They say all good things come in threes and just like successful Hollywood movies like Back To The Future and Lord Of The Rings, I guess this shall be the final masterstroke to my commentary on the Axe Historique.
I believe I left you at the Place de la Concorde where the mammoth Obelisk still stands. Let me share a little about your immediate surroundings before we carry on towards the last stretch of this lengthy axis. Right now, you should be standing in the middle of the two beautiful Fontaines de la Concorde that represent navigation and commerce, and in front of you, in the distance, is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. As you look to your right, a peculiar building with several flags sticking out of its roof, camouflages itself with another similar-looking one along the road. This is the Hotel de Crillon, one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world. It is said that one night’s stay at its presidential suites would burn at least a 3000-Euro hole in your pocket. However, there exists a way where you can actually stay for FREE for 3 nights at this lavish hotel! How?
Win the annual Tour de France. Seriously.
The winner of the most prestigious biking competition would always be rewarded with a complimentary stay. Incidentally, the end point of the race would often be at the Place de la Concorde. In addition, the lucky man, as though the prestige and pride of being a world champion is not enough, would be given the privilege to hang a flag of his choice at one of the rooftop flag staffs during his stay. Interestingly, seven-time Tour de France winner, American Lance Armstrong, never once hung the stars and stripes at the hotel. For inexplicable reasons, the flag that he perpetually hangs is that of the state flag of Texas. WTF? Somehow some Texans do behave like the Catalans of Spain. To make matters worse, the adjacent twin building is the US Embassy….
Anyway, let’s turn your attention back to the Axe Historique. Now do take note that the street that your feet are stepping on towards the unmissable Arc de Triomphe, is that of ‘holy’ ground. Well…at least to me. The Champs Elysees is a re-creation of the Elysian Fields – an ancient Roman belief of a place where heroic souls will go in the afterlife where peace and happiness exist in abundance. In the past, the bodies of gloriously dead French war heroes would be ceremoniously paraded down the avenue before taking a right to the Les Invalides for their rightful burial. This is where the Great Napolean lays rested but I’ll tell you more about this impressive building next time.
The Avenue des Champs Elysees is frequently touted as the most beautiful avenue in the world but just about a week ago, a real shocker came through the news – The Champs Elysees was not even ranked in the top 10 shopping streets on the entire planet!
In a survey conducted by French mystery shopping firm, Presence, this historical street where the likes of Prada and Gucci welcome distinguished customers, scored considerably well in atmosphere and helpful, friendly passers-by; but failed miserably in customer service. Apparently, mystery shoppers reported evidence of annoyance being showed by a number of sales assistants. Sighhhh….my dear Parisians whom I’ve often defended against those false accusations….I’m so disappointed….
But would you want to guess the Number One shopping street of 2011?
Orchard Road of Singapore. No kidding. Oh. My. God.
Really? This people-packed street with tacky Christmas decorations? This character-less stretch that floods during the monsoon months? Really?!?!?!
OK. This is weird. I’m a Singaporean and I think I need to see a therapist. Woww…
Annnnnywaaaaay, a trip to Paris will not be completed without a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, the triumphal arch that Emperor Napolean commissioned but would not live to see its completion. This arch is one of the largest of its kind and is only surpassed in size by its unfortunate cousin in North Korea. Damn you Kim Jong Il! It is, nonetheless, worth it to pay a small fee to scale to its top where a 360-degree view of Paris awaits you. (For some amusing stories of the Arc de Triomphe, do check out my earlier post, titled “Ironies In French History”)
As you gaze down the concluding route of the Axe Historique, the Grande Arch de la Defense marks its end. This modern arch that symbolises humanity and humanitarian ideals, was another one of Francois Mitterrand’s Grands Projets. Constructed in 1989, this is, I believe, the biggest arch in the world. Unfortunately the viewing platform has since been closed since April 2010 after a minor accident in the elevator.
Well…it is time for me to bid adieu to my 3-part literary concerto. I hope I have gave you enough to enjoy Paris for a day. For now, please savour Paris on my behalf and for me….yesss….where is that therapist? I would prefer a French….