A reliable source claims that around 30 – 34 million visitors annually litter the streets and edifices of Paris of which around 22 million do so only in and around the top 6 sights. This could be true or entirely false and I had no desire to prove either when I started to plan something totally alien (to me) and seemingly non-achievable: to see the major sights of Paris in a day using only the rail network of this city within minimum possible expenditure. This was an audacious enterprise hence needed some sort of a plan. To begin with I needed a day in Paris. I have been through Paris on numerous occasions before, mainly using it as a gateway to the French Alps. Just like any other manmade and populated places Paris holds no charm for me, even then during my earlier visits I had once taken the lift to the top of that tower and had also gazed at that mysterious lady, who may not be a lady at all if we are to believe the painter’s arch rivals, within that museum which supposedly is world’s biggest repository of art.
The occasion arrived in the autumn of 2011. I had promised to visit Fabrice who has a neat quarter in the neighborhood of Sacrè Cœur for a two day period. One of those two would be devoted to my Paris sojourn. But as I sat with a map of Paris in hand a day before my adventure at my other friend’s home in L’Isle Adam, a quaint village around 30 km NE of Paris, the obvious limitations of my predicament became clearer with every passing minute. I was way out of Paris to begin with therefore losing vital minutes just to reach the city centre and then I had my heavy bag that I first needed to deposit at Fabrice’s place. So I could not sprint out off Paris Nord like bat out of hell towards anywhere. Being autumn, days were short, cold and chilly. To maximize my day I had to group the sights in a way so that I wasted minimum time traveling into the railway labyrinths beneath the city. Sacrè Cœur was literally in the backyards of Fabrice’s apartment block so I could keep that as my last stop and I decided to skip the tower since I would see it anyway from a distance during the day. Plus I had no intention of going inside any museum whatsoever to squander precious moments gazing at canvasses and figurines I have no head for.
Standing sharp at 7 am with a city map of Paris on the determined day at L’Isle Adam train station I bought a Mobilis (zone 1-5) day pass for € 14.00 that will allow me unrestricted passage in all of Parisian rail network till the last train of the day. The SNCF 7.22 am chugged in and I boarded it along with many all headed for the same metropolis. Paris Nord arrived at 8.21 and I rushed, using the long underway, to La Chapelle, getting into Line 2 for Anvers. Hopped out at Anvers at 8.54 and climbed to the 4th floor apartment of Fabrice, breathing not only under the heavy bag but also at the glorious sight of Sacrè Cœur dome. I quickly summed up my agenda to my two friends, who quickly brought out cereals and milk for me, which I ate quickly, and then quickly Fabrice and I strode out. As we walked Fabrice explained a bit more of Paris metro and RER and wished me luck as I descended into the bowels of Abbesses , the deepest metro station of Paris. I sprinted down the spiraling staircase in double hops. As I got into the line 12 train I noticed 9.44 wheezing by in my watch.
At 10.08 I exited at Solferino in search of Musee d’ Orsay station on RER C line (yellow). It’s a confusing lane I found myself in and few of the people I asked in my horrific French had absolutely no clue of what I wanted. A cute couple too headed my way, all three equally befuddled so we joined forces to find the station. For them it was a leisurely day full of romance, for me it was race against time and saving Euros. We finally whizzed by the museum, which had by then a long queue outside of jostling breathing people. I took few outside shots and descended again down into the RER line. Nearly all my fellow commuters were headed for Versailles, as the guide books and maps in their hands proclaimed. I dread Japanese tourists in heat so I snuggled closer to a group of oldies from Vancouver.
Sharp at 10.55 I barged my way through people to find myself outside the Versailles-Rive Gauche station. I didn’t need any pointers to know which way to proceed. I just followed the surging, swelling and squeaking anaconda of people. We smashed and flattened all upright objects on our path and suddenly the vast panorama of the château sprawled regally from horizon to horizon. Even if the ticket window had no line I had absolutely no intention of wasting my time inside the palace. I ran through the cobblestoned façade dodging and diving amidst smiling, groping, gulping tourists and giggling girls finding my way to Orangarie and then on to the raised arena overlooking the magnificent Versailles Park. By 12.40 I had demolished the basins of Neptune and Apollo and all the grand lakes and canals and having smelt all the bloom and ogled all the pretty lasses I was done with all the things worth seeking and having posed for pictures in the park I literally sprinted to the station to catch RER C line back to the Paris Center. This time I didn’t need a line change and at 13.33 I walked out in slight haste into the sun to find the twin towers of Notre Dame basking like a pair of sore thumbs.
Politeness and mannerisms were virtues I didn’t have the time for, so I barged headlong, shoving and pushing slow moving people out of the way in my heedless flight. Inside of the cathedral towered so high above that it was dark and mysterious. I ran past languid people, completing my circumnavigation in under 12 minutes and then joined the line to climb the tower. I wasted precious 42 minutes in the line but the views were worth it. The gargoyles and goblins chewing human remains reminded me of Dante. Far away due north I could see the dome of Sacrè Cœur resplendent from where I had begun my journey and where it must also end.
When I jumped off the bottom most step of the tower into the world outside it was already 15.36. I returned to St Michel metro station taking the RER B (blue) for a short ride to Luxembourg and walked to the garden right outside arriving at 15.55. I clicked and gaped like demented and left the garden at 16.18. RER B got me till Chatelet where I changed to Line 4 till Sebastopol and from there into Line 3 getting off at Père Lachaise. I literally sprinted out of the station as the cemetery shuts by 5 pm.
At 16.54 I wriggled past the gatekeeper in one breathless trot. Barely 10 minutes later, he shooed me out of the cemetery that is synonymous with romantic sojourns.
Back at Père Lachaise station I took line 3 to Opera and changed to line 7, getting off at Musee de Louvre. Walking briskly through the lazing throng on Rue de Rivoli I entered Louvre Pyramid precincts at 17.28. The usual milieu of people prostrated precariously attempting to catch the pyramid into their extended palm greeted my weary eyes. I had no intentions of entering the Pyramid, even then on a sudden impulse I did, finding a shorter line of visitors. I surveyed the reception area on the lower ground floor deciding my next move since I enjoyed the warmth within and I needed to visit a loo. After a quarter of an hour’s rest I decided upon another diabolical enterprise. Just to see if it can be done, I wanted to enter one of the permanent gallery wings without a ticket. I succeeded in this at Denon Wing where Mona Lisa reposed on the first floor. I only had a quick look at St Mary Magdalene statue and left in great haste for the inverted pyramid.
Sharp at 18.54 I ducked through the Carrousel arch and turned left for the intended walk by the River Seine. It was cold and breezy and Seine had several wharfs moving up and down with tourists playing jingles. I climbed back up on the Quai of Tuileries and reached the main Tuileries gate where a horse mounted figure waved his arms and sword at me. The bright moon was up and lay suspended in the darkness above the clouds. All the while I enjoyed the colorful spectacle of Eiffel in the distance as it threw out a ray of hope amidst the chilly gloom. It pulsated in vibrant red, yellow, green and purple. From the Tuileries Gate I crossed near the obelisk and headed straight up towards Arc de Triumph that stood regally in the horizon bathed under a reddish glow. I followed the thousand car tail lights and descended upon Champ Elysees, going in and out of shops displaying opulence that I had no interest in or capacity to indulge.
As I sipped coffee at a kiosk sitting next to an amorous couple, I remembered my last coffee on the same street. Nothing had changed same neon signs, identical couples, and typical mad onrush of people passing by on a street that has been touted as the world’s finest shopping arcade. I walked straight on and right beneath the Arc discovered a group of young acrobats doing handstands and hat tricks to the accompaniment of Enrique belting out ‘I want you tonight…’ from a jumbo portable CD player.
I tapped my feet awhile and then caught the 20.26 on Line 2 from Charles De Gaulle returning to Anvers at 20.58. By now my feet were crumbling in agony yet I had one final call to make. I crossed Fabrice’s street and then followed the winding steps all the way up to the upper stairs of Sacrè Cœur and finally allowed my limbs to buckle up on the steps of the grand church just as the clock was chiming 21.30 hrs. The place was well lit under a white florescent beacon with people and couples loitering around. As I gasped and pondered what exactly had I achieved during the day my eyes fell naturally upon one of the greatest cities ever built by man and finally I found it mesmerizing lying as it was petulantly pulsating beneath my feet.