How could I not be in love with a place where I can buy a bottle of reserve wine for five dollars and each corner has a Boulanger and Patisserie with delicate, pretty pastries lined up like little girls in a beauty contest? There are so many cheeses and desserts to eat and so little time.
As a teenager my only desire was to someday see Paris. I remember staring at pictures of the Eiffel Tower in french class and dreaming of someday walking along the banks of the Seine. When I received my passport my dreams heightened as I imagined shopping, seeing museums, walking through Notre Dame, and trying out my french. Things didn't go as planned that first trip. Instead of the romantic vision I had of Paris, I got lost in the metro, had accidentally booked a brothel, no one understood me when I spoke, I slept in a disgusting youth hostel, and after a day in tears I ran to Germany, away from Paris, in fear of another horrible day. Honestly, after that experience, Paris became a funny story and I no longer wanted to return.
This time, as my plane landed at Charles De Gaul Airport, anxiety built a furious ball in my stomach. I hadn't realized how the memories of my first trip Paris had been playing in my subconscious.
This experience is much different. I'm staying in a lovely apartment in Vincennes, a suburb of Paris called the Royal District due to the Chateau de Vincennes in the center of town. The Chateau was built as the hunting lodge of the king best known as Saint Louis. Louis loved the surrounding woods in Vincennes and many days he spent sitting by the oak trees lost in thought.
Vincennes is a slice of real life in Paris. I began my exploration at the open market where the locals buy their produce, shoes, flowers, and meats. The music of street performers filled the air and the atmosphere was much like a farmer's market in America. People lined up outside their favorite Boulanger and waited up to fifteen minutes to buy their bread and pastries from their favorite shop. Children rollerbladed in the parks, and little girls, dressed to the hilt ,danced together by the fountains. Most of Vincennes is a wooded park with a lake at it's center where people picnic and play bocci.
It's the beginning of spring here, and the flowers are just opening as the buds on the trees begin to explode with greenery. In another two weeks Paris will be in full-bloom. Though I'm sad that I won't get to see it at its peak of flowers, it's just as well. The weather is amazing and the crowds are to a minimum. In another two weeks I fear that the hordes of tourists will overrun the city.
The center of Paris is just a fifteen minute ride on the Metro. My first full day in Paris, jet-lag had gotten the best of me and I napped for almost three hours during the rainy afternoon. When I woke, I didn't feel up to going into the city center, but I didn't wish to sit around. By the time I walked out of the subway in Chatelet les Halles the clouds had cleared, the sun was shining and the city looked decorated in a golden hue. I hadn't walked three steps from the subway when a nice young man asked me to join him for coffee. He spoke little english and my french at the moment was a rusted shut wheel in need of greasing, so I declined. Along the way to Notre Dame there were three more offers from men to be my personal tour guides. With a smile and a thank you I declined. I guess French men can rival the Italians when it comes to being suave or dogs however you would like to think of it.
As I walked along the Pont du Neuf a nice guy, named Robert, came up and started to speak french to me. When I said I was an American he looked at me in shock. He asked in english, "Where is your baseball cap and trainers? That's all the Americans wear." We began to talk as we walked along the Seine. Originally from Toronto, he came to Paris eight years ago to visit, fell in love with the city, and never left. He never asked to be my tour guide, but as we walked he pointed out the important buildings: Musee du Louvre, Les Invalides, Musee d'Orsay.
The sun began to set, and dusk fell over the city as we walked came upon the Eiffel tower. Robert began to laugh and apologize, "At this time of night the tower's not that impressive. I should've brought you here later. Right now it has kind of a dull look to it. It will have more of a wow effect later." He was right, the structure looked bland in the twilight. but I couldn't bear to say that to my faithful guide. But as we walked across the Pont d'iena I looked back across the Seine and the tower illuminated in golden light. The wow factor kicked in and everything inside me became a huge smile. From the patio of the Musee La Marine we stood staring at the beauty of Paris as the stars began to shine.
The night air was cool and we began to walk again through the city. We came to the Arc de Triomphe then walked along the Champs-Elysees window shopping as we passed by the expensive stores. Along the banks of the Seine, the candlelit world of Paris shimmered on the surface of the water. We entered into the courtyard of the Louvre and Robert made me close my eyes as he led me into the inner square. When I opened my eyes, the old building looked magical in it's romantic lighting.
It was the perfect first night in Paris.