Paris has changed quite a bit in the twenty-five years that I’ve been visiting her. She is becoming more of a global city, influenced not only by current events, but by the different cultures that have come to live within her periphique. If you have any kind of desire to go to Paris, just get on a plane right now and go! But if you are hedging between visiting Paris and any other city on the planet, here are my reasons to make the City of Light your top pick.
Un: Energy. Inspiration. Innovation. Abandon. Le vivre. The pursuit of enlightenment, French style. Not things to be seen, but rather a feeling that swims in the air. Paris is one of those places that just grabs you, hugs you, and gives you long slow kisses, sensually, without being too obvious about it, all before you even realize it. The French people on the other hand are a little more reserved, but they warm up. Nothing that a few words of practiced French won’t cure. Paris also has the nerve to make you think. She will inspire you and teach you, even if you aren’t expecting it. But if you are an artist at a loss for your next project, there’s nothing like a trip to Paris to get the inspirational wheels turning again.
Deux: Gastronomie! The food and drink in Paris really are fabulous. Whether you are eating sandwiches and quiches out of the boulangeries everyday or splurging on restaurants, a taste of France is not to be missed. Eating a true Parisian baguette with a slice of generic French brie alone is worth the airfare, let alone all the other wonders of the French palette – from crêpes to bouillabaisse. The lovely way that eggs taste like chicken and both always taste remarkably fresh is divine and not to be missed. Cheeses to be experienced that faintly hint of the grasses that the sheep and cows eat in the field. Freshly pressed olive oils that enliven a plate of greens. You may no longer be able to find that inexpensive wine on the shelf, but the French reds are some of the best you will taste. And don’t forget the champagne!
Paris is truly a melting pot not only of French gastronomic culture, blending all of the cuisines of the provinces of France in one city, but also of world cuisine, and the recipes of her many multicultural inhabitants.
Trois: You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t at least a little bit interested in art, architecture and artists. Paris has an excellent collection of all three. The city itself is a walking history museum and even if you didn’t step foot in a building, you couldn’t help but be inspired by what is out on the streets.
There are wonderful museums like the beautiful d’Orsay displaying floors of Impressionist work, the labyrinthine maze of Le Louvre where Winged Victory and Michelangelo’s Slaves live, the mind-boggling Pompidou with its displays of contemporary art and culture, the unicorn tapestries of the Cluny and the art of Picasso at the museum named after him.
The galleries of Rue du Seine in the 6th arrondissement and the Marais in the 3rd, hold everything from antique lawn sculptures to the work of world class artists.
The artists’ ateliers are open during Les Portes Ouvertes which happen at various times of the year, primarily in the neighborhoods of Belleville and Oberkampf but also in the Bastille.
The architecture of the first gothic cathedral in Europe, Saint-Denis, with its tombs of Kings and Royal Families, as well as the gargoyles of Notre-Dame, the mysteries of Saint-Sulpice and many of the other cathedrals in the city are preserved in their original forms. The term gothic tends to bring dark, somber, stormy night, visuals to mind, but gothic is really all about light and the opening up of space to let the light of God shine in or the rays of enlightenment bathe you into perfection – this particular style of architecture is all about contemplation.
The windows of L’Insitute du Monde Arabe also bring new light onto the subjects of Islam and Arab culture. The window shades are controlled by solar power and open and close according to how much direct sunlight they are getting, maintaining the light level inside to the same level throughout the day. The shades themselves create geometric patterns that form as the shades open and close.
Graffiti is an art form in Paris and good, artistic graffiti and wall murals, although not in the least encouraged in their making, are an accepted form of expression in some neighborhoods.
The flea markets, shops, and whole neighborhoods hold antiques and wonders to pilfer through to find that one special thing that will serve as a souvenir of your visit.
You will find no other city with a list of art and creative venues like Paris. The city is a living museum, with remnants from Lutetia Parisorium to La Revolution, to whatever happened in history yesterday discussed in your local cafe.
Quatre: From Paris there is a wonderful selection of daytrips outside the city – from Giverny to Auvers, Auvers to Fontainebleau, Fontainebleau to Versailles and back again. See the residence of Monet, the grave of Van Gogh, the country residences and gardens of Napolean and Louis XVI. And what about taking the train an hour out of town to Chartres, Beauvais, Amiens or Reims to see the cathedrals, a hike in the forest of Chantilly, or off to Epernay to taste a bit of champagne?
Cinque: Passing time in a cafe and people watching. What could be more Parisian than this? The neighborhood cafes are the living rooms and meeting places of the Parisians. Cafes are where they make new friends and keep old friendships alive. It’s where the neighborhood gossip gets stirred. And for a traveler, whether you are interested in watching the latest fashion walk by, sipping a Pernod, a bierre, a glass of vin rouge, savoring a cafe au lait, reading le quotidien, or just relaxing and resting your weary feet on la terasse, cafe life in Paris is life at its best.
Can you think of another reason to visit Paris?