The security officers were sombre but smiling at the passing crowd, politely requesting coats and bags to be opened for a quick check-up. The locals and tourists, most of whom were tipsy and ready to party, politely obliged in return. Respect for law and order that safeguards freedoms and rights was evident all around, despite the fear and division that hidden politics have tried to force upon the masses.
The Champs-Élysées in Paris was bright with lights, music and laughter on New Year’s Eve. People from all over the world filled the prominent avenue anticipating the well-known French celebrations of the occasion. The recent extremist attacks and loss of life was no deterrent to liberté, égalité, fraternité, the national motto of France. Although the yearly full-package celebrations were discarded, 2016 was inaugurated in true French spirit.
Not many cities, well-known for attracting travellers and tourists, are able to give an impression of belonging to its visitors. Although the language barrier is evident, the French take pride in speaking French and are usually annoyed you’re clueless, there is a natural sense of being in the right place to discover whatever it is that matches your personal ambitions. With its diversity of backgrounds and tastes, anyone can fit in with contentment if they know where to look. It’s no wonder it is described as the city of lights and love. Leaving it ultimately creates a sense of loss.
“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime,” wrote Victor Hugo, once upon a time.
Walking along the River Seine, most popular attractions and monuments are visible, giving the illusion they’re close enough for a brisk walk. But this doesn’t matter since the city’s underground contains levels of metro lines with stations located on almost every street. Stepping out of the Gare D’Orsay metro station, you can simultaneously see the Seine with its bridges and bookstalls, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, and the beginning of the Champs Elysees. In that regard, it’s somewhat safe to get lost in Paris. Everyone is walking around, above and below.
With all the walking on well-paved roads, is difficult to find an overweight or unfit individual. Despite the hardships of life one faces daily while living in the city, regardless of the convenient socialist system, the French air can do a world of good to the psyche. Unless of course one chooses to be unhappy, probably for artistic purposes. That is evident from the bright clear faces of people walking by or sitting in the outrageously numerous cafes and enjoying a drink or two during daylight hours.
Many prominent artists, writers and philosophers are known to have fell in love with and in Paris. It is truly an inspirational place with its intricate contradictions. Beautiful centuries-old churches of various denominations can be finds scattered all over the city. Although mostly empty of worshipers, they make up a vital touristic scenescape.
On the other hand, strip clubs, brothels and sex shops can be found just next door to houses of God. The famous Moulin Rouge with all of its openly promiscuous nightlife is just a few streets away from the Sacré-Coeur (The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris), a Roman-Catholic embodiment of conservative moral order. Furthermore, the French seem obsessed with the naked human form, mostly women, as statues of human nakedness can be even found in and on political monuments such as the Pantheon. No wonder Vincent Van Gogh and others enjoyed their challenging artistic life.
Paris can be seen in a few days if the visitor is really active. The Paris Pass conveniently allows visitors to explore the city quickly, with the Big Bus Tour, queue-skipping, free-passes and discounts. The entire city can viewed from 59-stories above at the Tour Montparnasse or on the Tour Eiffel, which is a definite must-see. However, for a thorough exploration of the city of lights, at least a week is needed, even if it is just to indulge in the delicious wine and cheese. The Louvre museum by its self needs requires an entire day of walking, and it’s not recommended that visitors just pass by the Luxemburg Gardens without spending one whole beautiful morning and afternoon.
Regardless of one’s preferences, Paris is a city not to be missed and it promises to be unforgettable. One’s heart will always have Paris.
“I guess it goes to show that you just never know where life will take you. You search for answers. You wonder what it all means. You stumble, and you soar. And, if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.” ― Amy Thomas, Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light