It’s amazing how a few images from a mediocre pocket camera can immediately transport my mind thousands of miles across the Atlantic to a place I’ve visited only once, at the start of this summer. The season is coming to an end this week, but the memories and pictures are always here to take me back. If you’ve got a few minutes you can travel with me. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about the depressing dollars to Euros exchange rate.
Paris is called the “City of Light”. It’s also a place I’ve dreamed about most of my life. Someone asked me “Why Paris? All I could think of is, “Why not?” After spending nearly two weeks there I now have dozens of reasons that may someday take me back.
I was a little nervous stepping out of the Airport wondering how I’d find the shuttle vehicle that was suppose to take me to my hotel. Imagine my excitement when I spotted a young man standing right outside the terminal holding a sign with my name on it. (I was too loaded down with luggage to dig out the camera) I did get his picture when we got to the hotel. The drivers name was Frank, and his English was excellent. He said he taught himself.
Frank dropped me off at the Hotel Mecure Paris Opera Garnier on rue de l’lsly, right in the heart of the tourist district. The hotel looked just like the Google image I had viewed online many times after booking the trip with a local Travel agent.
Everyone had warned me to expect very small, even cramped accommodations. So, I was prepared to sleep in a closet sized room, instead I was given the key to my suite. It was actually two rooms, with two baths, two TV’s and a mini-refrigerator stocked with complimentary drinks (no extra charge). I’m already loving Paris.
Having arrived so early I had plenty of time to get out and see the area around my hotel. My walk took me to the nearby Square Louis XVI. It reminded me a little of Bienville Square in downtown Mobile. There were lots of shops and restaurants in the area. I found a small store where I picked up some snacks and a bottle of wine for my room. This vacation is officially on.
It was raining the next morning. After the complimentary buffet breakfast I asked the hotel clerk what she recommended on a rainy day. The clerk suggested the Louvre. No problem, since I already had the museum, monument, and transportation passes I had ordered ahead of time.
I actually stood in the long line leading into the museum for an hour before I realized there was a separate entrance at the front that would let me bypass the line. Oh well, if my French had been better I could have asked.
The inverted pyramid in the lobby of the famous museum reminded me of the closing pages of Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code”. Was I really standing on the site where Christianity’s biggest secret surrounding the Holy Grail was hidden? I doubted it, but it was a good spot for a picture.
You could spend days in the Louvre which is divided into to three major wings, and still not see everything which includes 35,000 pieces of art spread throughout 645,000 square feet. I decided to give it my best shot in one day.
I started with the Denon Wing home to the world’s most famous painting, da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. The fictional character Dr. Robert Landon found an important clue behind the portrait in Brown’s novel. In the book the scene takes place after museum hours. I guess Brown knew no one gets within 20 feet of the painting during the day. I managed to squeeze through the crowd to the roped off area for a quick snapshot before moving on.
I wasn’t disappointed with my tour of the wing. It includes a beautiful collection from ancient Egypt, as well as Greek and Roman Antiquities. This is also the wing where I discovered the most inspiring piece of art for me.
The “Winged Victory” sits atop the Daru staircase. It’s breathtaking even at a distance. The headless statue depicts the Goddess Nike descending from Olympus. I don’t know why I found the piece so moving. Maybe her spread wings symbolize the freedom I’ve embraced in my own life.
There’s another famous beauty in the Sully Wing, the armless Venus de Milo. The sculpture courtyard in Richelieu wing was also a major treat.
By the time I made it back to the hotel late that evening I felt like I’d run a marathon. I was too tired to search for French food. I had dinner at a nearby Thai Restaurant.
The next morning I took the Metro to Pac de Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement. It’s where a group gathers for Qigong every morning. It’s also where I met my new friend Jean Luc. I arrived early, and wasn’t sure I had at the right place. Jean Luc overheard me questioning a couple of Asian women who apparently didn’t understand my poor French. He informed me I was at the right spot. During the conversation that followed I learned he was a retired opera singer who had visited the U-S several times. It didn’t take him long to ask if I’d like to join him at a dance party that evening.
Well, I remember the warnings about talking to strangers, and I saw the Liam Neeson movie “Taken.” It was about the kidnap of two young girls in Paris who foolishly accepted a party invitation. Of course, I’m not a young girl, so I think I let him finish asking the question before I said “Qui”.
It was a chance to experience Paris with real Parisians which was my plan all along.
Jean Luc took tango dance lessons. His instructor put on the class so the students could show off their skills. After the dance demonstrations, it was time to boogie. I had a wonderful time. Everyone’s English was much better than my French. One man was such a good dancer he made me think I could dance as he twirled me around the floor. I must say I felt very welcomed.
We stayed until about 2:30 in the morning. Jean Luc drove me back to the hotel in his prized classic convertible. It attracted a lot more attention than I did, but I can’t remember the name. I think he called it a Dochivo?
Whatever it was it came in handy over the next few days. After sightseeing on my own during the day, Jean Luc and I took in some sights at night.
We had “cream” on the River Seine, and enjoyed an outdoor entertainer. I really like this area of France, near Notre Dame. I came back at least three times, once just to sit at a quiet spot on the river.
Over the next few days I visited the Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, and made my way down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.
I went searching for the famous Phantom at Opera Garnier. I didn’t find him, or maybe I was so awed by the opulence I just didn’t notice the lonely apparition.
My trip to Versailles with Jean Luc included a visit to St. Germain, and a picnic at the Queens garden.
Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank was my favorite park. It’s beautiful, well mantained, and they do reserve a section for picnics on the grass.
The view from atop Tour Montparnasse, the tallest skyscraper in Paris gave me a birds-eye panoramic view of the historic city.
Thanks to Jean Luc I got to see a lot of Paris at night when the lights are on. The Eiffel Tower sparkles for five minutes at midnight. And even my camera captures the beauty of Sacre-Coeur after dark.
Before I left for my I trip, it seemed almost everyone told me to be prepared for rude Parisians. I don’t know what part of Paris they were referring too. I never encountered anything resembling rudeness.
It was more like a whole lot of southern hospitality with a European twist.