I may have the most unpopular opinion on earth. I don't LOVE Paris. I like it, I care about its rich history, and I can admire the art and architecture, but it has never settled into settled into that special place in my heart. I love fashion, beautiful food, and walkable cities, so why can't I obsess over long walks on the Seine like everyone else? Contrary to popular belief I find Parisians to be warm and accommodating, and furthermore, I think the climate is fairly pleasant. I wish I could feel as passionately about Paris as Ernest Hemmingway in "A Moveable Feast" when he says, “I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” Unfortunately, Paris and I have never had that kind of poetic love affair.
Sometimes, beauty can be found when just let a city be itself. We didn't look for the coolest version of Paris or even the most picturesque version of the city. When I took a more relaxed approach to the city it occurred to me that I don't like Paris because I always used my trip as a competition with other travelers. "Did you eat at the fill-in-the-blank restaurant?" "Did you go to the such-and-such exhibition on opening night?" "What did you wear in Paris?" "I only stay at THIS hotel". There is so much pressure to do Paris the correct way, see the best-known sites, and make time for all of the underground hotspots all while looking like an off- duty model. Thankfully, I had every excuse on this trip to experience Paris as an average everyday tourist. Without any pressure to take the best pictures, find a cool cafe before everyone else, and take semi-staged street style photos, I truly enjoyed myself and I was able to understand why so many people return to Paris as often as possible. The list below isn't geared towards trendy adults and it isn't the best family friendly guide to Paris. It is simply what we did, where we went, and why I found it beautiful. When I slowed down enough to enjoy the beauty of Paris, I finally found a version of the city that I truly enjoyed.
Palais Garnier Opera House
The true setting of "The Phantom of the Opera" is as opulent as you might expect. The paintings. frescoes, gilded work, and sculptures are outstanding and have served as inspiration for many other Beau Arts Buildings around the world.
The ultimate symbol of Paris and Elijah's #1 attraction to see in Paris, we took plenty of touristy pictures, ate ice cream, and enjoyed the architectural wonder that is the Eiffel Tower
As an art lover, going to the Louvre was a difficult experience for me. I don't mind crowds and queues, but this visit tested the limits of my patience. The crushing crowds, holding camera phones above their heads to take pictures of the Mona Lisa, left a lot to be desired, it was all worth it to study the architectural masterpiece of the Louvre itself. The high ceilings with intricate paintings and designs, the exotic stones, and the incredible mesh of new and old styles were absolutely overwhelming. While going to the Louvre did not satisfy the art appreciator in me, I left feeling a deeper appreciation of the structure itself.
The garden walk before you get to the Louvre is absolutely lovely. We went on a crowded August day, and there were still plenty of places to sit by the fountains, on park benches, or in some of the enclosed flower gardens.
At this point in the day our pre teen boy was over Paris, so a romantic walk with my husband was not exactly in the cards. Instead, we enjoyed a glass of wine ( and a Sprite) at one of the many cafes while we watched other couples blissfully walk hand in hand.
I must admit, that I did not care to visit the Moulin Rouge because of its historical significance. Instead, I wanted to imagine myself in the middle of a Baz Luhrmann musical where I would impress my family with my lovely singing voice. Unfortunately, the area was a bit seedy even in the day and we shielded Elijah's eyes from the many "adult" shops on our way to and from the famous landmark.
Our visit to Notre Dame, was yet another excursion we took because of our personal associations and not because it is arguably the most famous cathedral in the world. Because we are from Indiana we will always scream Go Irish in the fall when we visit the Notre Dame campus for football season. My husband had unspeakable joy, by being able to see the inspiration behind his favorite American college campus.
We thoroughly enjoyed the walk up to Sacre Couer through the windy streets of Montparnasse. With gourmet selections of meats, cheeses, wines, and loaves of bread I was in absolute heaven. However, the art snob in me does have a word of warning. This area is known as the arts area of Paris, but many of the stands selling prints and canvases are massed produced copies made in China. They may be signed by a Parisian artist, but very few of them are by skilled artists trained at the Sorbonne as many of the shop owners claim.
Read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Ecco, or read anything by Foucault. This landmark was incredibly enjoyable because of my strange taste in literature and philosophy. The crypt downstairs holds the crypts of some of the most notable people on earth including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Louis Braille, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Alexandre Dumas.
With a tight budget and an even tighter suitcase, I was an admirer and not a shopper on this trip. If you are looking to take home a few designer labels from the best Paris fashion houses shopping along the Champs-Elysees is a wonderfully iconic experience.
One of my favorite French words is flaneur. I became familiar with it when I read Walter Benjamin's "Arcades Project" about men who saunter, or stroll, through streets with the appreciation of a connoisseur. The Galeries Lafayette make me imagine that I can be a 20th-century woman of leisure appreciating all of the beautiful storefront displays.
This gorgeous arched bridge over the Seine on your way to the Eiffel Tower and is simply stunning! Lamps, cherubs, nymphs, and winged horses represent all of the ornate beauty that Paris is known for.
Place de la Concorde
I could have spent all day in this large square at the end of the Champs-Elysees admiring the sculptures and the fantastic view of the Ar-de-Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe
Inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus, this monument is a regal homage to classic art and patriotic duty. You can go up to the top of the Arc for a picturesque view of Paris, but I suggest getting your tickets in advance as lines can be very long.
Sacre Coeur Basilica
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart overwhelmed us with its grandeur and beauty. It is one of spaces that make you feel instantly humbled, appreciative, and reflective. It is at the summit of the Montmartre and the atmosphere inside and out make you appreciate why Paris is widely regarded as the most beautiful city in the world.