This spring break we were suppose to take students to Europe. And then, well, pandemic. So in lieu of thinking about the sadness that is this lost opportunity (and there is much sadness, and many other feels) I have been reflecting and sharing stories from many other adventures. This one here is from the last time I was in Europe with students (a few years back now). I have had the privilege of visiting Paris a few times (this was, in fact, my fifth visit). And so when I was thinking about what I wanted to share, I realized I didn’t really have words for this story. Each visit it unique, because you get to see the city through the eyes of others. That is part of why I love running travel study programs for my students – their wonder becomes my wonder.
So I have for you 10 vignettes of Paris – counting down to my favourites from this adventure.
10. Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge in Paris (1607). The lock bridge (Pont des Arts) in the city was sinking, as well as there was a belief that they took away from the beauty of the city, and the government removed approx 45 tons of locks in 2015. But tourists didn’t seem to be discouraged – they just moved on over to whatever rails they could find on Pont Neuf. Underneath the bridge is a beautiful garden that is on the north end of Île de la Cité that juts out into the Seine.
9. Notre Dame – a year and a half before the fire lay damage to this iconic Parisian cathedral, we were able to visit, watching the early morning sun come up from behind the building before climbing to the top of the towers. The whole building is a work of art – I haven’t decided quite yet whether I prefer the inside or the outside.
8. Hall of Mirrors – This is a bit of a battle for me. The hall of mirrors itself is a stunning room – really worth it’s reputation. But the sheer number of tourists make it hard to enjoy fully. This is the least crowded I have ever seen it – and if you can see the number of heads in the left photo below, you can tell that isn’t saying much. I would like to know where the early morning photographer’s ticket can be purchased for those who just want to take a handful of really pretty photos. Can I pay a few $ extra for that?
7. Shakespeare & Co. – So most of these photos are from outside the store because they actually have a no camera policy inside. Which I may have broken one or twice really stealthily. They are just trying to avoid hoards of tourists inside taking photos and buying nothing. Because for bibliophiles like myself, this place is heaven. I have a rule when I come to Paris that I will/can buy one book per trip. When you get to the front counter they put their stamp in the front. My collection from here includes The Little Prince, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and a French Pastry cookbook (that Ray doesn’t access nearly enough if you ask me). Decades of writers have lived upstairs, writing their great novels while working in the store, including Hemingway, Ginsberg and Whitman. When I was there this time, someone had come in and sat down at the piano upstairs. I followed a cat through the poetry section while listening to her play. Could have stayed there all day (but abandoning my students would have been irresponsible).
6. Café Life – Not much beats sitting down in a Parisian Cafe, sitting on a cappuccino or savouring some sort of sugary goodness and people watching. One of our days in Paris we gave students the choice between touring the catacombs or visiting the artistic district of Montmartre. Only 2 kids wanted to visit Montmartre with me! So while Ray took the rest of the crew into the depth of the city, me and my crew of 2 headed to the top of the highest hill in the city.
5. Food Hall at Galeries Lafayette – Ray loves food. I love colour. This place is a little slice of heaven. Spices, salts, teas, pastries, French bread, caviar bar, mustard aisle, butch, baker, candlestick maker….you name it! The spices are my favourite to photograph!
4. Banks of the Seine – I don’t get the opportunity to travel in the fall very often, on account of a teaching schedule not really providing extended fall holiday time. So getting to watch the leaves change colour along the banks of the Seine was a real treat. Life goal: photos along the banks of the Seine every month of the year (for the record, I have July, August, September, November, December and January).
3. Palais Garnier – it is of my opinon that the Palais Garnier is the most beautiful building in Paris (at least that I have had the opportunity to visit – but I will happily stand corrected). The history of the building is fasinating, as it pertains to class structure in early Paris, architecture, music, dance, art, greek mythology and the French revolution. A little something for almost everyone. The big hall upstairs plays homage to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles – but less people!! Every material, statue and curve of the building services a purpose to who was entering, and why they were there. And while controversial at the time (the original ceiling was painted over), the Chagall that now sits above you in the theatre is one of my favourite art pieces in Paris (maybe, anywhere).
2. Eiffel Tower at Sunset – I know. Cliche to have the Eiffel tower o on the list. But every time I see the Eiffel tower, it reminds me of the first time I saw the Eiffel tower, a really transformative travel moment for me. And getting to see other people see the Eiffel tower for the first time – well there is the real fun. But if you plan it right (and God cooperates), you may be able to witness a stunning sunset over the city from one of the towers 3 floors. Yes – do look up sunset times in Paris, and book accordingly. It means you get day time, sunset, and nighttime views, including the hourly light up that happens once the sun has gone down. That’s 3 Eiffel tower experiences, 1 ticket.
- Arc de Triomphe at Sunset – Yes, sunset is a theme here. Again, timing is everything. The night before we went up the Eiffel tower, we went up the Arc de Triomphe. If I were to pick, I would tell you the going up the Arc is a much better experience. You get an equally tremendous sunset view of the city, but that view includes the Eiffel tower. It’s also the best place to watch the Eiffel tower light up and do it’s beautiful twinkley thing. From here your view includes Champs-Élysées, and from the Eiffel tower, you can see Invalides and the Seine. So frankly, if pretty sunset and city views are your thing – do both.