Whisking away at over 300 Kms./hr. from Mannheim to Paris. My heart travelled the memory lane of chuk-chhuk gaadi which I always romanticized. And my mind got blown away by the fascination of high-speed train. Before I could get them together, there came a magical kiss from the sun rising amidst the picturesque villages covered in a beautiful duo of yellow and lavender flowers. OH this was just a chic beginning of my tour de Paris.
As soon as we hopped off this romanticism of the train, we were greeted by a big portrayal of the world-wonder Eiffel tower at Gare de I’Est station. Though I knew we would climb it up ourselves the next day, I couldn’t resist a selfie there.
Walking a few streets in Paris in the drizzling morning, I said; Oh God, there is a special wind of style blowing today. Well, the raindrops guided us to hop on to the Red BIG BUS, our first interactive companion in the city !
While the raindrops blew gently down our cheeks, the eyes enjoyed radiance from the hiding sun, revealing the classic-sturdy structures of art on both sides of the road. Before I could drench myself into it completely, we hopped off at Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Notre-Dame is a piece of passion where spending a complete day will also be less. Its gigantic façade with sculptures on it welcomes you to a world of relentlessly detailed knacks and its rose windows (floral paintings on glass) flaunting the famous Gothic Rayonnant style will rivet your attention for a long time. This style is seen in other parts of Europe too, like in the famous castles of Germany. No camera lens can capture what we experienced here.
Again, hopped on to our interactive companion (Big Bus) to indulge a bit deeper in the Parisian culture & architecture. Crossed the famous Champs Elysees which is one of the most beautiful avenues in the world.
A breathtaking historic avenue (renovated multiple times in every century) stands strong opening up its arms to an infinite-looking high-street with brands right from one of its creators – Louis Phillip to Cartier, Month Blanc, Zara, GAP, Swaroski, Benetton, Nike, Louis Vuitton and many-many more. All these high-end brand outlets rest aesthetically in the arms of tree boulevards. It is home to some of the world-famous retail properties, pavilions, pathways, palaces, liberators, artists and poets and of course many bistros and restaurants. This place hardly has any residential properties as it is one of the most expensive locations in the world and is dominated by office and retail spaces. This side of Paris always has a series of cars lined up as 12 avenues converge at the Champs Elysses.
Many world events conclude here like Tour de France, France’s victory in world-sports. Also the largest military parade in Europe passes down the Champs-Elysses, reviewed by the President of the Republic.
Moving a little further, we were greeted by a scintillating Red framed brasserie (a true French Styled restaurant) – Le Fouquet’s. This upscale & cool restaurant is often full with French celebs & journalists. In 2007, French president Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his electoral victory dining here, thus stamping it all the fame that it gathers from world-over. We could not experience a full course meal, but sitting in its exterior cafe and watching people was no less insightful. Well, one has to pay the price to sit back and watch the world go by in Paris.
Parisians’ love for food is world-known. The food plates in this culinary capital of the world look pretty and are served with panache. The emotions that the food arouses before it reaches the admirer’s mouth is the most critical aspect of French restaurant business. Because the French feel that only good looking food is worth tasting. A lot of attention is paid to the color of embellishments that surround the food. They not just make their food look attractive but they make it taste aesthetic. And in order to understand what is aesthetic-tasting food, you will have to visit Paris.
Clinking glasses for the smallest of joy is so typically French. We knew this but never experienced it with as much grace before. And of course, they have different set of glasses for different types of wine. The brave red wine deserves the fatty and biggies. And the white smoothly flows into the more sleek ones.
Looking at their multi-course meals, initially I felt they over-indulge in food but after indulging in a few meals with them, I realized how important it is to relish and savor our food and not rush into it. Ironically, a lot of time-starved professionals do this in other parts of the world (I do it myself !!). In France, minimum is a 3-course meal. Less than that is just not a meal. Perhaps they see food as the unifying bond. Because while we were in Paris, we could see people indulging in intense and joyful conversations over food. They bond over bacon and share their experiences over Coq au vin. Ohh I just could not pronounce any of their dishes as they are so fancy ! Eating, clinking and sipping wine in Paris is a niche experience, which I wouldn’t like to limit in words. Just a word of caution for Indians; French like their breakfast to be minimalist and quite sweet. Mostly their favourite Baguette with honey, butter and jam, a fruit and a coffee or cocoa. I was starving after a buffet breakfast.
Another piece of advice; French portions are usually much less (in comparison to Indian food portions), but then they are expensive too. Because presentation is what matters the most and also French eat multiple courses. And if you are in France for an official tour, be careful on your coffee breaks. Snacking is not so common in France. The pastries and cakes are usually reserved for morning breakfast. I think if I eat like a French, I would lose some weight ! Now the stats of France showing low obesity rates makes sense to me. This is what our nutritionists have been telling us too. Eat slowly and relish your food.
Now imagine people who are so mindful of their food presentation, how conscious would they be while presenting themselves to the world. No wonder, there are frequent sights of high fashion. Obviously, Paris is the center of fashion industry & is the first fashion city of the world. New York & Milan came in later.
To experience this fashion city, you need to do two things. One, visit Galeries Lafayette, a swanky departmental store in Paris which is the flagship brand of Europe (later opened in other parts of the world too). Galeries L. store is a dome shaped decorative architecture and has a quite nice view of Paris which makes it a must-visit too. And if you are lucky, you can also watch the fashion show that happens here quite often.
One store is for men, other for women and third is most obviously for gourmet. This is because Food and Fashion go hand-in-hand there. Moving mannequins and animated window displays outside this store will pull you into a world that has the best of everything. But the labels are much heavier than the stuff. First time in Paris, could I see some people dressed casually, i.e. the staff of Galeries Lafayette. Else, maximum people walking down the streets are so formally & perfectly dressed.
And if you miss to experience fashion at Galeries Lafayette, then at least spend a few hours & Euros sitting in the beautifully decorated exteriors of a café. There cannot be something more Parisian than sipping your café crème and just watching the world go by. No wonder, most of the cafes and restaurants have tables and chairs placed outside facing the street or the square in Europe. We have experienced this in Germany too.
I observed a special bond between the French women and their scarf. Different textures, colors and patterns elegantly twirled around a feminine neck in hundred different ways is so French. I didn’t know, how a scarf could make a dress look so chic suddenly. Perhpas, it is not just about the scarf, but the way you swirl & twirl it for that extra flaunt.
Amidst the interesting swirls, I was elated to get a sudden glimpse of Eiffel Tower. Standing in front of this gigantic metallic tower, I said; “Ohh sir Eiffel, how sturdy a masterpiece you created.”
We had a 4 p.m. entry to the gate, and for the first time in life. I reached a place in time ! Because of course it’s not a place, it was “THE PLACE”. It looked complex from the ground (Level 1: Esplanade) and amazing from Level 3 (Amazement).
While we were in the long queue for reaching to the top-most level (Vertigo), some fellow tourists influenced us to wonder if going up would be worth because the view from above would remain the same. Before we could re-think, we were in the elevator and it zapped us up to heaven. I could feel like a bird who sees the world from top. I went speechless soaking beautiful Paris in my heart. That’s when i got pinched by my husband.
Top-of-the-world was not a phrase anymore !!
Here’s how I felt;
A popular story goes like this. After conquering Paris, when the German Führer came to visit Eiffel, the elevators were closed, making it difficult for him to climb up to its top. And he had to leave without going up…..!
After coming down, what better than sitting down on ornamental greens with fountains sprinkling our face with cold droplets and the experience of Eiffel reflecting in our eyes?! For the next hour, we just talked our joys out.
Walked the round-about and hopped on the Big Bus to reach our hotel near Opera House. Our hotel balcony was good enough for people watching. Dinner was French salad, Pizza (without ketchup and toppings) and of course, clinking the red & white wine glasses. I liked the white wine better. By the time, we went to our room, it started raining. Went back to our balcony for people gazing and then dozed off in the arms of reality that was better than dreams.
Woke up to drizzling droplets and style that the city is known for. Started walking and witnessed the entire junction covered with red i-phone branding. Red is not less stylish either ! Soon we crossed Galeries Lafayette, our neighbor. It looked as lovely in the morning as it looked last evening. First historic piece of the day was Opera Garnier. This was home to Paris opera until a few decades back and is still one of the richest opera houses in the world.
Most of the cars in Paris are black in color and interestingly, while on our way to Eiffel we could see many cars belonging to honorable embassy officials from different countries. Since they had CD number plates on them, they could be identified easily. Next we reached Musee du Louvre, the pride of Paris. Home to Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci’s original Mona Lisa. The painting is mesmerizing and it is unbelievable to see how Leonardo could make a lady come alive in a painting during a time, when there was no technology. It is a must-see masterpiece of art & history. As you reach the musee, a huge glass pyramid designed by a Chinese-American architect elegantly stands at the entrance to escort you to The Louvre.
While the musee was designed centuries ago and has a historic architecture, the pyramid is extremely modern. A contrast which i quite liked. But many have not. Hence, a lot of criticism has aroused in the whole of France with this modernist’s creation of Architect Pei.
Impressed with his work in America, Pei was invited by French President sir Francois Mitterrand to add a classy stroke of modernism to the world-famous Louvre, centuries later after its construction. While it won the Noble award of architecture, it called for much popular ideology clashes in France. If I am not wrong, it happened with Eiffel Tower too. Well, I admired them all without any strings.
Ohh time again for ♪♪♪ Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées…..! Enjoyed it as much as we did the first time. Just there is the Grand Palais (Great Palace), which is like the Crystal Tower of London. This 100 years old Palace is the most beautiful building in Paris, not just for its admirable grandeur, but because it brings together audience from across the world. Perhaps it is more famous than Eiffel Tower. And that’s because it is the address to some world sports championships and fashion shows. Chanel does a show every year too. Besides it is quite surprising that a venue as exorbitant today served as a military hospital in World War I and then was venue to exhibitions. If you have the time & Euros, do check the show timings here !!
Visited the Dome des Invalides where rests the tomb of Empereur des Français – Napolean Bonaparte and all the memories of his victories are preserved amidst magnificent ornamentation. A lot of gold is being used here. The dome is golden in color from outside and can be seen from all over Paris. I felt no expense was spared while creating this dome church.
One has to take the Alexander bridge to visit Napolean’s Dome. It connects the dome with another iconic building of Paris – Petit Palais, a famous museum. This bridge is famous for its extravagant design and affluent execution in gold. It can be admired in entirety from the river cruise.
The city is lavishly built with ample gold used in its architecture. Right from Opera Garnier to Napolean’s dome, to the ornamental bridges (including Alexander bridge), to Flame of Liberty; golden statues and domes are everywhere.
Tour de Paris cannot be completed without visiting the Montmartre (Montmartre is a hill in Paris after which the surrounding district is named) side of Paris housing Moulin Rouge, famous for its acclaimed cabaret. We admired this Red beauty only from outside and during the day. I am sure it looks stunning in the night.
The color red continues from Moulin Rouge to its surrounding area is called Place de Clichy. This place has a completely different feel. Red stands for lust and attraction, and that’s how I would define this side of Paris. It might make a few of us a bit uncomfortable as both sides of the street are covered with Sex Shops that is pretty uncommon in India. There are some roadside inexpensive shopping avenues, which we were not too attracted towards. Though it would be a better sight in the night with sexy neon lights and glow signs on, but I am not sure if it would be worthwhile and safe to capture it in our eyes and camera during night.
The best part is, this location of Paris is completely untouched by urban planners and hence retains the old city charm. It is definitely overly occupied. Do not miss The Nightfall here – a very tall bronze statue on an ornate exalt.
Until now we were at the bottom of the hill Montmartre and moving up above, we reached the holy place – Basilica du Sacre-Coeur. A Basalica (Church) with Roman architecture built a century ago. The interiors draw inspiration from the floral painted windows of Notre-Dame but the scale is smaller. The views from this place resting at the top of Montmartre hills give a fresh view of Paris. Just be a bit careful of the non-French people wandering around with some tidbits to sell. Strangely, before climbing it up, when we sat down at a bench in the gardens of this holy place, some strange men approached us for something not good. The atmosphere was strangely uncomfortable. I am not sure why and what were they taking one-person-at-a-time with them from a different and deserted route. Anyways, we carried back good memories of the Basalica.
Next morning, we were invited at the Eiffel again. This time not to climb but to float. The only thing which made us unhappy on our way was the Flame of Liberty, a larger than life golden flamed torch replicating the one that the Statue of Liberty in New York carries. This tribute stands right next to the tunnel where Princess Diana unfortunately left us before time. The base of this monument has commemorative elements displayed by her fans.
With advance booking tickets in our hand, we began floating in Seine from Eiffel Tower. There is a live commentary in 14 languages and Hindi was one of those (There are different departure points. Check for the commentary in your language before booking the tickets). This was like a Au Revoir (Goodbye) wishing tour to all the monuments that we admired in Paris in past couple of days.
Sipping wine with some fresh cherries under open sky and above river Seine, crossing many-a-monumental bridges of Paris was a beautiful noon. A few rashes of sunburn seemed just worth and that’s why a few white skinned co-cruisers folded back their umbrellas soon after opening them up.
Fountain is another beautiful feature making Paris ornamental.
Waking back from a wonderful cruise, we went back to Gare de I’Est train station. It’s facade is a testimony of neo-classical style. Originally built in 1849 and later pooled with modern construction makes it a unique piece of art.
Ahaaa…..wait. Before capturing our last French style selfie, we gave a turkish twist to our taste-buds . Shredded kebab with rice pilaf served with lots of French fries and salad was quite different.
The spirit of Paris is world-known like our very own Mumbai. Even today, French say, Germans could conquer our city but not our spirit ! They also take pride in calling themselves revolutionary as they do not compromise on anything less than excellent. Paris has all the magical elements of making me feel top-of-the-world. At least make an attempt to speak a few words of French before asking; do you know English.
Before visiting, I had heard that Parisians are rude. But my experience has been different. They are less casual and a bit reserved in their own circles. And following their formality, if you approach them with a bonjour, they would respond better and faster. Of course, their language is difficult but they are not that difficult.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my most recent and real experience in Paris. And the purpose of this is just to share my experience with others and it has no other purpose to serve.
Written by: Ruchi Adlakha