Decoding Paris's 'Da Vinci' Tour
"Da Vinci Code" fever has hit hard in the United Kingdom and France, both featured in Dan Brown's best-selling novel and Ron Howard's recent film adaptation. In Scotland, you can choose from among a half-dozen walking tours and vacation packages, mostly focusing on Midlothian's 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel. In London, new walking tours and day trips are being added every month in anticipation of summer crowds. And if you're interested in traveling from London to Paris, please know that the Eurostar high-speed train is an official partner of "The Da Vinci Code" film.
But it's Paris that perhaps boasts the most credible link to the novel, and entrepreneurs there have taken the craze to new heights, with nearly 30 companies offering bus trips, walking tours and luxurious vacation packages. The Ritz hotel, where main character Robert Langdon stays, is offering an uncharacteristically cheesy "The Ritz and Da Vinci" package comprising a night at the hotel, a bathrobe and an illustrated special edition of the book, starting at $860 for a double room. Then there's the five-night extravaganza offered by the hotel Chateau de Villette, the fictional residence of the character Sir Leigh Teabing, about half an hour outside Paris. The $5,756-per-person price tag mercifully includes all meals and services.
However, there are plenty of DVC tourism options for the more frugal-minded. Walking tours of the city abound, with a fairly wide price range. Classic Walk's' $25 two-hour walk, offered daily, is one of the more affordable options.
On a recent balmy Tuesday morning, 11 visitors to Paris assembled in front of the Hotel Ritz in the first arrondissement. Tamara Mahoney, the affable dreadlocked guide, explained that the group would walk from the tony Place Vendome down to the Tuileries Gardens, over to the Carrousel du Louvre's inverted pyramid, across the Pont des Arts and into the sixth arrondissement, to the churches of St. Germain des Pres and St. Sulpice. All the sites figure in the book, with the exception of the Pont des Arts.
But the first order of the day was a bit of general Paris history. Mahoney rattled through dates and rulers in a practiced, rapid monotone. She punctuated her shtick with occasional questions.
"Does anyone know Louis the Fourteenth's nickname?" she asked.
Eleven blank faces squinted back at her through the morning light.
"What's that?" asked Mahoney good-naturedly, gesturing toward the sky.
"The sun," chorused the group.
"That's right! Louis the Fourteenth was the Sun King."
It's all very well that people are discovering Paris thanks to Brown's books, but the main question irking cynics remains: Why would people chase the trail of fabricated characters in a novel? Samir Sodha, 33, a physician from New York, chalked it up to entertainment: "It's just an adult scavenger hunt, which strikes a chord in all of us. It's adult puzzles."
It was an international, vibrant crowd -- New York, Montana, Israel, Australia and Ireland were all represented -- with no hard-core Dan Brown fanatics. Three people said they hadn't read the book but were accompanying friends or spouses. Most said that they weren't very familiar with Paris and that the tour would be a good way to get oriented. Which was not a bad point, considering that the walk traverses some of the most picturesque and historic sites of the city.
It's a good thing the participants were happy to relax and enjoy the view, because the tour sites' relationships to the book were often tenuous. At the Pont des Arts, Mahoney paused to point out the exceptional view. "There's no real link to the book," she told the group, "but it's a nice place to watch the sunset."
Brown's preface famously pronounces, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Among those who disagree with that notorious line are the folks at the church of St. Sulpice, the tour's last stop. Angered by Brown's description of pagan rituals at the church and its alleged links with the hokey secret society Priory of Sion (he asserts that the church's "SP" engravings reference that group, not Saint Paul), church representatives have posted a plaque in the chapel that declares in both French and English: "Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this is not a vestige of pagan temple." Ironically, the plaque itself has become a stop on the DVC circuit: It is constantly encircled by a throng of visitors, zooming in to record the words with video cameras.
Despite the fact that there was little in the way of major revelations, the majority of the group seemed happy with the tour. Several participants crowded around Mahoney after the final site, requesting more information, maps and restaurant recommendations. To be sure, the best nuggets of information had been historical facts unrelated to the book. But ultimately, "Da Vinci Code" sensationalism is encouraging visitors to Paris to take an interest in European history and art, and who can find fault in that? If nothing else, it's a lovely walk.
-- Rory Satran
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