26 December 2010

The City of Lights

Last weekend, I spent a few days in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, Paris, France. A friend and I spent 4 days in the city, site seeing and taking in the culture. After my short stint there, I left feeling thoroughly impressed but significantly poorer than when I first came. Paris is definitely a great city, but its greatness is funded by ridiculously expensive, well, everything.

While we wanted to see "real" Paris and try to spend some time off of the beaten path, we also could not allow ourselves to miss any of the major sites. So, we ended up spending most of our time site seeing at all of the major points in the city. The next time that I am in Paris, I hope to spend a bit more time in some of the more remote areas of the city, taking in the real Parisian culture, but for this first time, a tourist's whirlwind would have to do. The charm of the city is rooted in the same things that the rest of Europe boasts, mainly the interconnected coexistence of history and modernity that creates a sort of unexplainable existential argument that can be seen on every street corner, cafe, and pastry shop. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe loom over their respective parts of the city, reminding everyone around of what once was. Most tourists who visit these places aren't even really aware of what they are actually looking at. But, they look nonetheless in awe of the beauty of the structures. At the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, I was able to see the Mona Lisa and works from Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Monet, Manet, and several other of the worlds greatest artists.

My friend and I also visited Versailles, in the suburbs of Paris, which put into perspective the amount of excess that was prominent in the days of the old kings and queens of Europe. The mansion that has been home to several French royal families and various historically important events and famous guests, is lined with extravagant paintings, intricate tapestries, and ostentatious decorations that make you forget that you are walking through the halls of someone's house, not a museum full of artifacts. The gardens, which were covered in snow, are said to be some of the most beautiful in the world. We were able to appreciate them in their state of winter sleep, taking some pictures of the pond and trees that captured the serenity of the area, but in the summer I can imagine that the blooms of the flowers and trees coupled with a slight breeze and a bright blue sky would be surreal.

The food in Paris was pretty good, too, but then again, I didn't really eat that much of it. Of course, I ate, but eating real French food turned out to be laughingly expensive and a bit hard to track down. We had one real meal at which my friend ate duck and I had rabbit, but other than that we ate at local eateries that offered pretty standard menu options. It didn't seem to be like some of the other cities that I have been to in which they advertise their traditional dishes and make them readily available to anyone with clear vision. I know of the popularity and prestige of French cuisine, but I was definitely surprised by the difficulty that we had actually finding some and it being affordable.

Our only problem came in the form of a cancelled flight that left us in the city for an extra day. We had to miss work and pay for another night in the hostel, but even with those added inconveniences, I can definitely think of things that are much worse than getting 'stuck' in Paris for another day. Paris turned out to be a fun city to see, one full of history and beauty that pictures do little justice in actually capturing. While I don't think that it will be my favorite city that I visit, I am glad that I was able to go and to see more of the fascinating history and culture that comprises the network of countries on this intriguing continent.

Click here to see my pictures from my trip to Paris.