Paris - A Romantic Illusion (part I)


Paris. The city of love. The city I wanted to go to since I was a child. I was in love with Alexandre Dumas' books - The Three Musketeers, Count Monte Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, to name a few. These books used to take me away into a fairy tale world, a world full of adventure and intrigues, honor and glory, romance and glamour. Since then France has always held a special place in my heart.

Finally, I was able to go to Paris. I could stay for only 3 days, which is not enough time for a major city like Paris, but I decided to go anyways. I wanted to walk the streets of Paris, feel the romance in the air, feel the spirit of the city offering so much history and culture. And later on, whenever fate permits, go back and stay longer.

I took the eurostar train and arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris on Nov 28 around 3:30pm local time. It was cloudy but not cold and I decided to walk to my hotel, which was about 10 mins away from the train station. I believe one gets a different experience while walking around compared to driving and getting off the car, bus, etc. at the points of interest. So, Paris, here I come...

I walked out of the station and... I was not impressed. I might have been in any other city, not a trace from Paris. I know areas around train stations are not good, so I ignored this first impression and hurried towards the hotel to check-in, and see the real Paris. While walking, I started looking at the buildings. Most of the buildings were 5-6 stories high and though each one of the buildings was unique in a way, had unique ornaments for example, the style and color were pretty much the same (this is known as the Haussmann style, Haussmann is the guy who redesigned Paris). I quickly got bored and started looking at the people in the street just in time to see a man in his 50s urinating next to a parked car. I looked away hoping he was doing something else and hurried on.

I got to my hotel, checked-in, left my luggage, took a map, and was off in the streets in no time. The first item on my list of things to see was Moulin Rouge, the famous cabaret. It was just around the corner from my hotel, so I made a turn and... stared. There was this small and modest building with a red windmill on the top. I blamed my high expectations for the ruined moment and decided to stay realistic and simply enjoy things the way they were and not compare them with visions, dreams, etc. Hoping Moulin Rouge will improve at night, I continued towards the next item on my list - the Opera house.

On my way I passed by the Eglise de la Trinite, the site of Hector Berlioz's funeral. Unfortunately, the church was closed and I was not able to get inside. The church seemed to be like a breath of fresh air, at least it looked different, and I impatiently hurried on. Oh-oh, then it started to rain. I refused to open my new pocket-size umbrella for several minutes but eventually I had to. The umbrella still had the price tag, which was attached to the fabric with a plastic wire. Great, now I had to find scissors. I passed by a Sephora store, decided that the chance of finding scissors there was pretty high, and I went inside. Of course, no one spoke English, and I had to explain what I need using the few French words I know. I said "Avez-vous... " (do you have), then hand-gestured "scissors" and showed them the umbrella. Surprisingly, they understood me, helped me out, and I, thrilled by my French skills, continued on my way.

I got to the Opera in a couple of minutes. The famous opera, which enormous chandelier fell at some point, killed a person, and inspired the Phantom of the Opera story. I stayed in the square for several minutes admiring the building, thinking of the Phantom of the Opera musical, the movie, Gerry Butler... It was getting dark, so I forced myself to stop daydreaming and went to see the infamous chandelier. Of course, the opera was closed and I continued towards the next item on my list - the Louvre.

Along the way, I found a tourist information center and bought a 2-day museum pass for 32 euros. It sounds a lot, but it turned out to be a very good investment. So, if you go to Paris, I really recommend it. The average museum entry fee for an adult in Paris is 9 euros. I ended visiting at least 5 or 6 museums. The pass also saves you time because you don’t have to stay in the ticket line. I also needed an US-European adapter for my camera and cell phone and I was referred me to the store next door. I went to the store and not being able to find an English speaking person, I blurted out "Avez-vous adapter?" (I tried to make "adapter" sound French). The guy at the cash register looked at me and pointed to the ceiling. I went to the second floor and found adapters. I am so good in French. They did not have the type I needed and I tried to ask the passing-by assistant. She looked at me and, I am guessing, decided not to bother with another foreigner, turned around and walked away. I was a little confused but decided to follow her since there was not anyone else. Eventually, she stopped and started talking with another woman. I stopped next to them, not too close to bother them but close enough to make sure she was aware I was waiting. She looked at me again, sighed, removed her badge, put it in her pocket, and continued her conversation. I stood there for a moment trying to digest what just happened, then got angry, and walked away. Hm, maybe next time I go to a country where they don't speak English, I should learn at least the words to express my feelings in such situations.

I reached the Place du Carrousel, the square in front of the Louvre, few minutes later. The Louvre is a huge and magnificent building and yes, I was impressed. The controversial pyramid entry in front of the Louvre was really looking out of place but somehow it made the place more special, intriguing, even mystical. Without it, the Louvre would continue to impress, but the pyramid or the pyramids to be exact, increased the effect significantly. I caught myself thinking what I would do, if I were the architect. I would probably design something similar in style to the surrounding buildings, which would look nice, but wouldn't have the same effect. Very interesting and unusual decision. I had to go, but the Louvre museum was the first item on my next day's list.

Thrilled, I turned around and I saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance, lit in yellow. Oh, Las Vegas, Las Vegas. Yet another ruined moment. I had a feeling I was standing in front of the Bellagio fountains looking at the Paris casino. I tried to get Las Vegas out of my head and looked again at the Eiffel Tower waiting for my brain to process the sight of the famous structure and produce some kind of reaction. Nothing, I was totally unmoved. I crossed the Jardien dus Tuilleries, which was a little challenging since it was raining and I kept trying to find the least muddy spot to step on. I remember reading a sign (must have been in English) that the Tuilleries Palace used to be in these gardens but it was burnt down and destroyed after the French Revolution. Pity, it must have been a nice one.

I found myself on the Place de la Concorde, a really big and busy square. I looked at my notes and learned that there used to be a Louis XV statue, which was torn down after the Revolution (hmmm…) and the guillotine was erected there. The first notable person to be executed was Louis XVI. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the people who lived in Paris 200+ years ago. I could probably understand why they demolished everything related to monarchy and their excitement and hopefulness for a better future. However, the voluntary witnessing of events where people are hurt or dismembered is beyond my comprehension. I even tried not to think there were people who actually enjoyed that. Later, the guillotine was replaced by a huge Egyptian obelisk. Isn't it a little strange that there are so many Egyptian symbols around - the pyramids in front of the Louvre, now the obelisk? Maybe the architect was inspired by the obelisk… Interesting.

I turned around and saw a building which looked like a Greek temple. I was not sure what this building was so I went there and found out it was a church - La Madeleine. There was a service inside and I sat down for a few minutes to rest. Something happened while I was there and I found it really amusing. I want to apologize in advance to all French speaking people for the next story. Really, nothing personal, just wanted to mention it in case someone else experience something similar while in a French speaking country. I was sitting in the church, looking at the map, the priest was talking, and everyone else was sitting quietly and listening. And then, out of the blue, I heard this chocking sound coming from the priest. My heart jumped, I looked up. The priest was still talking and the people were listening to him. I guess, he had said something in French which produced this chocking sound. :). Again, I am not saying this to insult anyone, just to warn people not to assume someone is dying when they hear a chocking sound near by. Time to go. I headed back to the Place de la Concorde, excited to see the infamous avenue - Champs-Elysees.

The trees in the street were decorated with blue lights, which really gave Champs-Elysees a distinctive look. I was surprised to find merchants selling souvenirs, crepes, and other random stuff to tourists. The sidewalk itself was not completely paved and I often found myself walking in the mud. I was very confused. What is going on here? Is that it? I kept walking and soon the merchants disappeared and the street turned into a normal looking street with shiny stores on each side of the street. Nice. I start looking around at the luxury and elegant stores to find names like Adidas, Gap, Sephora, a few dealerships and cinemas. I tried to ignore the evil voice inside my head, chanting "a local mall, a local mall". Several performers were trying to impress the tourists. The atmosphere was not much different than the one on the 3rd street in Santa Monica. I can't say Champs-Elysees was a disappointment because I was able to buy an adapter from the Virgin megastore. Eventually, the street ended and I faced the Arch of Triumph.

The Arch of Triumph is really an impressive and colossal structure, and built after the Revolution (surprised?). There is a way to get on the roof of the Arch but I decided to leave this activity for the next day. Here's the place to mention something that kept bothering me the whole time I was in Paris. Paris was redesigned during Napoleon time. Napoleon wanted to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe and the whole world. That's the time when most of the same-looking building were built. Twelve of the main boulevards end up in front of the Arch of Triumph, something really appreciated by the Nazi during the WWII. Because of this street organization, there are many intersections with 5 or more streets. It is impossible to guess if the street you are on continues right in front of you, or turns slightly to the right, or the left. I often found myself gazing at the map, trying to figure out in what direction to continue. Another annoying thing is that streets change their names without any obvious reason. Very, very confusing.

I took one of the avenues and headed towards Trocadero. After a short walk I was there. The place offers a great view towards the Eiffel Tower and this time being so closed I was wowed by its size and the Las Vegas version started looking like a toy, though half the size of the original. There was a light show, the color of the lights illuminating the tower were changing creating different patterns, and I stayed and watched for several minutes. The show was not breathtaking but still something nice and interesting to see. I was feeling pretty tired now but headed towards the last item on my list - the Statue of Liberty at Pont de Grenelle.

I've noticed that the streets were getting deserted, there were fewer and fewer people in the streets. It was almost 10pm but still early for a Saturday night. There was the occasional person here and there walking their dog. This turned out to be pretty common in Paris. Btw. owners are supposed to clean after their pets but they don't always do, so watch your step. Eventually, after a 30-min walk, I was in front of the statue. I may be wrong but this statue seemed smaller than the one in New York or may be the one in New York is placed on a higher pedestal. I am not sure what the problem was but something was off. There were boats with tourists which went around the statue pretty quickly without even slowing down. It looked to me they were performing a magical trick - "now you see it, now you don't". I don’t recommend taking a boat to see the replica, just walk there.

It was time to go back. I started dragging myself along the deserted streets wondering where everyone was. In case you wonder, I did not get scared. You know how sometimes you get the spooky feeling of someone watching you when you walk in a deserted street. Well, I didn't get this feeling. It felt more like everyone knew of a party and went there and I was the only one left behind. I passed by the Musee des Invalides, the National Assembly, Place de la Concorde. I started seeing more people as I approached my hotel, which was in an area famous for its night life. I passed by a couple of guys who said something I did not understand and kept walking. Another guy caught up with me and started talking to me in French. I told him I didn't speak French and he switched to English. He tried to translate what the guys had said, something related to Christmas?, but his English was as good as my French so I'd never know. It turned out he was going in my direction, so we walked together for a while, going over the numbers in French - 81, 82, 83, 100… I was pretty close to the hotel when he suggested we go for a drink. I don't think so, I said to myself. I told him I was tired. He asked for my phone number or some other way to contact me. I guess he accepted the rest of my excuses because he eventually shrugged and said "well, maybe some other time". He tried to kiss me goodbye and I jumped away. "Are you married?" he asked. "No". "Then what's the problem?". It was my turn to shrug. I entered the hotel thinking "What's the problem?", "What's my problem?". He was a nice-looking guy.

Click here to see a map of my trip.


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