French Trilogy: Paris in Fall
I know the saying that Paris is the most romantic city in the world is such a cliché, but I still couldn’t agree more. I know that a lot of Parisians hate the Eiffel Tower, but I thought it was amazing and I can’t picture Paris without it. And there are many other clichés about Paris and France, but I do think that Parisian women are the most classy and elegant, French bakeries are the most seductive, and the air in Paris is saturated with romance and all kinds of emotions.
I’ve been to Paris several times, in spring and in fall. In spring, this city is especially beautiful and charming—Seine is sparkling under the first spring rays, chestnuts are blossoming in tender pink, and the whole city is living in expectation of something incredible. But my most memorable trip was in autumn of 2004. Paris in autumn is a little dramatic, and I’ve always associated it with drama thanks to the great French literature and cinematography.
We stayed at the famous Hotel Ritz from where on August 31, 1997, Princess Diana left for her last voyage. But apart from the sad history, the hotel was just gorgeous, decorated in true French Classicism style with a lot of heavy bronze ornaments, luscious chandeliers and exquisite silk furniture. Hotel Ritz is located in the heart of Paris—Place Vendome—that at night features street musicians who entertain passersby with their romantic live music. I remember that evening when I was just wandering around on the square, window shopping and enjoying my French baguette, when I heard Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra performed by a jazz quartet. I don’t know why but that moment of me being in Paris, listening to that beautiful song, and breathing fresh and crispy autumnal air, was imprinted in my heart forever.
The Louvre and the Tuileries Garden were first on my list of sightseeing venues. I woke up really early to avoid the notorious line to the Louvre but still had to wait for about 40 minutes to get in. A day or even two is definitely not enough to explore one of the greatest culture depositories in the world. Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiques, the greatest art works of European Renaissance, and of course the Mona Lisa had me roaming through the halls of the Louvre for hours, trying to absorb all that cultural and historic dominance. And I swear to god that the famous myth about the Mona Lisa is true. If you look at the painting from any angle, she will be staring right at you no matter what. I’m sure there must be some kind of scientific explanation for that phenomenon, but it was still so mysterious.
The Tuileries Garden was also very impressive. It was so nice to walk over well-groomed paths, listening to the crunch of the autumn leaves, and giving time to the thoughts I had been leaving aside. From there I proceeded to the Avenue de Champs-Élysées that starts from Place de la Concorde (Harmony Square) and stretches up for several miles, featuring numerous boutiques and restaurants. At the end of the avenue, the French installed the pretentious Arc de Triomphe to honor those who fought and died during the Napoleon wars. Interestingly, in Moscow we have the sister arc that also stands in the middle of the central avenue—Kutuzovsky Prospect—which was named after the Russian general who actually beat Napoleon in his illegitimate military campaigns.
If you want to do some exclusive shopping, your choice would be Avenue Montaigne that features the oldest and most prestigious French boutiques. There is also a really nice restaurant—L’Avenue—that offers the most delicious beef tar-tar I’ve ever had. I promise tender chunks of fresh marble beef coated in spices and herbs will definitely make your day.
The next strategic sightseeing spot was the Eiffel Tower, also known as the Iron Lady. I honestly don’t understand why some Parisians think it’s ugly; to me, it’s a piece of technical mastery, which is especially breathtaking at night when it’s lit with millions of tiny electric bulbs. As you can imagine, you can’t avoid lines in Paris, but when we finally got to the top of the tower we were dumbfounded by the panoramic view of Paris. I felt like I could stand there for hours trying to identify every familiar landmark on the live map.
Another renowned monument in Paris is the Notre Dame de Paris, also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral. Perhaps it is most famous thanks to Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name that tells a tragic story of a miserable hunchback of the Notre Dame and his pure love for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda. This cathedral was constructed between the 11th and 12th centuries and was one of the first Gothic cathedrals that inspired the whole Gothic period in architecture. Notre Dame is implemented with traditional Gothic obscurity and darkness, which features multiple evil-looking gargoyles on its roof and walls.
We also checked out a show at the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret, observed a hectic student crowd in the Quartier Latin situated around the Sorbonne University, and shopped for some potential painting masterpieces on the artsy Montmartre. And finally, we went to Versailles to get a feel for the festive life of magnificent 18th century of monarchic France.
For me, Paris will always be the place I want to come back to over and over again. It inspires me and makes me believe that despite all the wars and cataclysms this world is still full of beauty and love. And what about you, do you have such place?