Bienvenue à Paris. Welcome to Paris.
Turbulence jolted me from my sleep as the plane that carried me and many others--crying babies included--descended into Beauvais, France. To ensure the nonpareil turbulence wasn’t indicative of an impending crash, I snatched the window shade open fully expecting to see an engine engulfed by flames. “If this forebodes what awaits in Paris, I’m already ready to go….”
To simultaneous relief and dismay, there were no fires. The plane’s left engine was still intact and properly functioning as it soared over the frozen tundra that had become northern France, courtesy of what several strangers would later call “a freak snow shower”. “I definitely should have skipped Paris,” I silently lamented.
For the longest, I avoided visiting Paris, France. I had never wanted to go. For me, it was to be avoided at all costs. To the degree Paris is extolled, it’s fair to expect to be whisked into a wonderland of fashion, food, eternal romance, love, and perfumed air…..but that wasn’t the case. The allure of the Eiffel Tower, cafes, croissants, Louvre, and the Champs-Élysées in the the 8th arrondissement eluded me. What awaited me, however, was an unrelenting dismal gray sky, pollution, bitterly cold air, and buildings that as icy as the wintry mix that fell from the sky. "This is it? This is what people gush about?" I thought. Frankly, I’ve never been impressed by Paris--not in its depiction in cinema and photographs, social media posts or books. If Paris were a person it would be the obnoxiously foppish Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, outwardly boastful yet lacking the substance needed to not only draw *me* but hold my attention. I’ve long since realized that in the pursuit of exploring the wonders in places within Earth’s 196 countries every destination won’t be enjoyed, and it is both okay and fair. Places are much like people in that they have their own personalities; Some personalities are welcoming and easier to accept while others are not and warrant exercising patience and tolerance. What is not and will never be fair is refusing to find some degree of appreciation for the places I visit, places that are bucket list items and dream destinations for people, places that some can only afford to visit in thoughts and dreams. Paris was and still is my mother’s dream destination and was with that sobering remembrance that I buttoned my coat, tightly wrapped my scarf, donned my gloves, grabbed my suitcase, and boarded the transfer bus that would take me from Beauvais to The City of Lights.
Nearly 2 hours later, I arrived in Paris at Porte Maillot (20 Euros) from Beauvais–Tillé Airport where a dear friend whom I'd met during our time in Budapest during the winter of 2016 collected me, helped me choose the best metro pass option for my 3-day stay, and then whisked me off to his favorite sandwich shop after dropping my luggage off at his office where the famed Marie Curie studied and conducted experiments. (The nerds and the nerdy....I love them!) After eating at Libainees Sandwich Shop: Au vieux cedre, we caught metros and buses as we toured--well *I* since he’s lived there for the better part of 20 years--many of Paris’ main attractions as well as a few that were off the beaten path. “Don’t lose your metro ticket. If you do, you’ll have to pay 25 Euros for another,” my friend gently reminded me through his thick French accent whenever I would hurriedly shove my pass into my coat pocket.
Our first stop was the Grand Mosque. If you’re in Paris, be sure to see it! The architecture is reminiscent of that found in Marrakech, Morocco and the jade-colored pathways in its inner court garden are stunning. We lingered for nearly an hour as he obliged my 1,000 photo requests without so much as a sigh :)
Onward in Paris!
After the Grand Mosque we then set off for Notre Dame. My first exposure to the Cathedral came from watching Disney’s movie adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and. It. was. STUNNING! To say I was smitten--besotted with awe and admiration at my reality--is a gross understatement. We stood outside in the blowing rain to get in, but thankfully, the line moved quickly. The film's soundtrack played in my head for the entirety of my Notre Dame visit as I found myself in awe of the movie's accuracy in its depiction of the 800-year old imposing edifice. The arches, stained glass windows, vestibule, hallways, stone faces--or the "eyes of Notre Dame" as referenced in the film--mirrored what was before me.
The Louvre. Personally, I found the Louvre and its Mona Lisa to be a tourist trap and will say that you’re better off saving your 25 Euros by googling the painting. But hey, if you've made it all the way to Paris, who am I to tell you not to make the time to go see either? I paid to go in and made my way through the labrinyth of hallways until I came to the painting where people were pushing and shoving to get a picture of the rather small painting that is housed behind bullet proof glass. I couldn’t help but think, “This is it?! This is what people have been debating for some 500 years?”
From Paris, With Love
What was most shocking about Paris was learning that many others share my sentiments of being underwhelmed by what now seems to be fabled magnificence. I've lost count of how many people I've encountered--virtually and in real life--who have opined that they found Paris to be underwhelming, completely failing to live up to its hype. As previously mentioned, I’ve never been drawn to Paris nor its Eiffel Tower but recalled the frequency with which my mother would daydream about visiting and finding her place in a nearby cafe with a book…..and that, my friends, is the only reason I trekked in frigid temperatures and blowing rain that felt like shards of glass to my face to see it. I found what I believed was the best vantage point that blended the whimsy of childhood remembrances with the reckoning of adulthood, pulled out my camera, and clicked away. Those pictures and that visit was for my mother.
Although I didn’t particularly enjoy my stay in Paris beyond spending time in fellowship with my dear friend, I believe in revisiting places and giving them the chances they deserve. In the course of my travels I’ve learned that revisiting places can be as powerful as visiting for the first time as each visit offers a different experience. While recounting my Parisian experience with my dear friend who lives there, he gently advised, "I think our feeling of a place depends greatly on how we feel at that moment. If we are tired, or with weather....." And he's right. Some day, during the more balmy months, I’ll extend grace and give Paris the chance it deserves.
Merci et au revoir!