Paris, the greatest city in the world. This popular refrain is impossible to definitively measure, as how can cities be ranked and compared versus one another. An art lover looks for different strengths in a location than an athlete, and the resulting chaos makes it very difficult to sum up a city, it’s people, and it’s culture and pit locales against one another. With this being said, however, there is no doubt that Paris deserves to be in the consensus top three worldwide regardless of the visitor and the length and reason behind their stay. The City of Lights truly has everything – art, food, sports, museums, glitz, charm, hipness, old, new, glamor and pomp contrasted against tiny back alleys and hidden gems everywhere. It is impossible yet very easy to define the inhabitants, with a plethora of different peoples and backgrounds comprising a population that feels, well, Parisian, with a sophistication mixed with a touch of traditional French actitúd that is amusing and enjoyable to interact with. There are many tourists at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but many locals as well, who value the treasures of their city. Native French combine with cultures from all over the world to form a city that is different at every turn, each arroisment a unique collection of restaurants, stores, and buildings. Buildings do not dominate the skyline, but the city sprawls in all directions, with the Seine snaking curvaceously through the center. In all, it is easy to see how countless persons, famous and commoners alike, fell in love with the settlement the Romans named Lutetia. The rues and boulevards that captivated and inspired Hemingway and Picasso continue to radiate an intoxicating passion that is ever present and simply unforgettable.
On a personal level, this past weekend, the last of my time in Europe, brought a mix of new and old. It was the first time I traveled completely alone, not meeting up with friends or family on the other end, and the experience was certainly different to my previous trips. However, I yet again was the fortunate recipient of amazing hospitality, this time provided by Bill and Marie-Christine Joslyn, a retired couple who are friends of friends from back in Boulder. Even though we had never met, the Joslyns graciously took me in for the weekend, and made possible one of the best three-day stretches of my life. I cannot stress how warm, kind, and knowledgeable they were in hosting me, and I truly feel forever in their debt.
Left alone to my own devices, I was free to explore Paris without having to plan with and worry about anybody else, and the weekend was liberating, pleasantly exhausting, and above all else, fun. I wish I had invested in a pedometer, because each day was an urban hike of substantial proportions, even for my restless standards. After a sunrise breakfast in the Joslyn’s kitchen up on top of the Belleville hill overlooking much of the city during which I sketched a rough route for the day in my head, I would fill my backpack, lace up my shoes and start walking, not really sitting or stopping for anything, meals included.
The result was an incredible experience that did not include, in my opinion, a single second wasted. Additionally, I discovered, unfortunately on my last weekend abroad, that with my University of Granada ID card and some rapid Spanish I easily passed as an “18-26 year old EU Citizen,” thus earning free admission to every museum in the city. The value and amount of culture and knowledge I gained was matched only by the free London museums. I spent hours at some of the best art museums in the world, starting with the Louvre, the former royal palace with art from the 13th to 19th centuries from all over the world, as well as archeological and anthropological masterpieces.
My only selfie of the trip.
I saw the Musee d’Orsay, with it’s amazing collection of Impressionist painters, and the loads of works by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Pissaro, Monet, Manet, Sisley, and countless others housed in a really cool old train station.
I went to the Musee de l’Orangerie, with two circular rooms housing Monet’s Water Lillies, as well as a great (and disturbing) exhibit on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In all, the feel of the city certainly lends itself to artistic expression, and I tried to take full advantage of the classics.
My walks included all the usual suspects, with mandatory stops at Notre Dame, Champs Elysses and the Arc du Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower well worth the visits.
However, I found many other locations that added irreplaceably to the trip. I stumbled upon the Rodin Museum late one day, sharing the sunset with the Thinker.
I saw the Army Museum at the chapel of Les Invalides, the massive dome constructed for fallen French soldiers, housing cool collections of armor, galleries on the vast French military conquests ranging from the Middle Ages, through Napoleon, and ending with the World Wars. The site also houses Napoleon I’s tomb, which was pretty incredible.
I walked inside the Petit Palais, appropriately located across the street from the Grand Palais, and stumbled upon a quiet, hidden gem.
At the recommendation of Marie-Christine I visited the Sant Chapelle, which was a quaint, incredible collection of stained glass.
I saw the Senat at the Luxembourg Gardens, amazing.
My weekend as a Spanish citizen easily saved me over 100 Euro in admission fees, not to mention countless hours standing in lines, and the three days were truly a cultural feast.
When not in museums, I was either walking or eating, much of the time combining the two simultaneously. Additionally, window shopping in Paris is amazing, and as I wandered in the general direction of my next destination I would pop into little stores of all kinds, selling everything from clocks to antique books, food from all over the world, and each one containing a different feel. Little side streets really make the city, with great sights to stumble upon at every turn.
I ate really an astounding amount of cheese and chocolate simply by sampling at various stores and stalls at Christmas markets around the city, and I can definitively say that I didn’t ever taste the same thing twice. The cheeses are stinky, creamy, sharp, firm, unpasteurized, and above all potent, and when eaten as dessert really have another effect (sometimes desirable). The chocolates were better than what I had in Belgium (sorry Belgium), and I had baguettes, a croissant, and a gallete complète, a buckwheat crepe filled with melted cheese, an egg sunny-side up, and really good ham, that were to die for.
One of my favorite meals was a sandwich of fig bread and strong compte cheese by the Arc du Triomphe picked up at a small stand. I had the best falafel I’ve eaten outside of Israel, served at a bustling takeout counter in the old Jewish Marais district that was probably my favorite neighborhood of the weekend.
And finally, I had a great home cooked meal with the Joslyns, with roasted chicken and stuffed squash with goat cheese preceding a dessert of cheese and chocolate chip pecan cookies, accompanied by some great French wine.
Overall, I was never hungry, feasting on the rich French delicacies the cuisine is so famous for, with rave reviews to lend indeed.
Above all, the greatest cities are the ones that are easy to get lost in, and Paris provides that more than anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. I walked and stumbled upon bookstores and cafés where Hemingway used to read and Dali used to eat.
The city is an endless maze of opportunity, and my exceptional hosts coupled with a motor that somehow still has energy left for one more week lent one of the best weekends of the whole trip. Overlooking the sparkling Eiffel Tower every night, I was overwhelmed with a sense of calm, contentment, and enjoyment for being so fortunate and in such a great place, physically and spiritually.