One year ago today my wife and I were in Paris celebrating our one-year anniversary in Europe. In an effort to remember the trip one year later and feel like I’m getting good use out of some of the pictures I wanted to blog on each city that we visited.
I’ll admit we only spent one day in Paris so our experience was limited. Our goal wasn’t to check off each museum and touristy attraction in our short time there but just walk the streets and take in the city and its unique culture. Paris is as magical as made to sound in every book and movie it’s mentioned. From the second your shoe soles hit the streets you realize you’re in a rare place. Paris makes you feel lucky for being there, not in a shady and dirty way like Vegas, but in a nostalgic and enchanting way. The food, the history, the sights, the people, the art, and the corporate excitement of so many people happy to be in one place.
Ernest Hemingway wrote, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.”
Mind you, not everyone feels this way. The Parisians are known for their snobbery and disdain of all things not Parisian. From our own limited experience that was largely true. Like any city where you don’t know your guests or the people popping into your restaurant, and you know they’re likely one-time visitors, there’s little incentive to treat them well. The wonder you feel on your rare trip to Paris is equally matched by the callousness of the museum ticket-taker or the restaurant server who actually lives there day after day. Part of me understands it but maybe it’s just my personality. If Paris is your daily humdrum existence and your working to pay the bills then the romance and nostalgia of thousands of tourists being rubbed in your face everyday would be a bit nauseating. There is no doubt the Paris of the tourist and the Paris of the Parisian are two different experiences. I’ll be speaking from the former point of view.
Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis XIV and was consecrated in 1248. This gem tucked between the Conciergerie (the famous prison where thousand stayed before getting guillotined) and Notre Dame doesn’t receive the same fan-fare as other Paris attractions but it might be the most memorable thing we saw.
This gothic chapel boasts some of the most beautiful stained glass anywhere, stretching up to the high ceiling and wrapping around the entire room. Over 1,110 biblical scenes, most of which deal with Kings and Queens in the OT, provide an IMAX like experience on either side. No electricity is needed with these bright and vibrant colors filling the window. Similar to the Sistine Chapel, come prepared for a bit of strain in the neck after the time flies by with you gawking upward.
After the Eiffel Tower–which I agree with Anthony Bourdain that it’s a bit overrated–most people probably think of Notre Dame Cathedral when they think of Paris. Whether it be Victor Hugo’s classic novel, the Disney movie remake, or the South Bend school and their football team, many Americans have an affinity with Notre Dame without regards to its actual history or what it looks like. As an Indiana boy who grew up watching the Fighting Irish on the football field I’ll admit I looked forward to strengthening my ties by actually visiting the true Notre Dame. The building is massive. Even for someone who attends an evangelical megachurch in the States the sheer size of the cathedral left me annoying my wife by repeating “I can’t believe how big this place is.” Then as you get closer it’s the intricate detail of the stones, statues, and artwork that impresses you. Throughout Europe I was always struck by the detail and the artwork on the outside of their churches and cathedrals. How many painstaking hours did people spend on this?
After an overpriced cappuccino and croissant right outside the gates we made our way into the cathedral. Compared to the Sainte-Chappelle’s interior there’s not as much to say. It’s big for sure, and an amazing bit of architecture. But what most surprised me was the way tourists slugged their way around the building, snapping their photos, pointing their fingers, and going on in conversations and whispers all while church services were being performed. They don’t stop the tourism for the church but the two coalesce as one. It’s hard for me to imagine experiencing the presence of the Almighty God while hundreds of people walking around getting their fill of entertainment and pay their dues for each ticket, map, and hardly worth keeping souvenir.
It’s hard for me to skip over the Pantheon in all its historic glory, or the Luxembourg Gardens and how people gather here like no other “park” I’ve even been too, but unfortunately my space has run out. One day in Paris is not nearly enough, but one day in Paris is worth all the trouble to get there. The romanticism in movies like Midnight in Paris capture what I felt both in preparing to go and then as we walked from neighborhood to neighborhood. Paris makes you feel alive in the best of ways.
Expedia actually has made a number of high quality videos on cities you might want to visit. Here’s a 6 minute video on Paris for those who’ve been and want to remember or those dreaming of going.