If Barcelona is a loud, warm city overflowing with life, Paris is an elegant one dedicated to refined enjoyment like strolling along the River Seine. My first view of Paris was in a taxi cab from the airport--I was blown away by the bigness of the city, the modern buildings seemingly piled on top of one another and the relative quiet of the sidewalks (not the freeways!) on the Sunday evening when my family arrived. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the city was seeing the Eiffel Tower everywhere we went--it felt much like the ever present Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque that orient you to your location in this big maze of streets and alleyways.
We learned that first night that most restaurants are closed on Sundays from the man we rented an Air B&B apartment from. Fortunately, we did find dinner in the form of a sidewalk bistro serving escargot and kir royal, a champagne and currant liquor drink popular in France (it's much like the Italian spritz or the American mimosa). It tasted amazing after a long day traveling in from Barcelona.
The next day was pretty epic--we spent the morning at the Louvre and the afternoon strolling the River Seine and the Left Bank neighborhoods. I got the see the Mona Lisa which, while not Da Vince's best work, is surely his most famous. I don't know what awed me more: The Mona Lisa, a tiny priceless painting, or the giant crowd trying to get a look at it--and sneaking in selfies with the Mona Lisa! After the museum crowds, it felt great to feel the open air along the Seine and experience the parts of the city where real Parisians live. We even squeezed in some time to enjoy the Notre Dame Cathedral!
The Louvre neighborhood was the first moment I actually felt myself in the Paris of the old movies I am addicted to. It was the Paris of old buildings with intricate designs, perfectly manicured gardens, and picturesque bridges connecting one part of the city to the other (including the famous "Love Lock" bridge, where lovers put a lock on the bridge to cement their love). We walked through street markets and visited the canonical Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore and lending library best known to expats for carrying banned books like D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and for being a hub where American writers like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald congregated. It was great to feel Paris beneath my feet!
We finished off the night with more escargot and a fantastic dinner of beef bourguignon at Polidor, a restaurant best known for its now-famous clientele like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller. The restaurant was opened in 1845 and remains relatively unchanged: customers still sit at long tables community-style and the food is reminiscent of 19th century France.
Day two was dedicated to Versailles, a palace at once opulent and empty. As breathtaking as it was to learn about the history of this grand palace--particularly that of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution--it was at the same time shocking to see the excess of these royals founded on the taxation and impoverishment of the people. Walking through the hall of mirrors made it quite clear why the French Revolution happened. My family and I agreed that perhaps the one redeeming feature of this less than glamorous part of France's history is that now Versailles is a place for the people, where students and families can go and stroll the luxurious grounds. Still, it was eerie walking through the perfectly coiffed halls and gardens and seeing the dark underbelly of this seemingly majestic space.
We regrouped from the Versailles experience that night--our last night in Paris--by a walk through the Rue Cler, a neighborhood famous for its quaint shops and good restaurants. And yes, there was more escargot, along with a traditional fondue plate for dinner. All in all, Paris was a majestic experience and yet left me feeling as if I have barely scratched the surface of this elegant city. My last taste of this city was my morning croissant--I fell in love with the almond ones. It was rich yet dainty, much like this Paris.
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