Two Weeks in France, Part One: Paris
Paris is known as the “City of Light.” This is because Paris was a center of education/ideas and also because the city used gas lamps to brilliantly light the famous Champs-Elysées, a long avenue (1.25 miles) of upscale shops and monuments which stretches from Place de la Concorde to the Arc De Triomphe. My recent visit to France was highlighted by spending some time in Paris and experiencing as much of the “City of Light” as our time there allowed.
I traveled with my husband and two college friends, and being this was their first visit to France (but my fourth), we chose to see many of the most famous sights and tried to get the full Parisian experience through spending some time with locals and selecting neighborhood restaurants. Our daughter Julie lives in Paris, so she and her boyfriend (who speaks excellent English) were our guides in the wine shops and our menu translators at the restaurants, though many had English menus. Late afternoons we would gather at our hotel for a cocktail hour and open a bottle or two of good quality, but well-priced wine. Julie brought wine glasses, wine, and chocolate, and our friends bought cheese, crackers, and macaroons to round out our little soiree.
After, we would head to one of the many brasseries for a dinner of French specialties. I have always loved escargot (snails), but I have never had them like they are prepared in France – excellente! Duck, chicken, and traditional cassoulet (white beans and pork) were among the expertly prepared dishes available to us. We feasted on risotto with fresh champignon (mushrooms) and cheese, and we enjoyed croissants and other pastries that were extraordinary.
Julie had us all over to her apartment for an hors-d’oeuvres dinner one night with her friends Philippe and Lorian. She made many scrumptious canapes and had five or six kinds of French cheeses to sample. New bottles of wine kept appearing so that the glasses were never empty. Philippe is an intriguing person; he does not speak English, but that certainly didn’t stop him from chatting through the evening. He and my husband had a boisterous contest in Backgammon, and later he spent quite a bit of time demonstrating how he had won his many ping pong tournaments. Lorian translated and was a second to Philippe’s animated pantomime.
Of course, we visited many famous attractions: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower. Teeming crowds were the mark of all of these venues, but to experience in person what you’ve only seen in pictures is worth the effort. We did find that buying tickets in advance that moved your group to the front of the line was a real bonus.
Sometimes we had a guide (Notre Dame, see picture at left), which was most helpful in learning about the history of a location as well as a source of answers for our many questions. Sometimes we rented headsets that lead us on a tour of a facility (the Louvre, see the picture below) on our own. While you can go all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, stops at the first and second levels allow you to walk all around and get an exquisite 360° view of the city. Versailles probably had the biggest crowds, so our daughter recommends the Palace at Fontainebleau for our next visit as the masses don’t even come close to matching those at Versailles.
There are so many other galleries in Paris that are all worth visiting such as the Musee (museum) d’Orsay or Musee Rodin; we know we can visit Julie many times without running out of things to see and do. One night we took a cruise on the River Seine. The boat had headsets, and it was an informative lesson in architecture. The upper deck was the place to be, but again it was so crowded that not all of us could get up there. After the cruise, we did a nighttime bus tour of the City of Light and a late-night dinner at an elegant restaurant near the Place de la Concorde.
How do you get around Paris? The Metro (subway) was very convenient to our hotel and reasonably simple to figure out. We tried buses (buses and the Metro use the same tickets) and had good experiences there, too. Paris has taxis and Über, but unless you have a working phone in Paris, calling for a cab isn’t always convenient.
When is the best time to visit Paris and its many delights? Each season has its own claim to fame, but the fall finds good weather with fewer crowds according to a couple of sources I read. We will look forward to returning in all seasons and seeing the many wonders that Paris has to offer.
Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.