A day in Paris is never enough, will never be enough… The City of Lights – beautiful, cosmopolitan, chic, and sprawling – has so much to explore and experience and I would never dream that I could take it all in between sunrise and sunset. But I like a challenge, and I love a city that leaves me wanting more.
On a trip to London last summer, on a whim, we decided that we couldn’t be so close and pass up the opportunity to see Paris, a place neither of us had been yet. We woke up at the crack of dawn and caught the Eurostar – the high speed train connecting London with continental Europe – and were in Paris by 8:00 am… groggy but wide-eyed and excited.
Our first stop? Le Musee du Louvre, the worlds most visited and perhaps most famous fine art museum, with over nine-million visitors a year. For comparison, that is more annual visitors than the entire destination state Hawai’i.
We made the famous museum our first stop out of practicality. With one of the largest collections in the world, displaying over 70,000 pieces, we wanted to a lot it the time it deserved. As we approached the courtyard of the museum, crowded with tourists here for Paris’ busy season, it was hard not to be struck by the architecture. The museum building, a lavish Renaissance-style palace laden with beautiful arches and columns, is itself a piece of art, designed by many of the best architects of the 16th century. It is mind-blowing that something so beautiful and so large, built so many years ago would stand in pristine form in front of us today.
We descended into the entrance foyer under the The Glass Pyramid, – an homage to modernism of steel and reflective glass – a stark contrast to the building itself. Inside the renaissance decadence continued with gold moldings, grand mural sized paintings, Greco-Roman inspired sculptures and of course, The Louvre’s crown jewel, The Mona Lisa.
We knew we were approaching the Mona Lisa from the crowds that surrounded her. The portrait was surrounded by yards of densely packed tourists and art-lovers, many with outstretched phones and cameras wrestling for a photo. We jostled our way to the front, spurred on by the anticipation of seeing the world’s most famous painting, and when we got their found ourselves standing in front of a dreary 30 by 20 inch disappointment. It seemed confusing to me that something so small and seemingly plain should be the museum’s central attraction when the place is packed with 650,000 square feet of overwhelming murals, large vibrant paintings of historic scenes, grandiose portraits, marble sculpted gods and goddesses. Perhaps it is the understatement that is the attraction. However, I found myself underwhelmed.
After several hours losing ourselves in the maze of exhibitions of the Louvre, we carried on to Paris’ most iconic symbol. The Eiffel Tower. We had not allotted enough time to ascend the monument – a good reason to return to Paris – however we wandered the park surrounding it, admiring its latticework of iron, and soaring height. At the foot of the tower I decided to grab several keychains, tokens to bring back for family and friends, from one of the many mobile vendors catering to the tourists. Just as I pulled out my wallet to pay, a police officer walked into view and the vendor grabbed my money and returned my change in the swiftest action I have ever seen before dashing off. I was left dazed and confused, wondering if the seller was unlicensed or undocumented, or if the merchandise was stolen. I never did find out.
As we wandered near the Eiffel, the scent of warm fresh bread caught our attention and we realized we were starving. We walked over to the food stall wafting the tempting scent and each bought a baguette, slathered with warm salty butter and stuffed with a provolone-like cheese and meat closely approximating salami. It was delicious.
I am always astounded how the simplest, most humble foods are always so satisfying and delicious everywhere I travel. In Puerto Rico I can’t leave without Mallorca, the fluffy sweet bread stuffed with ham and cheese. In Jamaica, their national dish ackee and saltfish, an originally working class staple, is one of the first things I eat when I hope off the plane. I don’t need fancy Michelin Star restaurants to have an excellent meal, and in the heart of Paris, the city with the second most Michelin Stars in the world, I ate street food and loved it.
We thought we ought to get at least some of the food France is famous for however, and meandered down the road to a busy corner café to try French pastries. I must stress that when in Paris looking for pastries, it is imperative that you choose a busy corner café, not just any café, to maximize your people watching potential and your overall view. We took French coffee and nibbled on a smorgasbord of croissants, eclairs, macarons, madeleines, mille-feuille, and other sweet, flaky, delectable morsels I simply cannot pronounce. I preferred the chocolate pastries over fruity ones. Under normal circumstances I try to stay away from chocolate. But I couldn’t resist. After all, when in Paris…
As we ate we took in in the busy French street scenes, and incredible architecture all around us. Bicycles and scooters whizzed by weaving in and out of the hectic Parisian traffic. It is one of my favorite memories of the trip.
In a last attempt to take in as much of the city as possible, we hopped on a tour bus. For two last hours we whizzed through some of the city’s most famous sites: Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, the famous Champs Elysees boulevard lined with cafes and luxury shops, the Arc de Triomphe, The Place Concorde with its splendid fountains and looming obelisk, amongst others. Though we were exhausted and worn, we made mental notes of places worth coming back for and by the two hours were up had more or less planned the itinerary of our hypothetical return visit.
We returned on the Eurostar satisfied and exhausted, napping on the two hour train ride back to London. I am excited about the prospect of returning to Paris, perhaps sometime next year. And this time, I will stay more than a day.