it felt like -2°C. The cold spell swept much of Europe this year.

There're 2 Fraser Suites in Paris. FS La Claridge is more centrally located in Champs-Élysées. The one I stay for this trip, FS Harmonie, is located in Esplanade de la Défense, just outside the NW periphery of Paris. It's in fact the newest Parisian business district.

For people like me who's going to rely on metro - my fave form of public transport - the closest one to FS Harmonie is Esplanade de La Défense station (or just Esplanade) on Line 1, and is less than 150m away.

Line 1 (the number suggests its importance) runs alongside most of the central part of the Seine in Paris, and so I can get to most of the sites/sights I want to see by hoping on and hoping off Line 1. While Line 1 hugs the north bank of the Seine, many of of the sites/sights in the south bank could easily be reached by getting off metro stops on Line 1, and walk cross the river. There're so many bridges span across the Seine that getting from one side of the riverbank to another is a breeze. In fact, walking across these gorgeous bridges is an experience in itself.

Line 1 also stops at Gare de Lyon, which is an important train station hub.

La Défense locates at the NW corner just outside the city's periphery. This is the closest thing Paris has for a CBD (even though it's outside Paris). This is of course a great idea. The city planner doesn't want skyscrapers to be built inside the historic city. There's very little doubt that the Franks spend a great deal of thoughts in planning their city.

Grand Arch
The Grand Arch
Esplanade de la Défense is one station from La Défense metro.

This Grand Arch is built in 1989 by president François (what a terrific name) Mitterand as part of the Bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution started in 1789. The Grand Arch is also a western extension of the Axe Historique (Historical Axis). More about the Historical Axis when I visit it in a few days.

We had breakfast in the plane at 7am. By noon, we were famish, and didn't want to take our time to look around for suitable grubs. Also we were newbie to the Grand(e) Arch(e) area. When we emerged out of the La Defense metro and into CNIT (Centre of New Industries and Technologies), we spotted a Macky and then the Newyorker, we decided to walk into the latter.

The lunch time crowd swamped the Newyorker. We were lucky to get a table with little waiting. We ordered the burger, and cappuccino. The burger tasted ok, not as juicy as we like. I don't usually like coleslaw, but I dug this in double time. I couldn't believe this was French coffee, but then it may simply be required to follow the American coffee standard in their franchises - weak. Perhaps, this is their reasoning: if they make it weak, those who want it stronger could order extra shot (you can't really charge for extra hot water to weaken a strong cuppa).

Several buildings in La Défense looked as if was designed by students of Picasso's Cubism Period. One such building is CNIT, and it's only a stone throw away from the Grand Arch.

CNIT building
Exterior of CNIT


Interior of CNIT
Interior of CNIT. Notice the ridged ceiling
Does it reminiscent of vaulted ceilings of Gothic cathedrals?
La Défense is named to commemorate the Franco-Prussia War. The defence of the French government then was half ass because it had less trouble with the invading Prussian than the revolution from within. This reminds me of Chiang Kai-Shek who was dreaded much more of the Chinese Communists than the invading Japanese. I wonder if CKS read about the history of Franco-Prussian War. He did coorperate with the CCP to fend off the Japanese, but only because his hands were forced. He was driven to Taiwan by the revolutionary. His worst fear was realised.

Scultpture in La Defense, Paris
"Le Pouce" or "The Thumb" sculpture locates between CNIT and the Grand Arch.
Does this thumb help artists gaining a correct proportion or hinder it?
Is this sculpture a thumbs-up or down?
Would the thumb stop traffic (for hitch-hikers)?
Is the rest of the dinosaur buried underground?
I planned to see the Axe Historique today, but end up spending time having lunch and grocery shopping in the malls around La Grande Arche. We had to do the Axis another time.

We already booked this Behind the Scene of Eiffel Tower tour, One of the reason we wanted to join this tour is because we could skip the line to head straight to Level 2 of Eiffel Tower. It turned out to be a wise decision having looked at the queue. The guide told us the people had to wait as long as an hour to go up, and the weather was quite cold on the day.

The Tower was supposed to be dismantled in 1909, but Gustave Eiffel saved it from the scrapyard. He convinced the government the importance of using the the Tower for military radiotelegraphy. This tour gave us some details of that history.

Eiffel Tower in sepia, Paris, France
Eiffel Tower in sepia
B&W Eiffel Tower and traffic sign


armed militia outside the Eiffel Tower
Soldiers armed with military hardware outside the Eiffel Tower.
Does it make tourists feel more secure or more nervous?

This month of the year is normally low season, but the Easter weekend made the tourist crowd swelled in number. Avoid this time if possible (we didn't really have much choice in the timing).


engine room of Eiffel Tower
engine room of Eiffel Tower - one of the place that the tour took us.
This is off limit to the usual pass holders.

The tour is informative about the lesser known aspects of the Tour Eiffel. I would have learnt more if I understood the tour guide's French accent better.

The Eiffel Tower lights up after dusk, which is of course occurs at different times at different seasons of the year. The Tower also has light shows or white lights that twinkle like a Xmas tree, which occurs on the hour for 10 mins until quite late (I think until 1am). So get your camera (or phones) ready for the twinkles. The Tower is winking at you.

Eiffel Tower lights up after dark

Eiffel Tower light show, Paris, France
Eiffel Tower light show occurs on the hour




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