Sixty million people visit Paris every year. Some come for the sights, others for the food, and then there are those who come to find love. Most people think that Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Me, I’m still trying to decide if I believe it as well. I see a lot of couples canoodling on the Metro and at the cafés, nibbling on each other’s ears and basking in the heated glow of hormonally-charged emotion. But I think most people say Paris is the most romantic place on earth because they fall in love with the city itself. As I have.
This is my second visit to Paris, the first time being ten years ago. But there’s so much to see that it feels like my first time. The city literally breathes history, it’s mind-numbing and humbling to know that I’m where Napoleon once stood or where Victor Hugo once sat and drank his espresso while scribbling out his masterpieces.
Here’s the Eiffel Tower, Paris’ single most identifiable landmark. Every night on the hour, its entire length sparkles for about five minutes, its animated brilliance taking my breath away. Of all the sights we see in Paris, the Eiffel Tower becomes my Bin’s favorite, so much so that we come back here almost every other day.
Europe’s capital city reminds me of New York: lots to take in, lots of tourists, and the French themselves are quite snooty. But that’s part of the charm and frankly, Paris wouldn’t be Paris without it. I become accustomed to saying Bonjour! when entering a store and au revoir upon leaving it, with a m’sieur or madame attached to the end.
If New York’s got its poshy 5th Avenue, Paris has its Champs-Élysées, a very touristy but grand avenue. This most famous thoroughfare boasts of wide pavements and plenty of cafés, shops, and cinemas attracting mostly those toting a camera. Plenty of high-fashion events and luxe living take place here, its hedonistic mark perhaps made most visible by the ostentatious and largest Louis Vitton Store. Here at LV, there’s a line of people waiting to get in, and tourists need to flash their passports before being granted access. It’s reported that it’s the Chinese and Japanese tourists who spend the most lavishly here while vacationing in Paris.
At the top of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is the magnificent Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon’s triumphal arch. Standing 164 feet high, it’s often used as a starting point for celebrations and parades and is one of the most popular places for a photo opp.
I shoot most of my city photos while hanging precariously from the upper deck of a hop-on hop-off tour bus that goes around Paris. My Bin is holding on to my hips in fear that I’ll actually fall off the bus and tumble to the ground. I decide not to tell him that I’m actually more worried about my camera falling.
Paris is divided by the River Seine, an awe-inspiring body of water illuminated at night by lights. There are 20 arrondissements (independent governmental jurisdictions) in the city, which are all easy to get to via the Metro. It’s during one of my many Metro transfers that I see this group of musicians who call themselves the Grand Metropolitain Orchestra playing at the Châtelet station. Their music is haunting, provoking, and quite a crowd has come to watch and listen.
Of course visiting the Louvre is a given. The most famous museum in the world houses the most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, its fame renewed even more by the notoriety of The Da Vinci Code book and movie. Audio guides (earphones) for a Da Vinci Code tour are on sale, but for €10, we pass and go for the ordinary guided tours. There’s a mass of people in front of the famed painting, protected by two inches of Plexiglas. As I angle for a closer look, I feel awe at who this woman (man?) may be. The Louvre has over 63,000 works of art. It’s been estimated that if one were to stand one minute before each and every piece, it would take more than a year to see the Louvre in its entirety. I believe it, and after a day touring the Louvre, my feet believe it too.
The area around the Place de la Madeleine is packed with high-end specialty food stores like Fauchon, Hediard, and the massive gourmet food floor of the Galleries Lafayette. Their sophisticated window displays are drool-worthy and the only things I’m allowed to photograph, though I do snap some photos inside the store, ninja-style.
Inside these stores, I walk around like a zombie, gaping and completely dumbstruck. After a while, I start to feel a dull throb at the base of my head. Agh, there’s nothing that these stores don’t have. I think perhaps it’d be nice to buy a bottle of marrons glaces (sweetened chestnuts) or a jar of hazelnut-chocolate spread, but I end up walking out empty-handed, defeated by the amount of choice.
Little do I know that this is only the beginning of my food odyssey with several more “headaches” to come wrought by food and the indecision that comes with too much of it.
Up next: Paris markets.