I heard the expression “fluctuat nec mergtur” for the first time from our French tour guide while waiting in the line for the Eiffel tower. It is the motto of the city of Paris and basically means: “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink.” Our tour guide told us that this motto had become very popular again after the Paris terrorist attacks with many Parisians getting tattoos of the motto as an act of patriotism and solidarity. He was clearly still shaken by what had happened and it was difficult to forget with the heightened security at all of the tourist spots and menacing figures holding machine guns pacing up and down. But despite my iPhone being stolen by a professional pick-pocketing syndicate, I really loved my time in Paris.
TOP 10 OF PARIS:
1. The Art
Paris was always a magnet for artists with many foreign artists/poets/writers like van Gogh or Picasso drawn to live in the City of Lights to collaborate with other great artists. The most famous museum in Paris is the Louvre with the most famous of all the art being da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The “selfie” sticks have been banned at the Louvre after an incident with a painting, but it didn’t deter the hordes of tourists crowding around to snap a pic of the famous ambiguous face. But there are so many beautiful art museums and galleries around Paris: Musee d’Orsay, Centre George Pompidou, Musee Picasso, Musee de l’Orangerie etc. that it was impossible not to just gorge yourself on the art.
The most famous church in Paris is the Notre-Dame and it is a perfect example of gothic architecture where the church was designed as an educational building for the illiterate masses with biblical lessons displayed through the statues and the stained glass windows. But the building was set to be scrapped until it was saved and become iconic through the literary efforts of Victor Hugo who wrote the novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” published in 1831 with the express purpose of restoring the church.
Probably more spectacular is the breath-taking church of Saint Chappelle with its bold, colourful interior and massive bright stain-glass windows almost all of which have had the original glass preserved. I was booked to see a classical music concert in Saint Chappelle on my last night before I had to attend to my cell phone crises. It’s on my bucket list for the next time.
And then there is the magnificent white Sacre-Coeur perched on the hilltop of Montmartre looking down on the city in its splendor.
The food in Paris is absolutely delicious from the cheese, pastries, baguettes, macaroons, charcuterie, chocolate and wine. I went on a food tour of Montmartre on my first night which ended in a wine cellar with far more wine than food. On my bike tour of the Place of Versailles, we stocked up on a lunch of baguettes, cheese, fruit, meat and again more wine at the Versailles food market before our picnic feast (worthy of kings and queens) on the grass next to the canals. I also loved my neighbourhood bakery around the corner (apparently on the good ones feature the name “boulangerie” on the outside) and it was a real treat to visit it almost every day.
4. Paris views
A lot of the tourist sites I visited had amazing panoramic views of Paris: Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame and the Arc de Triomphe and were well worth the inordinate number of steps to climb to see it. Plus you can walk off the delicious Paris pastries.
Paris was substantially renovated in the 19th century by Napoleon’s nephew Napoleon III but a lot of the older areas such as the Latin Quarter and the Marais District have remained. I recommend a meandering stroll through these quaint areas with their narrow streets stopping off for a coffee or a shop that takes your fancy.
Paris is known for its plethora of high fashion shops and these were all evident on the famous street, the Champs-Elysees, that leads off from the Arc de Triomphe. The elegance of the shops were, however, diminished by the number of beggars lying prostrate on the streets holding out plastic cups that the people managed to walk around or over. But there are also gorgeous vintage, antique, book and pastry shops on every corner. I spent some time wondering around the best little bookshop I have ever been to, Shakespeare & Co, which stocks English language books and has a reading room filled with old books for reading (not for sale), another room with a piano and a wall where people post their confessions or search for missed connections on post-it notes. But I couldn’t really get these beggars out of my mind.
My apartment was near the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens which has been described as Paris’ Central Park. I really enjoyed walking around the Tuileries with its long tree-lined avenues, fountains, and ponds with green fold-up chairs around the perimeter for people to sit and just be. It felts like the quintessential Parisian experience.
Paris was a city of royalty and there are a number of palaces around but the most magnificent has to be the Palace of Versailles built by Louis XIV with its lavish Hall of Mirrors and sculptured gardens. It’s an expansive area and includes the Petit Palace which was a favourite of Marie-Antoinette and where she built her quirky Normandy village as her own amusement park. It is definitely worth a day-trip outside of Paris to see and I enjoyed my bicycle tour although I was almost too tired to see the main attraction of the interior of the Palace by the end of it.
Paris is a pretty compact city with most of the main tourist sites being within walking distance of each other. Walking allows you to take in all the sights and sounds (and try to avoid all the beggars/pick-pocketers) and capture the spirit of the place. And if not walking, the public transport system of the busses and the metro are extensive and very easy to navigate.
10. The people
And finally, despite being a “victim” of a theft, I loved the people of Paris. I thought I would struggle with my limited French but everyone was happy to speak to me in English and were very helpful. The only place where there was some difficulty was in the police station but I was able to use my charade skills to mime out what had happened. Fortunately, there was a standard form in English that they provided for tourists where I could tick the boxes to indicate what had happened (pick-pocketing), of what (cell phone) and even where (a museum). I also was able to have a delightful lunch with a former New York colleague of mine (Amy) where she ordered for us in perfect French. She agreed that the Parisians had gotten more open to English in the last few years but that they were still stereotypically rude and she has had to learnt to be rude back in order to get anything done.