Exploring a foreign city in a short amount of time can be quite a challenge because there is so much to see and do and such little time. Luckily with research and organization under our belts, Paris was much easier to tackle in two days than if we had gotten off the plane with no idea of where we wanted to go or how we would get there. Several of the destinations that we wanted to highlight during our visit included museums, cathedrals and some other odd ends.
Saturday morning greeted us early as we wanted to arrive at the Eiffel Tower in time to beat the crowd that floods toward the most famous Paris monument. After a delicious bowl of wholesome granola and a warm cup of hot chocolate (free of charge), we walked thirty minutes to arrive at the Eiffel Tower. As obsessed as I am with the weather, in the days leading up for our departure i checked the forecast every day to see if anything had changed about the anticipated rain for the weekend. The weather predicted that it would rain about 0.25″ during the day on Saturday so I decided to leave my umbrella behind as I didn’t want to carry it and I hoped that we would miss the rain when we were inside sightseeing. Despite my hopes as we waited in line for the Eiffel Tower, rain drops spotted our heads. Tourists surrounding us whipped out their umbrellas or looked for cover under a protected area. Not us – we stood our ground in line since we were going to be facing the rain all day and we knew the line would just get lingering we left it. We arrived at the Eiffel Tower fifteen minutes before it opened. Within those fifteen minutes, the line doubled in size.
The Eiffel Tower is not only monumental in size but the intricate nature of the architecture was stunning. Some people think the Eiffel Tower isn’t very attractive to the eye but I completely disagree. The design is so precise that even if one doesn’t like the appearance of it, one should respect the intellectual capacity that is necessary to create such a structure. Two elevators take people to the top of the tower. The first elevator stops at the first floor and then continues to the second floor where people enter the second elevator for a direct route to the top. From the top are gorgeous views of the city of Paris including the Seine River and Champ de Mars.
The two art museums that we visited – Musee D’Orsay and Musee du Louvre – contained so many works that no one could imagine seeing all of them and having time to appreciate all of them in one visit. Outside Musee D’Orsay I enjoyed a French delicacy, crepes. Waiting in line for the museum in the drizzling rain, a crepe with Nutella was the perfect treat to give me energy for the rest of our day. Musee D’Orsay includes works by Monet, Manet, Renoir and van Gogh to name a few. Specifically Monet’s pieces with reflections in the water astounded me with the skill and precision with which they were painted. Seeing each artist’s different style gave me so much more respect for them; while seeing pictures in books carries one significance, viewing the works in person and up close allows you to notice the detail that you wouldn’t be able to spot in books or pictures.
Just a short walk away sat the Louvre. Along the way we crossed a bridge called a lovelock bridge. Along the sides of the bridge were locks that lovers placed and wrote their names. Seeing as Paris is the city of love, the lovelock bridges were quite fitting and very unique in character. The Louvre boasts an enormous collection of art among which stands the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Although the work is magnificent and world-renowned it’s a shame that it is kept so far from public eye in order to preserve the work. I would have loved to get closer to see the detail that went into creating the masterpiece.
Some museums and monuments required an entrance fee whereas others did not. It was interesting to observe which were free and which weren’t because those that were more famous in my mind such as the Louvre and Notre Dame were free whereas others such as Musee D’Orsay and Sainte-Chapelle costs a fee. That led me to ponder, who determines which are free and which have an entrance fee? And what distinguishes one from another?
Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame are two cathedrals that are very similar in some regards but also have distinct differences. Sainte-Chapelle is much smaller in size and has amazing stained glass windows that I have not seen elsewhere in the world. Notre Dame is much larger in size and holds many more relics and attracts millions of tourists each year. Boasting gorgeous, detailed stained glass windows, Sainte-Chapelle depicts scenes from the Bible telling the story of mankind from Genesis to Christ’s resurrection. The fifteen windows in the upper chapel all hold something different for spectators to view. And people did just that; they sat in chairs and stared up at the windows in awe and in search for the message that is displayed. The chapel was built between 1242 and 1248 to house the relics of the Passion of Christ per the request of Louis IX. The Notre Dame cathedral was actually what inspired Victor Hugo for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. During our visit to Notre Dame, mass took place which was an enlightening experience to observe a French mass and see the rituals that are performed.
Riding on the metro was quite an experience as well. In many cities around the country I’ve noticed that the methods of public transit are very similar. However when you encounter problems with the public transit and don’t speak the same language as the people who work at the metro it’s a bit difficult. We bought daily metro passes on Saturday since we were going to be using the metro more than twice and it would be more cost effective that way. The second time I tried to use my pass it didn’t work. I went up to the help desk and started speaking to the lady in English since many French people know English. She responded by telling me she didn’t speak English which she communicated in French and through her gestures. I showed her my pass which she acknowledged that it should have worked. She told me to try going through again and it didn’t work. She signaled me through and opened the gate for me. It amazed me that despite the language barrier we were able to communicate through gestures and universal symbols. Even though traveling to another country where you don’t speak the language can seem daunting, we all speak a universal language of gestures even though some are specific to certain countries.
Apparently I look like I’m French. On the metro a dad and daughter sat next to me. The daughter was begging the dad to have his iPod to play a game and the dad was very resistant to give it to him. After getting the iPod, the little girl was engrossed in the game so the dad started talking to a girl about my age who was sitting across from him. I was trying to listen to their conversation since French is such a beautiful language and I had hopes of understanding the jist of what they were saying. However I did not want to appear like I wanted to talk with them because my ability to speak French is non-existent. Nonetheless the dad asked me a question and waited for a response. I wanted to be able to respond to him in French so badly, but when I opened my mouth the only words that came out were ”I don´t speak French.” After hearing me speak English instead of French his mouth dropped open, shocked that I wasn´t French. I love that I can pass as different nationalities but when I only speak two languages, it gives me a greater desire to be able to speak more languages.
That night my friends and I experienced the nightlife in France by visiting the entertainment district. While there we saw the Mulan Rouge, the birthplace of the can-can. The can-can led to the introduction of cabarets throughout Europe. The classy, respectful French lifestyle that we had seen during the day posed quite a contrast to the vulgar lifestyle of the entertainment district. While my friend was stunned to see this side of France with every other shop sign reading “Sex,” I reminded her that every city has its good and bad parts, the areas that it’s proud of and those it would rather not show. Part of seeing a culture and getting a well-rounded experience is seeing both the good and the bad, but all while staying safe and secure!
Paris is an amazing city to explore and experience. With its amazing art museums, grand cathedrals and delicious food, whether you have a weekend or a week, it’s deserving of your time. Au revoir Paris! I will miss your beautiful structures, stunning stained glass, decadent crepes and croissants and the kind-hearted people.
A student at Lehigh University, I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the spring semester of 2012. I posted about my adventures and cultural experiences at SenseSeville.
Next time, I'll discuss an overnight trip to Granada.