Saturday, October 20, 2012

Paris Je T'aime

After a great dinner out the other night with friends, I opened the mail and what greeted me thrilled me.

National Geographic Traveler's cover story is about Paris.  I guess Paris just refuses to be forgotten yet.  Could I please blog about Paris one more time?

We've all heard how Paris is dubbed the "City of Light", but for me, "City of Worship" seems more appropriate.  Gazing in awe at the majesty of the churches, palaces, boulevards, monuments, bridges, and arches, it is apparent how much reverence and passion the French had for God, their victories as a nation, and for all else that constituted life.

I realize that I may be lacking in blogging about my favorite Paris moments, so indulge me a final time.  I know a couple of people who will be visiting Paris in the next few weeks for the first time and although I have a handful of practical travel advice (the rest, you can get from the experts), the only one that I could give is to make it your own.  There must be a million and one ways to see the city and the only way to make it truly unforgettable is if you use your own desires and interests to launch your own itinerary.  What would follow below is how I built my own itineraries, or how I would do things differently in my next visit.  I hope you pick up a thing or two!

[Paris City Passport]
The Paris City Passport from the official Paris Tourism Office is something I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Paris for the first time, if only for the express lines to the major museums (Musee d'Orsay, Musee du Louvre, Musee de l'Orangerie, Musee Rodin).  I probably saved two hours total because I did not have to wait in line at any of the museums, and admittedly, I feel kind of cocky and special bypassing the long lines outside.  I had the three day pass, which aside from a two-day museum pass, also included a three-day unlimited metro pass and a Seine cruise on Bateux-Mouches.

[Paris at Night]
We just got in Paris after a crazy, lawless drive into the city.  After dropping off our bags at the hotel and checking out Sacre Couer, we jumped on the metro to downtown Paris.  It was raining and The Dutch and I shared a comical "I Love Paris" umbrella.  After walking a few blocks from the metro stop I nearly dropped to my knees and started weeping.  The sight of Hotel de Ville lit at night was just simply arresting.  Little did I know, ALL of Paris is as beautiful as this at night.  The city is marvelous during the day, but after the sun sets, it is enveloped in magic, whimsy, elegance, and romance.

Hotel de Ville nearly made me weep.
Notre Dame
L'eglise de la Madeleine looking out to Place de la Concorde 
Sacre Coeur on a rainy evening, looking out to the City 
The back of Sacre Couer is less pictured but not less beautiful. 
Le Palais Garnier (Opera House)
Les Invalides, the site of Napoleon's tomb

[Musee d'Orsay]
If I was given the chance to redo the first time all over again, I would prioritize this museum than the Louvre because I'm a huge fan of Impressionism more than I am of Renaissance.  You cannot take pictures inside the Orsay, which is great, because then, you're just really immersed in the art without worrying about taking photos of every darn thing.  Get the audio guide for 5 euros and head straight to the 2nd floor for Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and some Rodin.  Save time because the vast collection of Impressionist art (Degas, Monet, Manet) are on the top floor.  Prepare to overdose on Monet.

Sigh.  If I get to live in Paris, I'd like to have permanent residence at Musee d'Orsay.

Velib is Paris' bike sharing system.  If you've heard of B-Cycles in cities like Denver and Chicago, the concept is the same.  You pay a "membership" of 8 euros for 7 days (or 1.70 euro for 1 day) and as long as you return the bicycle to another Velib station within 29 minutes, you don't pay extra.  I did not think I could cycle in a city where motorcycles and cars are driven by seemingly insane people, but I did and it was actually one of the most fun ways of getting around.  I biked from the Louvre to Champs Elysees at one time, from Louvre to Tour d'Eiffel the other time, and from the RER station to Musee Marmottan Monet the other time.

The bikes are comfortable, have three speeds, and a basket, which is all you need really.  Rentals don't come with helmets, so the onus is on you to not crack your skull while cycling.  When traveling by bike, BE BOLD because otherwise, the cars, tourist buses and motorcycles will bully you.  Own the road, don't take it personal, and ignore the urge to raise a middle finger if you get honked at repeatedly.

On the bike path to Eiffel Tower!
While crossing the very busy street on Place de la Concorde, I stopped to take pictures of a Parisian photo shoot. Does anyone know if this model is someone famous?  :)
[Tour d'Eiffel]
I did not climb it, but I sat on the grass, took my shoes off, and watched Parisan life unfold under the tower.

[Musee du Louvre]
I've spent four hours inside this massive palace and if I ever make it out here again, I'd be strategic about it and go right to the highlights, which to me are the masterpieces by Leonardo and Michaelangelo.  Also, the collection of ancient sculptures are staggering that I wouldn't mind soaking them up again.  Again, I would suggest renting an audio guide which run about 5 euros.


[River Seine]
Walk the promenade of the river that bisects the city and in my opinion, triples the romance of this already romantic city.  A sunset cruise on the Bateaux-Mauches allows you a glimpse of a different periphery of Paris, from a different vantage point.

I would stress that if you could, get on the sunset cruise and here's why:

[French Food]
A big resounding OUI.  See my previous post on a macaron cooking class here and my favorite Parisian bites here.

[Being Out of Your Comfort Zone]
But more than anything, there's nothing more pleasurable about traveling than traveling itself.  Especially in a country where I don't speak the language, it's a tremendously humbling feeling to be at the mercy of the local speakers.  In my brief stay in Paris, I've managed to avoid getting arrested (I was on a Velib when a cop pulled next to me and started speaking in French.  I sheepishly muttered, "Je ne comprend pas."  To which, he responded in English, "When the light is red, you have to stop."  Um.  Ooops?) and I've managed to set off the alarm in a Metro car (I tried getting out through the wrong door).  It's hysterical, but experiences like these weave in to how you remember a place.

Traveling is about learning how life is in other parts of our vast world and the more we know about it, the more we understand other people, and most especially, ourselves.  I've idealized Paris for a long time in my head but if there's another important lesson to be eked out of traveling, it's that no single place in the world is ever perfect.  At the end of the day, trips end, the ecstasy of being someplace temporary and new subside.  But hopefully, you come home altered, with a wider lens to view the world with, and also with the knowledge that home is your own place in the world, and where you are is exactly where you need to be.


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