Ah, Paris. It was my first visit, and after Lyon, Strasbourg and Reims, the culmination of a tour of French libraries.
I confess I didn’t experience the fabled, unequivocal “falling in love with Paris” in the four short days I was there. It’s a city of 12 million people, plus what feels like a million tourists clogging the banks of the Seine. Smoggy, congested, stinking of urine; its infrastructure strained, its social tensions evident.
And yet… there’s a reason why it’s packed with tourists. Its iconic monuments really are magnificent. (And massive. Words you never hear in Paris: “Gee, I thought it would be bigger”.) Its gallery walls are lined with one extraordinary masterpiece after another… and then another. There really are incredibly chic people walking and cycling the streets with their beautiful shoes, cigarettes and baguettes.
I think I was a little overwhelmed. I stopped blogging – I couldn’t process it, and didn’t want to waste time in the hotel. I walked and walked and took photos and sat and looked and then I walked some more. At every turn, another Place de la Something, another statue, another monumental building.
I got up at dawn to see Notre Dame without the crowds. (I've wanted to visit ever since I learned about flying buttresses in Year 7 art.)
At Sacré-Cœur Basilica, I can’t tell you how excited I was to walk down the Monmartre stairs. Here’s why: a seminal film of my childhood. “We’re going to win, Max! We’re going to win!”
After visiting the Musée d’Orsay, my brain was in complete meltdown. That evening, I drew a biro sketch on hotel notepaper depicting my state of mind.
I stumbled upon the Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, and went in on a whim, not knowing what was inside. You enter through an innocuous side entrance, and as you work your way up from the basement, the baroque decor gets more and more outrageous. I was gasping aloud every time I walked into a room. Finally, standing on the balcony listening to a young busker sing on the street below, I got teary. Here I was in Paris, dazzled by the opulence of Napoleon III, on the other side of the world from my family, traffic whizzing by, looking out on a vast sky and down the wide boulevard to the rooftop of the Louvre. I was overwhelmed with emotion.
On my final night I went on a cycle tour through the city. We started off riding in traffic, our group taking over the lane whenever our American guide raised her hand and shouted “DOMINATE!!!” As it got darker, we moved to bike paths, parks and plazas, freewheeling around the Louvre’s pyramid. I finished the evening with a boat ride down the Seine and a final look at the Eiffel Tower, before catching the metro home at midnight.
The next morning I was off on the Eurostar to London. Au revoir, Paris.