A Flight Simulator Odyssey

by Charles Gulick

Sights on the Seine

Chart: Northern France
En Route Coordinates:
   Aircraft: N17406, E14286
   Tower: --
   Aircraft: 1000
   Tower: --
Heading: 329
Time: Daylight

Many of the notable landmarks of Paris are along the Seine River. Here you are on the southeastern outskirts of the city, approximately opposite the big Bois de Vincennes park, which is skirted by both a railroad and the Rue de Paris. The Bois de Vincennes, visible out the right side of your aircraft, is a forest park and contains Paris' largest zoo. Inside the park, though not visible in the simulation, is the Chateau de Vincennes. Now a museum, in the past it has been, by turns, a residence for royalty, a prison, a World War II headquarters, and, during the German Occupation, a torture chamber.

Stay at medium speed and track the river, staying more or less over the right side of it. Numerous boulevards, which encircle Paris in ever-narrowing embraces, cross the river along your route. It is these boulevards that make Paris virtu-ally round in shape. The city was designed by Baron Haussmarm (for whom an avenue is named) in the 1800s, and planned so expertly that it handles even today's heavy traffic very effectively.

Well to the left of your course is the Montparnasse District, situated on a low hill (the hill is not simulated, but the Montparnasse Tower, visible to the left of the Eiffel Tower, marks the area). In Montparnasse are the remains of the eerie subterranean cemetery called the Catacombs, with dark, twisting passages lined with high pilings of crossed bones and skulls. The French Underground used the site as a headquarters during World War II. You'd need a flashlight to find your way in there.

Just this side of where the Seine turns left you'll see a representation of a famous botanical garden, Les Jardins des Plantes, boasting 10,000 species of plants. Just about there, too, the famous Left Bank section of Paris--with its intermingling population of artists, writers and students--begins. You may wonder, as I did, left in relation to what? But I found out. The Left Bank is the south side of the Seine, and is called that because it would be to your left if you were facing in the same direction as the river flows. In this scenario, you are facing in that direction. The Left Bank will be to your left all the way from here to the Eiffel Tower.

Start losing a couple of hundred feet of altitude before the river turns left (but don't get lower than 700 feet). Just at the bend is a small island, Ile St. Louis, and beyond that an-other island, Ile de La Cite. These islands form the very heart of what was the ancient city of Paris. The city was founded there more than 2000 years ago.

Stay over the right branch of the river. You'll see a massive building on the second island. Fly to the right of it and pause frequently to admire it. This is the Cathedral of Notre Dame--the most renowned building in Paris and perhaps the most beautiful church in the world. It is handsomely represented in the simulation, although reasonably enough its flying buttresses are not shown. This is the site of Victor Hugo's gripping 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (originally called Notre Dame de Paris), and of the classic motion picture version starring Charles Laughton. In the story, Quasimodo, the cathedral's hunchbacked bellringer, kidnaps a beautiful Spanish dancer, Esmeralda, at the direction of Archdeacon Frollo. When Esmeralda is accused of a crime actually committed by Frollo, Quasimodo tries to provide sanctuary for her in the cathedral tower. Ultimately Esmeralda is taken from Notre Dame and executed by hanging, whereupon the unhappy and lovesick though unloved Quasimodo hurls the Archdeacon to his death from the cathedral.

Start gaining some altitude again as you leave Notre Dame de Paris behind. Immediately ahead is the expansive Palais du Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. Keep climbing and fly directly over, rather than alongside, the Louvre, pausing wherever you like. Note the long semi V- or U-shape of the construction. Formerly one of the world's largest royal palaces, the Louvre today is one of the world's foremost museums, particularly famous for its Museum of Paintings, which includes the celebrated Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Among many famous sculptures in the Louvre are the Venus de Milo.

Leaving the Tuileries Gardens you'll be flying toward Place de la Concorde. Its tall, thin obelisk, visible in the simulation, was given to Charles X by Mohammed Ali in 1829, to symbolize harmony and peace, as does the square itself with its fountains and monuments. The Concorde was not, how-ever, always so peaceful. During the French Revolution, this was where the infamous guillotine showed its ominous silhouette against the sky. Don't risk a thumbs-down gesture as you fly by.

Further along the Champs Elysees you'll spot the Arc de Triomphe, which we've already seen. So follow the Seine around to the left. And there you'll see what is perhaps the most striking feature of the Paris simulation, as well as one of the world's most famous landmarks: the Eiffel Tower. Try to fly just to the right of it on this first pass, and meanwhile start a climb to an altitude of 1500 feet. Then do a 180 and fly close to the tower again. You'll be able to see the very top with most of your views.

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