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 did 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 big 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 have been welcomed by a young female guide (which was from our same city) and with a perfect bus service we got to 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. The place was actually an architecture design with the intention to recreate a real square. There were cafe, stores all surrounded by trees and plants. It was a two levels place, connected by stairs, you could also find bench, tables, like if you were in an urban place. On the top and on the sides there were giant skylights, so in the day you could enjoy the real sunny light.
In 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, 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 leave 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 city icon: the Tour Eiffel. This pure masterpiece which was built to be 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 is what I actually did, I started as usual to take tons of pictures from every angle. When we arrived, the Tour was without lights on, so we looked at the slow process that made it full of lights. At the beginning was just some yellow on the brown iron, but step by step becomes “full”, in fact you 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 tour behind us. In the meanwhile the evening become 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 should wake up early to go 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.
Manage 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 this 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 is famous to be the house of impressionist and post impressionist paintings. Here you can see the masterpieces made by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh...this kind of paintings are my sister’s favorite art so I had just to follow her which was ready to find and describe all of them.
The work of architecture is 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 were the railroad there’s 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 a new 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 leaves 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”. 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 is 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 didn’t waste time and we continued our tour. We went to the Jardin des Grands, that is a modest garden developed in length. Here I found the perfect light that a photographer can ask for. I’m talking about the last time of light before the sunset. I enjoyed taking pictures and at the end the place looks better that it is thanks to the beautiful light. When the garden ends and you cross the street, you get to the huge Jardin du Luxembourg. This is part of the Palais du Luxembourg which was a formed Royal Palace. The place is huge, before to get to the palace there’s 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 is famous for its Abbey which is not so big but still a great opera. This was also the neighborhood where intellectuals like Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Godard use to met themselves. I believe this place is considered chic, in fact today is full of cool restaurants, cafe 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 Nutella market, I think she was helping her mother, it 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 this masterpiece. This gothic cathedral is something that I can’t describe, it is 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 age) but because it was simply beautiful to do it. On the other side of the River Seine beside the cathedral there’s the Saint-Michel neighborhood, this place has been suggested by our guide. In fact in Rue de la Huchette, it was full of people. Here you can find lots bar, club with live music and place for dining. I notice that here there was a different style and a different spirit compared to Saint-Germain. Here 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 that day.
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 friends 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 is in high and from there you can “hold” Paris. The symbol of that place is the “Basilique” which dominates the scene also with his 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 get the top. From here you see 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 prefer the first. Maybe was the first impact I had with the place, but I really like the large staircase that leads 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 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 here. We’re talking about people like Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh. Before to leave we did some pics with my sister in the famous stairs, those which ends in Rue Andrè Barsacq.
After lunch we headed to the Pigalle neighborhood, we find a mill on the way and we stopped a little then we reach the iconic Moulin Rouge. Even this place is 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 I liked the red signs, it is what I loved more 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 are really impressive and huge. The theater of the Opera which is really beautiful but...what I don’t understand is 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 here I could take decent pics) was the famous Christmas tree inside the Lafayette. 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 take the Bateau-mouche. To be honest I wasn’t happy at the idea because when I already know that I’ll be in a night out, I don’t wake up early in the morning. We deal for ride on the River 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 confirmed 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 you can find some nice and different perspectives from the river but for me it wasn’t. Surfing the river is a tour that personally I don’t suggest. 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. We deal that were going to have dinner there and then wait the midnight under the Tour and spend the rest of the night walking around the city, no party or similar.
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 around but around two AM while we were walking on Rue de Rivoli, we decide it was time to find a taxi. In that moment we realize it was the hardest task ever. For some reasons there was a lack of taxis, we saw lots of people wanted to 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 o cafes, we realized it was better to get inside those places and drink chocolate, the best way to fight the cold. 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 deal 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!
To be continued...
Photo: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D70s