Saturday, 6 October 2007

The Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees

I suppose no trip to Paris is complete without a trip to the Arc de Triomphe and a walk down the Champs-Elysees, with the obligatory stop at the window of the Cartier store. The Arc is situated 2km from the Place de Concorde at the very top of the Champs-Elysees in the middle of the largest roundabout in the world. It really is a bit of a meeting point for Paris, with 12 massive roads radiating out from here. It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to commemorate his victories, but then he started losing (way to jinx yourself Napoleon, with a 50m high arch proclaiming what a great fighter you are) and it wasn't finished until 1836. There have been a few armies to march along in front of here, the Germans in 1870 and 1940 and then the allies in 1919 and 1944. At the top of the Arc there is a viewing platform, where you get a pretty good view of Paris, and my favourite building, the Tour Montparnasse.

The first photo is of the Grande Arche in the skyscraper district of La Defense, just oustide of Paris. I think this was a good idea to put all the big company buidlings in one section and keep Paris-proper with the lower buildings and the older style facades. I'm going to have to go out here just to see this Grande Arche, apparently it is a hollow cube, with 110m sides, so it's pretty impressive. The next photo is of the Eiffel Tower and my favourite building.

This third photo is the Champs-Elysees, and I know it is meant to be a really famous Parisian street and the name comes from the Elysian fields, which is heaven in Greek legends. But really I can't think of anything that is further from my mind as to what you would want heaven to be like. An 8-lane dual carriage-way swarming with tourists and homeless people. Still it was kind of cool to look at all the ultra-expensive shops.

The very first shop at the very top of the Champs-Elysees is the Cartier jewellery store. That store is really dedicated to those people who have so much money they have run out of things to spend it on. Possibly also those rich people who like to show off to other rich people by spending greater and greater amounts of money on things that are just the absolute epitome of useless. There was one ring there for 49,000 euros which was basically a massive (and I mean MASSIVE!) blue diamond (?). I think it was a diamond, it looked a bit like crystal so I'm guessing diamond. I mean something like that you don't just wear to the local grocery store. Anytime you wore it you'd have to have 2 security guards following you. I think you just buy it to show how rich you are, that you can drop 49,000 euros on, quite frankly, a fairly ugly ring.

Underneath the centre of the Arc de Triomphe is the tomb of the unknown soldier. It's a symbol to honour those who died in the First World War. One unidentified soldier's remains were brought back and buried here in 1921. The flame of remembrance was lit in 1923, with the idea being that it would never go out. Unfortunately the French back then didn't plan for drunk soccer fans. In 1998 a Mexican soccer fan peed on the flame, extinguishing it, after France beat Brazil in the World Cup. He was charged with public drunkenness and offending the dead and has to live with the shame of being named in every tourist publication since then.

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