An American in Paris – Ooh La La!

September 2017 – After spending the summer months RVing in Wyoming and South Dakota, I made a mad dash trip to visit my mother in Paris where I basked in a weeklong whirlwind tour of the City of Light. All I can say is, “Ooh la la!” (and would you belielve the French really say that!).

Notre Dame Cathedral on the Seine in Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the Seine River in Paris

After weeks of living in wide open lands, watching the wildlife and experiencing a taste of the cowboy life in the small towns of the American West, it was a wild jolt to the senses to find myself immersed in the hustle and bustle of a huge world class city whose history reaches back more than 2,000 years.

Les Invalides gold leaf tower in Paris

Les Invalides (where Napoleon is entombed)

The vibrant city streets were lined with historic buildings.

Streets of Paris historic buildings

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And every so often a massive architectural masterpiece would crop up!

Hotel de Ville Paris France

Hotel de Ville

There were ornate statues everywhere. Monuments of all kinds were decorated with gold leaf that sparkled in the sun.
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Statue with gold leaf sword Alexander Bridge Paris France

A golden sword!

Alexander Bridge Paris France

Alexander Bridge

Central Paris is a walking city, and we walked and walked and walked. And everywhere we turned, I had to stop to take yet another photo!

Louis XIV Statue Louvre Museum Paris

Louis XIV Statue at the Louvre Museum

Historic buildings streets of Paris

Cobblestone streets and centuries old buildings.

Whether peering down a city street or gazing up at the tall windows and decorative balconies above me, the buildings held stories that went back for generations through a myriad of styles of dress, social customs and means of transportation.

Ornate building streets of Paris

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Consulate building Paris

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Some places date back to the middle ages, and it was mind boggling to imagine just what these windows had seen through the millenia.

Cluny Museum Paris France

The Cluny Museum

Cluny Museum Paris France

The Cluny Museum

The ancient architecture was breathtaking, and reminded me of the 16th century colonial cities of Oaxaca, Morelia and San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico and Antigua in Guatemala. But the big surprise for me was all the action on the River Seine.

Boats on the Seine River Paris

The Seine River is full of boats and boaters!

Paris is very much built around this river, and it is as alive with boats and boating today as it ever was.

Notre Dame Cathedral on the Seine River Paris

A boat tied up with Notre Dame in the background.

We strolled along the banks of the Seine and I was amazed at the number of barges, pleasure boats and other water craft that were tied up along either side.

Boats on the Seine River Paris

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Lots of people live aboard their boats on the river, and we saw all kinds of barges and power boats that were all decked out for a comfortable life aboard.

Living aboard on the River Seine Paris

What a cool life — aboard a boat on the Seine right smack in the middle of Paris!

Boat life on the River Seine Paris

A nice spot on deck for a sun-downer.

I’m not sure how many of these boats leave the dock or how often, but what a way to live in the heart of Paris!

We even saw a barge owned by Hat Tours, a company that does bike-and-barge vacation tours where you travel from place to place on the barge and then roam around each destination by bike. How fun!

Hat Tours Bike and Barge on River Seine Paris

Hat Tours offers “Bike and Barge” tours of Europe — Fun!

For tourists who don’t own a boat on the Seine and who aren’t doing an extended bike-and-barge tour, there are loads of day and half-day tours up and down the river as well.

River Seine Paris

A boat tour on the Seine is a great way to see Paris.

Boats on the River Seine Paris

Lots of action on the Seine.

The Seine isn’t the only body of water in Paris, however. There are loads of canals as well. These are narrow ribbons of water that are very calm, and they have been used to transport goods from one place to another for eons.

Reflections on canal in Paris

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Reflections on canal in Paris

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Canal reflections in Paris

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There are canal boat tours available to tourists as well, and one day we took a ride along a canal with the tour company Canauxrama.

Canal boat tour in Paris

Tour boats cruise the canals around Paris.

Almost as soon as we left the dock, we motored through a very long tunnel that runs underneath a city park. There were openings in the ceiling of the tunnel that are large grates in the ground in the park. The shafts of light coming down through these openings made fantastic patterns.

In the tunnel on canal boat ride Paris

Shafts of natural light pierce the darkness of a long tunnel on the canal.

Much of the canal ride went under foot bridges and through various lock systems in the canal.

Canauxrama canal boat ride Paris

Our canal boat went under many foot bridges.

A lock is a place that separates two portions of the canal where the water sits at different levels. The boat stops in the lock and gates close in front of it and behind it so it is kind of sitting in a bathtub. Then water is either poured in or drained out of the lock, raising or lowering the boat from the level it was on to the level where it is going. Then the gate in front of the boat opens and it sails out into the next section of the canal.

Canal lock doors open on Canauxrama boat ride Paris

The gates of the lock swing open to let us into the lock.

Entering canal lock on Canauxrama boat ride Paris

As we entered the lock we could see the front gates ahead of us. Another set swung closed behind us.

In one lock our boat entered at a low level and then water flooded into the lock to raise us up. A wonderful double rainbow formed in the spray of water that was filling the lock.

Canauxrama boat ride canal lock fills Paris

Like a bathtub filling, tons of water pours into the lock creating a spray with a rainbow!

We saw some neat sights as we floated along this canal. “La Geode” is a fantastic and enormous sphere of mirrors!

La Geode Canauxrama canal boat ride Paris

We floated past “La Geode.”

Canal scenery Canauxrama canal boat ride Paris

A picturesque scene along the canal.

All this walking and canal boat riding got our appetites going, and fine food, of course, is a national pastime in France. There is a boulagerie — or bakery — on every street corner, and people eagerly line up to get their baguettes and croissants at their favorite shops.

In line at a Boulangerie Paris

Frequent visits to the local boulangerie are an important part of everyday Parisian life.

Once inside, the array of selections is immense!

Inside a boulangerie in Paris

Man does not live on bread alone… Well, maybe Parisian men do!

Eating outside is an integral part of life in Paris too, and apparently no matter how cold or how hot it is, Parisians love to kick back with a drink or a bite to eat and chat with each other or do a little people watching as people go by on the street.

Dining on the streets in Paris

Parisians love to dine outside at all seasons of the year!

But when you don’t hae time enough to hang out at a sidewalk bistro, gourmet food is very easy to find and take with you on the go. Specialty food shops abound, from high end butcher and meat shops to fancy fruit shops to elegant cheese shops.

Gourmet meat shop in Paris

A gourmet butcher and meat shop.

Fruit shop in Paris

Beautiful fruits at the fruit shop.

Cheese shop in Paris

The cheese shop.

If you’re in the market for the best of the best, these little gourmet shops are the way to go. But Paris has plenty of supermarkets too, and these grocery stores even sell low-end Wonder bread if that’s what you’re after. However, the brand isn’t Wonder. It is Harry’s American Sandwich Bread!

Harrys American Sandwich bread in France

The French version of Wonder Bread is Harry’s, and it’s intended use is American Sandwiches.

The trend of rating eggs by the lifestyle lived by the hens who lay them has caught on in France just as in America, and I was amused to see “Oeufs plein air” or “Outdoor eggs.” We’ve seen “plein air” artists painting with oils on canvas out in the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho, and it made me laugh that these chickens were “plein air” too!

Oeufs Plein Air in France

Cage-Free eggs are laid by hens who live in “plein air,” reminiscent of artists who paint in “plein air.”

We also found Kellogg’s trusty Frosted Flakes renamed “Frosties.” During our travels in Mexico we discovered Frosted Flakes were called Zukaritas there and Tony the Tiger had thick dark eyebrows and spoke Spanish, of course. But in France his eyebrows are petite and his French is undoubtedly both fluent and spoken with a perfect Parisian accent.

Kelloggs Frosties in France

Tony the Tiger lives a good life in France.

We saw lots of American food joints too, from McDonalds to Chipotle Mexican Grill to Ben & Jerries. I grabbed a Starbucks latte late one afternoon — they are the only coffee shop that sells decaf lattes for those late afternoon indulgences — and I got a huge kick out of the way my cup was labeled.

Starbucks coffee in France

Something lost and something gained in translation.

The Paris Metro is famous worldwide for making all of Paris easily accessible while also confusing tourists and locals alike with its extensive pedestrian tunnel systems that can lead you to the wrong line or in the wrong direction if you aren’t paying attention.

Lots of the stations are wonderfully decorated to match whatever neighborhood they are in. At the station for the Sorbonne — the elite university in Paris — the ceiling was decorated with the signatures of France’s most famous authors. From Racine to Victor Hugo, they were all there.

This was a very classy touch that could inspire some clever renovations at the Harvard subway station on Boston’s Red Line.

Cluny-Sorbonne Metro Station Paris

The Sorbonne University Metro Station is decorated with the signatures of France’s great writers.

The Gare de Lyon train station had some classy touches as well, and we stopped for a few minutes to listen to a fellow playing the grand piano there. The piano is available to anyone to play, if the spirit moves them. But the audience is large and they hang around for a while, so Chopsticks just won’t cut it!

Gare de Lyon train station piano playing Paris

Pianists entertain folks at the Gare de Lyon train station.

Paris is famous for its luxurious gardens, and we strolled through the Tuillieries on a beautiful sunny day, ice creams in hand.

Tuilleries Garden Paris

The Tuilleries Garden.

As we turned one corner we saw a “plein air” artist capturing the beauty of the scene on her canvas. But the memory of those “plein air” eggs at the supermarket came back to me and I had to giggle. That term had always seemed so high brow to me before.

Plein Air Painting Tuilleries Garden Paris

An artist paints in “plein air.”

The Luxembourg Garden is even more beautiful than the Tuilleries, and as we approached the manmade pond on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon we noticed it was filled with little sailboats.

Sailboats at Luxembourg Garden Paris

Toy boats fill the water at the Luxembourg Gardens.

These boats are available to rent, and the kids just love them. You use a stick to push the boat out into the water, and then it sails away. Then you have to run to the other side to catch the boat and push it back out to sea again. I would have been all over that as a kid!

Child with a sailboat Luxembourg Gardens Paris

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Kids play with Sailboats at Luxembourg Garden Paris

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Luxembourg Garden Paris France

Luxembourg Garden

As you can see, Paris is an absolute feast for the senses in every way. Over at the Louvre I was blown away once again by the ornate and stately architecture.

Triumphal arch Louvre Museum entrance Paris

Triumphal Arch at the Louvre Museum.

Louvre Museum Paris

The stately buildings of the Louvre were a fortress in the 12th century.

Some modern glass pyramids positioned near the Louvre’s entrance and an angular manmade pond out front create a wonderful juxtaposition of the very old with the very new.

Louvre Museum Paris

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Fountain at Louvre Museum Paris

A modern angular water feature blends old and new at the Louvre.

Glass pyramids Louvre Museum Paris

Glass pyramids at the Louvre entrance.

Speaking of the very old, the ground was broken for Notre Dame Cathedral in 1163 and the cathedral was completed in 1345.

Notre Dame Cathedral spires Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral.

That roughly corresponds with the time frame of the ancient Indians (Anasazi) in the American southwest and the ancient Khmer Empire temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Notre Dame Cathedral ramparts Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral.

Even though I’m not a city gal by any stretch of the imagination, I was absolutely charmed by the city of Paris.

Marie de Medici Fountain sculpture Paris

Statuary at the Marie de Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Garden.

From the grand architecture to the bustling city streets and bistros to the funky river boats lining the Seine to the fancy gourmet food shops to the colorful gardens and fabulous canal system to the whimsical statues gracing every corner and garden, it is easy to see why Paris is nicknamed the City of Light.

Statue in the Luxembourg Gardens Paris

Dancing like nobody’s watching in the Luxembourg Garden.

Top of the Bastille monument Paris

The “Spirit” or “Genius” of Freedom atop the July Monument at the Bastille (2nd 1830 Revolution – 1830).

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12 thoughts on “An American in Paris – Ooh La La!

  1. Wow, fantastic photos are clear evidence of your trip’s fun and why your Mom keeps going to Paris! Very nice. Those pictures of the narrow streets reminded us of the same styles in Warsaw Poland!

    • It’s a beautiful city, Pete, and a week doesn’t even pretend to scratch the surface. There are fascinating and wondrous things at every turn, and it’s a huge place. Definitely worth many return trips — as is all of Europe, I’m sure. We all just need more time, don’t we?!!!!

    • Places always change, but old historic towns and cities retain their essential flavor as long as their streets and buildings remain intact. 60 years is a drop in the bucket for an ancient city like Paris, and to me that in itself is mind boggling to ponder! Thanks for reading and appreciating this post, Judy!

  2. Super photos (as usual) really catch the spirit of the city. I’ve been to Paris at least 10 times, starting in 1959, and the essay brings back great memories.

  3. What a great re-cap of our wonder-ful week together ! How did you ever pull all this together so quickly…and so beautifully – you were here just 5 days ago !! Sooo glad you took so many photos to capture “our Paris” 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Love, Mom

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