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Old May 26th, 2012, 04:48 AM   #1
600West218
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Northern France, Belgium and a bit of Germany by a Yank

For two weeks in May I travelled to northern France, Belgium, and a bit of Germany hoping to see those countries (all for the first time) and check out a bit of the things I obsess about: industrial history, military history, canals, and 19th century buildings in general.

As a result of my trip to northern England I had come to love these types of trips (for the trip to England see here: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1455347 ). However, I didn’t know what to expect in France and Belgium and I was rather nervous as I don’t speak a word of French or Flemish. Not to mention, the French are not reputed to be friends of American tourists.

But on May 4th I got on a plane and gave it a shot. Please keep in mind, this is a trip report. The photography here is for illustrative purposes, it doesn’t pretend to be great photography. I am an amatuer photographer with a simple Kodak camera and an Iphone. Some of the pictures will have obvious problems such as window glare: the point is what they show, not the quality of the pictures.

Also, sometimes plans changed for various reasons and I didn’t always get to see the sites I expected to see. But no worries, not only did I get to see lots of touristy stuff but I also saw lots of the very interesting stuff I really like as you will see in the course of this trip report.

Soooooo, on the morning of May 5th I found myself flying over the countryside of France close on route to Paris:

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The stand out of that first glimpse of France were the colorful yellow fields:

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Now, note in addition to the beautiful yellow color how precise and perfect the vehicle lines are in the fields. Ah, the French - it isn’t enough to simply grow a crop, they have to be artistic about it too.

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No pictures of Charles DeGaulle airport - it is a concrete monstrasity. I got a cab to the suburb of St. Maurice where I would be staying with a French family. After settling in a bit they took me to the local metro station so I could go into the city and get oriented.

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A rather clever machine. You push buttons of where you are and where you want to go and it shows you the route. Unfortunately, I never saw one that actually worked.

Given that they put metal doors by the turnstiles you can’t simply jump over them like people do in New York.

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The metro itself was pretty clean and the stations were in good condition.

My first destination was the Notre Dame cathederal and I got off on a major shopping street close to there:

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Lots of on street bike rental places:

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Looking for the island that Notre Dame is on I headed immediately for the river. The Seine river turned out to be very different than I imagined, but more on that later.

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I have no recollection of what this building is at all. One of the things about Paris is that you can be lost half the time and have no idea what you are looking - you simply know that it is spectacular.

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Then I saw my first police vehicle. Pretty dull compared to the flourescent colors I had seen in Britain. The Gendarmerie are military police I later learned.

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There were lots of them all over the place though - I think it was related to the election scheduled for the next day.

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ok, here you can see what surprised me about the Seine River. I had always thought the Seine was some gentle river slowly and romantically meandering through Paris. It was anything but. As you can note from the waves this thing had a very serious current. I can’t say for sure how fast it was going but it was quite fast. Not only much faster than anyone can swim but faster than one could walk. You would have to run fairly quickly along the shore to keep up with it.

If you fell in this river you were in very serious trouble. You would definitely be swept way down stream before you managed to get out - if you got out. It also looks like a hazerdous place to operate a boat but there were all sorts of large tourist craft on it. I asked if they have have spectacular crashes into bridges or each other but people said no.

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The current is so strong you clearly see “standing” waves.

After a bit I came to Notre Dame. Not the biggest church I have ever seen, but definitely quite nice.

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I didn’t dare take a picture of them until they passed me but note the two soldiers above with combat fatigues, machine guns and funny looking berets. Also, you can note the place is full of tourists. There were so many I didn’t even try going inside the cathederal.

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Interesting looking old canal/river cargoe barges.

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There were lots of bookstores everywhere I traveld. This one focused on Jules Verne.

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At this point I had left the island and was on the other side of the river - I think this qualifies as being the “Latin Quarter”. Note the beautiful tan/biege apartment buildings. They were all built in the 1800s as Napolean III’s main architect was given permission to tear down much of Paris and rebuild it. Probably more than anything else these buildings are now the defining image of Paris in my mind.

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I’m rather curious as to where exactly those stairways think they are going.

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The boat isn’t actually going as fast as that bow wave suggests. Rather it is going against the fast current.

Then I went back over to the other side of the Seine where I had no idea what I was looking at, only that it was beautiful.

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From the dates I am guessing this is about WWII

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World War I

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Back on the busy shopping avenue.

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A little demonstration that was making a lot of noise

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There were some political posters, but not that many.

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When I saw how strong the river was I became curious if they ever had big floods. I ran across some old pictures which seemed to indicate they do:

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I was actually now in a little plaza where I had to take refuge from the rain. I saw this very big and important looking building but at the time I had no idea what it was.

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After the rain passed I continued down the avenue which now had imposing buildings on both sides.

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An interesting shop window.

I then saw a large arch that lots of people were walking through and I decided to check it out. Emerging on the other side I found this:

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I found myself in the middle of the Louvre art museum complex. This was the first sign that Paris was going to be much larger than I had imagined. On the tourist maps the Louvre is shown as a small building, something like the Metropolitan in New York. It is nothing of the sort. It is a gigantic and awe inspiring complex that is simply impossible to capture with pictures (that didn’t stop me from trying though).

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Thus were my first few hours in Paris. The remainder of Day 1 will be in the next post.

Last edited by 600West218; May 26th, 2012 at 04:19 PM.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 05:20 AM   #2
hhhhh
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Simply amazing pictures.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 06:05 AM   #3
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Day 1 continued....

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Between the Louvre and the Plaza Concorde is a huge plaza/park. I had wanted to get to Plaza Concorde but it was simply too far away and I wanted to get back to my guests home before dark.

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Back to the metro:

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Note the car above has some grafitti on it. On this trip I was to see LOTS of graffitti.

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This is a typical metro passageway. Some, such as those at the Batille station were quite long and maze like. But they are no harder to find your way around than those in New York so I didn’t have a problem

In some stations they have glass bariers to keep people from falling into the tracks

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The “next train” signs were appreciated:

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The Bastille station had some tile work commemorating what had happened there:

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Pretty much all the underground stations I saw looked like this. They were tunnels with arched roofs. No “cut and cover” stations with all the ugle steel beams like NYC.

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I didn’t like the interior of the cars though. They used all the space for seating which means they filled up very quickly with not much of any place to stand.

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Ok, here is another negative to the French metro. Reading the map of the metro isn’t easy. To know which metro you should take you have to follow the line all the way to the end on the map and then go in the direction indicated by the name of the last station. That is harder than it sounds because the metro has many lines which zig zag all over the place so tracing a particular line to the end can be challenging.

As if that weren’t bad enough check out the size of the map inside this metro car. It is absurdly small. There is no way you could read it so it was worthless. If they are going to use such small maps they should at least give you a magnifying glass so you can read it :-)

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My station

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St. Maurice. This is an older suburb that borders right on Paris proper.

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Liberty, Equality, Fraternity - I was to see that everywhere.

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Very strange. Those look like palm trees - but how can they be so far north?

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After a two kilometer walk I got to my hosts home where I finished the evening and rested for a very busy day 2. Already I knew that I was up against a bigger city than I had expected and it was going to take a lot of effort to take it all in.

Last edited by 600West218; September 30th, 2013 at 03:29 AM.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 06:12 AM   #4
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thank you for sharing your wonderful photos...
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Old May 26th, 2012, 06:50 AM   #5
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Thanks, I'm waiting for the Belgian pictures
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Old May 26th, 2012, 12:49 PM   #6
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Unfortunately lots of pictures are not visible to me. Flickr says 'this image or video is currently unavailable'.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 01:37 PM   #7
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Thanks for your very nice photos from France (city of Paris); i am looking forward for more
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Old May 26th, 2012, 02:00 PM   #8
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Looking forward to this thread after your northern England trip!

We also have loads of bright yellow fields here in central england at this time of year, it's rapeseed.

I wouldn't be surprised to see palm trees in Paris as we have them up here which is a few hundred kms further north.

It is indeed a big city, with 11m+ in the wider metro area , I love walking around it, there seems to be something interesting around most corners.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 02:14 PM   #9
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Looks promising, but I can hardly see half of the pictures....
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Old May 26th, 2012, 02:31 PM   #10
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I'm have the same issue as De Klauw and Benonie have unfortuntately, and I'm really interested in your Paris pictures (and the ones you took in Belgium as well obviously)
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Old May 26th, 2012, 03:07 PM   #11
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Yup, I can't see most of the pictures even though they are in Flikr fine and they all showed when originally posted. I have e-mailed them to find out what is happening.

Mainly fixed now by recopying the links one by one. I think somehow the tags shifted or something when I uploaded additional photos. Flikr is a pain.

Last edited by 600West218; May 26th, 2012 at 04:37 PM.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 04:14 PM   #12
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You can click on the name of the picture and it will open in flickr.... It's better to see them directly here but you can still do it.

Anyways, thanks for sharing your vision of the city. Commented pictures are always so much better than thrown out photos that are completely out of context. Look forward to the rest of the thread.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 04:42 PM   #13
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true, I don't mind doing so for a few pictures, but it becomes annoying if we are talking about this much pictures.
That said, it appears to be mostly fixed and I really enjoyed seeing your pictures. Made me look forward to my trip to Paris in June even more.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 06:04 PM   #14
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Great thread. And as said before, keep commenting your photos, that's what makes it really interesting !
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Old May 26th, 2012, 07:51 PM   #15
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Day two was my first full day in Paris. I started out with the 2 kilometer walk to the metro.

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An old military police building. Of course, it has the usual saying above the doorway.

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Never quite figured out what that above was. I think it was the governmental area of St. Maurice.

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The local war memorial. They always seemed to have fresh flowers at monuments. Though in part this may be because the holiday of victory in WWII was coming up.

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The local elementary school was used as a polling station. This was an election day and I was tempted to go in but didn’t dare.

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A very strange looking pine tree. Not sure if it grows that way naturally or is pruned to be like that.

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A war memorial right by the metro station.

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ok, this building I was very curious about but I could never figure it out. It looks like a church, and in fact it has the statues of the Apostles on it - so it must be/have been a church. BUTTTTT, it has the French Revolution slogan of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and if you look closely at the pictures you will see where it says “Communal Property”.

So what is it? Is it a church taken over by the government? If so, when and why?

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Note the revolutionary slogans

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Buttttt, those statues aren’t Voltaire or Robespierre - they are Saint Luke and Saint Mathew of Biblical fame. Very interesting.

Next I headed into the metro

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A better picture of the machine to help you find your way. As I said, though, it didn’t work.

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Just the thing to make me feel like I was at home in New York - homeless people sleeping in the metro.

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I got off the metro at Plaza Concorde which is where they guillotened people in the French Revolution. However, they didn’t have any plaques marking that that I could see.

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I am going to send an e-mail to Bloomberg. Why can’t New York get light poles like this?

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Just another spectacular building - no idea what it was.

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I think someone conquered Egypt and all Paris got was this oblisk.

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My first look down the Champ-Elysees. The first part of it is actually park like, only closer to the Arch does it become commercial.

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A overview of the Plaza.

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Note the mini Sphynx.

Next I started heading down the Champ-Elysees to get to the Arc du Triumph.

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Before I got very far I stumbled across a couple of amazing buildings that were museums. I had no idea what they were and I don’t think they were very famous by Parisian standars but in almost any other city they would be the prime attraction.

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Neither one was open so I couldn’t go inside.

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Who says the French and Brits don’t get along - a statue of Winston Churchill.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been to a major city that didn’t have a Simon Bolivar statue.

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The building with the gold dome is Invalides where I would be visiting later in the day.

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Charles DeGualle

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The weather was cloudy and rainy but the upside to that was the city was very green.

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Unlike the British, the French fly their flag everywhere and it great numbers. I like that. It served to give a needed dash of color and of course showed their pride in their great country.

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Here begins the commercial part that we are used to seeing on TV and in the movies.

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A view down the side streets. They probably should make the signs smaller and less overpowering but it is still nice.

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There were of course lots of luxurious restaraunts and stores.

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The Arch was very imposing and impressive. But figuring out how to get through all the traffic and over to it was a bitch. It took a while to find the pedestrian tunnel.

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If I remember correctly I think this was the embassy of Qatar which was across the street.

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The names of French generals who had participated in various military campeigns.

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The eternal flame for the Unknown Soldier.

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I didn’t realize before visiting that you can go to the top of the Arch but you can and as there was no line to go up I did.

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Once on top you see broad boulevards radiating out in all directions. The one above goes to La Defense which is the main business district in Paris.

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Looking back towards the Plaza Concorde. On a grey and dreary day the green trees really stand out.

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The modern arch in La Defense.

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Funny, but I guess with photoshop I can’t even say this proves I’ve been there :-(

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It was still early and I had a lot left to see. Paris was bigger and more spread out than I had realized. In the next set of photos it will be off to the Eiffel Tower.

Day Two to be continued...
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Old May 26th, 2012, 08:04 PM   #16
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All the pics showed up in my screen. Wonderful tour. Can't wait to see the rest of your photos.
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Old May 26th, 2012, 08:05 PM   #17
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Great pictures!
btw, I recommend to post like max 10 pics in one post instead of a few million.. otherwise the pages will be very loooooong!
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Old May 26th, 2012, 08:23 PM   #18
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It's one of the biggest (and one of the most densely populated) cities in Europe and the world, can't really be that big a surprise that distances are sometimes a bit long Despite its vastness I think it's still fairly easy to move through Paris fast, if you know your way around the metro and RER systems.

Those two amazing buildings you saw at the beginning of the Champs-Elysées aren't that random, even by Parisian standards. They are the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais (Great Palace and Small Palace). They are exposition halls that were erected for the Universal Exposition that was held in Paris in 1900. Chanel frequently holds its fashion shows there.

I like this thread, and especially your comments. You have a fresh way of looking at things
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Old May 26th, 2012, 09:13 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 600West218 View Post
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Never quite figured out what that above was. I think it was the governmental area of St. Maurice.
Mairie means "town hall" in French, so you were quite close
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Old May 26th, 2012, 09:41 PM   #20
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Quote:
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I have no recollection of what this building is at all. One of the things about Paris is that you can be lost half the time and have no idea what you are looking - you simply know that it is spectacular.

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It is Paris High Court.

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Originally Posted by 600West218 View Post
Then I went back over to the other side of the Seine where I had no idea what I was looking at, only that it was beautiful.

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It is Paris City Hall.
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