Ah, Paris. The magical city of romance and cheese. The latter being the most vital to life.
I had two days alone before I began my semester in Madrid. It was probably the first time I was ever in a big city alone, and one of the biggest challenges was not knowing the language. I will say the stereotype of the French being rude, curt, or hating tourists I didn’t find to be true. People were more than willing to help me in broken english, point me in the right direction, or give me recommendations on what to see and where to eat.
Paris is a charming city. Although the weather was dreary, everywhere I turned something was making me smile. Whether it was paintings being sold of Babar and Co. along the Seine or make-you-look street performers, every corner of Paris reminded me of the countless movies, books, and television portrayals of the city. But nothing can compare to experiencing these surreal moments in person, like having Ratatouille in the same restaurant that Owen Wilson’s character meets Hemingway in Woody Allen’s film in Midnight in Paris. Or of course, seeing the Eiffel Tower.
One of the most spectacular feelings was walking along the Seine and glancing up to the sky and to see the tip of the Eiffel Tower over the skyline on one side of the river and a towering Ferris Wheel on the other side of the river.
I kept walking until before I knew it, the tower was no longer something small and shaded by fog in the distance, but a tangled metal structure above my head. It’s funny because when you stand underneath it, it looks like nothing particularly special at all.
When you take a few steps out from underneath and tilt your head all the way back to see the whole thing- you can’t believe how big it is in person. Although people moan about tourists thronging to see these sorts of sights, there’s something really breathtaking about seeing something that you’ve only pictured in your mind for so long, as a tangible object looming above you.
At one point, I was struggling to order lunch in a cafe and a woman sitting across the way giggled at me miming out my order and with my seel vooo playz. We started talking- she is a part time professor at American University for half of the year and the other half of the year she’s with her husband, a very fancy shmancy Indian diplomat in France. We talked about my trip to India and the content of her very interesting classes in the US.
Although I totally expected to live those two days with minimal human contact, I had made a new friend. And so, Paris continuously proved its endless charm in surprising places. Like for example, I completely stumbled upon the Love Lock Bridge on my walk to the Eiffel Tower.
There were the dogs who carried their own leashes in their mouths and trotted along as their owners followed behind. There were the children who were impeccably dressed. Microfashion that rivals even the great Suri Cruise.
There was the carousel outside of the Louvre.
Speaking of which, I made it to two museums while in Paris. The first being the Musee d’Orsay. The second, of course, the Louvre.
The Louvre was impressive, in every sense. People aren’t joking when they say it takes weeks to cover the whole ground. I was exhausted after spending a few hours winding through the halls and I’m sure I didn’t see even a quarter of what it had to offer. Highlights for me included the pyramid in the courtyard that I recognized from the Da Vinci Code, the Mona Lisa and other famous Da Vinci works, Venus de Milo, and the section on ancient Egyptian life and art.
You might ask, why are you wearing those goofy looking headphones in that picture with the most famous painting of all time? I have NO IDEA and I wish I had removed them…. But the audioguide was awesome for the Louvre. It’s an interactive 3D Nintendo DS map and audio tour. There are a variety of options for tours. I did the 1 hour “Louvre Express” and then also created a more personalized tour to see other pieces. You can pick selected works that you want to see and the audioguide will not only walk you to those pieces in the most efficient way and so it is impossible to get lost, but also provides descriptions of notable pieces. It was tech-y and I loved it.
However, even though I saw many important and memorable pieces of art at the Louvre, I enjoyed my experience at the Musee d’Orsay even more. It’s a smaller museum, so it’s easier to consume in a few hours. It has a variety of different artworks, but it’s known for its impressionist and post-impressionist collections. There are a large number of works by Van Goh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, and Cézanne exhibited here. I remember discussing a lot of these artists and works throughout my education so it was really special to see the pieces in person. But also, the audiotour provided historical and artistic context for a number of the paintings with great attention to detail that made for a better experience overall. For example, when I was looking at the Edgar Degas’ work, the audio descriptions were bookended with classical music and I felt like I was back in ballet class. While the Louvre’s audioguide gave facts, the Musee d’Orsay’s audioguide told stories.
I finished up my time in Paris with a walk down Champs Élysées, crepes in hand. I window shopped and was completely awestruck in the flagship Louis Vuitton store. Did you know they sell keychains that are priced at a cool 275 euro?! Phew. On that note, I trekked home in the freezing rain, ate pizza in bed, and got a good night’s sleep before my flight to Madrid.