Ah, Paris. It was my first visit, and after Lyon, Strasbourg and Reims, the culmination of our French library tour.
I confess I didn’t experience the fabled, unequivocal “falling in love with Paris” in the four short days I was there. It’s a city of 12 million people, plus what feels like a million tourists clogging the banks of the Seine. Smoggy, congested, stinking of urine; its infrastructure strained, its social tensions evident.
And yet… there’s a reason why it’s packed with tourists. Its iconic monuments really are magnificent. (And massive. Words you never hear in Paris: “Gee, I thought it would be bigger”.) Its gallery walls are lined with one extraordinary masterpiece after another… and then another. There really are incredibly chic people walking and cycling the streets with their beautiful shoes, cigarettes and baguettes.
I think I was a little overwhelmed. I stopped blogging – I couldn’t process it, and didn’t want to waste time in the hotel. I walked and walked and took photos and sat and looked and then I walked some more. I did a bus tour with my librarian friends, and a 4-hour night-time cycling tour with strangers. I got up at dawn to see Notre Dame without the crowds, and caught the metro home at midnight. I stood on the balcony of the Paris Opera, listening to a young busker and looking down the boulevard to the Louvre, and got teary. And of course I visited libraries, which were overwhelming in their own right. More of that in a later post. For now, I’ll just post pictures from my touristy wanderings. I’ve challenged myself to choose no more than one or two photos from each location. Notre Dame Cathedral. I’ve wanted to visit ever since I learned about flying buttresses in Year 7 art history. Luxembourg Garden, built in 1611 by Marie de’ Medici, widow of Henry IV, in the style of her native Florence. Today the palace is the seat of the French Senate. Note the Parisian looking chic even in silhouette. She can’t help herself. Les Invalides: very flash hospital for veterans, military museum and last resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte. Its chapel is decked with the banners of vanquished armies, including a depressing number with text in Arabic and Chinese. A speedy snapshot through the window of a moving bus: Eiffel Tower; Military School; mum, baby and dog. Outside the Louvre. Nice rhino. I didn’t go in – I opted for the Musée d’Orsay instead. Next time. Musée d’Orsay. OMG. Two hours and my brain was in complete meltdown. That evening, I drew a biro sketch on hotel notepaper depicting my state of mind. The Seine, looking moody at dusk. Love locks on the Pont des Arts. Cité metro station at the centre of Paris. Built in 1910 and still with its original Art-Nouveau sign above ground (damn hard to find if you’re looking for a modern metro symbol), it feels like a proper retro underground station. Then the train screeches in, and its automatic doors nearly chop you in half if you don’t move fast enough. We’re not in 1910 any more, Toto. Sacré-Cœur Basilica on Montmartre. I can’t tell you how excited I was to walk on its famous stairs. Here’s why. “We’re going to win, Max! We’re going to win! Ya ha!” http://youtu.be/eWbzrBXxm78 Seminal film of my childhood. I went into the Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, on a whim, not knowing what was inside. What a joy! You enter through an innocuous side entrance, and as you work your way up from the basement, the decor gets more and more outrageous. I was gasping aloud every time I walked into a room. How to choose just two photos? This is where I got teary. As I looked down from the loggia of Palais Garnier, a young woman joined the busker Youri Menna; he played the guitar while she sang Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ with great feeling. Here I was in Paris, dazzled by the opulence of Napoleon III, on the other side of the world from my family, traffic whizzing by, looking out on a vast sky and down the wide boulevard to the rooftop of the Louvre. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I walked for miles. At every turn, another Place de la Something, another statue, another monumental building. On my final night I went on a cycle tour through the city. We started off riding in traffic, our group of fifteen taking over the lane whenever our American guide raised her hand and shouted “DOMINATE!!!” As it got darker, we moved to bike paths, parks and plazas, freewheeling around the Louvre’s pyramid.