Paris (and France, for that matter) has always carried a cachet that evokes a million images for different people. The icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine – are all basking in golden-hour sunlight while an accordionist plays a romantic tune nearby. Is it possible to have any city live up to such an ideal?
Weeeell… yes. Paris is beautiful but to let yourself be fully embraced by that idea from the onset is to set yourself up for eventual frustration. There’s romanticism but you’ll hardly find the romance at first glance. The trick is to take a deep breath, let it all sink in, and allow the magic to gradually work.
On a bus ride around the city, I can finally see why Paris has inspired and left so many awestruck. True, there exist some unpleasant tags on its residents and the city itself, and the accusations are not entirely baseless – Paris does have an ugly side (gasp!). But she’s like a glamorous star in a big-budgeted Hollywood movie, who, after a helter-skelter chase that sends her car hurtling through the air and crashing upside down, emerges virtually unscathed except for a well-placed scratch that makes her sexily vulnerable. Paris is lovely that way. Classical.
And, really, the city is all about being classic. It’s become a cliché for a reason. The place has that sort of enchantment you can’t pin down through words, but nonetheless draws visitors from all over the world. To resist that gravity is futile. France has led the world in terms of international tourist arrivals from 2007 to 2009, and a huge chunk of those spent a great deal of their time in the capital. More than 70 million visitors can’t be wrong, can they?
Paris’ elegance comes into full view just outside the city proper’s border – at the Château de Versailles. The nearly 400-year-old palace stands as a testament to the opulence of King Louis XIV, filled with elegant apartments and gardens you thought only existed in modern times as sets for one of those period films. Trains stationed just outside the back of the palace take visitors around the grand area, making three stops along the way. Seeing what was once the playground of Marie Antoinette gives me reason, yet again, to marvel at the French beauty.
Paris has always been a dream destination to many and, aside from the usual complaints about the French, rarely does the place disappoint. There are truths and there are myths about French stereotypes but, as always, it’s up to the traveler to discern which is which. And while visitors will come away from the country with various opinions, there’s a consensus that a trip to the city is one of the greatest highlights a person will have in his/her life.
Adapted from my blog entry first published in TravelBlog on July 10, 2010.