Since I didn’t want to go straight back to my hostel after visiting the Louvre, I went to the Champs-Élysées instead. It was the only spot that I could think of where I would probably still find people (aka tourists) wandering around at night.
This street also reminds me of a French song by Joe Dassin that I like, fittingly called “Les Champs-Élysées”. There was a time in my life where I could actually sing along to most of this song.
Of course, the highlight of this avenue is the Arc De Triomphe and it is actually a lot larger than I thought it would be. It was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate the victories of the Grande Armée, Napoleon’s army during the Napoleonic Wars, and was constructed from 1806 to 1836. The monument’s architects were inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome.
I hadn’t planned on climbing up the arch that day, but I figured that I should take advantage of the fact that it was still open at night. From April to September, the monument is open from 10 AM to 11 PM. During the rest of the year, it closes at 10:30 PM. Regular adult admission is €9.50 (~$10.47 USD). There is no crosswalk that leads to the arch, so you actually go through a tunnel under it and emerge on the other side.
The inside walls of the arch are engraved with the names of battles and generals of the French Revolution and the Empire. The sculptures on the outer walls of the pillars and on the facade commemorate several events including the signing of the Treaty of Paris and depictions of various battles. There was a giant French flag hanging from the center of the arch when I went, but based on other pictures, it doesn’t seem like it is usually there.
Underneath the arch, there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with an eternal flame that was first lit in 1923. The tomb is dedicated to the soldiers who died during World War I and the soldier who was selected to symbolize the group was buried beneath the Arc de Triomphe in 1921.
There are 284 steps to get to the top of the monument, so it definitely was a workout trying to climb my way up. There are two other levels before the top where you can take a break to learn more about the Arc de Triomphe’s history or visit a gift shop to commemorate your hike.
Once you finally make it to the top, the views of the streets around you are pretty amazing. You also get a great look at the Eiffel Tower from up there, lit up in the distance. I had seen sneaks of the Eiffel Tower throughout the day, but this was the first time that I saw more than just the tip (I am going to point out how dirty that sounds already before someone else does), so it was an exciting moment for me.
While I was admiring the tower, something spectacular happened. All of a sudden, the lights started to sparkle and shine brightly against the black sky. It was 9 PM and I didn’t know until afterwards that this light show happens for five minutes every hour after nightfall until 1 or 2 AM, based on the season. This was another pleasant surprise that I am glad that I got to witness.
I spent some time after that just taking in the view and appreciating that I was actually in Paris and standing on top of the Arc de Triomphe. Eventually, I made my way back down and back to the Champs-Élysées and headed back to my hostel to sleep.
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