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I fell in love with Paris at first sight. While walking on the cobbled streets of Paris, I came across high end fashion stores, quaint old bookshops, charming cathedrals, architectural splendors, lush green gardens, cafes full of patrons, and brasseries oozing with class and style. The French spend their weekends lounging in the gardens by the fountains, or partying in the open on the quays of the Seine. The Parisian free spirit is something to envy.
My husband and I visited Paris in June last summer. Summers in France are mostly sunny and pleasant, with occasional rain. Carry a waterproof jacket no matter when you are going to Paris. Although we did not do a lot of planning in advance for this trip, theFrommer’s Guide to Paris was quite helpful. We exhausted the list of the top attractions in the guidebook during our visit, yet there was still a lot to be discovered and experienced.
We stayed at the Marriott in Champs Elysees simply because that was one of the hotels I could book using reward points. The experience was similar to that of the Marriott at Times Square in New York—always crowded and buzzing with energy. Even at 2 a.m. you can hear live bands playing on the streets, young Parisians partying in the open, and restaurants packed with tourists. If I hadn’t had the reward points, though, I’d rather stay somewhere in the Latin Quarters or Montmartre to get a better sense of real French culture.
Perhaps it is the child in me that is never jet lagged when I am vacationing. We checked in at the hotel and relaxed for a couple of hours, but the energy on the street was too tempting and we decided to step out and merge into the sea of tourists. We were surprised to find out that in the summers the sun sets at 11 p.m. in Paris.
The first evening in Paris was spent walking up and down one of the most famous street in the world—the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. To be honest, it was no different than walking down Fifth Avenue in New York—Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, Gucci, and Chanel, all lined up in a row. The only difference is that this historic street is capped at one end by the Arc de Triomphe and at the other by the Place de la Concorde—which leads on into the Jardin des Tuileries and then goes further on to the Louvre. The view from the center of the street is grand (beware of the traffic though!).
Unlike New York, Paris is not at all intimidating. After exploring the Arc de Triomphe from every possible angle, we wandered along one of the streets around the Arc called Avenue de Victor Hugo, a charming street with a fine canopy of trees, fancy cars, designer boutiques, and upscale dining options. Far away from the crowds of Champs Elysees, we were now among the locals. Pangs of hunger made us retrace our steps and we started our hunt for food. We walked by a couple of restaurants, trying to look for something light on the stomach and the pocket and finally came across a little café that had just what we were looking for—French onion soup and light sandwich on a baguette. Service is poor in Paris. So be prepared for extended dinners and rude waiters.
It was time to wrap up our first day in the city of lights. Paris had already impressed me with its energy.
The next morning we decided to walk to the Louvre. On the way, we admired the series of historical monuments—the Grand and Petit Palais (grand and small palaces), Place de la Concorde, and the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden). This is one of Paris’ most visited gardens thanks to its central location between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. There are several ice cream parlors and cafés on the way to keep you entertained. Paris also has a well-connected metro system.
The Louvre has been around since the 12th century and has served as a residence for François I and, later, the magnificent palace of the Sun King, Louis XIV. It was transformed into a museum in 1793. Today, the Louvre houses one of the greatest art collections ever. Some of its notable attractions are, of course, the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. There is a wall right outside the hall that houses the Mona Lisa which carries all of Leonardo Da Vinci’s oeuvre in a row. It was tough to move away. We spent over six hours at the Louvre and felt that was not enough. There were certain sections that we simply scanned because there was too much to see and too little time. If you are an artist or a connoisseur of art, make sure you keep a day aside just for the Louvre.
As we came out of the Louvre, we were now walking alongside the Seine. The quays of the Seine are like the ghats of the Ganges. You can see a lot of Paris by simply walking along the river.
Our next destination was a bridge that has captured the interest of photographers through the ages—Pont Neuf. From the bridge, the view down the river is perhaps the most memorable in Paris. The bridge looked even better at night, when its detailed architecture was illuminated. Paris is divided into two by the river Seine. Perhaps the difference is more subtle now but, once, it must have been easy to distinguish between the Paris of the rich and the Paris of the common people.
We crossed the bridge and started walking toward our next destination—the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame. The intricate sculptures on the doors of Notre Dame are splendid. I stood at the door of the church where Napoleon was crowned king and looked at the stories depicted in the carvings. Notre Dame is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
Right across the river from the Notre Dame is a small bookshop, “Shakespeare and Company,” that featured in the movie Before Sunset. It is a quaint store with a collection of books from around the world that attracts tourists and locals alike. As I walked outside the shop, the night slowly unfolded, and Notre Dame appeared even more appealing under the full moon.
Before we called it a night, we decided to go back and capture the glass pyramid of the Louvre. It was a wise call. The palace that attracts millions of visitors during the day stood there alone and quiet. There were other amateur photographers like us, who were busy adjusting their lenses and camera settings to capture the reflections of the pyramid in the pool that surrounds it.
The next day we decided to head to Versailles for a day trip to explore the famous Palace of Versailles. Although the palace was quite magnificent, I was left unimpressed by the experience. It might be because it was a rainy day and the lines for tickets were four hours long.
After returning to Paris we visited the Musée Marmottan-Monet and enjoyed the relaxed surroundings of a private residential museum.
The next morning was reserved for exploring the Montmartre district. Frommers has a very nice walking tour for this neighborhood that I highly recommend. The tour captures the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, Moulin Rouge, and the cemeteries of Montmartre where Ogden Nash and many other eminent figures are buried. The 180 euro ticket to the Moulin Rouge seemed a bit extravagant, so we decided to explore the neighborhood and enjoy some fish and chips and chilled beer as we inhaled the culture and spirit of the area. The second half of the day we spent at the Eiffel Tower. As clichéd as it sounds, it was an amazing experience. The best part of our evening was the wait for the flashing lights to turn on. Every night, 20,000 flash bulbs give the tower a jewel-like appearance.
Left on our list of “must visit” museums was the Musée d’Orsay. This museum is much smaller than the Louvre, but it is packed with art. Do take out time for a cup of coffee at the Café D’Orsay and take in the splendor of this old railway station, now made into a world class museum. We also visited Napoleon’s Tomb at the Hôtel des Invalides. The grandeur and ornate art work here is marvelous. There was a food cart right outside the Tomb on our way to the metro station. The vendor spoke fluent Hindi and was a fan of Raj Kapoor!
Some of the other lesser known attractions we covered were Saint-Sulpice, the second largest church in Paris (featured in the movie Da Vinci Code), Le Pure Café (also from the movie Before Sunset), Jardin du Luxembourg—a beautiful park near the Sorbonne University, La Défense—the new and modern side of Paris, the Pantheon, Pont Alexandre III—a beautiful ornate bridge that connects the left bank and the right bank, and Saint-Germain-des-Prés—a church that dates back to the 6th century.
On our final day in Paris, I opted for a massage while my husband visited the catacombs, an underground ossuary that is believed to hold the remains of 6 million people. We shopped in the evening and packed our bags for another vacation—we were off to India next. Delhi did a fair enough job. But the heart still yearns for Paris.
Shivam Khullar is a management consultant who frequently writes about the world around her. She is passionate about travel, photography, and cooking.