I must admit. It wasn’t love at first sight for me and the city of (blinding) light. First time I came to Paris, I was, borrowing from Michael Kors, underwhelmed. After seeing the grandiose structures of Rome, my expectations of Paris went up a notch. So after a day of sight seeing in gay Paree, in my head, I was like, ‘Ehh.’ The Louvre was crowded, the Eiffel tower looked nice in pictures, and Parisians were not friendly at all. I came back to Paris three years later, with a renewed sense of purpose and lower expectations. And Paris was sweeter the second time around! Recently, I visited the city again and did a bit of solo exploration. Now I’m convinced that the love you have for this city grows deeper after every visit. There’s tons to explore. The iconic places barely scratch the surface.
I also have the films Midnight in Paris and Amelie to thank for this renewed love affair with the city. My top tens…
(10) Louvre – Massive museum which houses the world’s biggest collection of art and artefacts. So the key words here of course are massive and art. In a way, it is a must to. Fighting your way through the crowds to see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is part of the experience I guess. And maybe walking in Robert Langdon’s footsteps in the Da Vince Code. The pyramid’s quite interesting too! They say spending two hours or less in the Louvre does this place injustice. It is HUGE. If the itinerary can take it, it would be nice to spend at least half a day in there. But be prepared to be Art-d out.
(9) Notre Dame – Beautiful gothic church with gargoyles! The details of the facade are pretty intricate (rivalling Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). Stepping inside the church, I first noticed how dark it was, as though light is the enemy! In its absence, the stained glass windows shone brighter. The view of the church from the River Seine’s also pretty nice.
(8) Musee Rodin – I’ve heard about this place a few times before, but it sat on the bottom of my list of places to go to in Paris. I’m glad I finally got to visit it! On a Sunday no less! When admission is free!! Seeing the Thinker was great, but feasting on Rodin’s other works was even better. He captures movement and emotions quite beautifully. The Gates of Hell, a scene from Dante’s Inferno, was impressive. I really enjoyed the leisurely stroll in the museum gardens.
(7) The Occasional Friendly Parisians – Yes they do exist! Tis one of those pleasant surprises we encountered when we were dining in local bistros and restaurants. Someone said that the sheer number of tourists who visit Paris every day could be one of the reasons why they’re cranky, or the fact that they’re quite proud of their language. It is quite a complicated language to learn. Anyway, to find them, rinse yourself of stereotype grime, go to places where there aren’t a lot of tourists, and be polite. Hmmm. Now I’m trying to think if the friendly French people I met are indeed French, or if they’re Europeans who speak French, living/working in France.
(6) Galleries Lafayette – Champs Elysee and its neighbouring wide avenues are where the flagship stores of most luxury brands are. But I’ve always fancied Galleries Lafayette over the busier outdoors. Maybe its my inner Pinoy mall rat talking, or the convenience of having everything under one exquisite roof. It’s always packed with people, and I don’t mind much of that. The stained glass dome is beautiful. Looking up, you’ll know how far away from SM Makati you are.
(5) Musee de L’Orangerie – This was exactly how Monet wanted his water lilies to be seen, 8 paintings displayed in two oval rooms under direct diffused light. Just beautiful. It’s really a no fuss museum. Serene and, when I went there, not too crowded. Also a haven for impressionist and post-impressionist art. It becomes more obvious how the different hues of the paintings represent the play of light throughout the day.
(4) Local Bistro/Cafe – Paris is a mecca for foodies! So many great chefs learned the ABCs of fine cookery here. There was an interesting episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he and Eric Ripert contemplate about the changing food scene in Paris, the struggle between fine dining as we know it to be and casual dining. I have no one favourite restaurant, as there are soooo many good ones in Paris! I’ve put my complete trust in my Lonely Planet iPhone App to lead me to great local eats in the district I find myself in at a given moment. La Mascotte was great for seafood, Le Miroir for lunch prix fixe (their homemade cookies for desert are to die for), Cafe Constant, Cafe Industrie, Le Coquelicot, Angelina… and the list just goes on. If a place is packed and if they’re mostly locals, you know it’s good. Photo below is a classic duck dish, complimented by the palate-blowing sauce on the side of honey and whole peppercorns (who knew?!).
(3) Eiffel Tower – How can this steel structure conjure the romance in tourists?? Beats me! For the times I’ve been here, I’m surrounded by kissing and cuddling couples. I do appreciate this iron lattice tower, especially when it sparkles at night. It is the cultural symbol of France after all! Apart from romance, I think of queues when I think of the Eiffel Tower. The queue to purchase a ticket. The queue to the lifts going up. The queue to the lifts going down… The views above pretty good too. Bring a jacket if you’re coming up here autumn or winter. It’s freezing!
(2) Musee D’Orsay – Heaven for lovers of impressionism. I’d go back to this train-station-turned-museum in a heartbeat, without a second thought. It’s big enough to have a great collection, yet it’s small enough not to feel overwhelmed. There is a proper way of seeing the pieces in the museum (chronologically, from renaissance art to impressionists, then to post-impressionists. My personal favourite is Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, Arles. This painting just moves me. The guided tour of the museum highlights are euros well spent. It was like doing a crash course in art history/appreciation. I’d love to go back here.
(1) Montmarte – This has to be my favourite place in Paris. Two years ago, we just wandered the streets of Montmarte, and it feels like being transported to turn-of-the-century Paris. There are a handful of nice bistros, cafes, and boulangerie. Artists are still around the corner, only this time, they’re mostly inspired by iconic landmarks (Commercialism in art! Boooo). This was the centre of bohemia more than a hundred years ago. There are a few companies who do free walking tours, and it’s definitely worth doing. Getting lost is an adventure, with the final prize being the fantastic view of Paris at the Sacre Couer. Photo below is Cafe de 2 Moulins, where Amelie works!