I think it goes without saying that when people think of France they think of its beauty, conquering armies and exploration. I experienced the beauty and history of France first hand when I backpacked through France in 2010. I took the Chunnel from London to get to France and then took the train to Paris. All along the way, I saw beautiful small towns and medieval chapels littering the mountainside. I would recommend anyone who goes to France to get out and see the countryside and not just the glamour of the main cities.I arrived at Paris in the evening time, so there weren’t too many landmarks open. So I went to my hostel and then went out for some dinner while I planned my tourist route of all the things I wanted to see in Paris. I was staying right around the corner from the Moulin Rouge where there is plenty of restaurants and nightlife located nearby. They call Paris the city of lights, and it definitely lives up to that reputation. The bridges, Eiffel Tower as well as many fountains and national landmarks are illuminated. Paris really is a sight to see at nighttime. I had a lovely dinner at a café located around the corner and then turned it in for the night because I only had one full day to see as many landmarks as possible.The first stop on my Tour de Paris was the Jardin des Tuileries (Garden of Tuileries). The Jardin des Tuileries is Paris’ oldest and largest public garden. It is a formal garden with graveled paths and perfectly trimmed lawns, and it has unparalleled views of the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe. The same architect who designed the gardens at Versailles designed this garden, which was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.From the garden, I headed to the Place Charles de Gaulle to marvel at one of my favorite landmarks in Paris, The Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. It has the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. I was lucky enough to be there when the soldiers were performing a ceremony. I then decided that if I was going to see the Louvre that I had better see it in the morning because I didn’t want to have to rush through, and I hoped to beat the massive crowds of tourists and school kids.The Louvre is unlike any museum that I have ever been to in the entire world. It is a treasure trove so big that houses enormous Egyptian monuments in its basement. No wonder it is the world’s largest museum. Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 60,600 square meters or 652,300 square feet. The Louvre is the world’s second-most visited museum after the Palace Museum in China. I had just finished studying fine art in college and could really appreciate the works of Da Vinci, Bosch, Jacques-Louis David, Caravaggio, Bernini, Vermeer, and so many, many more.
I was also stunned to see Egyptian artifacts that had been dated to 3,000 years before Christ.
I even saw the Code of Hammurabi, which is a well-preserved Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 1754 BC. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world.
I could have walked around the entire museum twice and it still wouldn’t have been enough, but there were many more sights to see, and I was off to Notre Dame de Paris.The Notre-Dame de Paris (or simply known as Notre-Dame) is a medieval Catholic cathedral located on the Île de la Cité (one of the last two natural islands in Paris and it is the center of Paris where the medieval city was refounded). The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most well known church buildings in the world. The naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture. Truly a must visit when you come to Paris. The next stop on my tour was the Hôtel national des Invalides.
Les Invalides, or more commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments (all relating to the military history of France), a hospital, and a retirement home for war veterans (the building’s original purpose). The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée (the military museum of the Army of France) and the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably the famous Napoleon Bonaparte.When I visited, I found it hard to believe that such a big coffin was made for such a small guy. It’s even more ironic that Napoleon’s wish was to be cremated, and the French people disagreed and built a huge tomb dedicated to him. I paid my respects to one of the greatest generals the world has ever known and then I was off to the Musée de l’Armée or Army Museum.
The Army Museum contains collections that span the period from antiquity through the 20th century. The Musée de l’Armée has 24 symbolic “treasures,” which are all closely linked to French military history from the late Middle Ages through World War II as well as countless of other pieces from around the world. This collection includes weapons, armor, works of arts and technology.
The Army Museum was like a bloody trip through French history. I could have stayed all day, but the day was getting late, and I had one last stop to make before the sun went down —the Eiffel Tower.Obviously, no trip Paris would be respectable without a trip to the Eiffel Tower. For those of you who didn’t know, it is a wrought-iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world and is 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall. At about the same height as an 81-story building, it is the tallest structure in Paris.I did not have enough time to go to the top, but from what I saw from the ground, it was jaw dropping. After a jam-packed day of French culture and history, I had some wine with a nice French dinner before I headed to bed so I could catch a train to Brussels in the morning. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been in, and the only two regrets I have are not going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and not visiting The Palace of Versailles, but those are two very good reasons to come back.A few weeks later, I was back in France, but this time for the races in Monaco and I was staying in the neighboring city of Nice. Nice is a beautiful city located on the French Riviera. Their beach is not made of sand but rather large, smooth stones. They have a beautiful waterfront boardwalk and a completely different laid-back lifestyle than the Parisians. I came into Nice from Rome late in the evening. On the train, I met a couple of guys from the states who were backpacking as well. They said they didn’t have a room and were going to try to figure it out when we got there. Little did we know that most of the city shuts down late night, so they followed me to my hostel and were lucky that they had availability. We checked in and then headed down to the boardwalk where the nightclubs stay open later than the rest of the town.Walking up to the boardwalk, we came upon a huge checkerboard courtyard that was full of light posts with color changing lit-up men sitting on each one. There were musicians spread out, and for some reason there was belly dancers.We bar hopped along the beach for a while and then turned it in for the night because we were headed to Monte Carlo for the following day.
I had a wonderful time all throughout France and enjoyed its influential culture and world-renowned heritage. It is important to remember that northern France and southern France are completely different. Paris is one of the greatest cities in the entire world, but the Parisians can sometimes be rude. So if you get a cold reception from Parisians, just remember it’s not that attitude throughout the rest of France. Au Revoir!