So far my favorite aspect of living in Amsterdam has been the ease of traveling to other wonderful European cities. In September I was lucky enough to have my parents visit in Amsterdam and after a week of exploring the Belgium and the French countryside, they agreed to meet us for a weekend in Paris.
Paris a city of the highest highs and the lowest lows. From the viewpoint of the Eiffel Tower to the homeless who patrol the metro stations, the city encompasses myriad walks of life within a timeless facade.
Stefje and I stepped off the high-speed train and into one such scene on Friday night, as the Paris Noord metro station was practicularly a breeding ground for a suspect crowd of drug dealers and other activities of questionable intent. In my wary state, Stefje pushed forward with a stoic determination, ensuring that we arrived into our beds that night safe and sound.
Like any first day of a trip, Saturday was jam-packed with the sights, sounds, smells, and sensuous experiences of newness.
Even the continental breakfast started the day with a bang. For someone never indoctrinated into to French cuisine, the spread of fresh breads, croissants, and cured meats was a sight to behold. Fully satiated by the extravagant fare, Stefje, my parents, and I made our way to one of the world’s most important cultural treasure troves: The Louvre.
For over three and a half hours our tour guide spun us an incredible tale of history, weaving together Mesopotamian ruins with Greek mythology, Roman sculptures, and renaissance paintings. His story telling and academic perspective ensured it was the most memorable and informative museum visit of my life.
From the Mona Lisa to the sceptre and sword of Louis XIV, we saw it all and never suffered from being lost, out of touch, or swarmed amidst one of the many large group tours.
Ultimately, I found the horde of tourists snapping pictures of the Mona Lisa more interesting than the painting itself.
As we departed the museum, an Indian summer afternoon coincided perfectly with a group of hardcore techno revelers congregated on the banks of the Siene. Their modern funky beats juxtaposed sharply with our next stop: Saint Chapelle chapel.
Floor to ceiling stained glass windows made our necks crane to the sky and provided a majestic environment for the place built to house Jesus’ original crown of thorns. Light streamed across our faces in all the colors of the rainbow, leaving us with a feeling of wonder and calm despite the continuous SHUSHING from the on-site docents.
Despite the morning yielding two of Europe’s most stupendous buildings, continued sunshine ensured the afternoon would only build on our awe of this charming city. Walking along the banks of the Siene, Stefje and I passed by the stunning facade of Notre Dame Cathedral, then navigated South across the river to the Luxembourg Gardens.
The afternoon continued in a mirage of beauty: perfectly manicured lawns in the park, toy sailboats navigating ponds under the control of young children, and Parisians letting life pass by as the read books in the sun.
On the way out of the park we got our first experience of Paris’ famous cafe culture, followed by a long walk along the river towards one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Visible from a variety of points around the city yet only fully appreciated from a closer vantage point, the Eiffel Tower’s gargantuan frame duly astounded us.
We ended the day in the best way possible: with a stunning and luxurious French meal. For me a starter of smoked salmon was an early favorite for the night’s best dish, but it was quickly relegated to fourth amidst a trio of heroes. Filet of beef served with bearnaise sauce always fails to disappoint, an entire chicken made my mouth water with its succulent lemon sauce, and finally a wonder of humanity’s genius, souffle filled with creamed pistachio and lined with salted caramel.
The deep food coma that I passed into that evening gratefully gave me the recharge I needed to tackle another big day on Sunday. Before breakfast I was up and out to reflect on the Arc d’ Triomphe in the morning light. A splendid work of engineering enhanced by designs chiseled into the stone with remarkable detail, each side of the arc tells a proud story of France’s bloody revolutionary history.
Later that day Stefje and I decided to explore further afield, first heading to the Eastern edge of the center and taking in the Bastille market. Amongst the throngs of pedestrians and tourist souvenirs, we uncovered a few delights of French culture. Taking the top spots of our focus were the pungent stalls sporting freshly caught seafood and primely aged cheeses.
Just before leaving, I couldn’t consider my Parisian experience complete with one more delicate sweet: a crepe filled with Nutella. The thin pancakes were expertly poured and heaped with sugary toppings, ensuring an infatuating (and fattening) experiencing.
The rest of the afternoon passed by in a glucose-induced haze; we wandered through yet another beautiful neighborhood lined with upscale shopping options that represent the pinnacle of fashion and pristinely manicured symmetrical courtyards.
We ended the trip with my senses once again delighted, this time by an impromptu jazz band that serenaded passerby.
Finally the force of so much walking began to take hold and our legs and brains began to give way, signaling the need to hop on the train back home to Amsterdam.