Wide-eyed, I took my first steps onto European soil after the seven-hour flight touched down in the ancient city of Paris at the ripe young age of 18.
What girl, young or seasoned, doesn’t dream of standing before the iconic Eiffel Tower while nibbling on buttery croissants along the Champs-Élysées?
Just as I imagined, the scent of freshly baked bread filled the air while Parisians, men and women alike, flawlessly flaunt their boldly colorful scarfs paired stylishly with neutral-toned garbs. The City of Lights is, in a word, magical.
Rather than let the jet-lag set in, we raced on our adrenaline to hit all the essential city highlights. My best traveling advice – do not succumb to the urge to nap as soon as you drop off your luggage; force yourself to assimilate to the local time and hit the pavement running!
Seeing the Essentials
This timeworn city bustles with new flavors and archaic architecture at every turn, promising adventure while hopping between the must-see landmarks and learning how to navigate the spidery network of the Metro.
The top of the L’Arc de Triomphe provides an illustrious first impression of the sprawling city. Granted, all 278 steps to the top make it a struggle, but the sweeping views are worth it. As the wind cooled our faces, we took in the hazy cityscape beyond. Below, cars blasted their horns as tiny Vespas weaved dangerously between them. Tiny dogs yapped on the arms of trés chic women, who appeared to have stepped straight off the runway. Paris at its best.
People say the finest views of Paris are from the Eiffel Tour, but I disagree. The quintessential views occur from the top of Notre Dame. Hopefully, this magnificent structure continues a quick restoration to its former glory, so others can experience the toll of its grand bells as light pours through the exquisite stained-glass windows. Regardless, the centuries-old gargoyles continue their vigilant watch over the city.
Finding the Obscure
To fully embrace Paris, be open to the nuances of the city and her people. One night, we followed chalk-scribbled signs on the sidewalk and stumbled upon an artist’s gallery opening. Around midnight, we found ourselves thrown in the mix of local artists, speaking rapid French mixed with some broken English. I imagined them discussing the philosophy of art and the attributes of one media over another, but they were probably drunkenly rambling over which cheese paired best with which wine.
Common when traveling, the most memorable places typically come recommended by locals. Yes, it’s essential to visit the Louvre. It’s essential to gaze before the Mona Lisa amongst massive crowds elbowing their way for a perfect selfie. However, the Salvador Dali Museum, hidden in the artist haven of Montmartre held far fewer artifacts (and tourists), allowing total immersion into Dali’s pieces.
Many native artists creating original and affordable pieces of Parisian art occupy Montmarte. While there don’t miss a chance to bring home an authentic piece of Paris. If the trek up to Montmartre doesn’t appeal to you, take the cheap lift nearby.
After days of crisscrossing the city, we descended upon the infamous Catacombs, where nearly six million skeletons adorn the crypt’s narrow walls and hidden corridors. Even waiting in line is exciting, as each step brings you closer to the impending sojourn into an underground world. Plunging downward into the Catacombs, the lights grow weak; the air tasting stale.
Advancing into the Catacombs, it seems as if the skeletons vacated, leaving the living to question their whereabouts. Suddenly, a room opens upon a mass of grinning skulls ready to greet visitors that dared venture thus far. One can’t help but reflect on death and the impermanence of living while wandering amid towers of bones five stories below the streets of Paris.
For those wishing for a Parisian vacation filled with luxury fashion and macarons, perhaps you should skip the Catacombs. Yet, those yearning for an extraordinary experience overflowing with macabre history, the Catacombs provide just that.
After a week of exploring the nooks and crannies of Paris, we finally mastered the ever-confusing Metro. To celebrate, we splurged on dinner in the Eiffel Tour’s famed restaurant. What better way to spend our last night in Paris.
The restaurant radiated with intimacy and refinement while every hour the Tower showered our company in a glow of twinkling lights. The food might not have been memorable, but the time spent dining above the city remains forever etched into my mind.
A week was not nearly enough time to see and experience such a city as Paris, but the beauty of traveling is that nothing prevents me from boarding a plane, risking jetlag, and starting the adventure all over again.