I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of Paris. I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s because I kept hearing how awesome it was. You know when people keep telling you a movie or food is unbelievably awesome, and when you finally try it, it doesn’t live up to the hype? That’s what I was afraid of happening in Paris.
The final stop on our mini-European tour with my in-laws was 2 nights in Paris. Not a whole lot of time to see the city, but enough to get a taste. And that taste confirmed something: I’m an idiot for being skeptical. Paris is amazing.
Of course, we saw the normal tourist things, such as the Eifel Tower, the Louvre (and the Mona Lisa), the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the Champs Elysees. Those were great, but it was just exploring the city that made me love Paris even more.
One night, we had heard of a wine festival that was going on in the Montmatre district, so we headed up there. We never did find the festival, but that area was so alive with restaurants, shops, theaters, and people! They were everywhere, even though the weather wasn’t great. They weren’t buzzing about in the way that Londoners do, but rather just walking around enjoying themselves. As we walked down a street and turned a corner, I was blinded by the red neon of the Moulin Rouge.
On our second day, as we explored the area around our hotel, we came upon a candy shop, and went inside. It turns out that this particular candy shop was A la Mere de Famille, a family-run candy shop that has been in business since 1761, at the same location.
On our last day, we attended the “International mass” at Notre Dame. It featured a grand total of 2 readings in English. The rest of the mass was in French. Not very international if you ask me. From there, we wandered around Paris for a few hours, killing time until our train departed. We somehow made it to the Musee D’Orsay, and the wonderfully unique fountain outside.
My father-in-law and I noticed a number of French military men with large semi-automatic guns wandering the street and giving everyone the once-over. We had seen other military like this at the Eifel Tower and at Charles de Galle airport, but they seemed very out of place here in the square in front of the museum. We were on a pedestrian-only street, but there was a car parked in front of us. Out of the building next to the parked car came another military man, carrying a small white furry puppy. As we walked past, I could see an older man in a suit, and an older woman very nicely dressed, being escorted out of the building. The man looked familiar. As I watched him get into the back seat of the car, I realized that it was former French President Jacques Chirac. 3 days in Paris, and I was already closer to a French President than 30 years living in the US had got me to an American President.
After grabbing our bags from our hotel, we made the 10 minute walk to Gare du Nord Station for our train. We had heard that this particular station isn’t in the nicest area of town, but had had no problems on our arrival. As we neared the station, my wife noticed a woman squatting down in the middle of the sidewalk. Taking a crap. Again, she was doing this in the middle of a very busy sidewalk, and nobody seemed to care. A few feet further up the street, I noticed a man relieving himself against the side of an open magazine stand. Now, living in Amsterdam, I’m no stranger to seeing men urinate on the street. Usually, they try to find a canal or a private corner, but this guy was surrounded by people walking to and from the station. Again, nobody cared. At least it was a rather unique way to end our Paris trip.
Knowing that Paris is only a few short hours away by train, I definitely want to go back, especially in the spring. I wouldn’t mind going back around Christmas either. It’s a beautiful city, and the French were nothing but polite and friendly to us the entire time. Don’t be like me and delay visiting the city. Go now. It’s worth it.