First Time in Paris
This July I visited Paris for the first time in my life. It will not be the last. I hope to visit the City of Light again next spring.
Getting to the Centre of Paris
Let’s gloss over the airport and train to the city centre; the airport is large and the train journey is about half an hour. The train arrives at the two main stations in Paris, Gare du Nord and Gare du Midi. You can then change to the Metro to complete your journey. You might find this site useful if you have not used the Metro before.
Living Like a Parisian
I found an apartment in the 17th Arrondissement through AirBnB. It was just a few minutes from the city centre on the Metro and was everything I needed. The most important thing is that it was a quiet building and situated in a quiet area.
I bought fresh bread from a local boulangerie each morning, just like a Frenchman would, and the rest of my food at local supermarkets and market stalls. Paris is a great city for anyone staying in a self-catering apartment because you are never far from the shops you need every day. You feel a part of a living city rather than just a tourist observing from afar.
Paris for Tourists
The only downside to my stay in Paris was the weather which must have been the wettest and most miserable week of the summer. In the Metro you are dry, but to emerge every time into another wet day takes the edge off it a little bit. I saw Sacre Coeur in the rain, the Eiffel Tower in the rain and Oscar Wilde’s grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery in the rain.
I saw the Eiffel tower by night and by day, by night the light displays are beautiful, a real ‘wow’ experience. I am glad I saw the Arc de Triomphe by day and night as well, lit up at night it is stunning and photos cannot give any real sense of its majesty. The Arc is at the centre of a monstrous roundabout that has no lane markings, I watched the gladiatorial battles between drivers with interest as a pedestrian, but there is no way I would ever drive around it.
What I love Most about Paris
The people are friendly. Forget anything you have heard about the French being Anglophobic; if you make even the most basic attempts to speak French they will be friendly. I speak as one who failed French at school 46 years ago and whose French teacher winced at my accent.
If you put yourself out of your comfort zone then most of the basic words will come to you: “Quatre croissants, s’il vous plait”, “Du vin, s’il vous plait”, “Bonjour madame”, “Merci” and “Au revoir madame” took me a long way.
Other People Love Paris Too
I asked friends at MyBlogU.com about their memories of Paris:
Erica Martin – I love Paris, I’ve seen it twice in my life, both times while I was in high school. That was over 20 years ago and back then I thought it was the most wonderful place I’d ever seen. I’m very much into art and culture, so I loved going to the art museums, especially the Louvre, and I also loved visiting the Eiffel Tower. I would like to go back some day, I’m sure it’s changed a lot since I was there last.
Alicia Lawrence – While the Palace of Versailles is not technically in Paris it is close enough for a day trip, and was one of the best things about France when I visited.
The palace is enchanting with intricate details that leave you wondering in awe for hours. The garden is beautiful. We had a wonderful time also boating on the lake and just taking in the site while imagining what it would be like to live in there.
Jeremy Rivera – When I was 19 I joined a group that was travelling to France for a month and I had an experience that changed the way that I viewed the entire world. This wasn’t a romantic experience or a quiet moment in a Parisian cafe, although I did smuggle back fresh croissants to America for a girl I hoped to date and did enjoy a tiny cup of espresso in a Montmartre cafe.
No, the experience was looking death in the face. Well, looking at skulls in person for the first time. An entire wall made of skulls to be more accurate.
The Catacombs of Paris
During the reign of Napoleon, he ordered the exhumation of nearly all of the church graveyards and had them deposited into the tunnel systems that exist under the entire city. Our second day our group leader said “I have a surprise for you” and lead us to the Catacombs without much explanation other than they were tunnels under the city.
I joined my fellow travellers as we descended the steps into a long dimly lit tunnel that got rougher and rougher as we walked forward. Suddenly the top half of the wall disappeared, leaving a waist high wall rough with random bumps forming patterns, an occasional cross here and there. Looking closer I realized that those bumps were skulls and the end nubs of femurs and other bones all piled up upon each other and cemented into place.
As a coddled American, I’ve seen my share of movie deaths, skeletons and zombies but I had never actually seen a body or real skeleton. Looking over the lip to the waist high wall as far as the light stretched was piles and piles of bones and partial skeletons. A chill ran up my spine that didn’t come from the cool moist air of the cavern, but the realization that thousands of people lived, died and were buried here.
I let the group pass ahead as I saw a rough-hewn stone bench under a lonely dim light. The quiet was palpable, and the heaviness of the location weighed on me as I was forced to look at my naievete as a young American, and realize just how many people have done this whole “life” thing before.
As I left those tunnels a changed person, I realized that this was my time. My time to live, and someday I too will be skeletal remains but for now those bones are inside me and I have a lot left to do!
Jessy Troy – For me, Paris will always be where The Hunchback of Notre Dame happened. I read it when a child and when I visited Paris and saw the dome, that book was all I could think of… I suddenly realized how Victor Hugo came up with the story and the book’s unique style… how that building was the main character of the book. It’s a living being! I saw those Gargoyles and I felt intimidated and impressed at the same time.
Whenever I am thinking about my Paris trip, that gorgeous building is my most powerful recollection.
Pleasant Memories of Paris
It’s good to see that other people have as many pleasant memories of Paris as I do. I am hoping for better weather if I visit in March next year. I will also look for somewhere closer to the city centre to save travel time and the endless steps up and down to Metro stations.
The only warning I would give you is that the Metro is great if you have full use of your legs. If you have mobility problems you need to be aware that there are few escalators or lifts, so there are many, many steps to climb, rendering stations totally inaccessible in many cases.