“Don’t you ever get tired of Paris?” This is a question I do not understand. As many times as I have been to the City of Light, there are always things I leave undone. If Europe is in your plans, please make Paris a stop!
The first time I set foot on this magnificent city, I was a European virgin. (Not literally, of course. Plus, I am not from Europe). I did not know what to expect. Well, that is not exactly true. In my true fashion, I had already read, underlined, and tabbed many travel books, including DK Eyewitness Travel’s Europe, Europe through the Backdoor and The Best of Europe, both by Rick Steves, and others. Not surprisingly, nothing I had read prepared me for the sounds, smells, and sights of Paris, all of which tugged at my heartstrings and left an indelible mark on my soul.
So, why is Paris always a good idea? Here are some of my reasons:
1. Museums and more museums. There are 200+ museums in Paris, more than most cities in the world. While the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and the Museum of Modern Art are ridiculously famous and a “must” for travelers, I would suggest you also schedule a visit to the less-ventured museums, like Musée National du Moyen Age (Musée de Cluny), housing a magnificent collection of medieval art. It sits above the remains of Gallo-Roman thermal baths dating back to 1st – 3rd centuries; or the Musée de l’Orangerie, where you will not fight for a spot to gawk at the vast number of impressionist and post-impressionist works by Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse.
2. Delve in architecture. If museums are not your thing, the architecture alone will make your jaw drop. Paris was first known as The City of Light (La Ville-Lumière) because it was the center of education and ideas during the Age of Enlightenment. This is where innovative architects and inspired artists came to test their visions. The result is that in Paris you get a mixture of everything, yet you can still trace the origins of architecture throughout history. Exploring around, you will see Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Rocco, Neo-Classical, Empire, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modern, Post-Modern, and Contemporary Architecture. After all the walking, grab a bottle of wine, stuff some bread and cheese in your bag, and sit on a lawn or park bench somewhere and relax.
3. Very simply…Wine! Even if you know little about French wine, you cannot go wrong by ordering wine in Paris. Indisputably, France produces some of the best wines in the world. I am no wine expert, and I will admit I am sometimes intimidated when the maitre d’ hands me a 20-page wine list. But if I am not at a stuffy or formal Parisian restaurant (I avoid those at all costs), I feel quite comfortable ordering wine – I just pick a wine from a region that I like. If you don’t want to make a decision on your own, just ask your server what he recommends. I have found out this always works well. And if I am at a neighborhood brasserie for a casual meal, I won’t hesitate to order a carafe or a pichet of house wine, just like the locals do. I tend to go for reds – and French reds are outstanding, whether they are from the Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Côtes du Rhône regions. I am liking wines from Burgundy right now – and winemakers there know what they are doing. Burgundy’s reputation for winemaking dates back as far as 51 B.C.! When in Paris, have fun discovering which wine is your favorite. À votre sainté!
4. Picnic without restrictions. Speaking of wine, I live in a place where drinking alcohol in a public place a no-go. What is wrong with drinking a little wine with your picnic? Nothing, I say. Something that makes me feel like a local while in Paris is to have a picnic, avec wine, at a park or on the edge of the Seine. So stroll over to your nearest boulangerie for a fresh baguette, then over to the fromagerie for some amazing cheese. Maybe get some fresh fruit from the street vendors, then go to the wine shop for a Bordeaux, or whatever your palate prefers. A particular picnic spot that comes to mind is on the Left Bank, roughly between Notre-Dame and Pont d’Austerlitz. Note: you will have plenty of company as Parisians pack this area, especially in the summer.
5. Experience the joie de vivre Parisian-style. In Paris, the delight of being alive is evident in the way people there approach life, from their unhurried espresso break in the middle of the day; to the two-hour business lunch; to shopping for food, which is an excursion in and of itself; to taking a month’s vacation every year without retribution from the boss; where enjoying a glass of champagne does not require the excuse of a special occasion. More than once, I have heard a non-Parisian ask, “How do they get any work done?” Right. They take the time to savor life’s moments.
6. Walk, stroll, discover. Ditch the travel guide and just walk. Okay, I say this with sweaty palms, as the idea of not having a plan in hand unnerves me. I almost always have a to do list and a destination in mind. But in the last few years, I have learned tried to let go of my controlling tendencies when traveling. My husband is a man who has a plan each day of his life, so when he travels, the last thing he wants to look at, much less follow, is my itinerary.
On a very recent trip to Paris, I had no written plan. We just walked… and walked. And climbed stairs, strolled along canals, and got lost on cobbled-stoned winding streets.
We stopped here and there, casually. We sat down on park benches to watch kids play, lovers love, and people be. We stopped to buy a pastry and kept on walking.
We went into a church and caught the organist and singer practicing before mass. We rested at any little outdoor café not recommended by any travel book because it called to us. We walked in the rain under an umbrella made for two… and I almost opened my mouth to complain. But as the city lights started flickering and the wet streets took on that Parisian sheen, I stopped and realized – I am walking in the rain… in Paris! Enough said.
Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, for good reason. Maybe Ernest Hemingway said it best: “There are only two places in the world where we can live happy – at home and in Paris.” If you cannot live there, at least pay it a visit.