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Paris Travel guide

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Founded on the island where a natural north-south highway crosses the Seine River, some 233 miles (375 kilometres) upstream from the river mouth on the English Channel, Paris, the largest city proper of continental Europe and the capital of France, is over 2,000 years old.

For hundreds and hundreds of years, by a process never successfully explained, Paris has radiated an enchantment irresistible to millions around the world, including hosts of people who would live and die without ever seeing the place.


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Paris: La Tour Eiffel

The Palais de Chaillot dates from the International Exposition of 1937 and is a period piece of between wars, timid-modern style. It replaces a structure of tepid Moorish sympathies left over from the 1878 International Exposition. Earlier in the 19th century, after demolition of the Convent of the Visitation, the top of this 230-foot (65 metre) hill had been leveled for the construction of a palace (never built) for the King of Rome, son of the emperor Napoleon.

The Palais is made of two separate pavilions, each of which sprouts a curved wing. The Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Man), the Musée de la Marine, and the Musée des Monuments Français (Museum of French Monuments) are located there. Under the terrace which separates the two sections are two theatres, the variable-formation (1,500 to 3,000 seats) National Popular Theatre (TNP) and a small hall that serves as one of the two cinemas of the National Film Library (Cinémathèque Française).

The statue-guarded terrace gives a splendid view across Paris and makes an enduring travel-poster setting for photographs of visitors and fashion models. The hill descending to the river has been made into a terraced park, the center of which is adance with mighty fountains, cascades, and pools. The Paris aquarium is in a grotto to the left.

One of the enchantments of the view--and some others in Paris--is that is has all the qualities of a trompe-loeil (literally, deceive the eye) painting into which, extraordinarily, one can walk. From the bottom of the hill the five-arched Pont d'Iéna springs across the river. It was built for Napoleon I in 1814, although the imperial "N"s with which it is decorated were in fact put there by Napoleon III. After the bridge comes the unclad metal truss tower of Gustave Eiffel. It was built for the International Exposition of 1889, against the strident opposition of national figures who believed it to be unsafe or ugly, or both. When the exposition concession expired in 1909, demolition of the 989-foot (300 metres) tower was averted by demonstration of its value as an antenna for the newly developed radio. Additions made for television transmission have added 56 feet (20.75 metres) to the height. From the topmost of the three platforms the view extends for 50 miles--when air pollution is low and the sun is near the horizon.

From the two-acre base of the tower the Champ-de-Mars stretches inland to the Ecole Militaire (built 1769-72) and still used by the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre (War College), where the 15-year-old cadet Napoleon Bonaparte was enrolled in 1784. Originally the schools parade ground, the field was the scene of two vast revolutionary rallies, that of the Federation (1790) and that of the Supreme Being (1794). From 1798 there were annual national expositions of crafts and manufactures, followed by worlds fairs between 1855 and 1900. The International Exposition of 1937 spread around it, for between 1908 and 1928 the field had been made into a formal park.

Behind the Ecole Militaire, which was designed by Gabriel, architect of the Place de la Concorde, stands the Y-shaped headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The building, erected in 1958, was designed by an international trio of architects and decorated by artists of member nations.

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Travel Guide

Cafés and Bars Culture

Cafés are places where people go to be among friends and acquaintances. They are meeting places, solariums (the French are notorious sun-worshipers) or shelters from bad weather; places to sit, talk, dream, make friends, make out or eat. They are also handy for their telephones and toilets.

Café and bar-sitting are an integral part of daily French life. Knowing a little about how cafés function will save you from a lot of surprises. First of all, the large, well-situated cafés on the Champs-Elysées, on the Boulevard Saint Germain at Saint Germain-des-Prés, at Montparnasse, along all the major boulevards, and in the Latin Quarter are expensive. But remember, you are not paying for your cup of coffee or glass of beer as much as for your right to sit in a pretty spot for as long as you like and talk, read, watch, or daydream.

If you're spending 12 FF for an express or 20 FF for a demi (half a half of a pint of draught beer), think of it as rent for the time and space. You should know that the prices of drinks in cafés depend on whether you're standing at the bar (comptoir) orzinc (counter bar) or sitting, and then, of course, where you're sitting. Drinks are less expensive if you are served at the bar. The outside terrace is always the most expensive. And then don't forget that the prices of drinks go up after 20h.

Also, you can order some drinks at the bar which you cannot order sitting down. A glass of draught of lemon soda (limonade), the cheapest drink available and very refreshing on warm days, can only be ordered when you're standing at the bar. Otherwise you get the more expensive and overly sweetened bottled lemon soda. No matter where you're sitting or when, the tip is always included.

Although not required or even really expected, it is customary to leave the copper-colored coins (la feraille) in your change as a little extra tip. But, beware! After the introduction of the Euro, these coins can sum up to a very costly amount. At the counter, you'll be presented with a little plastic dish for payment, which is then flipped over to signify that the barman has collected from you. At the tables, the serveur leaves a slip of paper from the cash register indicating what you owe. Usually, you pay at the end of your stay, but sometimes the serveur (not to be called garçon, even though old guidebooks will still indicate so) will come around to collect as he goes off duty. When you've paid he'll crumple or rip slightly the paper indicating that you've paid. Chacun son style!

Cafés are open very early for coffee and croissants. One of the more delightful and simple practices is to ask for a tartine-a buttered stick of baguette-to dunk in your coffee. Très Parisien.

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