Paris: it's that quintessentially European city where it seems like everyone wants to go to. It's the setting for so many movies and books and is associated with all things romantic, and the Eiffel Tower is one of the most (if not the most) recognizable buildings in the world. And of all the time I've spent overseas, I still hadn't gotten to Paris.
I held it at arm's length, thinking it sounded too good to be true, and assumed that I'd probably be disappointed with it if we went. And people always seemed to say that the French were so rude. Was all the hype really worth it? Were Frenchmen really so rude? It sounded too cliche or something in my mind, honestly. But in trying to decide a few places we really wanted to go before heading back to the U.S., we decided on Paris; it just felt like it was a place we both needed and wanted to see. And so we ended our year and a half of living overseas in the City of Love. We were not disappointed!
We got tons and tons of recommendations from friends who have either lived in or traveled to Paris, and while we did seek out a few things on those lists, we did a lot of wandering. Partly, we were tired, and partly we just wanted to make it our own. It's easy to get overwhelmed in a huge new city, thinking you have to see everything. First of all, you can't possibly see everything anyway, and if you try, you'll just end up frustrated. I've become a much more relaxed traveler and am pretty OK with walking, sitting, people watching, and sipping a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe. It's Europe, y'all: embrace it.
So my general solution? Crepes. Boutiques. Book stores. Walking. You can't go too wrong with crepe stands (I could eat crepes for every meal!) and then taking your crepe to a bench and people watching. It being the last time for quite some time that we'll be taking a weekend trip in Europe (I know, I know...poor us), we wanted to just soak it all in, see a few key spots, and simply enjoy being together and reflecting over the past 18 months.
A college friend told me that Sainte-Chapelle, above, is one of her very favorite spots in Paris, and so we headed there first. I couldn't believe how stunning the stained glass is! The many windows and the small panes of glass that make them up tell the story of the Bible. Standing in Sainte-Chapelle in the late afternoon made for perfect lighting and lovely pictures. It's so impressive.
Shakespeare & Company was a must-see on our list because it is a huge English bookstore. I had to snag a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, about his time spent in Paris amongst writers and artists. The bookstore itself is nice, but very crowded. Stop in if you're in Paris!
Then there's the Eiffel Tower. You've seen it on everything from hand towels to bad "art" in Walmart, but when you see it in real life it takes your breath away. We found ourselves walking through Paris, kind of forgetting that the Eiffel Tower was there, and then we'd look up and lo and behold, there it was! It took me by surprise a few times. At night it's magical, lit up and sparkling. We decided not to go up in the tower (if you do, though, buy tickets in advance!), but instead to go up in the Tour (Tower) Montparnasse, a super ugly building from which you can see all of Paris and get wonderful views of the Eiffel Tower (but not the ugly building!).
Instead of touring the Louvre, we went to Musee L'Orangerie, where we saw some of Monet's waterlily paintings. The two room, nearly 360-degree-surrounding paintings were so, so lovely. I loved the display. Did you know that when the paintings originally came out for the public, people weren't so impressed?
If there's anything we learned from one weekend it Paris, it was this: we have to come back. There's so much to see, and we didn't have enough time. Paris is begging to be explored and there are still more beautiful bookstores to wander around, another crepe to eat, and more art to look at before lingering over a delicious French meal and a glass of wine. But we're so, so glad that we had three days to enjoy this city. Paris, je t'aime!
PS: All of the French people we came in contact with with so kind. It made me want to learn more than a few words of French for next time, whenever that may be. :)