"Parisian Walkways" Paris by CatherineReichardt
Paris Travel Guide: 22,161 reviews and 53,866 photos
Paris is a city that I am lucky enough to visit quite often and know my way around quite well, but don't really feel that I have managed to 'get under the skin' of. It is one of my favourite cities - and a strong contender for Europe's 'Must See' city for first time visitors - but I feel that she (for Paris is definitely female) and I are somehow temperementally unsuited: rather like the sort of acquaintance that you like and admire, but who somehow never becomes a close friend.
I first visited Paris when I was about nine, in the days when package deals were in their infancy. My parents managed to find an exceptional deal for a week over the half term holidays, and the five of us trotted off expectantly to explore the first of many European cities - thanks Mum & Dad!!!
A few years later, a shy, plump teenager completely bereft of both self confidence and social skills found herself in a Parisian suburb on a school exchange programme. Chantal, my 'exchange partner' was encouragingly even better upholstered than I, but sadly we had nothing whatsoever in common - we were temperementally unsuited, and I was as useless in French as she was in English, with the difference being that I at least showed some interest in learning! I was challenged and perplexed by the experience: the disappearance of one of the rabbits from the hutches in the garden the night we had 'lapin' for supper was less than encouraging, and I unwittingly threw the family into consernation one evening when I announced that, "je suis plein" which - as I soon discovered - only means'"I'm full" when you use an online translation tool - but it was an undeniably heady experience to spend a few week in an utterly unfamiliar city.
When I was 18, I stopped over in Paris for a few days as we had to change trains en route for the Massif Central. This was my first truly independent, self planned holiday, and my first experience of travelling with a Significant Other in tow - in fact, he hung the moon for me, and I was So In Love that I marvel that I remember anything else at all! It was an amazingly happy experience, but in truth I recall very little about the detail except dissolving into fits of helpless laughter at some silly verdegris-inspired joke on top of Notre Dame de Paris and lots of picnicking with smelly cheeses in an attempt to keep our miniscule budget under control. I do recall being awestruck by Sacre Coeur: still one of my all time favourite churches.
A few years later, I moved overseas, and didn't return to Paris for over 15 years. However, all that changed when I took a job based in Johannesburg that involved responsibility for mines in West Africa, to which I had to travel virtually monthly. At the time, there were no reliable 'direct' routes into Mali via anywhere in West Africa, so I used to fly overnight to Paris, change plane and fly a third of the way back again. On the return leg, the flight landed at Charles de Gaulle at just gone six in the morning, and my connecting flight to Johannesburg only departed in the late evening, giving me about 14 hours to kill. Unlike my South African colleagues, I was blessed with an adventurous spirit, an EU passport and some inelegant but functional French, so I eagerly embraced the opportunity to get to know the city better.
I would have a quick shower in the day room that came as part of our flight deal (oh, the joys of travelling Business Class at someone else's expense!) drop off my hand luggage and jump on the train to Gare du Nord. After my first couple of trips, I had (re)visited most of Paris' first division tourist attractions and took to catching whatever metro was departing next in order to explore new arrondissements and stave off deep vein thrombosis. I would get off at a station that I didn't know, put away my map and walk for several hours, just following my nose and my instincts until I was tired. Time to stop for something to drink and a bite to eat, a quick check of the map to find out whether there was anything of interest in the vicinity, and off I headed again until suppertime. Hence the title of this page - Parisian Walkways - a tribute not only to the late, great Gary Moore, but also a nod to what I believe is by far the best way to explore this stunning city. At the end of all of this, I would return to the dayroom to shower, change and pick up my hand luggage, from where I would collapse exhausted onto the plane and sleep like a baby all the way to Johannesburg!
This happy routine continued for about three years, until I fell pregnant with my first child. As a result, I consider myself priveleged to have been able to explore Paris in short, unpressured visits and I treasure happy memories of experiences such as searching for the perfect set of wedding earrings (which I finally tracked down in the IIIme). Like the other great cities of the world, Paris can be overwhelming, and I was lucky enough to avoid the cultural overload that those (understandably) trying to cram the maximum into their precious time in Paris can easily experience. And yet, despite all this, I don't feel that I really know or understand the city.
I have put off writing about Paris until now for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I am a fairly recent convert to photography - which I only really got the hang of once my children were born - and so don't have photographs dating back to the period when I was visiting Paris regularly. I know from my own experience of using VT that travel tips without photos are pretty dull to read, and from a writing perspective, I find my photos to be useful 'visual prompts' which help me to recall places and details that I might otherwise have overlooked.
Secondly, until I visited in September 2009 and February and September 2011 (all business trips - giving me a curious sense of 'deja vu'), I hadn't set foot in Paris in nearly seven years, and felt that my knowledge would be outdated.
Finally - and most importantly - I look at the many fantastic Paris pages that other VTers have compiled. They have an understanding of, and empathy for, the city that I will never have and I wondered how I could ever add anything of value by comparison. On reflection, I have no ambition for this to be an encyclopaedic travel page or the definitive guide to visiting Paris, as others have already done this far better than I ever could hope to. Instead, I hope that this page will evolve in a similar way to my Prague and London pages (also cities which I know well and visit regularly) and will be of interest to those who are perhaps seeking to explore the quirkier, less mainstream aspects of the city which I have so enjoyed myself. Paris reminds me of why I travel - the challenge of trying to understand things that are unfamiliar and counterintuitive and interpret them in my own context.
Lastly, one of the great delights of VT is that you get to experience places through the eyes of fellow travellers. And on this note, may I recommend what are my three favourite VT writers on Paris - whose work is some of the best that I've yet to encounter on VT:
brueghel who shares extraordinary insight into the artwork of Paris in a generous and accessible manner
pfsmalo whose off the beaten track trips will help you discover a whole new side of the city well away from the usual tourist haunts
beausoleil whose perspective on travel seems so close to my own that it almost feels as though she's writing exclusively for me
Thank you all for illuminating my exploration of the City of Light!
- Pros:One of Europe's most beautiful and cultured cities, and an absolute 'must see'
- Cons:Crowded, expensive and Parisians can appear unwelcoming
- In a nutshell:I don't begin to understand it - but I do love it!
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