To be honest, I was skeptical about how much I would like Paris. I’d been travelling all summer and had seen so many incredible European cities, but I dreaded the throngs of tourist I knew I’d find in perhaps the most popular vacation destination in the world. I was even going in late summer, at the peak of tourist season. But I arrived, and I was wowed. It probably didn’t hurt that I made sure to get a crepe around the corner from my hotel before setting out to see the city. Then I rented a bike, and deposited it minutes later when I decided it’d be counterproductive to try to take in the scenery and navigate two wheels at the same time. I knew this was just an intro; I only had 2 and a half days before my flight back to the US, and was happy with whatever I experienced in that time. Paris is entirely satisfying just to walk around and look at, which is exactly what I did on my first day. On my way by, I stopped into the Orangerie Museum, where the 8 panels of Monet’s “Waterlillies” are displayed. I walked through gardens and up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe which was magnificent in its grandeur. I looked at my watch and the descending sun, and knowing the queue for the Eiffel tower was always monsterous, I hedged my bets and headed there anyways, fingers crossed that I may be able to see the sunset from the tower. Although the top was at capacity by the time I got in, I ran up the 669 steps to the second floor of the tower just in time. The eiffel tower, as cliche as it may be, is magical in its design, an immense monument with no practical use outside of its own appreciation. Then on every hour once the sun goes down, the tower illuminates in a twinkle for 10 minutes. I then meandered through the street market at the base of the tower, trying and buying some delectable nougat to take home. On the walk back to my hotel I walked into and of course joined an impromptu dance party on the bank of the Seine thanks to a street performer playing brazilian music. In minutes there were 20 of us of all nationalities dancing and singing under the stars.
The next day I was ready to explore by bike seeing as I’d gotten my initial “ooh’s” and “aah’s” out the day before. I headed down to the garden of Luxemborg after swinging through a street market. Although the markets of Paris are famous for their number and variety, this was unfortunately vacation time for many sellers so the one I visited was sparse. I then headed with anticipation to the Musee d’Orsay. If you’ve never been to Paris, it’s likely that you’re never heard of the Orsay, being shadowed by its older sibilng the Louvre. The Louvre is definitely impressive, but what many people don’t know is that it’s collection dates only to the 18th century. I enjoyed it from a historical standpoint, but in terms of pure appreciation of the art, I much prefer that of the 19th and 20th centuries, and for that the Orsay is a mecca. It is a massive museum, holding the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world. As soon as I left I wanted to go back. Especially in the winter when the crowds are more manageable.
After making time for “the best croissant in Paris” (it was that good) I let Rick Steves (well his Audio Europe App) guide me on a tour of Historic Paris, first to Notre Dame, then to the Deportation Memorial, through the Latin Quarter, down Ile de la Cite and into the Sainte Chapelle. The Notre Dame was massive and beautiful, but the Sainte Chapelle was exquisite in its intracacy. It’s a chapel lined entirely with stained glass windows, each panel depicting a scene from the bible. I then took myself out to a dinner of duck salad with baguette, finished off with crepes suzette, and called it a night – I had an early morning date with the Louvre.
Paris in the early morning is magical. I’ve come to the conclusion that if it wasn’t for the fact that nothing was open, the most special time to experience a city would be from about 2-8am. I stood in the center of the Louvre Palace alone with the pigeons, then hung out at the Pyramide while waiting for the Mueseum to open. And you know what, the Mona Lisa is absolutely compelling. Whether it deserves to be the most famous painting in the world is up for discussion, but it was truly amazing to see it with my own eyes (under a layer of bullet proof glass). Rick Steves showed me through the highlights of the rest of the Louvre as it’s much too massive to see all of, then I had a few more hours of bike exploring left before my flight back to Maine. I thought I would be ready to leave the chaos of constant travel for the same bed I’d slept in every summer since I was 4, but frankly I was a little melancholy. Walking out of a train station to a new city, mountain town or the middle of nowhere always puts a smile on my face, even if I have no clue where I’m going or what I’m going to encounter along the way. The unknown is full of possibility, and I’ve got so much more ahead. But I’ve used up every one of my 90 Schengen Tourist Visa days up and I thankfully for a family that will welcome me with open arms and a room in a cabin on the lake in Maine. I’ll be so appreciative to have friends and family around, that feeling of deep connection so often absent in solo travel. And I’ll the have comfort, space and time to literally and figuratively unpack from the 4 months in Europe and repack for the 8 months ahead in Nepal and Spain. Au Revoir Europe, I’ll see you again real soon!