One says that Paris is the city of love or the city of light, the city of culture and arts. In reality, well, it is that and so much more. It is the city where you find everything, eternal everything… Out of nowhere, on a rainy and grey afternoon I started to think of Paris, so I decided to take a small suitcase and go there again. I jumped in the car before the sun was up, determined to experience that city like never before. It would be my 4th visit there, so it was about time to see why do people brag about this place, I thought.
I must admit, it has been hard to find that real connection with the place until now. Between the hoards of tourists, the museum rush and the rudeness of waiters, it has been almost impossible to catch the Parisian charm. Until today. It has been quite a visual and emotional trip, which proved beneficial beyond words.
I lost my steps in the maze-like-neighbourhoods, sipped coffee in the autumn sun, stopped and listened “the buzz”, walked the parks, admired the dazzling architectural details… and so many other things that I never had time to do in my previous trips. Small things, simple things that made me feel so far away from everything and at the end… enriched. This is how I experienced Paris (Part I).
Driving in Paris: THE BIG NO-NO
Driving in Paris is considered a “capital mistake” for travelers. And I can confirm that. But since TGV would have charged me 200 € for a ticket, I decided to opt for the car. In addition, this would contribute to my “local experience“, I thought.
I am used with the slow and calm Belgian way of driving. And after experiencing traffic at its peak in Paris, believe me: Belgians are kind behind the wheel. They don’t constantly cross red traffic lights, the pedestrians don’t jump in front of cars, the vehicles don’t literally bump into other vehicles to make space on the lane. Well, all these things do happen(ed to me) in Paris. More about how I panicked and survived the Parisian traffic in a future post.
But then all the other things happened and things took the right turn….
Just drop off that map!
I was guided through Paris by two friends who knew the city very well. But at some point I was left alone and decided to… well, just get lost. And while at the beginning I was unease when taking a wrong turn, I managed to compose myself and let it go. The best places I’ve seen were the ones I found without knowing where I go.
It was challenging especially for my over-reactive personality and my too-well-developed instinct of preservation. But, as the time passed and as I was getting further away from the places I knew, my mind also got slowly away from the daily unsettledness and started indulging in architectural details, houses, courtyards, colourful streets, music and art shops. This was the real break for me. I’ve put my life and my problems on hold and let all those dazzling things fill me in. And in a weird way, and for the first time, I’ve seen myself fitting with Paris.
It worked like magic: all of a sudden my rhythm, my hair, the colours I was wearing, all resonated with the place I was in.
Get “artsy” in Paris
Of course, you have plenty of museums and we all know there is not enough time in this life to see everything one would like to. And Paris is just the right place to feel so small compared to the historical world-wide-known pieces. Just to put things into perspective, Louvre has 652K sqm of galleries. No normal traveler will ever be able to see the whole museum in detail.
There is simply not enough time. Going even further, Wikipedia counts about 150 museums in Paris. So, yes, you need to take time to see the museums of Paris, get artsy, spend time in the wonderful world of galleries and art. Paris is able to link and translate your passions, your interests (no matter what those are) into art.
Not to miss: when in Paris, go and visit Brancusi’s studio, part of Centre Pompidou. Brancusi, of Romanian origin, is the patriarch of modern sculpture. He worked and lived for most of his life in France and at the end of the life, in his will, he handed down his entire studio to the French state. A must-see for art lovers.
SPOTTED: jaw-dropping contemporary dance & Madonna’s ex-boyfriend
Paris is also known for having a demanding audience, hence very good artistic acts. My dream of seeing a ballet or an opera representation in Paris got vanished this time, as tickets for events like this are sold out long time in advance. However, I ended up seeing one of the most popular shows from France right now: Les Trois Mousquetairs.
I have been taken to the other side of Paris for “a show” (had no idea what it was). A two-hours show, combining music, dance, light effects, all with a taste of humour.
If the music did not really get to my soul, I have to say I was deeply impressed by the dancers’ performance and the choreography. Over 50 performers on the stage, all perfectly syncronised, nothing left to improvisation. As boring as this might sound, it was anything but that… As a total beginner in the art of dance, I was absolutely mesmerized (and alienated my friend during and after the show with comments on the choreography).
OK, truth be told, also… I mostly enjoyed watching “Athos” performing absolutely staggering on stage. Doing my after-math research (to see why the big fuss around the show I have just seen), it turns out that my favourite musquetaire is a very famous dancer. And…. Madonna’s ex-boyfriend.
(sorry for the video quality, but it’s worth seeing….)
The night-bus ride
Around midnight, I was again dragged a bit against my will to a ride in the night-bus. The metro would have been so much faster, but my friend insisted a night bus ride in the city of light is not something to miss out. Without having an exact destination, we took a bus from Porte de Versailles.
And what a ride that was!!! I pressed my nose on the bus window, opened my eyes and enjoyed what the city had to offer. Saturday night in Paris is a show by itself, with people filling the streets and the terraces, with big yellow lights shining on the big avenues, with small streets filled with glasses of red wine and laughters.
Definitely a must-do when in Paris….
The next morning I woke up in a little hotel room, pulled the curtains and saw a perfectly blue sky and a perfect autumnal sun. In the excitement of the moment, I quickly got dressed (with my sweater on the wrong side), picked my colourful Romanian scarf and went out in the October sun. 10 minutes later I was ordering pancakes on a little terrace, at the corner of 1st Arrondissement and perfection. I closed my eyes, as the sun caressed me and, as in a dream, I found myself enjoying the noise of the city, the little talks, the glory of autumn, the rhythm of people walking, the dynamics of life in Paris.
That morning I just felt like a little girl in the dazzling world of grownups: all the things that nobody around seemed to notice were so pretty. No dramas, no heartbreaks, no issues, no setbacks. Everything was smooth and beautiful. When I felt ready to continue my road, I realised I didn’t know where I want to go.
And then I remembered what the White Rabbit said:
Alice: what road do I take?
White Rabbit: Where do you want to go?
Alice: I don’t know…
White Rabbit: Then it really doesn’t matter, does it?!
Oh, how wise that rabbit….