By Antonio Malara
The trip to Paris had two particularities. It was the first time for me that I spent outside my city on New Year’s Eve and also my first time on vacation in the middle of the winter. December 2009 was actually my second time in Paris. In fact when I was around 10 years old I made a road trip with my family visiting lots of places between Switzerland and France. At that time we spent only a couple of days in the capital of France, btw I have some nice memories and many pictures (film camera ones). Of curse I was super excited to back there for many reasons and I have to say that the travel was planned really good. The trip was planned by a cultural association which me and my sister were part. We took advantage of a direct flight from my city to Paris that was a temporary service. So we had good elements to have fun, seven nights in a modern hotel, a direct flight, the celebration of the new year outside home and a mixed group of people which also included many of my sister’s friends. I had only one mission before to leave, I had to buy some winter clothes. I went for shopping and I back home with four new sweaters, a super cool puffer jacket and a pair of gloves.
I think we arrived in Paris in the evening, we were welcomed by a young female guide (who was from our same city) and with a perfect bus service we arrived at the hotel in just ten minutes. The Mercure Paris Port de Versailles Expo was simply beautiful. It was a modern hotel with a huge “urban space” just a few steps beyond the entrance and beside the check in desk. It was an architecture design place with the intention to recreate a real square. There were a cafe, stores all surrounded by trees and plants. It was a two levels place, connected by stairs, there were also benches, tables, like in a real an urban place. On the top and on the sides there were giant skylights, so in the day it was possible to enjoy the sunny light.
At the hotel, another female guide introduced herself to us (even she was from our city and I actually knew the girl). She was the “boss”, she explained us all about our trip, what we could do, where to eat (we had one free meal for day) what was included in the trip and all this stuff. I have to say that she was really talented. After the formalities me and my sister’s friends decided to take advantage of the last hours of light and after a while, we left the group and we went out.
According to us, the hotel had a good position because we had to walk just ten minutes till the metro station and our restaurant was across the street. The bad point was that while the walk was a pleasure, our metro stop was eight or nine metro stops away from the city center. In other words we needed almost forty minutes to get to the main attractions, that’s was the bad side of that beautiful hotel.
We started from the city icon, we started our trip going to see the Tour Eiffel. This pure masterpiece which was built as a temporary opera for “The Exposition Universelle of the 1889”, never stops to impress people. You can’t get enough once you’re there seeing it from far away or just when you’re under it. This was what we I actually did, I started as usual to take lots of pictures from every angle. When we arrived, the Tour Eiffel was without lights on, so we looked at the slow process that made it full of lights. At the beginning there was just some yellow on the brown iron, but step by step it became “full”, in fact we couldn’t see the brown anymore. We were super excited, we liked to walk and taking pictures looking for the best perspective. After a while we found the best place where we could take pictures having the entire tower behind us. In the meanwhile the evening became dark and this time the tour was full of colors playing a beautiful lights show. I really don’t remember what we did after visiting the Tour Eiffel, I suppose we back to hotel. The following day was already planned, we had to wake up early to visit the Musée D’Orsay, and the girl recommended us to be in time otherwise we should face a long line at the entrance.
Managing a big group of people of mixed age is a challenge. In fact our troubles began the morning after at the metro station because there was an entire family that was missing. The others (including my sister) started to get mad and talking about lack of respect. Personally I was laughing because of that hilarious moments. In other words we had to wait, we took the metro really late and when we arrived in front of the Museum entrance...wow a long line was ahead of us. I spent my time in line listening our group quarreling each other and taking some pics to the nice rooftops around the museum.
Once inside, our guide started to talk about the museum. The Musée D’Orsay was a former train station, even this built for “The Exposition Universelle” when they dismissed it they decided to convert in a museum. So in the eighties a group of Italian designers guided by Gae Aulenti gave to this beautiful place a new life. The museum was famous to be the house of impressionist and post impressionist paintings. Here is possible to see the masterpieces made by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh...this kind of paintings were my sister’s favorite art so I had just to follow her which was ready to find all of them.
The work of architecture was really beautiful, when you step inside you’re in a mid floor, you can see the big yellow clock that is in front of you in the other side of the structure. You can see all in one sight, below where once there was the railroad there’s now the exposition, so you can start to detect some operas (of course the best ones are inside the rooms on the sides). I immediately loved that place, probably because was unconventional. What I mean is that I felt comfortable there but not like in the other museums. I think it was because the others museums are designed in a different way, even those that are adapted. Normally museums are lots of cubic rooms which inspire me calm and imagination but the d’Orsay was the next level. For me that place was fantasy like in a Fellini movie. I started to appreciate the big place itself and forgot about the rest, I noticed the details, the beauty...only later I “woke up” just to find out the art that was inside there.
We had nice time discovering the paintings, taking lots of pics and we laughed when we find a paint of man that looked exactly like one of my sister’s friend. We forgot about time and we left the museum as the last ones. At the exit there was someone of the group who told to my sis that now “she was late” and I had another big laugh about it.
That day we had a late lunch at the Montparnasse Tower, which was described to us like something beautiful. It was one of the tallest tower of France but for me was nothing special, just a black tower with a regular design, we also didn’t visit the top floor. After that visit, we’ve been free for the rest of the day.
The afternoon we continued our tour. We went to the Jardin des Grands, this was a modest garden developed in length. There I found the perfect light that a photographer can ask for. I’m talking about the last time of light before the sunset, “the golden hour”. I enjoyed taking pictures and at the end the place looked better that it was thanks to the beautiful light. At the end of the garden, we crossed the street and we arrived to the huge Jardin du Luxembourg. This was part of the Palais du Luxembourg which was a formed Royal Palace. The place was so big, before to get to the palace there was a big fountain in the middle surrounded by four different green area. This garden was better for pics but unfortunately I didn’t have the beautiful light anymore.
By walking we went through the Sorbonne University, we stopped for some pics and headed to Saint Germain des Prés. This neighborhood was famous for its Abbey which wasn’t so big but still a great church. This was also the neighborhood where Sartre and Simone de Bovuir lived. I believe this place is considered chic, in fact today is full of cool restaurants, cafes and luxury stores. I really loved it because it was all tiny, the area was perfectly organized, clean and filled with the best people. Under Christmas time we found the small markets, I’ve been impressed to see a really young girl working in a chocolate stand, I think she was helping his mother, she was very inspiring.
After we left the beautiful Saint Germain, we went to the iconic Notre-Dame. We didn’t plan to visit the inside for that day but just admire the masterpiece. The gothic cathedral was something that I can’t describe, it was something that needs to be seen in person. We took pics from every corner not because of sharing, (it wasn’t yet a social media era) but because it was simply beautiful to do it. On the other side of the River Seine beside the Cathedral there was Saint-Michel neighborhood, this place has been suggested by our guide. In fact in Rue de la Huchette, it was full of people. There you could find lots of bar, club with live music and place for dining. I noticed that there there was a different style and a different spirit compared to Saint-Germain. There people was friendly, there was loud music, it was cool but right the opposite of Saint-Germain. This was our last visit for the day, I think we left and back for dinner near our hotel.
The day after we were all ready for a new visit, the point was that I had no idea about our destination. My sister and her friend were the guide of the day, I was just a part of the crew. We headed to the “Basilique du Sacré-Cœur”. Now even if I always liked geography I didn’t know that in Paris there was a beautiful hill, I always thought the city as a plain. Well that day I learned the lesson, never give all for granted. The Montmartre neighborhood was in high and from there you could “hold”Paris. The symbol of that place was the “Basilique” which dominates the hill also with its long stairs. I admit that when I saw the place I was happy to know that something so beautiful that I didn’t know existed. At the same time I also felt ignorant. We enjoyed time taking pics from the bottom till we arrived the top. From there you could all Paris. To be honest between the two views, the church from the bottom and the whole city just on top outside the church, I preferred the first. Maybe was the first impact I had with the place, but I really liked the large staircase leading to the Basilique rather the the classic view of the city from the hills which you can find in many other places. We walked through Montmartre looking the street artists at work. Now it looks like a touristic place, it’s just a celebration of what was at the beginning of the last century. At that time Montmartre was a cheap place where to live, so artists (normally genius but poor) used to meet each other there. We’re talking about people like Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh. Before leaving, with my sister, we did some pics in the famous stairs, those which ended in Rue Andrè Barsacq.
After lunch we headed to the Pigalle neighborhood, we found a mill on the way and we stopped a little then we reached the iconic Moulin Rouge. Even this place was popular for its history, so now it’s just a corner full of tourists where they just take pics. Don’t expect some huge theatre from the outside but I have to say that I liked the red signs, the best thing about the place. We left early because someone told us that that neighborhood wasn’t safe but actually we haven’t any troubles.
We spent the rest of the afternoon going to see two places that were really impressive and huge. The theater of the “Opéra National de Paris” which was really beautiful but...what I didn’t understand was why all the cars driving all around it, like at the colosseum in Rome. Cars in old city are the worse, for pollution and because they ruin the landscape! The other thing we saw (and there I could take decent pics) was the famous Christmas tree inside the Lafayette department store. Bring with you a wide lens if you want the whole tree in your pics.
The day after was the new year eve and the plan was to do the boat tour on the river. To be honest I wasn’t happy at the idea because when on a day I know that the night I’ll go out, I don’t wake up early in the morning. We agreed for a ride on the Seine but not so early. On the river Seine dock I was still little upset, the weather wasn’t good and the day was cold so I was right that for me the ride was a bad idea. In fact the tour on the seine wasn’t thrilling like the one I did in Boston. Of course we found some nice and different perspectives from the river but for me it wasn’t enough. Surfing the river was a tour that personally I don’t suggest to do. Maybe in a warm summer day, if you don’t really have nothing to do and you’re also little bored, well maybe in that occasion you can waste a little time and money on the river.
After lunch we had some rest, for the afternoon we planned shopping. We spent time going up and down on the Champs-Elysées, after taking some pics there and on the Arc de Triomphe, we started our shopping. I remember I spent a fortune buying only two items at Louis Vuitton. The sneakers I bought were so cool at that time but they’re are really obsolete now, while the belt is still a nice piece, I wore it in this post. We ended the relaxing afternoon making a reservation in a restaurant near the Tour Eiffel. The plan was to have dinner there and then wait the midnight under the Tour Eiffel. After which we would spend the rest of the night walking around the city, no party or things like that.
And so we did, after dinner, just a corner away from the restaurant there was a unique view of the Tour Eiffel, really the perfect perspective made even better by the lights shining all over the tower. I had one of the best count down of my life. Under the tower was full of people, we saw the choreography on the tower which was impressive from our perspective. We opened a couple of bottles there being very happy. We had lots of fun being “wild” walking through the city but around 2 AM while we were walking on Rue de Rivoli, we decided it was time to find a taxi. In that moment we realized it was the hardest task ever. For some reasons there was a lack of taxis, we saw lots of people wanted to go back to the hotel but with any luck. After walking all the street, we back to Place de la Concorde using a parallel way. There it was full of cafes, we realized it was better to get inside those places and drink chocolate, the best way to fight the cold weather. We did this in three different cafes till 5 AM when finally the metro opened. Has been a comic-tragic night because in some moment it was really cold. Btw we were all agreed with the fact that the night has been epic, an adventure like in some movies. We still remember with happiness and laughs the beginning of 2010!
First January 2010, we woke up so late with big dark circles and clearly upside down. We couldn't go anywhere that morning but we had no intention to do the same in the afternoon and the girls already had a plan. We went to Place des Vosges. After a brunch in that neighborhood we went to the square. This place was famous because there, there was the house of the great writer Victor Hugo. This was a huge squared square and Victor house was I think on the first floor on the southern corner. There was an inscription in one pillar that reminded that there Hugo spent his time there. It was nice and inspirational, being in the same place where a writer grownup, was like a contact, you could touch with hand something that till that moment was only abstract. Despite the cold weather we enjoyed time taking pics.
That neighborhood was full of those characteristics stores, those that don’t see a renovation since the beginning of times. I remember that in a bookstore I bought a Vang Gogh calendar and the big picture book by Helmut Newton (it was so big that I had to take with me as a hand baggage on the return trip on the airplane).
Later in the evening we moved to Place de la République, even there as usual we took many pics. We walked a lot that day and I think after that visit we went back to the hotel.
On day two there was the trip to Versailles, we were a small group because it was an optional tour. I don’t think we left early because we’ve been there for lunch time. We stopped in a nice place for lunch and I remember that I immediately learned a new word because of food. I took a sandwich and it was so good that I asked for “anotre” (another one). Before entering the royal palace, we spent time to take a look at it even from the outside. In fact you realize that the place is so big from the entrance. There was a tall and large gate that seemed to be built for people who were at least three meters tall, really the proportion wasn’t for human being. The interior of Versailles palace was like all the palace of that time but much bigger. Essentially there were infinite squared and tall rooms, most of time you needed to go through one room to access the other one. I don’t know if they used to built like this for lack of imagination or because was easier. The most important rooms were the King and Queen rooms. Yes they used to sleep separately, that was something that I didn’t disagree. The Royal rooms were tall, big, decorated and with a canopy. I think that the king bedroom was bigger and btw there was an interesting detail. On the left side of the bed there was a camouflaged small door, if I’m not wrong it was a secret passageway for the king lovers. I laughed for this, men unfaithfulness was a bad habit even at that time. Another cool spot to visit inside was the chandeliers room. It was a long rectangular room, with dozens of chandeliers falling from the roof, it was a must see room. Plus from that room there was a beautiful and perfect view on the gardens outside the palace. Call it a garden wasn’t enough and there was a point outside the palace where you could admire it in its whole majestic. As long as you sight could see, there was green belonging to this garden. There were three main fountains and then a long rectangular green, at the end of it another huge fountain. The place was also full of statues. We walked with pleasure along the whole garden, we stopped for pics and when we arrived to the last fountain we had the “opposite view”. From that point, we could see the garden and at the end of it the Royal Palace.
We really had a pleasant time that day but when we back to Paris, we wanted to enjoy a little bit the city. We back to Place de la Concorde for a walk and we spent there the evening.
The morning of the last day was dedicated to visit the Musée du Louvre. This was the most important museum in Paris. For Italian people it was so popular because it hosts the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. The museum was in a strategic position and even in this case like for the Musée d’Osray, has been used for different things during the years, it was a former Royal Palace, then offices for the government and then a museum. Inside this beautiful place there were paintings and statues.
At the entrance there was a new design component that is the famous pyramid in glass and steel. Even there we waited a while before entering but times goes by fast if you’re interested in architecture. In fact beneath the exterior pyramid there was another one but it was upside down. So it was nice to have a look and to take pics to this strange design. I’ve been guided by my sister to the main operas, so my task was only to follow her and take pics. We started seeing the “Cupid and Psyche” by Antonio Canova. Actually I didn’t know the statue but I knew the story from which the statue was inspired. The opera by Canova represents the most important kiss that the lovers had. After that we went to the “Nike” by Samotracia. This statue was dated before Christ and it was from Greece. It represents a female God with wings that should be on the bow of a boat. The impressive statue was placed on top of a big staircase and when I stepped closer, I realized how magnificent it was. The things I liked was the dynamism, the details were so perfect that it’s looked like there was real wind that hit her.
The last statue we visited was also the most popular. I’m talking about the The Milo Venus. This statue represented the famous Goddess in an half naked pose, also recognizable for the detail of the missing arms. I think that this statue was like a celebrity. What I mean is that the emotional part of seeing it, was the popularity that it has rather the the statue itself. In fact the room that hosted this opera was full of people waiting to pose for a pic and it was the prelude to the Mona Lisa room. In the huge place where the masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci was exposed there was literally a big mess. When we entered the Mona Lisa room we had to decide if to take a look and appreciate the painting or wait the right moment to take a picture. The paint was so popular that in my opinion, they should introduce a separate ticket to see the Mona Lisa. Personally I don’t like how they managed the place, most of time you just have to take a fast look at the tiny painting (because you can’t be so close to it) and few unusable pics with a tiny dot (the Mona Lisa) and dozens of people behind you.
We saw many other paintings that morning but my memories are confused, after that we went out for the last funny thing to do. Outside the pyramid there were some footboards installed. They’re used for helping to take funny perspectives with the pyramid in the background. This thing was so stupid to do but it was more stupid to be the only one who didn’t have a picture in that way, so I ended up having a stupid picture there too, like the others.
Even if we stayed for seven days in Paris we had the feeling to miss something so we were looking for new places after the Louvre. I proposed a visit to a structure that always obsessed me since the young age. I’m talking about the “Centre Pompidou” designed by Renzo Piano. I knew about it because I saw a pic in my old French book at the school times. The building was amazing, colorful and with an unusual design. The building is a cultural center, inside there’s a museum, a library and things like this. The singular thing was that many part of structure, like stairs, pipelines, drains were built outside the building and this made the structure so unique. Unfortunately I didn’t visit it inside but I enjoyed the time there taking pictures, especially the details. It was emotional for me to see something that till that moment, was only a tiny pic on a school book.
We were running against time that last day. We visited Notre-Dame from the inside but we couldn’t go up on the roof, we back in our favorite place like Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysées but...we forgot we had an agreement to go up on the Ferris wheel. Well we did it, we made ourselves this last gift. We enjoyed from the top the breathtaking view of this magic city.
I wrote a lot and probably I forgot a lot. The time in Paris, this long week we lived without any break, shakes my memories. They pops up randomly, upside down but at the end they’re there. They’re there even after this eight years that separate this time we spent in this unique city. Even if I had the chance I never back. When you have a beautiful memory of a place, you want to be sure to add only better memories. The point is that the company at that time was so good that it is not easy to make a better one. Plus, after all the time spent there I realized one thing; if you can, you have visit Paris with your soulmate, that’s the perfect way. Of course this is something that you can’t decide by yourself, it’s fate, it’s destiny, it’s that illogical and irrational thing called love. If you found it, go to Paris.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D70s