On my layover in Paris I had a few hours to watch the culture breathe while reclining
on one of the most incredibly comfortable chairs at the airport, much like recliners
which make falling asleep very easy.
Due to my long layover I got some food at an airport restaurant. The restaurant
has numerous sandwiches on display, along with a wide variety of desserts and drinks.
I got the tomato and mozzarella sandwich topped with olive oil, which was soaked
into the bread. After ordering I thought of what I learned in my travel guide book
(eating in public is rude) so ate at a nearby table instead of fifteen feet away
with most of the people waiting for their planes. I sat at a table with a number
of other people eating, none of whom seemed to be together, but all choosing to
eat at the table with strangers rather than alone among others.
As I looked around at families and businesspeople coming and going I couldn't
help but think about the short government-required work week and the incredible
number of vacation days the French receive. There are many negative stereotypes
about the French, but one thing they have right is there tendency to relax and enjoy
life. Their priorities seem to favor family and hobbies rather than work and money.
The French smoke and drink more than almost any other nationality, however have
one of the world's longest life span. I think this is due to their relaxed attitude
Since I've heard multiple people say "Paris would be my favorite city if
it weren't for the Parisians" I decided to try to approach the city from
the Parisians' perspective and to remain as optimistic as possible.
I've met a number of French people before and they tend to come across as very
arrogant and self-absorbed, however I'm beginning to realize it's more a
matter of pride than arrogance. Not that I believe national pride is a good thing,
however it is arguably more acceptable than arrogance.
France is the number one tourist destination in the world each year, almost every
year and living in a city that is constantly filled with tourists, very few of whom
speak my language, and only slightly more of whom actually have the decency to ask
me if I speak their language before asking me questions in their language would
be enough to make me want to move. Wow, that was a long run-on sentence... anyway,
that's what the French and in particular the Parisians experience every day
of their lives. With this in mind, I approached everyone with a smile and in French;
of course only asking if they speak English, since I'm one of those stupid tourists
that don't speak French.
After making my way through the graffiti-filled bridges and underpasses of the train
route, I arrived at Notre Dame. The approach up the stairs from the train station
quickly escalated and in a matter of 30 steps I went from the crowded, rushed train
station to an open, sprawling square filled with people from every walk of life.
The best explanation of the atmosphere is "alive." The voices and shoes
hitting the concrete echoed in my ears like a concert hall... each step a crescendo
until the climax peaked at the square in front of the church itself.
This crowd was not overwhelmingly foreign as I had expected, but it didn't take
long before I was approached by two girls asking if I could take their picture.
After I returned their camera they responded gracias.
More than any other place I've been, the atmosphere felt like a fabricated scene
in a movie; as if the director's "Action" order moved everyone seemingly
sporadically, as they talked, sat, ate, drank, and simply lived, as in the foreground
a couple discussed a pivotal change in their futures. Not everyone was simply staring
at the church, but rather it seemed a cross roads in the city with people coming
and going from every direction.
The church's interior is impressive and the outside extremely detailed, however
the atmosphere reigned and I quickly found myself putting away my camera in order
to simple watch.
After a quick stroll around the island and a stop at the closed Ste-Chapelle I made
my way to a random point on the map that had no tourist sites of interest and hence,
I hoped: true Paris.
I found a street that was lined with restaurants on both sides and each was garnished
with people outside eating, drinking, and talking... in French. I found one of these
places not far from the Opera house and entered for a bite to eat.
I received my panini, chocolate mousse, and water, then headed upstairs to one of
the dining areas. I could hardly find a place to sit, so wedged myself into the
corner where there were a couple available seats. The room was loud and as the volume
escalated I noticed no one was eating, but rather only had the remains of their
dinners in front of them. Many people were drinking coffee, a couple on their computers,
but most simply living.
After eating and watching I debated whether I should go to the Louvre (even though
it was closed) or if I should just go to the Champs Eylsees. I glances
at my clock and got off the subway at Musee du Louvre.
I didn't exactly know where I was going so instead of taking out a map, I just
followed those around me. This path led me to a gate, under which I passed as the
Eiffel Tower appeared to my right in the far distance. In the foreground stood a
victory arch of sorts and soon I regained my bearings and found the courtyard of
the Louvre to my left.
Despite the museum being closed, the courtyard was active as people stared at the
museum, the Eiffel Tower and the iconic glass pyramid. I had mistakenly thought
I'd be entering a ghost town of sorts; however I was surprised that yet again,
another part of the city was full of life and activity.
My next subway ride took me to the Champs Elysees and again I found the
city filled; it's almost as if every person in the city was out tonight. Like
New York's night life, I have yet to find a part of the city that has slowed
its pace and as the night drew on there was no sign of this changing.
I made my way in and out of pedestrian traffic on the Champs Elysees'
north sidewalk as a young girl approached me. I said I spoke no French, but offered
her my map as she simply smiled, shook her head, and walked away.
The architecture was impressive under the night's lighting, traffic was busy
and the Arc de Triomphe acted as a backdrop for all the couples wanting
their pictures taken in front of it. From here, the Champs Eylsees'
drop in grade was apparent and you could view the street in its entirety.
Next, I walked the city streets to the Eiffel Tower. I approached the tower from
across the river in what felt almost like a rush to enter a busy sporting event
just minutes before start time as hundreds of people tried to fit into a small gateway
to arrive as soon as possible, as if not to miss a thing. Yet, what they were trying
not to miss has stood for years, yet the excitement of that approach forces one
I'm not sure what makes the Eiffel Tower impressive. In one way it's simply
iron bolted together, in another the symbol of Paris and perhaps France as a whole,
or the romantic epitome of Paris, simply a viewpoint, a structure with little purpose,
or to me, the meeting place of everything.
Couples strolled hand in hand, families talked, tourists rushed to the towers'
viewing platforms, vendors anxiously tried to sell souvenirs, friends were meeting
for a drink, and I... well I stopped to watch the people in the long lines for ice
cream talking and relaxed as if they had no where better to go and were in no rush
to get there.
Once I crossed the river and looked up from the Tower's base I noticed the long
lines and so joined. I choose to walk the first two flights of stairs, then take
the elevator to the very top. The city of lights below was more impressive than
the young couples in love beside me. As I waited for the elevator I felt surrounded
by young honeymooning couples and 15 year-olds unleashed for the evening.
Later, escaping this scene resembled people pouring out of an amusement park at
close; all rushing to the nearby subway station, bus stop, or my destination, the
train station for my trip back to the airport for the remainder of my flight from
There are a number of French stereotypes and most can be viewed at the Eiffel Tower:
People who don't speak a word of English... most of them were Spanish though;
Berets... however those were worn by a few American students;
Obnoxious tourists... this group was the majority of people here... hopefully myself
not included, but no promises.