It’s hard to be Paris. The city is the object of so much built-up expectation and unrealistic fantasy, that like a Victoria Secret’s model, only disappoints when you realize that she burps, poops and picks her nose just the same. So Paris is not just a place of happy beautiful people in sundresses frolicking in front of the Eiffel Tower next to their picnic baskets filled with flowers and macaroons, but the city owes you nothing.
Now that’s out of the way, Paris is kind of special to me personally, because it’s the first European city I’ve ever set foot in. I was 21 at the time, and my mother had taken me there with her friend and her friend’s son as a college graduation gift. I had never seen a smaller hotel room or narrower streets. Everything appeared dainty and delicate to our eyes trained for supersize. Considering that it was a family trip, the fact that the man behind the receptionist desk rung up to our room nightly to say bonsoir mademoiselle did not tickle my mother’s fancy. I suppose it would have mine if the man wasn’t twice my age. Outside the realm of flirtation, Parisians were not particularly warm.
Twelve years later, I set foot again in Paris, on a different family trip: with in-laws. Paris felt familiar. Classical Baroque buildings. Smell of urine and sewage. Breath-taking religious facçades. Women begging with young children on the streets. Like New York City, Paris is a real cosmopolitan city that offers a colorful snapshot of life, in its vivid, miserable, but nevertheless moving way.
France is a really really lovely country. I haven’t been everywhere yet (looking forward to do so one day), but the south of France is particularly exquisite. The small villages near Provençe are things of the silver screen, where food is everything French cuisine is cracked up to be. All this seems to be lost in Paris. Paris is very expensive. You can also come across bad food. When one stumbles across bad and expensive food it makes a truly upsetting experience. Rocking on my in-laws’ dime, I only caught a glimpse of the checks, and although the food was decent, the prices divided by 2 minus 50 euros would sound more or less just. In Barcelona, they rob you on La Rambla. In Paris, they rob you right in the restaurant, with a smile and a merci.
See previous section. Side note: quality varies. I almost lost my front tooth chomping into a rock hard macaroon from a grimy bakery on a small street. Safe bet: Ladurée. It’s a chain, but a good chain. Their macaroons are unforgettably delectable. See previous section again.
The Must-Sees and Beyond
I’ve seen the Louvre, Versaille, and the Eiffel Tower on my first trip, all of which are very nice and must-sees for first time visitors. The Church of St. Eustache, which we happened to stroll by this time, is one of the nicest church I’ve ever seen hence a very pleasant surprise.
A friend recommended visiting the neighborhood between Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur, and Canal Saint Martin near Place de la République. They are both very lively areas with cute little shops, although the former was too packed with tourists. Place de la République is an eclectic square, where Parisians gather to show solidarity, to show resistance, and to bond in this seemingly aloof city.
In remembrance of the recent tragic attack against civilians in Nice, the monument in the plaza has been used as a memorial for those who lost their lives. I stood there for moment as a woman patiently watered each and every plant left at the memorial. I wonder if she comes everyday. Despite the visible poverty, social problems, and tourist traps, there is a throbbing heart and spirit in Parisians that may be invisible to those storming in and out of Louis Vuitton, but is evident in this square where children play and flowers lay.