Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Paris: Joie de vivre

What is it about Paris? Is it the style, the macaroons, the certain--dare I say--je ne sais quoi? That special something that keeps it a nearly mythical metropolis, the stuff of fashion magazines and artsy dreams? To discover that quoi, my friends, you'll just have to go and experience it yourself.

When I found out I was studying abroad in Spain, there were two place I knew I was going to visit. Paris. Italy. Boom. Boom. There was never a doubt in my mind. I, like most of the world, was in love with it before I even arrived. After seeing movies like Moulin Rouge and Midnight in Paris, and obtaining an adoration for classic French jazz, Paris was a legendary place in my mind; full of beautiful buildings, famous artwork, and fantastic food.
We flew into Beauvais, which is about an hour outside of the city, and took an overpriced bus into the center. As we shivered beneath our coats, Nicole and I slowly grew more excited as the countryside morphed into suburbs, and then--Paris!

Except, it definitely didn't look like this. We saw the infamous tour Eiffel, but it was through the hazy curtain of snow flurries. That's right, folks. It was around 28 degrees (F) when the bus dropped us off at the bus station, where we waited for Nicole's aunt to pick us up. At first, it was indescribably exciting. We were in a bus station--in France! In Paris! The snow was falling daintily around us and travelers were bustling around, speaking in French. And then, reality began to sink in. I started losing feeling in my toes. Then it was my face. Pretty soon, my fingers weren't bending anymore. With our last euro, Nicole bought a tiny espresso shot to share that was cold by the time she brought it back to me. I know I speak in hyperbole, but I mean it when I say that this was truly The Coldest I Have Ever Been In My Life. You have to understand that coming from southern Spain, we had brought our "coats." But let's be honest here, they were light cardigans in comparison to the frigid temperatures we found ourselves in.
Parisians are like, "That's not a coat." 

While Paris in the snow is certainly enchanting, I would highly advise against going in mid-February, or anytime in February, honestly, unless you have a serious parka. Eventually, her aunt did arrive and we were brought back to life by the careful licking of an adorable bulldog named Madame.

As we drove through the streets into the 16th arrondissement (what the major districts of the city are called), I truly began to see Paris. It was just as I had imagined; tall, but not too tall, sandstone buildings, artwork etched into every corner. Wrought iron gates guarded the windows, curling and intertwining into a labyrinth of metal. In this city, art is everywhere. It is not only sequestered to the palatial museums--you can find it on a street corner or on a bridge.

Like the Alexander III was my favorite.

Of course, it is also in the palatial museums. Later this same day, now prepared for the cold, Nicole and I headed out to the Louvre, where we had free admission with our passports (Student win!).  It was a long walk from the apartment, but it was along the Champs-Elysées, so we didn't really notice. I first knew Paris in the gray light of twilight, when even the dismal cast of a snowy sky couldn't leech the beauty from it.

We crossed into Place de la Concorde, passed the illuminated Ferris wheel and a casual ancient obelisk from Egypt, and walked through the Tulieries, littered with sculptures.

Hark! An 3,300 year old obelisk! 
I had been told that one simply can't do the Louvre in one day, and I didn't really believe it until I entered. It is enormous. The Louvre used to be a palace back in the day (I learned this from The Three Musketeers) and it is a magnificent building. If you only have a day to take on the Louvre, make sure that you do two things 1) Pick up a guide, 2) Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. There is literally no way that you will be able to see everything you want to in one day. Not possible.

I would love to tell you I took my own advice, but like they say, experience is the best teacher. We didn't actually find these guides until after we were finished, but we still were able to successfully wander past the Venus di Milo and...drum roll please...the Mona Lisa!  

That's front of the Mona Lisa!
There is definitely a large amount of hype surrounding this painting, and to be honest, I adopted the hipster position of "It has to be overrated." The Mona Lisa is the centerpiece of a giant wall in a brightly-lit chamber. And if that description didn't help you find it, just look for the huge crowd of people. When I first saw it, the first thing I noticed was its size. For all of its fame, you'd expect it to be the size of a mural, but it's actually fairly small. My next reaction was awe. It was the Mona Lisa, after all. Da Vinci painted this. How amazing is that?! We continued our tour around the museum and after 2 1/2 hours, we felt sufficiently cultured and headed back to the apartment for a delicious French dinner. 

The next morning we set out with Nicole's aunt and her classy French friend through a farmer's market down the street. We passed cheese, crepes, bread, fresh flowers, knick knacks, clothes, chickens.

The Parisians bustled around us, bundled up and going about their business on a Saturday morning; all the while, we gaped at everything as if we'd never seen a farmer's market before. Afterward, we strolled along the Seine and stood beneath the imposingly regal Eiffel Tower. 

Yet another point of contention amongst Parisians and the world, I happen to like it. And even you don't care to see it, too bad, because it's visible from basically everywhere. From the Eiffel Tower, we wandered past the bouquinsites, selling posters and CDs along out of their green boxes alongside the Seine and onto the Ile de Cité, the little island planted in the middle of the river. Here is where we uncovered the mysteries of Notre Dame, which happened to be displaying its new bells at the time. 

One of Quasimodo's friends.
Notre Dame is a great Gothic cathedral with incredible stained-glass windows...I wouldn't miss it! Our next stop was the Musée d'Orsay, the temple of the Impressionists. Housed in a converted train station, this museum contains classics by Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir (among many others). This is a much more manageable museum, full of classics. Bonus: the main corridor of the museum is stuffed with statues of every shape and size.

The rest of the day was spent the best way you can pass the afternoon in Paris--strolling. We stopped in  a market and bought cheese and almost made it past a bakery, when a window display of magnificent colors caught our eye. Meringues. Gigantic, magnificent meringues. So we did what any true traveler would do--we went in and bought one! It was the size, by Nicole's approximation, of an adult male hedgehog. It was violet flavored and turned our mouths violently purple. Along with the meringue, we bought baguettes, which we carried with us from Saint Germain, all the way to the Eiffel Tower. Snow began to fall again and this time, it really was enchanting. We made it the Tower just as the sun set and it began to sparkle and we paused to take pictures and enjoy the lovely, if chilly evening.

Paris really is an incredible city. It's a thriving metropolis, architectural gem, hub of influential culture, and unparalleled cuisine. How could I not fall in love? Although I was only there for two days, I had an amazing experience and would return in a heartbeat. This time, however, I think I'll go when it's a little warmer.

Au revior,

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