The first two days of the first stop on our travels: Paris
The flight to Paris had a connection in Reykjavik — a chance to stretch the legs, watch the early morning mists rising eerily over the runways of Keflavik, and contemplate which human language sounds most like slurred drunken babble: Icelandic or French. (Turns out it’s a tie.)
Uneventfully and sleepily, we arrived at the small studio apartment we’ve rented for our five-day stay in Paris. It’s atop a six floor walk-up in an ancient building and the crooked stairs, particularly with luggage, are not for the faint of heart. But the apartment itself is perfect, and ideally located on the Rue Rambuteau between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in the heart of Paris. This narrow, cobbled street is lined with small grocery stores, a tiny butcher shop, and the occasional (and obligatory) boulangerie, cafe, restaurant, and bar — unmistakably French, perfectly Parisian.
An hour later, we had visited the famous Pont Neuf, taken some pictures on the Pont des Artes (aka Lovers’ Bridge, the one that people affix graffitied padlocks to), and were walking through the Jardin des Tuileries, as a chorus of singing children happily but briefly drowned out the sounds of the angry madman who was shouting at a pond. Whether he was drunk or not was impossible to tell (see above). Fortunately within the sprawling space of the gardens there is more than one pond; we found one that seemed not to have upset anyone and sat down to rest. Along with the sounds of a splashing fountain, the 30 degree decline on the backrests of the chairs turned a listlessness so flawless that it became very difficult for two very jetlagged and insufficiently caffeinated travelers to keep going.
La Tour Eiffel
But we did. Following the Seine along its Right Bank, and crossing at the Pont des Invalides, the Eiffel Tower was coming into view, and it seemed to make sense to just keep going, tired though we were. And it was the right choice. We stopped in at a small grocery store and bought a few small food items, carried them with us to the Parc du Champ de Mars, and as the sun set behind the Tower we had a picnic dinner on the grass.
As the air softened and cooled, we were about to head home — it was already after 9PM — though after a quick look at the line waiting to get tickets to ascend the Tower, we couldn’t resist joining it. Given the perfect weather, it was inexplicable how the line was as short as it was, but we welcomed the good fortune. We did not, however, welcome the fortune of then standing directly behind a gentleman who repeatedly picked his nose, his teeth, and a zit. Perhaps the wait seemed shorter than it really was. Soon enough, the disgusting man was gone, and Paris, all of Paris, lay before us.
Low, long, light angles of sunset cast a bright glow over the city’s rooftops. We made our way to the top and watched the sunset. As the lights of the Eiffel Tower came on and began to sparkle, a young couple got engaged, and slowly the city below us lit up as the Seine took on a greenish-turquoise hue. It was 10:30PM, and although it was still not dark outside, there was very little temptation to walk back — after refusing time and again the rose-sellers who thrust flowers into our chests with an animated, arcing, here-take-this-now arm movement, we caught the Metro home and were asleep by midnight.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
Retracing many of the steps we took yesterday, we were back at the Luxor Obelisk. This time, however, we continued down the Champs–Élysées, stopping in exactly no stores and falling for exactly zero scams involving arcane petitions or magically-found gold rings. Two mandatory photographs of the Arc de Triomphe later, we were once again enjoying a picnic on a shady lawn, watching the world go by.
The first thing we noticed alighting from the Metro at Anvers was how perfectly the scorching afternoon sun illuminated the Sacré-Cœur Basilica atop the hill. Contrasting shadows and highlights conspired to all but breathe life into the travertine limestone gargoyles, recesses, staircases, pillars, domes, spires and statues. Under the shade of the basilica, we stood in awe for a few moments, and caught a glimpse of a hymnal procession of clergy and worshippers snaking their way through the crowd and entering the church for mass. The winding and narrow cobbled streets of Montmartre, once home to Paris’s grungiest artists (and some of its finest), freest thinkers, and original Bohemians, is now home to overpriced cafes and restaurants; those who frequent such places, mistakenly believing themselves to be Bohemian (the truly cool people are all, of course, on the sidewalks of Rue Rambuteau); and a scattering of have-a-go portrait drawers and itinerant trinket merchants. Still, the streets are alive with something. An energy, a palpable artistry that lingers on from two centuries ago. It’s the chatter, and perhaps the wine people treat themselves to at the top of the hill. It’s the small streets, the who-used-to-live-here, the smell of coffee, the sound of the accordion. It’s all of these, or none of them, but it’s something.
In just two days, Paris has put us under its spell.