January 21, 2013

An American in Paris: Day One

What can I say about Paris? It's been written about, sung about, photographed and filmed probably more than any other city on earth. All for very good reason, I may add. It's full of beauty and grime, delights and discouragements, a city of light and dark, amazing contradictions. I love it.

Due to a business trip, I had the opportunity to take my wife with me for a short stop in Paris, a four day anniversary celebration delayed earlier in 2012 due to the birth of two grandson, one on each side of the actual date. 

Off we went. Anyone who has gone to Europe from the States knows that you can arrive early to mid morning in your choice of destination with very little sleep. And we did! With this being our third visit to the City of Light (we are blessed), our feel for Charles de Gaulle International Airport was much better than earlier trips. In less than an hour, the Metro took us to our first destination, the New Orient Hotel just blocks from the Opera House. (Buy the unlimited Metro pass. It gives you unlimited access to the RER high speed train, the Metro, and the funicular which takes you up the steep slopes to Sacre Coeur.) Since it was too early to check in, our gracious and friendly hostess Katherine, took our bags and delivered them to our room which would be ready later that afternoon.

With fours days- only enough to begin to explore the city- we had a short list of must sees, even after previous visits. The last trips we missed going up to the gargoyle laden towers of Notre-Dame, just missing the last tour group both times. That was number one on our list, but choosing to wait until the next day to see it fresh, we headed for a little meal to get us going.

Department store windows delight at Christmas. 
I've left all these photos very large to give a real sense of the place. 
Just click on there for a very large image.

Since it was so close, a visit to famed Parisian department stores Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps (top photo) began our day. Both were gilded to the hilt, their windows dressed with stunning Christmas displays. Visiting the massive food stalls for a drink at Galeries Lafayette was just what we needed after we stood in awe of the gorgeous stained glass dome and huge Christmas tree in the middle decked out with Swarovski crystals. Unbelievable. Tourists like us gawked, but Parisians walked by, seemingly unfazed by the grandeur around them. 

Inside Galeries Lafayette. 

The winter breezes were steady, the skies grey, and the air crisp with constant drizzle. It was cool but not cold enough to stop us. Moving on to the next door neighbor, Au Printemps, we traveled to the rooftop cafeteria to eat a simple lunch and catch a view of the city. It was surprisingly empty. Perhaps many folks have other priorities than a department store, but since we had visited the city previous time, we wanted to come here and enjoy a view we had read much about. We were not disappointed. 

Attemp at an artistic shot from the rooftop of Printemps.
Sacre-Couer is in the background.

The view was worth the modestly priced meal and overpriced soda. Buyer beware: We were thirsty for a Coke Light but it came at the price of almost five Euros, six plus dollars each. We don't normally splurge for sodas, opting for other local beverages, yet we needed the caffeine punch. It gave us just the lift we needed for a few more hours.

Mansard roofs and chimney pots everywhere you look.

Wandering the streets in Paris is a journey worth taking. Actually, it is one of our favorite ways to spend an evening or afternoon. With our Metro map in hand, we never got too lost, and it was easy to get back to our small and charming hotel at check in time. 

The Opera de Paris Garnier.  

Smaller alleys and side streets are equally beautiful for Christmas!

From daytime to nighttime.

Opting for a short nap that turned into something much longer, we rose and returned to our earlier lunch spot for a nighttime view of the city. In a word, spectacular. Afterwards, more wandering the streets exploring the tiny paths off the beaten track as well as the public squares and plazas. Everything was in Christmas glow, the smallest shop or apartment taking the time to celebrate the season.

Two not-so-young lovers in the City of Light.

Then the bug hit me: I had to see the Eiffel Tower. Had to, especially at night. Taking the Metro to the Trocadero stop, we exited the station and rounded the corner. There is was, the enduring symbol of the most elegant years of the city. 

Words are not enough! 

At 10:00pm, the Tower began to sparkle as it hit the hour. For five minutes, I stood mesmerized. My eyes got a little watery as they do when I am moved. That reaction to seeing it always surprises me. Then I noticed the Christmas market below, surrounding the fountains in front of it. We'd be returning to check that out tomorrow ! When my wife was finally able to pull me away, we stopped for that most simple of Parisian treats: a crepe filled with Nutella. (My desert island food of choice!) 

Eventually, we returned to our room happily tired and ready for the next day's adventures. Our feet tired, but our hearts happy, and this was only the beginning. More to come, and yes, Disneyland Paris.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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