I first met Paris in 1999. Clichéd as it sounds, it was probably love at first sight.
Paris is like a lover. I have loved it, hated it and loved it all over again. It is also like an unforgettable lover. I could not resist its allure and found myself returning to its embrace again and again.
O IS FOR THE ONLY ONE
Many people think that Paris is the most romantic city in the world. Strangely, I don’t feel the same way. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the city.
There is simply no other place in the world like Paris.
Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and Pablo Picasso are some of the great names who had, at one point or another, called Paris home. It is not hard to see why Paris has been a muse to many writers and artists.
The city is replete with culture, history and pure old-world charm.
V IS FOR VOYAGEUSE (Voyageuse - a female traveller in French.)
The best way to experience Paris is by foot. My walks on the streets were serendipitous wanderings - every corner held a story waiting for me to uncover.
Strolling at my own pace allowed me to immerse in the sense of the place and the day-to-day Parisian life.
It is not unusual for people to associate the French capital with glitz, glamour and all things grand. However, beautiful as Paris is, it is also where I’ve had some not-so-pleasant encounters with people.
During my first trip, my friends and I got followed by a strange man when we were out one night. We only managed to shake off the man after we stopped by a police post and pretended to chat with the policemen.
While on my second trip, I did not know how to buy a Metro ticket using the ticket machine. No one I approached was willing to help, not even the staff at the counter at the station.
Quite often, I’ve been told by others about how “rude and snobbish” French people are. Well, no doubt I’ve seen this side of the French, but I’ve also been at the receiving end of kindness from the French.
There was once I was struggling with carrying my 15-kg luggage up a flight of stairs in a Metro station. Suddenly out of nowhere, a French guy just appeared and promptly assisted me with my luggage up the stairs. I couldn’t be more grateful.
I also have a French friend living in Paris. She is ever so helpful whenever I need some assistance. For my third trip to Paris, she offered her place for me to stay at and even made arrangements for a trip to the French Riveria. (Thank you, Flo.)
E IS FOR EXTRAORDINAIRE
Paris is sometimes called the “City of Light”, or “La Ville-Lumière” in French. The nickname came about when the capital of France became known as a centre of education and ideas during the Age of Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement in the 17th and 18th centuries centering around reason and individualism.
Subsequently, the nickname took on a more literal meaning when Paris became the first city in Europe to start street lighting with gas lamps in the early 1800s.
What entices me to Paris? Museums, gardens, art, architecture - there are so many things enthralling that no amount of writing by me will do the city justice. The least I can do is to list a few things which made it hard for me to forget Paris.
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE
Someone once told me that if I spend one second at each exhibit in Musée du Louvre, or the Lourve Museum, it would take me nine months to finish touring the entire museum.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have nine months to spare to look at the 35,000 masterpieces in the museum. I did, however, manage to catch the smile of the Mona Lisa in 1999. The first (and only) time I saw her was back in 1999. She was smaller than I expected her to be. I was able to get close to her then; I hear that it’s tough to get near her these days.
The most recognisable landmark of Paris is perhaps also the most major cliché of the city. Love it or hate it, you cannot miss it in Paris, and it would almost be a sin for a first-time visitor to step into Paris without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.
When I travel, I try not to visit the same tourist attraction again if I’ve visited it previously. Time is precious and I usually want to make use of every minute to explore new places. But, I simply could not resist the lure of the Eiffel Tower. Despite having already seen it and gone to the top of the tower during my first Paris trip, I still went back to it for all my subsequent trips.
Built in 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, the imposing steel structure never failed to mesmerise me each time I looked at it. I would walk under it, around it, to its left, to its right - every angle gave a new perspective. And, every visit offered a new experience.
La Defénse is a major business district of Paris and quite unlikely to be an attraction for the typical tourist. I, on the other hand, was so intrigued by the area that I spent an entire afternoon there. A stark contrast to the historic buildings in central Paris, the modern architecture at La Defénse was surprisingly a breath of fresh air to me.
At the heart of La Defénse is the iconic La Grande Arche de la Défense. Designed by Danish architect Johan Otto von Spreckelsen, the striking 110-metre tall building resembles a cube with a hole in the middle. It was built in the late 1980s, supposedly to be a 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe.
I was in awe of the Grande Arche. I couldn’t stop looking at it. That sort of explains why I spent such a long time at La Defénse.
One of my favourite pastimes while in Paris was to stroll along the River Seine. Running through the heart of Paris, the Seine divides the city into two - the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and the Rive Droit (Right Bank), both of which have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Lush linden trees lining the river banks danced to the tune of the wind. Boats cruised down the river as the water glistened against the sunlight. Grand monuments like Musée d’Orsay and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame bordering the river added to the visually delightful experience. Just the perfect place for me to take my contemplative stroll. What’s not to love?
Although I have bidden au revoir to Paris time and again, I don’t think I have seen the last of the city. My love affair has not ended. Not quite yet.