Paris is, for some, the city of lights and of love–the best place in the world. For others, it is merely another stop on the big cities trail, full of tourists and having lost most of its precious charm over the years. For me, Paris always fell somewhere in the middle. I loved the museums of Paris, the food, the atmosphere, but at the same time it felt big and impersonal. I’d been to Paris several times in the past- once in high school with my French teacher and fellow students and twice the last time I was studying abroad when I took a month to travel around France, so this time I knew I wanted to do something different.
So instead of staying near the tourist attractions, I picked the closest hostel to the Latin Quarter, an area that I remember particularly liking when I was previously in Paris. The hostel was located on Rue Mouffetard, and while that street was touristy, it still felt charming and the area was lovely. Even the graffiti was fun.
While I did spend some time hitting major attractions, I think this trip was marked more by what I didn’t do than what I did do. I didn’t rush around feeling like I needed to see 20 different museums. I didn’t spend a lot of time waiting in line. I didn’t make myself do anything I wasn’t in the mood for. Instead, I spent the time much more as a vacation–actually taking time off as opposed to feeling obligated to check items off a list or rush around from dawn til dusk trying to see everything because you never know if you’ll be able to go back.
I prebooked a ticket for the Musée D’Orsay and went straight in, waiting less than five minutes in line and having plenty of time to explore–they have changed the layout and done a complete remodel since I’ve been, so I was particularly glad I had dedicated time to spend with some of my favorite impressionists. A different day I went to the free museum across the street, the Legion of Honor museum, and explored a bit of French (and international) honors.
I ate tons of traditional French food but when a cute little man was making fresh, hot churros I thought “why not?”
I popped into small churches that normally I wouldn’t know about without just walking past and went back to one for a free German high school girls’ choral concert one night.
I read books in French and drank the most amazingly subtle chai latte.
I caught tiny glimpses of the Eiffel Tower.
This time more so than any other time Paris felt smaller, because I made it smaller– the only time I took the Metro was in and out of the city and on the way to the parade on Bastille Day, the national holiday when I wanted to have a quicker, more direct trip. I deliberately took it easy and was able to do the trip my way because I was traveling alone. While I still have a great love for other French cities, I was able to connect with Paris by making the city smaller and getting to know a neighborhood better, and doing like the locals do, like shopping in the Sunday Richard Lenoir market. It was tough to come back to Florence afterwards… the fireworks show for July 14 is just such a high note and the last time I was in Europe was a perfect sendoff– I flew home the next day. I still have a few weeks left here in Europe, but I was so grateful to have this time in Paris.
What do you think– have you ever unexpectedly connected with a city after not having felt that connection before?