The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was warm and gay,
I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.
– Oscar Hammerstein II
Paris, the City of Lights. Certainly every die-hard romantic’s dream honeymoon destination. And since we were on our honeymoon, we envisaged Paris to be the highlight of our tour. Of course, it ended up that almost all destinations during our honeymoon turned out to be highlights in their own right.
It was a long way to travel from Lucerne to Paris; we ended up spending a better half of the day in the coach. The moment we arrived, we engaged in the most touristy activity possible – a boat tour along River Seine, the river which divides Paris into the Left Bank and Right Bank. The Left Bank (or La Rive Gauche in French) is situated on the southern side of the Seine and is by far the smaller section of Paris. It is also known for its artistic and intellectual life. The Right Bank (La Rive Droit) to the north of the river, on the other hand, represents the aristocratic privileged class and their expensive districts. While the distinction between the two banks is less applicable nowadays, most of Paris’ big businesses, banks and tourist attractions are located on this larger section. But I digressed.
As night fell, we froze out in the open (it was early spring) on the upper deck of the river boat, all for the hope of having a glimpse of the global icon of France – the Eiffel Tower. We were told we would only have a short few seconds of capturing both the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty near Pont de Grenelle together, and so I tried to warm my stiff hands and prepare for the big moment. Only to have the DSLR fail me. Or rather, to have my photo-taking skills fail me: a Point-and-Shoot, an entry-level DSLR, or a professional camera, will take photographs only as good as the photographer’s skills, to a large extent.
Yup. So we couldn’t get any decent shots of the Eiffel Tower together with the Statue of Liberty. Or any shots of the tower during the light show on the hour. Night photography plus a moving river boat? Worst combination ever for most amateur photographers, myself included. My advice is, be on solid ground when you attempt to take pictures of the tower, and if shooting from afar, use a tripod or at least prop on some sort of support. It would save you a lot of heartache. In short, just relax and enjoy the river cruise without the burden of trying to take pictures because it is indeed to best way to see Paris. One of these Seine river cruises takes about an hour to complete, and costs about 13,00€ for an adult ticket.
We had a crazy schedule the following day. Somehow within the waking hours, we covered most of the famous sights in Paris and some: we saw the Luxor Obelisk at Place de la Concorde, took pictures in front of Ritz Paris, came up close and personal with Arc de Triomphe, strolled along Avenue des Champs-Élysées and scaled The Eiffel Tower. On top of that, we could still somehow find time to visit Château de Versailles, Musée du Louvre and sit through a 10-course French dinner. How we managed to achieve all that is now quite beyond my comprehension.
As a result of this whirlwind sightseeing schedule, we didn’t have the luxury of time to scale Arc de Triomphe for the awesome overview of Avenue des Champs-Élysées. More importantly, I didn’t get to explore Musée du Louvre, or visit Notre Dame Cathedral. To say that I left Paris laden with a heart heavy of regrets would be a gross understatement.
Mid-April is a wonderful time to visit Paris. Although still a magnet for throngs of tourists, it is considerably less crowded than the more popular summer months. Take note of that if you are planning a visit in Spring.
Throughout our tour, we were warned of gypsy ladies who would, on the surface be begging for money as a ruse while on the sly, have a partner pickpocket the valuables when the unsuspecting victim was distracted. I must say we were quite fortunate not to have met many of them along the way. That was till our stay in Paris. Along Avenue des Champs-Élysées near Arc de Triomphe, we were suddenly swarmed by unkempt, dark-skinned women dressing like gypsies while we were taking pictures. We could barely understand their speech, and were trying our darnest to ignore them while concentrating on photographing the famous monument. Our tour leader was on an exceptionally alert mode as a result. Because there were so many of us in the group, he decided to play safe by chasing the gypsy ladies away instead of trying to watch all of them like a hawk. Strangely enough, his single italian word ‘Via!’ was sufficient to convey his message. Seeing how they were not going to make any headway with our group, they moved on to another group of tourists. I hope none of them had fallen prey.
The Eiffel Tower, nicknamed the Iron Lady, is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Standing at 320 m, the tower’s design was met with widespread disdain and it was even criticised to be an eyesore that ruined the beautiful skyline of the city. Today, many recognise the romantic icon of Paris, but lesser know that it was never meant to be a permanent fixture. The emerging field of radio telegraphy saved it from dismantlement in 1909 and as the cliché goes, the rest is history.