I was in my second year at university frying my brains, desperately hoping to be captivated by a topic that I could go on to treat as my final dissertation project the following year. I sat in a worried heap while my programme leader patiently explained that as a language student I had the option to study abroad for a period, and if that were the case, my dissertation could be completed in the fourth year, rather than the third. Wait...you mean I could buy more time? Seeing as no single topic was tickling my fancy, the idea of France was as good as sold then, and not in a romantic way - it was simply an unprepared student's way of getting a breather.
So it was that I arrived in Paris that year, curious and wide-eyed, to find a city buzzing with history, character and buildings that take your breath away for their sheer architectural wonder. There are many who view Paris through rose-tinted glasses, and conclude that it is the perfect city - beautiful, romantic and constantly turning to reflect the changing times whilst maintaining its ancient magnetic pull; the kind that is at once as entrancing as it is frustrating; a fascinating melting pot of art, music, culture, couture and cuisine. It's enough to make you feel as though you landed a scoop getting the opportunity to be a part of this magic. Indeed, after a while you might even struggle to remember why you ever thought the French system was maddening, because more often than not, you find the city continuing to impress itself upon you with an almost mystical force.
Arriving at Paris Orly Airport last Wednesday, two years after I last said goodbye to the Parisian life, I was amused to find that in spite of my confident steps, I was disoriented and slightly confused by the city's train and underground network. And this from someone who had previously known it like the back of her hand. I stiffened when an elderly Brazilian couple at the airport asked me for directions on how to get into the city centre, and let out a small sigh of relief at the realization that it was luckily to a place I knew very well. Our little interaction finally ended with them inviting me to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014. Watch this space then..
I was conscious of avoiding obvious sites like the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame Cathedral, coolly deciding they were places for 'tourists'...yet could not stop a little flutter in my chest when the following day saw me gathered with several other thousands of people looking up in awe at the Eiffel Tower as colorful fireworks marked Bastille Day celebrations. Nor could I resist pulling out my camera for the umpteenth time to take yet another photo of Notre Dame when I walked by it. It appears I was failing rather spectacularly at the I'm-no-longer-a-tourist-in-this-city thing, and clicking away like a besotted trigger-happy fool. But, more than getting a kick out of seeing the grand sites again, it was the little things that continued to stay with me: bustling, noisy markets, chic bistros, heavenly smell of fresh bread from one bakery or other...
So, once you have done the big 'touristy' things in Paris, see that you add these others:
Have a crepe on the Rue Mouffetard
Enjoy a street performance
People-watch on the Pont des Arts
Have your portrait painted in Montmartre
Watch the sun set over the city from Sacré Coeur Basilica
|Nur, the jolly corn seller|
...the thing is, it is impossible to exhaust the cultural offerings of a city like Paris. Nuff said.