Paris. A word which causes people to sigh and exclaim “Oh romantic Paris”. I can’t fathom why. Paris is expensive. And yes, it is true, the French can be unfriendly and absolutely refuse to speak to you in English (even when they can). But all these are easily forgiven when a single city has so much to offer, to see and to experience.
I first visited Paris two years after the family stopped crediting money into the bank account. So that meant budget only for a room with a sink and meals either from the Carrefour deli takeaway or baguette on the park bench. Fast forward to the present and Paris is still expensive but it remains as enticing as ever.
Places to Visit
The sights of Paris are well-known. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, Conciergerie are but a few of the must visits.
Besides the Louvre museum where you queue to see Mona Lisa for a few seconds, the Musee de Orsay, a grand train station turned art museum for sculptures and impressionist paintings is worth a visit. The building itself is as impressive a sight as its contents. There are works from Van Gogh, Degas, Rodin, Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and Cezanne.
Don’t forget the Pompidou Centre with its insides on the outside – the escalator too. Tubes, columns and structures are color-coded to denote their function – blue for air conditioning, green for plumbing and yellow for electricity.
The Rodin Museum is a tranquil oasis in the middle of busy Paris. The gardens and the museum building itself (tickets sold separately) house Rodin’s sculptures. The Thinker is in the gardens. Personally, I like the Balzac statue best with his robe and unkempt hair. Rodin was commissioned by the Societe des Gens de Lettres, of which Balzac was one of the founding members, to construct the image of France’s foremost literary genius but after seven years of work and study, the sculpture was rejected (due no doubt to the bathrobe).
Then there is Montmarte, which is either bohemian or a tourist trap. But it is definitely colourful. Artists of varying degrees of talent set up shop there, possibly to absorb the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec or Picasso, but more likely to earn your tourist Euros. While there, wander around Montmarte’s intricate back streets. Then climb up the hill to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre for a great view of Paris. You can take the cable car too.
For some peace and quiet, wander around the Pere Lachaise cemetery, the world’s most visited cemetery where you will bump into Jim Morrison, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Modigliani, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Yves Montand, and etc, the tombs that is.
If you are planning to visit Egypt one day, a visit to the Place de la Concorde is a good idea. Right at the centre is the Luxor Obelisk, the over 3,000 year old obelisk from the temple of Ramses II. You will meet its twin outside the Luxor Temple in Egypt.
In the evening, take a walk along the River Seine and wait for the Eiffel Tower to be lit up. Otherwise, catch a cancan show at Moulin Rouge. The conservatives back home would surely either goggle at the topless dancers or threaten to shut the show down…after watching.
Once you have had your fill of statues and the ornate architecture of Notre Dame, Louvre, L’Opera-Garnier, and the more recent Place des Vosges, head towards the La Defense business district. The Arche de la Defense, an occupied building is a near perfect cube. A really breath-taking building and there is none other like it. (The Matrade Building in Kuala Lumpur is a poor copy).
For slightly out of Paris trips, there is the popular Versaille if you are a fan of Marie Antoinette and wish to experience how she lived. If that is the case, you should round up your pilgrimage with a visit to the Conciergerie where she was imprisoned and on to Place de la Concorde where she was guillotined.
For day trips out of Paris, I would recommend Giverny. Take the train from Gare Saint-Lazare for the town of Vernon. From there, a short shuttle bus trip will take you to Claude Monet’s house and gardens. This is the site of his famous water lilies painting. The gardens are absolutely beautiful. No wonder he was inspired.
There is also a day trip to the Loire Valley. The bus trip allows you to have a look at the French countryside and wander around the French chateaus. Personally, I prefer the English castles but they are still interesting.
No need for me to tell you that Paris is a fashion hub. All the Tai-Tais (rich men’s wives) and professional ladies know to head towards Champs de Elysees and elsewhere to queue and get their hands on the latest Louis Vuitton.
Parisian cafes are not only famous but necessities. They are definitely a welcome place to rest aching feet and enjoy a cup of coffee and pastries after all that sightseeing and shopping. For those with money, what are you waiting for? The much vaunted French cuisine awaits. But for those who are on a budget or for whom French is an absolute alien language, just say “Oui” to the Plat du Jour or Dish of the Day. It is easy to order and normally good value for money, and though not necessarily the best in taste, is still good.