I had not been a Francophile for many years, since Parisians in particular had been well-known for their supposed rude treatment of American visitors to their fine city. However, I have to agree with Thomas Jefferson in his assessment of Paris’ many virtues, and for this reason, I felt my son needed to experience the city firsthand. So, after our short three day visit to Normandy (summarized in my post And What A Plan!), my son and I headed our rental car back south toward the City of Light. While the drive back toward Paris was tranquil and pleasant and I’m a very confident driver, after having to maneuver through the eight or so chaotic lanes – if you can call those haphazard things “lanes” – of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile Roundabout upon our return to Parisian city limits, I was thrilled to bits to return the rental car in favor of Paris’s convenient (and much less frightening) public transit system.
During our stay in Paris, the Hilton Arc de Triomphe (which is apparently no longer a Hilton brand hotel) was our base camp. I typically prefer boutique hotels which convey the flavor of my surroundings, but I’ll opt for a Hilton chain hotel on occasion when my reward points warrant use. While the Hilton didn’t have the same cozy ambiance of some of the small private hotels I’ve visited, the location was stellar and the hotel did provide comfortable, well-appointed lodging for Devan and me, along with an expansive breakfast buffet which Devan devoured daily to fuel up for our full days exploring the city.
Devan and I wandered and traversed the city to take in many of the fantastic museums Paris has to offer including Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée Rodin, Musée de l’Armée, Cité de la Musique, Musée des égoûts de Paris and of course Musée du Louvre. There was not nearly enough time in our week long stay to spend enough time in any of the museums we visited or to visit many of the museums that would also have been enjoyable. We spent a good portion of one day exclusively in the Louvre, and, being exhausted from our hike around the many galleries, I suggested to my son that we head out. At 16 years old, he was enjoying the exhibits so much that he asked to stay longer to visit the Napoleon Apartments which we hadn’t yet seen.
We broke up some of the standard sites with some diversions such as a night time Segway tour of the city, which offered a different perspective of Paris at night and was knowledgeably led by a French history major who was able to expound upon historic details regarding each of the stops along the tour. Another day during our stay in Paris, we took a break from hoofing it around and about the city on a Seine River cruise; touristic river cruises in many cities provide such an amazing vantage point that is often missed on terrestrial only sightseeing itineraries. A couple of the museums on our agenda, Cité de la Musique and Musée des égoûts de Paris, were two of what I’d guess would be some of the lesser known or visited museums in Paris. My son, being a talented musician had an interest in the music museum (located toward the northeast outskirts of the city), and my son and I, both enjoying seeing some unusual points of interest, found the the sewer museum to be a nice (if not the best smelling) departure from the typical sightseeing stops.
Of course, we were obligated to take in the incredible architecture of the numerous churches and cathedrals lacing the city. Notre Dame was spectacular as expected, inside and out, as was the Basilique Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre, along with too many other churches and cathedrals to mention or even remember by name after the passing of more than four years. We happened to be in Paris for Easter since our visit was during my son’s spring break from high school, and as such we found our way to the American Cathedral in Paris for a memorable and meaningful Easter Day service. We of course managed our way to see the usual suspects – the Eiffel Tour, The Arc de Triomphe, Palais Garnier – Opera National de Paris, the Panthéon and the like; but we also just ambled our way through the city to soak up the atmosphere via the city squares, parks, bridges, districts, gardens and streets themselves. We did manage to squeeze a day trip via train to Versailles, since the palace and gardens were not to be missed. While it was cold and rainy on the day of our trip to Versailles, the weather didn’t detract from Versailles’ splendor.
Per common knowledge and living up to its reputation, Parisian fare is worth a trip to France just for dining’s sake. During our wanderings through Paris, Devan and I sampled crepes (leading to my son’s Nutella addiction), fresh breads, rich cheeses, light macarons, delectable pastries and too many exquisite French cuisine delights for our own good. All of our meals and snacks in Paris were notable as were the historical and beautiful sites we visited, but one of my favorite memories of the trip is of the kind treatment bestowed upon us by so many of the locals. While studying our map of Père Lachaise Cemetery in our quest to find the graves of Jim Morrison and Chopin, an elderly gentleman approached Devan and me asking if he could help us find something. We told him which graves we wanted to visit, but that we had a map to lead our way. He insisted on accompanying us to each, saying we’d have a difficult time even with the map. Other travelers have managed unguided, so I was wondering if he thought Devan and I didn’t look to be all that bright. 🙂 BUT, we accepted his gracious offer to guide us to visit Morrison and Chopin and were regaled with his vast knowledge of the cemetery and Paris in general. He also asked if we had anything else on our itinerary that he could help us find. After he led us to Jim Morrison’s and Chopin’s resting places, the kind gentleman pointed us in the direction of the music museum. This encounter was not our sole experience with unsolicited kindness of locals in Paris. Another day while consulting our handy dandy attraction maps, we were again approached by a Parisian offering to help direct us to our destination of the catacombs. Devan and I actually enjoy the opportunity to roam and take a few wrong turns (time permitting, of course) as we explore our vacation destinations, but we also have been extremely fortunate to be confronted with kindness, rather than the hostility we so often hear about during others’ travel escapades. I can only hope that we’ll be lucky enough to have these same types of positive experiences during our upcoming venture to Prague, Vienna and Budapest!