The lure of the Opera

 The Avenue de l’Opera with the Haussmann buildings & the Palais Garnier at the terminus.

Broken promises, I will admit to this. Long before leaving the Philippines and entering Europe I made a shopping list, swore to stick to it and even to stop at any point on the list when the budget was depleted. Oui?

Before I answer that, here is the scenario in Paris: Agoda (my online travel “bible”) pointed me to this hotel after asking for a place at the city central, near a Metro station, chic and affordable— Hotel Excelsior-Opera at the 9th arrondissement. This hotel is in an area filled with places of historical, cultural and architectural interest, and yes, the metro station Chaussée d’Antin-La Fayette is a few steps away.

The vicinity is more popularly known as the Place de l’Opera mainly because it’s where the home of the Paris Opera is, the Palais Garnier, the Beaux-Arts style 1875 structure that stands majestically at the district’s core. If you’re a diva or want to be one, this is your spot.

Built in the Beaux-Arts style in 1875, the Paris Opera or Palais Garnier was the most expensive building erected during the Second Empire.

The elaborately ornamented monumental opera house was the most expensive building erected during the Second Empire and is considered one of the French architectural icons (along with Notre Dame, Louvre, etc.). Adding to its popularity was Gaston Leroux choosing the place as the setting for his 1910 novel, the Phantom of the Opera.

Poetry, sculpted by Charles Gumery, is one of the two gilded statues on the rooftop of the Opera house.

Around the place are rows of century-old edifices (the Hotel Excelsior-Opera is nestled in one) referred to as Haussmann buildings, named after the prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III— Baron Haussmann. The man was in charge of the renovation of Paris between 1853 and 1870, a three-phase program that cleaned, greened and beautified the French capital. 

To create the ornamentation of Palais Garnier, it took the participation of fourteen painters, mosaicists and seventy-three sculptors.

Much of what Paris is today was due to Haussmann’s project but it’s on the apartment buildings that line the network of new boulevards he imprinted his trademark on. Haussmann’s design theory was to create “homogenous architecture wholes” by treating independent buildings as pieces of a unified landscape. The result, an organized design of buildings with same height, facades with balconies and cornices that perfectly align horizontally from one building to the next.

A view of the Sacre Couer from Haussmann Boulevard

This place’s history and architecture is alluring but the Opera’ sings another “tune” luring in the tourists and locals alike (not all, but most are attuned to the frequency) for more than just a souvenir shot. It’s “the call of cart,“ and I would refer to it as the next important aspect of staying in the Opera. Shopping is the Opera’s Pied Piper that entices the fashion savvy towards the halls of the flagship stores of Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, Paris’ upscale department stores along Boulevard Haussmann.

The flagship store of Galeries Lafayette (above) & Au Printemps (below) along Boulevard Haussmann.

Under the steel and glass dome of Galeries Lafayette is a ten-floor shopping paradise (take note of the Art-Nouveau staircases) that offer French couture to artisanal/gourmet foodstuffs and everything in between.

The glass & steel dome over 10 floors of shopping spaces at the Galeries Lafayette.
Art Nouveau architectural details of the Galeries Lafayette’s interior

The 1865-founded Printemps is the other grand magasin (French for ‘big store’) luxury and high fashion player housed in three adjoining buildings—Mode, Beaute-Maison & Homme. The buildings’ architecture is as grand as its contents, which can be pretty engaging to anyone who loves shopping. And if you must know, Printemps was the first store to use electric lighting, noted for championing the new Art Nouveau style and its policies revolutionized the retail industry by marking the products with set prices thus, changing the standard practice of retail shopping of “haggling based on customer appearance” (judgmental, don’t you think?)

The 1865-founded Au Printemps is the other luxury & high fashion player in Place de l’Opera.
The mosaic floor at the entrance of the Printemps Mode Building.

Now back to the topic of shopping list and budget. Was I successful? No, both the mind and the flesh were weak (ergo the wallet’s capability weakened in spending strength). It was pointless to resist the temptation when I stepped into the French houses of temptations especially with justifications like “how often am I in Paris anyway,” “I need to treat myself,” or “this is not available in the Philippines.”

But was it worth it? Definitely! I was ecstatic. So happy that I dropped the shopping bags at my hotel next door, the Hotel Execelsior-Opera, and went back to the fashionistas’ milieus to check out if I missed anything (obviously, stuff not on the original list).

Hotel Excelsior-Opera is ideally located in the Place de l’Opera, central Paris.

For a couple of days living in this environment, it was living the crazy life of a shopping diva (ok, divo), an insanity I had to deal with when I got back home and got swamped with the credit card bills.

When in Paris, try staying at the Opera district and check out Hotel Excelsior-Opera at 5 Rue La Fayette 75009 Paris, France. Visit their website at www.excelsior-opera.com.

Hotel Excelsior-Opera is an Agoda partner hotel. For bookings and great deals on this hotel, visit http://www.agoda.com/excelsior-opera-hotel/hotel/paris-fr.html

For more travel & lifestyle stories, visit http://jeepneyjinggoy.blogspot.com/ and http://apples-and-lemons.blogspot.com/

Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on October 23, 2014.

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