Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 26, 2018

The Assault on Paris; The Long Campaign

With few exceptions, I’ve written at least once in this blog about nearly every “world city” I’ve visited. One omission stands out, because it’s perhaps the most written-about and most popular travel/tourist destination in the western world: Paris. Can one make even the slightest claim to be a travel writer of any consequence yet barely have mentioned — let alone raved, gushed about — Paris, the ne plus ultra of travel destinations?

You’ve already seen thousands of photographs: the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, Notre Dame (with close-up of gargoyle), Arc de Triomphe? That’s well-covered territory.

How, really, does one go about visiting a city as replete with so many famous, “must-see” attractions, let alone write about it? I think there are two fundamental approaches.

The Full Frontal Assault

You’re Attila attacking Rome or … well, Napoleon en route to Moscow. Armed with detailed information about locations, bus and Metro stations, opening and closing times and lists of highlights and even floor plans (e.g. The Louvre), you will swarm across Paris, visiting every single noteworthy site your time and energy allow. From the crack of dawn (baguette and coffee at some recommended bistro) until well into the wee hours (moonlight on the Seine from the Pont Neuf?), you barrage Paris with a ceaseless fusillade of attention. Museums, monuments, churches and palaces, restaurants, statues and the birthplaces (and resting places, in Pere LaChaise cemetery) of the famous (and infamous) each get a check, one by one.

Paris lends itself to this approach. It’s not limitless, and with some planning, expeditious use of the Metro and, vraiment, significant investment in shoe leather, you can range from the Eiffel Tower up to Monmartre, then down past the Moulin Rouge to the Pompidou Museum, the Hotel de Ville, and across the Pont Neuf to Île de la Cité and the cathedral of Notre Dame (alors!).

Notre Dame sunset Brad Nixon (640x429)

The traditional line of attack, though, is along Paris’ west-east axis, from the Arc de Triomphe then along Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Gardens, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to the Louvre.

MV Louvre Brad Nixon (640x461)

After you pop in to see Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, you’re again not far from Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Brad Nixon (560x640)

Despite the impressive density of significant sites, that’s a manageable distance of only about 5 kilometers, although there is a great deal to stop and see.

Paris is one of the most human and approachable of the world cities, far more amenable to the street-level traveler than Tokyo, New York or Hong Kong: more like the historic core of Boston, Massachusetts.

One thing all travelers learn: During your campaign, however many days it lasts, what you’ll remember most vividly will be something unexpected ─ probably not on any “must-see list:” a shop, a restaurant, a view, some unanticipated discovery. Yes, you’ll have conquered Paris, but in the end, that one small thing will be – for all time – your Paris.

The Long Campaign

I’ve conducted assaults on Paris like I’ve just described, but there’s a second strategy to consider. That one city we call “Paris” has multiple layers of significance. For those who make more than one visit, a steady, patient approach will eventually achieve your goal: you will know Paris.

Ask yourself, “Why is it I really want to go there?” Is it because of the legendary reputation of Parisian cuisine? You’ll need to set aside time for that, and not just one meal, mes amis, every meal. Museums? List the big ones ─ Louvre, Pompidou, d’Orsay, Petit Palais, Grand Palais — and you’ve scarcely begun! Which will you truly savor, even if only for an hour or two?

Perhaps it’s a pilgrimage: the Lost Generation’s Paris, Hemingway’s, Proust’s, Napoleon’s Paris, or the Paris of Latrec, Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Degas, Rodin or a hundred other artists, writers and musicians.

Paris is the city of a thousand operas, plays, ballets, films, stories and songs unnumbered (Maurice Chevalier’s Paris? Balzac? Zola? Jacques Brel? Audrey Hepburn?) There’s also shopping, architecture, book stalls along the Seine. Perhaps one of those signifies “Paris” to you.

Your answer will determine whether you’re going to wander the streets of Montparnasse or climb those famous steps to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur …

Montmartre steps M Vincent (640x460)

… and once there, search out the onetime haunt of local artists, the Lapin Agile.

Lapin Agile Brad Nixon (640x463)

Shopping? Browse the incomparable delicacies of Fauchon or the immense Printemps department store.

Printemps Brad Nixon (640x529)

Or stop for an aperitif at the Café de la Paix, near the Opera, as The Counselor and I did with our travel partners, two experienced visitors to Paris who showed us around.

Cafe de la Paix B. Pergande (640x428)

It means skipping something from the Big List, but save an hour, a morning or a day for that one experience that will make Paris yours. For The Counselor and me, one morning began with a run through the Bois de Boulogne, an experience we’d never have had loaded with backpacks, cameras and dressed for museums.

In Paris once on business, I had just one free evening. I rode the Metro to Montparnasse and simply walked as much as I could along the streets, past restaurants and shops I recognized from dozens of books and biographies. At the intersection of Boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, I took this photo that stands for that entire visit: three landmark restaurants: Le Dome on the left, La Rontonde across the street, and beyond it, Le Select.

Paris Le Dome sunset Brad Nixon (640x499)

Take the time to see whatever it is that called you there. Then you will have Paris for all time. We all intend to return, but should that not be our fate, we’ll always have Paris.

© Brad Nixon 2018. One photo © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission.


Responses

  1. Lovely story, Brad. It reminds me of my visit to Paris couple of years ago. Apparently, Paris was not on my list when I made the list of cities that I must visit when I’m in Europe. Until, good friend of mine, who is Parisian, found that I will come to Europe and said “How could you come to Europe and not visiting me while I’m in Paris”. Then I deleted one of the city and replaced it with Paris. It was indeed good decision since I did enjoy a lot my stay in Paris. My favorite place was Sacré-Cœur where was less crowded compared to its neighbor Eiffel Tower and the view from the top was really stunning. I wish I could come back soon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Everyone goes to see that one city, but comes away with their own Paris. I enjoyed hearing about yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On our first trip to Paris over 25 years ago, my wife and I stayed in a small three-star hotel in the Saint Germain quarter, right around the corner from the Buci market street. One afternoon when my wife was taking a short nap in our hotel room to recover from the 12 hour flight and withering jet lag, I went outside to explore the market street. I came back with a sampling of three or four pastries and displayed them on our little dining table.

    My awakened wife surveyed my finds, and then she saw . . . IT. “We came all the way to Paris, and you bought an ECLAIR!” she blurted out. I took a slow, savoring bite, and was immediately overcome with the most amazing flavors of my coffee cream éclair. Apparently, I must have closed my eyes and had a smile slowly growing across my face. “OK, gimme that éclair,” she begged. She took a bite, and was as overcome as I had been. “Wow,” she moaned.

    Paris is full of surprises.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And thanks to you, for introducing us to Fauchon and many other treasures of your beloved Paris.

      Like

      • And thanks to you and The Counselor for introducing us to Venice. A fabulous trip with so many wonderful memories. Merci beaucoup!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Prego!

        Like


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