People who have travelled to Paris seem to be in two distinct camps, the lovers and the haters. I myself am in the former. I was immediately charmed by the city's very distinct culture and role as a traveller's Mecca.
Paris has a reputation for being dirty, both in its city streets and in the behaviour of its citizens. From the stink of the river to the lewd comments you may get walking through Mont Martre, so much of Paris is in your face. As such, I think that it gives off a bad first impression for a lot of people used to the sterile blandness of North America. However, if you deal with these things as they come and try to focus on some positives I think that you will love the city.
Well what's there to love you ask? Well the history, culture, and sights are dead give aways. Clearly you will not find an Eiffel Tower, a Louvre, a Notre-Dame or an Arc de Triomphe anywhere else now will you? But other than those "big four" which are clearly just a given, there are a lot of other wonderful sights to see in Paris such as...
La Defense: This is essentially the "Sky Scrapper" district of Paris located outside of the downtown core. While that doesn't sound all that exciting, it is a haven for odd bits of modern architecture, including a giant "Window to the World" which was intentionally lined up just a little bit off of the Arc de Triomphe, some iron statues of people with no arms or heads, and oddest of all a giant thumb (obviously pictured to your right). Now I just happened to go on a Sunday and the place was completely empty (from what I'm told a sharp contrast to the week days) and I have to say it couldn't have been any better. There I was walking alone through giant sky scrappers and odd bits of modern architecture. The sounds of the trains going by and birds chirping where all that filled the air. I felt like the last man on earth, walking alone through a concrete jungle searching for survival after some future catastrophe. It really was a surreal feeling. So if any of you are going to Paris, I highly recommend you head out this way on a lazy Sunday, you won't regret it.
Père-Lachaise Cemetery: Now normally I hate cemeteries, they really creep me out, but this one was different. It was full of exceptionally old, and incredibly elaborate grave stones lined up as a small miniature city for the dead. The uneven cobble stones and gorgeous view of the sunset from the top of the hill really make you feel like you stepped out of a busy modern metropolis and into a more relaxing time. As if that wasn't enough, there are many graves of (im)famous people strewn about to go and pay particular attention to.
There are two graves that really got my attention, the first is the most famous one, Jim Morrison's grave. I was told by some friends that when they went there were all sorts of old hippies smoking joints all around the grave, paying tribute to Mr. Mojo Risin'. Unfortunately, when I went there was no such thing...ahh well, better luck next time I guess.
The next one was for one of my most favourite authors, Mr. Oscar Wilde, whose grave is pictured to the left. If you look closely at the grave there are a number of spots all over it, those are all lip stick marks, by people who have kissed his grave. Strewn between all of the flowers and notes to Oscar there is a small plaque at the bottom that says something to the effect of "Do not deface Oscar Wilde's grave, it is considered historical property". It also mentions that the grave was restored in the 1990s at some point. I was simply blown away by this. The fact that they have to tell people not to deface it says that it must be defaced on a regular basis, and if it was restored in the 90s, how bad was it before then? It really was interesting to see the way that people paid their respect to a great author.
If you're out and about in Paris I'd also highly recommend the Sacre Coeur, a gorgeous white church which will blow your mind. The modern art Gallery Centre Georges Pompidou is a really odd place, even if you don't want to go in, walk by and see the fountains and the unique collection of people outside. Also, the Catacombs are a really chilling place, walking deep underground through short, narrow walk ways lined with bones is certainly something that I don't do every day.
Paris is also a wonderful place to people watch. I spent a solid 45 minutes sitting outside Notre Dame Cathedral just watching everyone walk by. I was amazed at all of the different types of people that I saw, from busy executives, to swooning honeymooners, to students on trips, to backpackers, to anything in between. Paris is absolutely full of a wonderful assortment of individuals.
So for any of you interested in seeing the best and worst of Europe, I can think of no better place to start or end your journey than the glorious city of Paris. I know I enjoyed it and I'm sure any of you would too.
Until next time,
Appendix: Some Links
Blue Planet Hostel: The place I stayed, it's pretty expensive, but prime location, and free breakfast.
Hostel World: Should be your first check for discount places to stay
RyanAir: For anyone travelling Europe, be sure to check out the insanely cheap flights, their "Paris" airport is pretty far away from town but there is a bus that will shuttle you in.
Lonely Planet: Well duh...