Waking up in Paris to breakfast of croissants for an early morning drive to Notre-Dame… It is so… Romantique! Needless to say, I had a very good sleep that night and probably I could have had wherever in the world I would have been because I didn’t sleep the night before. It was time to head out for our only full day with Paris and we sure wanted to make the most of it. My sister made a remark that French croissants had too much oil in them but I didn’t care! I loved how the Paris sun gave me une bise on the cheek when I went outside to get on our coach… I was feeling well-rested and light, no suitcase in my hand, ready to embrace love and romance with my both hands… Bonjour, Paris and off we go! I hope you don’t disappoint today and I’m ready, are you?
The traffic was probably just as bad as it was the day before but now I didn’t really care because I was in Paris!!! I’d seen HER (the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa), I spent a night here so now I was definitely and positively in the city of romance! I was feeling more playful and flirty and just looking at my surroundings while we were stuck in traffic keeping reminding myself that where I was now was where so many people were dying to be… I’m actually a very lucky person! So it was an early morning and kissed gently by the Paris sunshine we were on our way to one of the most enigmatic and astounding places in Paris, Notre Dame on The Île de la Cité, a natural island on the Seine. It was time to capture the spirit of Hugo’s Quasimodo, Esmeralda… What a perfectly mysterious and enigmatic place it is!
Here the romance of Paris gets a mystical Gothic twist. The cathedral looks astounding and imposing against the blue sky making you feel as if you were part of some mystical plot. First thing we went inside as the place was not too crowded with people at that early hour. The interior was overwhelming with all of its mosaics, religious images. You could occasionally see people praying. Transept roses, rose windows… Here a rose does not feel like a romantic symbol but a token of an intricate mystery and shows how religious people attach a whole new meaning to it. In 2013 the Cathedral celebrated its 850th anniversary and we got special souvenir coins marking the event from a machine right there in the church. I wish I had read “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” to fully appreciate the enormity of the place. We didn’t stay inside long and went outside to climb up some stairs just in front of the cathedral where we could take in its grandeur.
When you are standing a little way up, all that seems to be seen is the cathedral and your eyes wander sizing up every little architectural detail. What I saw to me looked like another life going on amidst the splendid twin towers as if all these figures were part of a puppet show up in the air. I was really looking forward to seeing the famous gargoyles which in Gothic architecture were designed to protect buildings from rainwater. The way you see them clenching their jaws is petrifying. Were they watching us from up there? If they were, they shouldn’t have been bored because an average of 13 million people visits the site every year. I wish we could go up and join them in enjoying a splendid view of the city but we had no time for that. Having found out there was recently a suicide in the cathedral made me contemplate eternity and human life. How many more mysteries this building holds…
As I was engaging in deep thought, it was 9 a.m. and we heard the bells start ringing. What a purely magical experience it was that we, early birds, were treated to! We posed for some pictures with a perfect view of the cathedral and went back down as we saw a man selling Eiffel Tower souvenirs and all of a sudden, he burst into singing Belle from the Notre de Paris musical.
Ô Notre Dame !
Oh ! Laisse-moi rien qu’une fois
Pousser la porte du jardin d’Esmeralda
Wow, that was really romantic and he had a fantastic singing voice! Hugo’s story that made this cathedral linger in art and culture felt somewhere in mid-air…
It was time to go, we had a lot more to do. We walked some streets to where our coach was parked accompanied by the tour guide. We passed by the famous Hotel de Ville which houses the city’s local administration and marvelled at numerous enormous fountains. This was where our bus tour of the city began. As we found out from our tour guide, there would be beaches close by soon. The only bad thing about it was that we were not going to be here to see it and bask in the Paris sun like this.
We drove along the Seine and learned some basic facts from the history of the city. What an unfathomable amount of history there is in Paris, more than a human brain can conceive! We arrive in Latin Quarter, a lively and bubbly area of Paris around the Sorbonne which does not look too large from the outside. Lots of cafes and bistros flash by and the streets are getting busier but the Paris vibe is still there.
At the end of our tour, we stopped at a sensationally beautiful place Trocadero. The view of the main Parisian beauty from up here is truly breathtaking! This is where you get the best photos of her and this is where love birds flock for their romantic photo shoots. If you have that special someone , this place is a must if you are in Paris because I can imagine love feels so much stronger up here. From up there the Eiffel Tower looks like the winner of a Parisian beauty pageant accompanied by other sights that can be discerned. She knows all eyes are on her!
We have just a couple of minutes here to take our beautiful pictures and leave to be mobbed by black street sellers offering us Eiffel Towers ranging from tiny to fairly large. This is really hard sell and these people seem to be very keen on Russians as they shout “Natasha” in your face as you are trying to leave. How very annoying!
Anyway, we soon left for a tour of Versailles. Before we did, we made one final stop at Les Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids) that now houses a museum showcasing the military history of France as well as a retirement home for war veterans. Along with some other war heroes, there is a burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte. The outside is dazzling with gold and the garden surrounding it is spectacular. Alain Delon was said to have a property around here…
Next up we had a tour of the place which was the epicenter of France’s political life for more than a hundred years. Another place holding a great many mysteries of people having lived behind its enormous walls. If the Eiffel Tower is a symbol of romantic love, the Palace of Versailles is one of absolute monarchy that has witnessed the country’s turbulent past. We were about to immerse ourselves into inscrutability of history. Versailles is about a thirty-minute drive from the centre of Paris and we got an amazing chance to look back as we were already out of the city to see HER standing far up behind. Having seen it for the second day now I was kind of getting used to its beauty. Is that what happens with love as well when you eventually get to the point when the chemistry is gone? Anyway, moving on. We arrived to Versailles to realize why Louis XIV chose this place as the location of his future palace. The scenery is very calm and serene and offers a wonderful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Well, you think so until you come across another gang of black street sellers at the gate and look behind it to see gangs of tourists queuing for their entry tickets. The façade does look impressive and royal. We had to walk the pavement to the entrance to understand that it wasn’t actually used for walking on in the old days because it was mainly for carriages, royals didn’t bother to do too much walking. This is why I didn’t feel like a queen on a leisurely stroll of my grounds… As we had a reservation for our tour, we didn’t take long to get in. From the inside the place started feeling more just like a museum with crowds of tourists checking it out. You physically feel the place hadn’t been lived on for very long, since 1789 following the French Revolution to be precise. I was working hard to imagine what it must have felt like to be living in such a huge place. Is having a place like that all it takes to make a person happy? Being of royal birth grants certain privileges and opens a lot of doors but many people found it daunting to keep their dignities intact as they were living in a lap of luxury. As you enter the salons of the palace, you get blown away by the furnishing and décor and they make a statement of power and authority. French kings had huge egos that they boosted by lavish interiors. They had servants at their call to help them through their daily routine which might makes us presume they had no worry in the world.
Some people had to work their way up by getting into the king’s good grace to get admitted to the place and here we were, thousands of us, casually touring it… I was wondering what the kings would say if they got a glimpse of what their residence is like today… But to this day, you have to be in a certain privileged position to get a proper tour because the palace is mobbed with tourists and I think to get a feel for Versailles, you need to take time to let your imagination work because if you are rushed as we were, the place might come across as a barren display of royal wealth but it is the people and their personal dramas that kept the place alive. You have to get into their royal shoes for as long as you are here. Amidst all this lifeless beauty, I kept thinking about things that were taking place here that might not be so politics-related. I might have started picking up on the Paris vibe but at some point it stroke me that Paris was not just about romantic love but a kind of “love” that at least used to be kept private before the social media came around if you get my point… In a way that makes you feel uneasy even though royals were just like the rest of us. The last queen of France, Maria Antoinette, that you see on a painting courteously looking down on you with her children was notorious for excessive partying and adultery and we can only imagine what kinds of things those party people got up to in the privacy of the palace grounds. The portraits that we see on display today didn’t help her public image. I dare presume she wasn’t the only royal to have fed their amorous appetites inside these mystifying walls. Standing there in the middle of the monarch’s chamber, I felt like a privacy intruder. Quite wide but very short beds looked as if they had never been slept in. Probably they hadn’t because a lot of the palace was looted after it was deserted following the Revolution and that must have been a copy of the original one. They could hardly be used for escaping the public eye because even a child-birth was public as it was taking place here. It is at this place where a strictly enforced etiquette which made provisions for every single aspect of royal life went hand in hand with extravagant pleasure-seeking. I found all these fancy bedrooms stifling in a way imagining how queens had their maids at their bedside whenever they woke up or went to bed to help them dress and undress. I’m not sure if I could handle being a royal… And of course, we stopped at the Hall of Mirrors which is next to the King’s chamber. Mirrors were very expensive to get at the time and were only produced in Venice so workers were brought here to make them because everything for the palace should have been home produced.
What an utterly beautiful place to dance some waltz in and see the beauty of the moment reflected in the enormous mirrors… If I was a royal, it would be time for my promenade because the tour was now over. We were free to stroll the enchanting park of Versailles on our own for a bit. This is where you can really relax and enjoy royal views of Versailles. Was I feeling like a royal? Probably I wasn’t, but I definitely felt relaxed away from the crowds and this is perhaps what the royals came here for. Well-groomed lawns, flowers… You could well spend the entire day on the grounds. Unfortunately, the fountains weren’t working while we were here. There are fountain shows at certain periods and there must be an extra fee to get in. We walked around for a little bit and since we are not royals at the end of the day, it was soon time for us to leave. We had a bit of a meal which was a bit challenging to buy because as I noticed, French people can be rather unwilling to speak English. It was some bread with cheese and I can eat everything if there’s cheese in it! Before we left, we had a mission to complete. We needed to get some tiny Eiffel Towers from local street sellers because they sold them cheap. So we got our euro coins at the ready in fear we might be pickpocketed if we reached for our purses while buying our souvenirs. It was really funny but these black street sellers can really make you terrified. It made us chuckle that they did even try to speak some Russian with us and they didn’t really have to! Versailles turned out to be what I was picturing it to be, a pretty much lifeless display of royal extravagancy and wealth…
We were on our way back to Paris. It wasn’t long till we saw HER again right in front of us. There’s no escaping HER really. As much as some people who were appalled by this structure tried to hide from it, the best they could do is to climb on top of her… Paris is so diverse that you can even get a bit of New York here when you pass by a replica of Statue of Liberty. Just a little surprise (imagine saying that in American accent!). The original statue was actually a gift from France. As we picked up the rest of the fellow travelers who were staying in the city, time came for another handsome man alert! There was one just the other day in Berlin with that man seated on the stairs of a bank. This man was seated on the stairs as well but of the famous Palais Garnier which houses the National Opera.
Next stop was Montparnasse Tower. Our travel agency failed to reserve us the tickets to climb the main Parisian beauty and you can spend 3 hours in a queue to get your ticket there. So Tour Montparnasse was suggested as an alternative. That used to be the tallest skyscraper in France. We were to see Paris from the 56th floor! How dizzyingly exciting! We saw some handsome French office workers as we walked to the elevator. Falling in love in Paris can really be like a walk in the park or in this case, a walk to the elevator… It took us to the 55th floor and we needed to walk another floor to get to the roof terrace with breathtakingly beautiful views. We got there and had a photo of the three of us taken which we didn’t bother to pay to get but it’s kind of part of the experience. The terrace is amazing and there are some places you can sit or lie down to relax and take in the city. I took no time to find the best view of the Tower and here SHE is, so tiny and small but the largest and most precious jewel in the lavishly painted picture of Paris. I reached out my hand and it seems like it was sitting in my palm. “You are so beautiful, Madame!”, said I to myself as I noticed many more sights we had visited today lined up in front of my very eyes. We stayed up there a while and then it was time to go all the way down.
We were now on our way to a very unique area of Paris, the area which used to have probably the highest concentration of art talent, Montmartre, ideally perched on the highest hill in Paris. A lot of celebrated artists found their refuge here and I imagined there would be a certain artistic vibe here. The area is visibly set apart from the rest of the city and I had to look a long way up to see where we were about to go. The first impression was that art gave way to petty crime here as I saw crowds of dodgy-looking black people coming and going and I was having doubts whether I really felt like joining this beehive of potential criminals. I’d never held on to my bag as tightly as I was walking up that street. The area didn’t feel safe at all and it gave me a feel of how poor artists who used to reside here must have been. It felt like a Paris underground where you always have to be on alert and aware of your surroundings. We safely got to the top of the hill to Sacré-Cœur, a very beautiful basilica I caught a glimpse of on my arrival to Paris. It’s even more beautiful close up and to me it looked even more spiritual than Notre-Dame. It looked like a rocket ready to burst into the air as we were standing at the foot of the hill watching it. The view from up there was stunning and of course we had a view of HER as well. There were some people lounging in the grass.
We met our Montmartre guide who got stuck in traffic on his bicycle. The traffic in Paris can really get that bad! He turned out to be very friendly and interactive while he was introducing us to the area. We were cautioned against any interactions with street sellers during the tour. I don’t mean to sound racist but a lot of black people in Paris look a bit terrifying and that sends a clear message you’d better steer clear of them. Some of these guys seemed to be on friendly terms with our guide as they greeted him. He warned us that was going to be a sweaty walk uphill and by the looks on our faces, he might have assumed that made us even more terrified! He did his best to defuse the tension and told a couple of jokes. Accompanied by our energetic and fit guide, we were just about to enter the Sacré-Cœur basilica. Even though I’m not religious, I always enjoy going inside what religious people call “houses of God” while I’m travelling. This feeling it gives you is purely spiritual and comforting as you realize there is some energy in there that I can imagine a prayer can induce in someone in despair and you instantly pick up on it. For some reason, I found the energy in the cathedral a bit oppressing and the silence was really deafening and I was longing to hear a faint sound. I felt the urge to leave somehow. Luckily, we didn’t stay long and went back outside to continue our tour. This is when I saw a most terrifying and quirky dog being walked nearby. We were yet to see lots of dogs in this area of Paris. I was expecting to see lots of street artists at work but in fact all I saw in that part of the neighborhood were occasional groups of tourists. We were shown the first bistro launched by Cossacks in 1814. I smiled at my Russian heritage as we were walking by. Our Russian-French guide made the area come alive with the way he was introducing the sights and I was starting mellowing down after a not quite safe walk up to the area. As we started going down to some quiet place, he was telling a story of a man who once discovered he had learned to walk through walls. Once he met a woman around this area that he instantly felt attracted to and they started an affair even though this woman was married. One night he stayed at her place far too long (doing what? Well, there were some children in the group so it was said they had been dancing) and as he was running away, he discovered he could no longer walk through walls and where was he now? We only had to look to the right to see him stuck in a wall. This is a character from the story “The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls” by Marcel Aymé. We were astonished because the way we were approaching the monument was timed perfectly! To me this whole story was so Parisian and reminded of how Paris wasn’t just about romantic love and the sculpture of a human private part next to this man was another reminder of that and how important physical longings were here.
We were shown a lovely house previously owned by Dalida, famous Italian-French singer, in quite an intimate location. Montmartre Museum had some copies of famous paintings accomplished in the area by the likes of Picasso, Matisse… To end our tour, we were shown a place where the famous character of the film Amélie came to buy groceries.
A couple of hours before I thought the Montmartre vibe had been lost upon me but thanks to the professionalism of our guide, I felt a faint spark of it in my soul. We walked around the area on our own for a bit getting some art souvenirs from here and were struggling for a while to find our way back down that maze of streets. We were not sure if that was the street we needed but there was no question about it the moment we saw a very Russian face of a fellow male traveler in the sea of international people largely made up of some really gorgeous French men. I know probably no Russian men will be reading this so I can have a little rant about how Russian men are nothing like European ones. Scrubby looks, rude behavior, apathy to life is what generally sums up most men in Russia and I guess that was why that particular face stood up in the crowd… But we were in for some treat as we took a vacant bench right across the one where our “handsome” and so very Russian fellow traveler was seated. Checking out French men is an essential part of Paris experience and they make falling in love so easy! You might think Alain Delon was not your average French man but whilst seated there, I thought this idea had to be thrown out of the window as every third men in the crowd seemed a resemblance to this handsome French. I could stay here for hours French-men watching. Merci, French men, for providing some eye candy for us! This is what I miss a lot back home… I’m still struggling to figure out what on earth is the matter with men over here but the fact remains that something is seriously wrong! We left Montmartre wondering if we could come here on our own if we are in Paris again and not get pickpocketed again. We take another peek at the notorious Moulin Rouge and its windmill…
It was time for a brief New York throwback again as we took a brief ride along the business centre of Paris named La Défense with its huge skyscrapers. They were hiding behind HER as we were looking at Paris from Tour Montparnasse. This is where romance is put aside at least for the length of a work day…
We were not at work, we were on a beautiful vacation in Paris and we didn’t say no to a bit of romance and as the night was settling in, we were just about to let Paris and its dazzling amorous lights work their magic on us. It had been a long day but again who cared, it was time for a late night date! After dark is when love transforms and has a playful spark of passion added to it that sends hearts racing and makes them do all the love talking. Our date was to start at 10 p.m. and we didn’t want to be late. We were there just in time and the magic was about to begin. We took some spot to see it closer. I knew it was our first late-night date but it was my heart speaking now and all that excitement was getting too much so let me get a little closer to you, Madame because tonight all the dreams I’d ever had of love were going to sparkle on you as you let your lights burst that might make me burst into tears of joy… For a tiny moment as we were standing there waiting, I felt like a man waiting for his date to make an appearance. And there she is, flirtatiously shining her bright lights on us. All eyes are on you, beautiful! Remember I said I thought after having seen the Eiffel Tower for two days, I started thinking I was getting used to it? Well, probably, it was a beautiful summer late or HER lights were even more beautiful but I thought Paris IS love! As I was standing here joined by thousands of others, I was thanking life for giving me this beautiful chance to be there in the city of romance feeling blessed and at the same time sorry for everyone who might never get a chance to come here… Jollie, jollie, jollie! Why can’t I just stand here all night watching you….It feels good to be here even without a special someone and even if you do want them blown away by these shining lights here with you, just imagine (but don’t close your eyes, please) someone you saw earlier in Paris or anyone from anywhere in the world who has ever made your heart skip a beat sitting here next to you…We feel love as long as our heart beats and especially when it has beaten in Paris… I feel tears coming to my eyes now just thinking of how hard it was to leave this beauty to be enjoyed by others… French specialties that were served in our coach didn’t help… I raised a toast to Paris (love) and to HER (a symbol of love)… Of course she’s the main beauty around and nothing else can shine their lights as she does but as we were on our way back to our remotely located hotel (safety comes first), we let the Louvre, Champs-Élysées and romantic roadside restaurants dazzle us with their charming lights… I felt in love and it seemed as if I needed that just like I needed the air to breathe… The air of Paris… I didn’t want to think I might not be feeling in the same way when I woke up the next morning… Paris, je t’aime… I believe in Paris, do you? Bonne nuit!!!