Thursday, February 28, 2008

Paris...City of Lights

Paris, France
I opened my eyes in my own bed. It felt nice. I lay quietly enjoying the familiar surroundings, the smell of my pillows, the feel of my feather duvet, the gently snore of my dog asleep under the bed, my parrot calling to the birds outside. I was home and in my own bed!
It had been a long flight and home felt good! I lay quietly enjoying the familiar surroundings and thinking of a world far away… a world quite different. It seemed unreal that only yesterday I was thousands of miles from home. Only yesterday I was walking the streets of Paris. Paris, France, city of lights!
In all my years of travel, Paris had never been on my priority list of places I wanted to visit. Possibly I was guilty of doing the very thing I advise travelers never to do. I had allowed myself to be influenced by other peoples opinions…“the people are rude, they hate Americans, the city is dirty, they let their dogs get on the table, etc, etc“. I was guilty of judging people I did not know, and had developed pre-conceived ideas of what I would find based on the experiences of others. What a mistake!
It was a beautiful day when we arrived, cool and overcast. Once we checked into our hotel, we immediately hit the streets. I wanted to check out this “city of lights” , the city of choice for so many novels and movies. The so called “most romantic city in the world”.
Our first stop was a small coffee shop where we purchased toast with cheese and a cup of the most delicious coffee I had ever tasted. A shy young man in the shop spoke a few words of English and seemed anxious to practice his accomplishment. We exchanged a few halting words and then we were on our way. I had made my first friend in Paris.
Ovi had done a great job planning our trip (he‘s a great Travel Agent). Located within a few blocks of the Eiffel Tower and the river Seine we were in an ideal location. Paris is a walking city and can only be appreciated if you walk…so we walked…. 8 miles that day and even as we grew tired, each view of the city beckoned us to walk further. The architecture was amazing, grand old bridges flanked by beautiful statues, ancient buildings adorned with angels, winged animals and scantily clad Nubians. And everywhere, parks with beautiful flower gardens and amazing fountains.
The air was fresh and crisp and the city was clean, well-worn but clean. Ovi and I walked hand in hand along the River Seine feeling young and in love as we sang “I love Paris“ off-key. Beautiful stick-thin ladies in high fashions walked their tiny little dogs, looking neither left now right. Old men fed pigeons from park benches while their ladies chit-chatted with friends. Kids played in park fountains and young lovers embraced or held hands, while in the streets hundreds of motorbikes dodged in and out of traffic. The people were neither friendly or unfriendly…perhaps indifferent is the word. They noticed me no more or no less than they did their fellow countrymen. They seldom made eye contact, but when they did, I smiled and they smiled. I didn’t feel they disliked me, they just didn’t seem to care one way or the other and that was alright with me.

We visited the Louvre and the great glass pyramid made famous in the movie, the Da Vinci Code. We took photos of the Arch de Triumph and walked along the Champs Elysee reading menus of fancy restaurants too pricey for our pocketbooks. We window shopped fashionable boutiques. Ovi said that in Romania they call it “licking the windows“, I managed to buy a few souvenirs from street vendors before Ovi rushed me along to avoid gypsies trying to scam me in various ways.
We returned to our hotel after dark and for the first time I took notice of our room. Although it was very modern and clean with all the amenities one would expect, it was not what we were accustomed to in a four star hotel. The rooms were tiny (European hotel rooms on an average are much smaller than American hotel rooms), the TV only spoke French (no LifeTime movies here) and the bed was small. I thought Ovi would go berserk when he found he had no internet connection.…But after a while I convinced him that it was ok not to check your emails while in Paris.
The cost of Paris…pricey! The dollar is weak against the Euro, so we don’t get full value of our money and, had we paid full rate, our hotel would have cost 300 Euros (about $450.00) per night, but because Ovi is good at finding bargains, it cost us less than half that amount.
I could easily have spent our entire vacation in Paris, I had made a real connection with the city. But of course, we had to move on. We had the rest of Europe to see. But one day I will return to Paris when I have lots of time to spend sipping coffee in side walk cafes, exploring side streets and tiny street markets or perhaps taking one of the many boats along the River Seine. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the many pleasures of Paris, but as always I feel blessed to have had the opportunity.
Tips for visiting Paris:
Do not ask other people how they feel about Paris!
Do not go with pre-conceived ideas about what you will find there.
Take in everything as you walk. Allow yourself time to enjoy the beauty. Look into people’s faces.
Walk the Champs Elysee after dark when the lights are on.
Take lots of money.
Drink the coffee
Eat the pastries