You've heard all the cliches about Paris a billion times already. And when you come here as a foreigner, it's pretty easy to fall right into that space - eat croissants, toddle off to see the Mona Lisa, Notre Dame, and all the other iconic icons. I've been here now (researching The Paris Wedding) for nearly a week, and I've done a lot of those things (in large part because my characters will do it, too) but to be honest, it can be hard to find the romance of the city when you're in the Tourist Trinity (crowds, queues, and hasslers). The Mona Lisa is a little less attractive when you're being swept by the current of bodies along the creaking parquetry floors so fast you barely catch the edge of her smile, and you soon realise that those quaint seeming markets near Montorgueil are fleecing you worse than the traders outside the Louvre. So, Tourist meccas are a place to start, but we had to get out of that mould pretty fast.
(My attempt at a family selfie with monument. Fail.)
Staying in an apartment helps, because we've had to go to the supermarket (successes and failures there - don't forget your "sac". Also, the ziplocks are UPSTAIRS. No idea why). And travelling with a one-year-old means no fancy restaurants at night, and not much dining out at all really. Instead, we've been chasing the sun to the parks and although all the grass is still "inderdit" (forbidden) after winter, I feel as though we've really seen the city through it's green (or roadbase lined) spaces. I think that's the dualism of being here - you need to do the tourist thing, so you can do the non-tourist thing and find the real Paris somewhere between.
Looking towards the Louvre.
As well as the outdoor places, we're now on a mission to see some of the lesser-known museums. Yesterday, that was the Musée des Arts et Métiers, all about industrial design. Being a nerdy science girl and engineer from way back, this place was amazing. Everything from the evolution of the microscope to the CRAY supercomputers. Not everyone's bag, but I could spend hours more there than in the Louvre.
Having said all that, the iconic checklist is iconic for a reason. Notre Dame is one of those places that inspires awe no matter how long the queue or how many of those around you disregard the request for silence signs. It's amazing to think it was started in the 1100s, and under all that weight of stone, you can imagine how someone might have felt about it in 1300, when the modern city didn't exist and the cathedral was this incredible construction unlike anything else. Even without the religious and spiritual significance, the stained glass and sheer size of that ceiling ... totally worth it.
My cruddy photo does not do the rose window any justice at all.
Before I wax too lyrical, it's best to remember that Paris, like any city, has it's downsides. The cafe culture and the parks are cool, but oh my god, the smoking! Nothing takes the shine off sitting outside with a chocolat when the people on either side of you are lighting up, and people smoke in kids' playgrounds so you're always taking discarded cigarette butts off your toddler. People warned us over and over about the stairs in the metro, so we've been doing those like a champion, but I can't do anything about the smokers. Makes you positively homesick for Queensland. Also, practically nothing opens before 10 in the morning, so if you want to start your day early, forget it. The city is definitely geared to late nights and late starts.
But ... those are the kinds of things you have to work around when you're on tour. The weight of history, the sheer density of culture (both the old and the new) is what makes this city. I'll be sad to leave, knowing there's so much I've left undone, and like most travellers, I'll tell myself I'll be back to do it all again.
The light, walking back to the apartment at the end of the day. :)