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!).
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.
The vibrant city streets were lined with historic buildings.
And every so often a massive architectural masterpiece would crop up!
There were ornate statues everywhere. Monuments of all kinds were decorated with gold leaf that sparkled in the sun.
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!
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.
Some places date back to the middle ages, and it was mind boggling to imagine just what these windows had seen through the millenia.
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.
Paris is very much built around this river, and it is as alive with boats and boating today as it ever was.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Much of the canal ride went under foot bridges and through various lock systems in the canal.
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.
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.
We saw some neat sights as we floated along this canal. “La Geode” is a fantastic and enormous sphere of mirrors!
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.
Once inside, the array of selections is immense!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Paris is famous for its luxurious gardens, and we strolled through the Tuillieries on a beautiful sunny day, ice creams in hand.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Speaking of the very old, the ground was broken for Notre Dame Cathedral in 1163 and the cathedral was completed in 1345.
Even though I’m not a city gal by any stretch of the imagination, I was absolutely charmed by the city of Paris.
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.
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Other blog posts from abroad:
- Thailand and Cambodia
- Caribbean and Guatemala
- National Parks – American and International
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