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Quintessential Paris

There is no doubt about it: Paris has a reputation. Amongst the great cities of the world, Paris is the city which all the other cities envy. In fact, if I were one of those smaller cities, I’d want to be just like Paris when I grow up.

There are few places in the world which can boast such powerful icons as the Eiffel Tower, that can own such an embarrassing wealth of architecture and art, and that can also be steeped in such a turbulent and multifaceted history. So, if you take a trip to Paris, where exactly do you begin?

The Parisian Metro is a good place to start. By using the underground network, you can get almost anywhere in Paris very quickly and fairly easily (but do mind the local drunks and pickpockets!). There is a lot to see in Paris, so if you are short on time, then it is best to get to the big four as soon as you can; these being: The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Arc De Triomphe. These four sights are not to be missed.

The Lourve art museum is a place that is possible to get lost in for days. Once you enter through the now famous glass pyramid, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of great works of art and the immense size of the Palais du Louvre. Grab a map-guide if you want to head straight to the gallery’s signature painting – Leonardo da Vinchi’s ‘Mona Lisa’. Otherwise you might find yourself wandering aimlessly for hours. It might seem more like a hike than the perusal of a gallery at times; and you will be well advised to periodically take a seat and if you want to get around in one piece. Multiple visits are really required if you want to take time to appreciate and muse upon the great works on display.

A great time to visit the Eiffel Tower is after dark. The iconic tower is lit up at dusk, presenting an awesome spectacle against a blackened and hopefully starry and moonlit sky. It is hard to believe that the construction of the tower was completed in 1889, and it has since become one of the most prominent and well-known images of the modern world. Going up the towers incites a curiously ambivalent mixture of trepidation and excitement. There are three floors to choose from (57m, 115m, and 276m) – and the decision all depends on your courage and strength of hair gel! Sipping a coffee on the third floor of the tower whilst overlooking a moonlit cityscape is an experience which even the most cynical, anti-romanticist will be hard pressed not to enjoy.

It is hard to think about Notre Dame Cathedral without remembering the old ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ movies. ‘The bells, the bells’ the poor guy used to yell as he hobbled around. Indeed there are. The actual Cathedral is almost seven-hundred years old and is another impressive Parisian architectural sight. The stonework itself is a work of art, containing gargoyles and angels and multitudes of animals. If you are fit enough, you can climb the four-hundred or so steps up to the top of the structure, where you will get another glorious panoramic view of Paris. Inside the bell towers, the wooden platforms shake and move in the wind. Back at the base, you can go underground and see some subterranean remains of previous structures inside ‘the crypt’.

The building of the Arc De Triomphe was completed in 1836, some years after Napoleon’s death, who had commissioned the archway as a celebration of the victory at Austerlitz in 1805. It is another iconic French image that can be climbed via 284 steps (if your legs still have some strength left!) to look down at the av des Champs Élysées. It is a historic place that has been marched down by both the Nazis and the Allies during and after both World Wars.

I find that Paris is best at a slow pace: strolled through like the flaneurs of old, observing and thinking; getting ideas. There is so much to see that, if you don’t pace yourself, you might just run out of steam at the end and miss something: and there really is much you can miss. In addition to the four places mentioned, there are seemingly endless museums and galleries to explore. One of the more modern ones is Centre Pompidou, which houses modern works of art in a curious building designed with the inside on the outside to create more exhibition space! There is also a gallery nearby containing works exclusively by Pablo Picasso.

There is an elegance and finesse about Paris that is hard to miss. Locals are extremely fashionable and it is easy to start feeling out of place in some of the trendier boulevards. Paris can also be an incredibly expensive place to stay. The food and wine is great, but it does not come without a hefty price tag. There is also a dark side to Paris that can easily be stumbled upon – people can be caught smoking dope in the streets and old hookers dressed in leather and latex are plainly visible for all to see. However, with these negatives aside, Paris can be enchanting. It is a fairly liberal place and certainly a space for the senses to feast and gorge: where poetry can flow and art will flourish. That is quintessential Paris.


Jason J.R. Gaskell, Msc. is an ESL teacher and freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, and Ezines; and more recently has been working on a new title for Dorling Kindersley publishers.

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