Following La Meridienne - Paris, France
La Meridienne de France is the ancient rival to the Greenwich Meridian and journeys, on its way from North to South Pole, through central Paris. It ticked tocked along for centuries until 2003 when it got itself tangled around Dan Brown who followed "the Rose Line" to uncover the secret of the Holy Grail . The rebuttal from Saint Sulpice Church, of this version, is booming: "that fanciful bestseller" is untrue, the line is a mapping tool and nothing else. It's impossible to know the amount of truth in the Da Vinci Code but I would urge visitors to Paris to visit the Observatory and follow the story and the route of La Meridienne. It's pretty compelling even without any added albino monks or chalices.
During the enlightenment, France led the way in astronomy and mapping. Cassini carried out the first successful measurement of longditude and the world's oldest observatory was built on La Meridienne. Later, shipping giants France and England battled for Meridian supremacy, both wanting to be the symbolic centre of the world, until the 1884 International Meridian Conference in Washington where days of tense political discussion (and use of the UK/US special relationship) resulted in Greenwich being named the zero meridian.
La Meridienne runs through Saint Sulpice as a line of gold. In an impressive marriage of religion and science, the church honours the astronomers that carried out the groundbreaking mapping of Paris with an obelisk.
Saint Sulpice's denials of the Da Vinci Code's themes are strong as, perhaps understandably, it hopes that visitors will quietly contemplate the heavenly murals and side chapels rather than sneaking a peep over their shoulders to wonder where the nun got clobbered to death.
When La Meridienne passes through the grounds of The Louvre, it goes directly through The Pyramid making conspiracy theorists wiggle with delight. The museum itself needs little introduction being the home of the world's most enigmatic lady, The Mona Lisa. Give yourself the occasional break from the formality of the priceless paintings with an ice cream in the Jardin des Tuileries.
La Meridienne dodges Sacre-Coeur, passing just to the West but the tiered hilltop, with views back across the Eiffel Tower, the Seine and the Louvre to L'Observatoire, is a fitting end to your journey. Before exploring the backstreets of Montmatre, take your time amongst the church's mosaics, chapels and dedications to Saint Therese and Jesus.
The cake list:
No journey is possible without proper sustenance and I was lucky enough to have the recommendations of Sarah, owner of Sportsrule, who spent four years in Paris. Here is the cake and hot chocolate list:
- Angelina's, on the Rue Rivoli just opposite the Louvre, specialises in a pastry called the Mont Blanc and African Hot Chocolate. Very tasty and great for people watching (I judge a place by the amount of ladies wearing jewelled turbans to lunch, Angelina's had two).
- Loire dans La Theiere on Rue de Rosiers in the Marais is higgeldy piggeldy in a good way and filled with books, old posters and art. It has amazing Tarte Tatin and thick hot chocolate. Rue de Rosiers also has some lovely looking small offbeat shops.
- Choose Laduree on the Champs Elysees for extravagance. Sarah's advice is to go in at the back to the champagne bar.
- The Observatory - www.obspm.fr Give them a call first and check that tours are running as it can be a little hit and miss.
- The Observatory is in Montparnasse where the avant-garde community moved to, at the start of last century, when the Montmatre prices got too high. The height of the action was at the cafes where Boulevard Raspail meets Boulevard Montparnasse. Now very touristy, you need a few glasses of champagne and a big seafood platter in La Coupole's art deco dining hall before you start to hear Man Ray or Picasso whisper to you. www.lacoupoleparis.com
- The Eurostar is the quickest and easiest way to travel from the UK to central Paris. www.eurostar.com