The world was made for exploring and life for adventure. That’s what my partner and I told ourselves as we headed off for a week to the city of love.
There is so much I want to say about that magical place, but that would probably take a week or more to write, so while I ponder over my notes and get my head around the experience, here’s a list highlights.
Here are the ten things I loved most about Paris
1. The atmosphere
It doesn’t happen on the first day, but after a while a shift happens. You slip into Paris as if someone put rose-tinted shades over your eyes. The graffiti and traffic and commuters disappear and suddenly you’re there – the sidewalk cafes, the gently rolling river with its lock bridge, the golden fall leaves, the bicycles rushing past – all of these elements form part of the undeniable spirit of Paris.
2. The markets
One morning we woke up and found a sprawling fresh-produce market right outside our hotel that sold everything from flowers and vintage clothes to farm-fresh fruit and cheese. Everything was just picked and delicious. The strawberries tasted like a real strawberry should – soft, spongy and subtly sweet.
3. The food!
We swore to eat as many meals as possible at the bistros and cafes lining the sidewalks of the city. One exception, and the culinary highlight of our trip, was a light lunch at the garden cafe of the Rodin Museum. A simple ham and cheese baguette for him, a pasta salad for me and the most divine mille-feuille and raspberry tart to share, washed down with an ice-cold glass of chardonnay. Oh and the glacé macarons (macarons with ice cream in the centre) were out of this world.
Located at the top of over 200 steps lies Montmartre, a charming district with narrow stone streets, cafes and ivy covered buildings, all watched over by the stunning Sacre-Coeur basilica. We loved this place so much that we visited twice; once to browse the artists’ market while savouring crème brûlée ice cream, and then to visit the Dali exhibition and to eat moules-frites and crepes.
5. The Seine
We discovered romantic Paris in the guise of the hundreds of couples lounging along the banks of the Seine. It’s ridiculously beautiful, with more than 30 bridges, each with their own story. We found our own spot under the scowling heads of Pont Neuf to enjoy a light lunch. The Seine is glorious in the afternoon, with the autumn leaves falling at your feet and the golden sunlight reflecting on the surface and glinting off the gold leaf on the statues.
6. Canal Saint Martin
Our last night in Paris was spent strolling alongside the Canal Saint Martin looking for a bistro to have dinner. As the sun went down, hundreds of people made their way to the banks to picnic, have a beer or a glass of wine or to just hang out. The area had a wonderfully convivial atmosphere.
7. The museums
It goes without saying that Paris is famous for its art. We took in as many museums as we could and took full advantage of the fact that they’re free on the first Sunday of the month. The collection at the Louvre is incredible – Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ingres, Delacroix, as is the Musee de Orsay – Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Gauguin. A friend asked me to bring back a Monet souvenir, so we headed to Musée de l’Orangerie to see his famous Les Nymphéas, which were truly breathtaking.
8. The exhibitions
We went in off-season, which turned out to be a win-win as the weather was beautiful and the queues were short. We had the Star Wars Identities exhibition entirely to ourselves, so we could take our time navigating our way through the interactive choose-your-own-adventure. Plus I can now say I saw C3PO and R2D2 in real life. We saw an ad for the Dali Street Art Exhibition on the metro, so we saved that for our last day.
Was so much fun. The rides, the Studios, the shops, the LEGO store. The downside of going in off-season was that some of the rides were closed for maintenance, but there was no way we could have done them all in one day anyway. Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast comes highly recommended.
10. The history
Walking in Paris is like walking on top of the past. We rested our feet in the Tuileries Garden, built by Catherine de Medici in 1564. We visited Notre Dame, where Mary Stuart married Francis II in 1558. I browsed for books at Shakespeare and Company, modelled after a bookshop frequented by Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Everywhere we went had echoes of the famous men and women that came before us. All of it formed part of that unforgettable spirit of Paris.