In the wake of the terrible events this week in Paris, I think this is the perfect time to write something about this beautiful city. Because I believe in solidarity in the face of tragedy and horror. Because #JeSuisCharlie.
My fear is that, faced with the reality of a terrible terrorist attack on Paris, on Parisians and on freedom of speech itself, some potential travelers to the wonderful “City of Light” will now decide to stay home. That happens so much whenever these terrorists act out their limited vision and hatred anywhere in the world. Logic gives way to irrational fear. People are made to feel vulnerable and they crawl into a shell to protect themselves.
I just want to say this…and to say it very loudly: When we give in to fear, the terrorists win! Fear is their weapon of choice. When they use that weapon against us and we become afraid, i.e. we accept the ammunition they hand us, they win. Our fear is their victory!
I refuse to be afraid of them.
OK, enough about these losers with minds full of nothing but hatred and violence. They will never win, because we won’t let them. So let’s talk about something much more pleasant. Let’s talk about Paris!
She is so beautiful, any time, any season, for any reason.
Paris is always
a good idea.
~ Audrey Hepburn
a good idea.
~ Audrey Hepburn
I made my first visit to Paris when I was 25—a number of decades ago! I loved it then. I loved it on several subsequent visits. And I love it still.
I spent a solo week in Paris in September of last year. I wish it could have been a month. I walked, I looked, I talked to people (a struggle with my very limited French), I ate. I walked some more. I ate some more! And it was all fabulous.
This visit was quite different from that first trip as an eager and adventurous young woman. Back then, I ran from place to place, from museum to monument to not-to-be-missed site, my tattered copy of Europe on $5 a Day always at hand. I wanted see it all, do it all, taste it all.
Now, I am more inclined toward what has come to be called “slow travel.” Maybe it’s age. Or perhaps it’s greater wisdom. Whatever, I took Paris slow, savoring each day and each moment, relaxing into the city at my own pace.
Instead of choosing a hotel for this trip, I used AirBnB to book a tiny studio apartment for the week. It turned out to be cheaper than a hotel and much nicer than a hostel. I moved in, settled, slept till I woke, lingered over morning coffee in a local café, then set off to wander. I walked and walked and walked some more, barely getting the full value of the discounted one-week Metro pass I bought in advance of my trip.
The slower pace meant I saw both less and more of Paris. I saw fewer monuments and museums and more people, fewer works of art on walls and more natural works of art in gardens and parks. I never hurried; I strolled. I stopped and just looked and breathed, tasted and smelled. As it turned out, it was absolutely the best way for me not just to “see” Paris but to experience her.
My first day in Paris, I joined a volunteer from Paris Greeters for a free walking tour. They are offered in various parts of the city and always lead by volunteers who know the neighborhood well. My walking tour was in Montparnasse. My guide was Jean-Jacques, a retired teacher full of wisdom, humor and great stories. Often there are several people in the group, but this day I was the only one on his walk. We wandered at our own pace, stopped for coffee, stopped for photos, and simply had a lovely morning.
Montparnasse is a neighborhood I had never explored before and I learned so much. Jean-Jacques was full of stories about the artists and writers who called this quartier home in the late-19th and early-20th centuries—after Montmartre became too chic and expensive for them! I saw where Degas painted, where Hemingway drank, where Mondrian loved.
My main activity throughout my week in Paris was simply walking around this glorious city, often without much of a plan, seeing where my feet would take me. I spent a lot of time sitting in sidewalk cafés just watching the world go by. I wrote in my journal. I took pictures. I breathed in the special magic that is Paris.
The studio apartment I rented was right in the center of the Ile St. Louis. Can you say… LOCATION?? You can’t get any more central in Paris. I fell in love with my neighborhood. There are tiny shops and patisseries and cafés everywhere. The famous Berthillón ice cream store was just around the corner… very dangerous! By my second visit to a neighborhood café or mini-supermarket, I was considered a local.
Another thing that made the location so perfect was that no matter where I was headed, I passed Notre Dame on the way. I spent several hours wandering around the beautiful cathedral, inside and out, taking pictures and just feeling the ancient wonder of this glorious work of architecture and faith.
I spent much of one whole afternoon wandering from stall to stall of the book and print sellers along the banks of the Seine, mostly along the famous Rive Gauche, the Left Bank. And yes, my suitcase was noticeably heavier when I left than when I landed!
My “slow travel” schedule meant I passed on several of the iconic Parisian must-sees on this trip. I spent very little time in the Louvre, put off by the crowds and my own already tired feet. I never made it to the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe. I did not get anywhere near the Eiffel Tower—although I did have some lovely views of it from all over the city. It is pretty hard to miss!
I did make it to the Cluny Medieval Museum, in the heart of the Quartier Latin on the Left Bank. It is one of my favorite spots in Paris, and I spent more than an hour just sitting peacefully with the gorgeous tapestries in the “Lady and the Unicorn” series. It is basically impossible to capture the vibrancy and life in these centuries-old weavings in a photo—at least for me—but here is a taste.
I was fortunate with the weather. Except for waiting out one short rain squall in a doorway crowded with a few other Parisians near the Opéra, the sun shone brilliantly, sparkling off the waters of the Seine and pulling my eye up to roof lines and chimney pots, sculptures and that ever-present view of the Eiffel Tower.
I wandered through the Jardin de Luxembourg and the Park behind Notre Dame, snapping photos of flowers and lovers. What better place than Paris to photograph lovers?
On my last day in Paris, she gave me a special gift… a perfectly Parisian sunset that set the Seine aglow, an apt image to remember her by.
This was not my last visit to Paris, of that I was determined. In fact, I have already booked my return ticket, this time for the spring. Paris in April! What could be more perfect?
What should I make it a point not to miss on my next trip to this golden, gorgeous, light-filled city? Tell me in the comments below.