Paris is a city of many names: la Ville Lumière (city of lights), Paname, Pantruche, etc. If you google “city of love,” Paris pops up. Many say Paris is Europe’s New York City, but I don’t think a comparison can be drawn. Where New York City is all glass and metal, Time Square and the Empire State Building, Paris is old stone with hand-forged steel balconies, the Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower. New York City was built on the idea of modernity whereas Paris was a central hub thousands of years before Christopher Columbus even landed on American shores.
Trying to cram all that history in three days is intimidating and so I decided not to. While speeding through a city may let you see all the monuments, you don’t get to actually know the city. Don’t get me wrong, I saw my fair share of Paris; I averaged over 12 miles of walking a day! But I didn’t plan out every moment of every day – after our daily morning field trips, I would see what was in the surrounding area and check it out.
After an early morning train ride into Paris, we all did a boat tour on the Seine, where we could see most of the famous monuments, not limited to the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. Not only was it a unique viewpoint, but the breeze was a wonderful reprieve from the sticky Parisian heat.
Through the program, we had the opportunities to see the Musée d’Orsay as well as L’Atelier des Luminères, which provided an interesting comparison. Musée d’Orsay, an abandoned 19thcentury train station which was then renovated to hold 19thcentury art, is a Parisian staple housing famous French (and other) artists’ works. Contrastingly, L’Atelier des Luminères is a modern display of Van Gogh’s most famous pieces, projected on every surface in a vast room, letting the viewer literally walk through his artwork. Both were interesting experiences, but I preferred the Musée d’Orsay – there’s something powerful about seeing the only version of a masterpiece only inches away.
To list every memorable moment of the weekend would be to list every moment, and no one wants to read tens of pages of minute detail. There is one moment, however, I think I will treasure for a long time. It was Friday night, our first night in the city, and we had just eaten delicious and inexpensive souvlaki. Walking back towards the hostel, we stumbled upon the night scene at the Seine River. The riverside was packed with street performers racing through the crowds on rollerblades, vendors selling drinks, and people sitting on every available surface, lounging, drinking, and laughing in the dim light of the sunset. We sat there for hours, just talking, taking in the authentic Parisian atmosphere and watching the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. Before we knew it, it was midnight, and the Seine was livelier than ever; it was a few hours before we managed to pull ourselves away and travel home. Perhaps I didn’t spend the evening seeing famous monuments beautifully illuminated, or eating escargot at an expensive Parisian café, but I got to know the city in an authentic, gratifying way that I will remember for a long time to come.