Eiffel Tower at night

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We have been spending an inordinate amount of our travel time in Paris. It is a very comfortable city, as well as (of course) gorgeous. From Paris we have been able to take day trips to all kinds of towns all over the country, using the TGVs - the 250 mph trains that can get you to the other end of the country in three hours. Our photos aren't so much the tourist photos you've seen everywhere, but a different angle - more of the street scene, in real neighborhoods.

Paris is a great walking city, a city of two dozen outdoor markets that pop up in the morning and disappear at 2 PM. It's a city of fabulous bakeries, outdoor eating, and, almost uniquely in the world - no Starbucks. Throughout the right bank there are indoor arcades - through-block passageways lined with stores and restaurants - that date back to the middle of the 19th century, easily predating our indoor shopping malls. Each one is different in design, and visitng them all is a treat.

Market on boulevard Raspail Market on rue Mouffetard
Pop up market on boul. Raspail Permanent market on Mouffetard

The architecture is a very busy Beaux Arts, giving Paris a variety yet consistency that is a constant pleasure to view. Odd, narrow buildings and gigantic monumental landmark buildings all come from the same roots. There's not as much green as anyone would like, and the place is always crowded, but it has that critical mass of people and places that makes a city great.

Indoor arcade - with outdoor cafés Streets and buildings converge
Indoor Arcade with outdoor seating Beaux Arts buildings converge

The grand image of France in its heyday is still evident, and possibly moreso these days, as they paint statues and cupolas in bright gold, and restore great old buildings. The government buildings which we see on the news are out of bounds to mere mortals, but you can see a sample of the decor in the restaurant of the Musée D'Orsay - itself converted to our favorite museum from a train station. Museums are many and not cheap, but some are free some of the time, and almost all are free the first Sunday of the month. Hint - go early. Paris doesn't get going till very late morning.

Restaurant in the Musée d'Orsay It's part of the neighborhood
Musée d'Orsay restaurant A tower in the hood

Montmartre is the home of Amelie Poulain, and the Cathedral Sacre Coeur, where she returned Bruno's photo album after luring him to the top of the stairs. The stairs are so numerous, there is actually a funicular train that runs up beside them, operated by the Metro. Getting to the top of Sacre Coeur itself is a day's exercise, climbing an incredibly steep, narrow, spiral staricase - or several actually, separated by narrow pathways outside the structure. The view from Sacre Coeur is quite impressive, even just looking down:

Looking southeast from Sacre Coeur Looking down from Sacre Coeur
Southeast from Sacre Coeur Gargoyles from above

We did do some touristy things - like go to the top of the Eiffel Tower (although I went kicking and screaming), where the view is back towards Sacre Coeur - on a clear day. My preference was and is to visit other kinds of temples - like the world renown Poilâne Bakery, where the line backs into the street to buy awesome bread - for the past couple of hundred years. A treat for all the senses - that's Paris.

From the Eiffel Tower Lining up at Poilâne
Top of the Eiffel Tower Lined up at Poilâne

Jardin des Plantes en avril Backyard in April 2003
Jardin des Plantes At "home" in the 5th