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  • Hi I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe. This time we're in a city

  • that puts the sparkle in life like none other...it's Paris. Thanks for joining us!

  • Few cities have such a rich cultural, artistic, and historic heritage. And few cites are so

  • confident in their expertise in good living. Paris is understandably a magnet for people

  • determined to live life to its fullest-and as travelers, we get to share in that uniquely

  • Parisian joix de vivre.

  • Returning for another look at this great city, we'll discover a side of Paris few travelers

  • experience: ride a unicorn into the Middle Ages, take a midnight Parisian joyride, immerse

  • ourselves in Monet's garden, bask in heavenly light through extraordinary stained glass,

  • go on a tombstone pilgrimage, and savor the Parisian cafe scene.

  • Grand as the city is, as we'll see, it's still a collection of smaller communities each with

  • a charming and uniquely French way of embracing life.

  • Every neighborhood has a time-honored gathering place. Petanque, also known as boules, offers

  • the perfect escape for friends. This competitive, yet convivial game, where friends toss metal

  • balls with the same precision their fathers did, provides the ideal antidote to the pressures

  • of modern life.

  • Ahh, the Riviera-on the banks of the River Seine. Each summer the Paris city government

  • closes an express way and brings a colorful urban beach to its people. They truck in potted

  • palm trees, hammocks, lounge chairs, and 2,000 tons of sand to create this popular fun zone.

  • It's a perfect chance to see Paris at play... and play with Paris.

  • Away from the river, parks provide another peaceful oasis-great for enjoying the moment

  • with friends and family.

  • And Sundays, a happy horde of roller-bladers-glide through town with a police escort. Young,

  • old, fast, or slow, it's another way this city has become a playground for its citizens.

  • And Paris is now enthusiastically bike friendly. Bike lanes are commonplace and bikers are

  • welcome to use bus lanes. The city's innovative loaner bike program-with hundreds of these

  • efficient bike racks-lets Parisians make quick one way bike trips rather than bother with

  • cars or buses. The cost: almost free.

  • Having all this fun, it's easy to forget that six centuries ago, Paris was a cultural leader

  • as Europe was awakening from a long medieval slumber.

  • Just a couple blocks off the river, the Cluny Museum-filling a medieval mansion, takes us

  • back to Paris in the late Middle Ages. In the 1400s trade was begining to boom and the

  • Renaissance was moving in like a warm front from Italy.

  • The Cluny Museum is an under-appreciated treasure. Its rich collection of medieval art offers

  • a rare peek into that mysterious age. The sumptuous ivory pieces; vibrant enamel work;

  • and gorgeous statues reflect a surprisingly refined-and far from "dark"-society.

  • Its centerpiece is a 15th century series of tapestries called "The Lady and the Unicorn."

  • In medieval lore, unicorns were solitary creatures that could only be tamed by a virgin. In secular

  • society, they symbolized how a man was drawn to his lady love. In religion, the unicorn

  • was a symbol of Christ.

  • These exquisite tapestries were inspired by both secular and religous traditions. They

  • give us a look at life-sensual life-from a time when the people of Paris were just stepping

  • out of medieval darkness. It's a celebration of all the senses:

  • Taste. A woman takes candy from a servant's dish to feed it to her parakeet.... while

  • the little dog licks his lovingly woven chops.

  • Hearing. The elegant woman plays sweetly on an organ, calming an audience of wild beasts.

  • In this fanciful world, humans and their fellow creatures live in harmony in an enchanted

  • garden.

  • Sight. The unicorn cuddles up and looks at himself in the lady's mirror, pleased with

  • what he sees. The lion turns away and snickers. As the Renaissance dawns, vanity is a less-than-deadly

  • sin.

  • Touch. That's the most basic and dangerous of the senses. Here, the lady "strokes the

  • unicorn's horn," and the lion looks out at us to be sure we get the double entendre.

  • Medieval Europeans were celebrating the wonders of love and the pleasures of sex.

  • The words on our lady's tent read: To My Sole Desire. What is her only desire? Is it jewelry?

  • Or is she putting the necklace away and renouncing material things? Is it God? Love? The unicorn

  • and lion open the tent. Is she stepping out... or going in to meet the object of her desire?

  • Human sensuality is awakening, a dark age is ending, and the Renaissance is emerging.

  • Another reminder of the sophisticastion of the Middle Ages was the art of stained glass.

  • To see the best 13th century glass in its glorious original setting, visit the nearby

  • church of Ste Chapelle.

  • Embeded in a historic complex of governmental buildings, the church's muscular Gothic buttresses

  • support the stone roof. The walls are essentially window holders for the church's stained glass.

  • Stepping inside, you're overwhemled by the most dazzling Gothic interior anywhere. In

  • the Bible, it's clear: light is divine. Let there be light. In a Gothic church, light

  • pours through stained glass like God's grace shining down on earth. Gothic architects used

  • their new technology to turn dark stone buildings into lanterns of light.

  • In the 13th century King Louis IX obtained the supposed Crown of Thorns. He needed an

  • appropriate place to house this precious relic. So they scrambled and built this church in

  • just six years. Because it was built so quickly-with one architect and one set of plans...almost

  • unheard of in Gothic times, the architecture is unusually harmonious.

  • The altar was raised up high to better display the Crown of Thorns.

  • Filling the walls on all four sides, the 15 story-telling panels illustrate Bible passages

  • from Creation in Genesis to the story of Christ. Remarkably, most of the stained glass here

  • is original. What you're looking at is exactly what visitors have marvelled at for eight

  • centuries.

  • For a stark contrast in glass, head out to to La Defense- a forest of skyscrapers nicknamed

  • Paris's petite Manhattan.

  • So often we travelers only hang out in the historic old quarters of Europe's great cities.

  • To see the contemporary side of Paris-a celebration of modern commerce-hop on the metro and visit

  • La Defense.

  • With its striking architecture and 150,000 people a day commuting here to work and even

  • more to shop and play, it's the engine of a modern-day economic power. Stroll the Esplanade.

  • The glassy buildings-which house shopping malls with hundreds of stores, convention

  • centers, and towering corporate headquarters-playfully compete for your attention.

  • With the social ethic embraced by French society, getting a building permit often comes with

  • a requirement to fund public art. That's why the Le Defense Esplanade is like an open-air

  • modern art gallery, sporting pieces that make going to work just a little more fun.

  • La Grande Arche, inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution,

  • is the centerpiece of this ambitious complex. The arch is big-Notre-Dame Cathedral could

  • fit under it. Thousands of people work in its 35 stories. And as everywhere here, the

  • architecture is people-friendly.

  • Back in the old center, it's time for a little shopping. Paris is a leader in the fashion

  • world, famous for its high end design. My Parisian friend, Delphine Prigent, is showing

  • me how even window shopping some of Paris's many fine boutiques can be a cultural experience.

  • Rick: These windows, they put so much energy into their windows.

  • Delphine: Yes, they have to because, you know, like, shopping is, like, a national sport

  • in France and we call itche-vitrine. Soche-vitrine means window licking.

  • Rick: Window licking. Delphine: See all these different details

  • that they put on the window-it's very bright, very colorful.

  • Rick: Very appetizing, you could say. Delphine: Yes. It has to be very appetizing,

  • yes. Rick: There are a lot of sales.

  • Delphine: Yes. This is a typical period in July to get sales in Paris. But the trap is

  • that when you go inside you always finish by buying the new collection because they

  • put the new collection just beside. You always buy something from the new collection at full

  • price. This is my- Rick: So the sale catches you inside. And

  • then you buy the new collection. Delphine: Yes, it catches...yes

  • Department stores were invented in Paris. These venerable institutions-beautiful monuments

  • to fine living-offer a chance to check out what's in vogue.

  • The Galeries Lafayette is a classic example. Its belle époque dome dates to 1912. And

  • shoppers are welcome to catch their breath-or perhaps have it taken away-on the store's

  • rooftop where a grand city view awaits.

  • You can enjoy another delightful dimension of Paris in its parks. There's always a garden

  • or park nearby offering a fine place to stroll and simply enjoy a quiet moment in the middle

  • of the city. One of the biggest city parks originated as the king's back yard, the Tuilleries

  • Gardens.

  • The King's yard included an indoor garden called the Orangerie. While the Orangerie

  • no longer contains plants, today it's filled with a garden of Impressionist and early 20th

  • century paintings-select works by Renoir... Cezanne... Gaugin...and others.

  • And its main attraction is Monet's Water Lilies, floating dreamily in the oval rooms the artist

  • himself designed to showcase his masterpiece. This series of expansive, curved panels is

  • the epitome of Impressionism. It immerses you in Monet's garden at Giverny-his home

  • and studio outside of Paris.

  • Like an aging Beethoven who composed his most dramatic works while loosing his hearing,

  • the nearly blind Claude Monet spent his final years painitng these symphonies of color on

  • a similarly monumental scale.

  • We're looking into his pond-dotted with water lilies and dappled by the reflections of the

  • sky, clouds, and trees on the surface. Monet mingles the pond's many elements and then

  • lets us sort it out.

  • The true subject of these works is not the pond itself. It's the play of the light reflecting

  • off the water. Monet would work on several canvases at the same time-each one catching

  • the light of a particular time of day.

  • Get close and see how Monet worked. Starting from a blank canvas, he'd lay down thick,

  • big brushstrokes of a single color, horizontal and vertical to create a dense mesh of foliage.

  • Over this, he'd add more color for the dramatic highlights, until he got a dense paste of

  • piled-up paint. Up close, it's messy-but back up, and the colors resolve into a luminous

  • scene...just pure reflected color.

  • Working, he'd move with the sun from one canvas to the next. Panning slowly around this hall,

  • you see the pond turn from pre-dawn darkness to clear morning light to lavender late afternoon

  • to glorious sunset. Sublime and tranquil, Monet intended this to be a place of reflection.

  • Back when Monet was painting, Paris was busy with artists. Capturing the light, that was

  • their passion and wandering these elegant streets and inviting parks, it's easy to imagine

  • them gaining inspiration here in Paris, nicknamed the "City of Light."

  • A short walk takes us to the palatial mansion, studio and garden of another great impressionist...

  • Auguste Rodin. Rodin was a modern Michelangelo, sculpting human figures with powerful insight,

  • revealing through the body their deepest emotions. Now a museum, this historic mansion presents

  • the full range of Rodin's work.

  • His early works match the belle époque style of the late 19th century-noble busts of bourgeois

  • citizens and pretty portraits of their daughters.

  • But Rodin had working-class roots and because of his populist sentiments, the art establishment

  • snubbed him. That's no wonder. Look at the intensity of this symbol of France as she

  • screams libertié, egalitié, fraternitié.

  • With his ground-breaking Bronze Man, Rodin came into his own and was recognized as an

  • artistic force. From this point on, he left convention behind and blazed his own artistic

  • trail.

  • Here, his Hand of God shapes Adam and Eve from the mud of the earth to which they will

  • return.

  • Unlike Michelangelo, who selected a piece of marble and then carved a single work of

  • art, Rodin created models which could then be reproduced and sold as authorized versions.

  • In The Kiss, a passionate woman twines around a solid man for their first, spontaneous kiss.