14 November, 2014

Paris

This post continues where my last one left off. (To read my previous post about Amsterdam, follow this link: http://solongusa.blogspot.com.es/2014/11/amsterdam.html?m=1)

After leaving Amsterdam Lindsay, and I continued to the next stop on our journey through Western Europe, which was Paris. The impression I got of Paris after several days of exploring can be summed up in one word: grand. Before we arrived I didn't have a clear image in my head of what Paris would be like or even what was there (other than the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre), and the grandeur of the city and its many attractions was unexpectedly impressive. Much like our first day in Amsterdam, our first day in Paris was spent walking around somewhat aimlessly, taking in the sights. As with Amsterdam, I loved the beautiful, cohesive architecture, but this time the style was completely different. Where Amsterdam was cute and charming, Paris was elegant and, at the risk of repeating myself, grand. Everything in Paris was on a larger scale, with wider streets, more cars, more people (although fewer bikes), and taller buildings than the city we had just left. It also had the feel of a much larger city (because it is) with more energy and bustle and crowds. Since the city covers such a large area, we took the metro many times rather than spending an hour or more walking from place to place. 

The metro rides were worth it, though; there seemed to be something new and exciting to discover around each turn, many of which we would have missed if we hadn't saved so much time by using the metro. The exciting things we saw/stumbled upon are better described in pictures:


Notre Dame (from the back)


Arc de Triomphe
Moulin Rouge
Montmartre, the neighborhood where the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur are.
Sacre Coeur Cathedral
Eiffel Tower of course
Eiffel Tower selfie!
The Louvre
The last picture here is the only picture I took of the Louvre, which in retrospect is basically inexcusable because the building is so beautiful and impressive. The Eiffel Tower is of course impossible to miss, and Notre Dame, the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur cathedral also feature in the photos above. We also took one day away from the city and went to Versailles, which was amazing. We didn't even go inside, just walked around the massive gardens, but that was enough to wow us. The sheer vastness of the gardens fit well with the theme of grandeur in Paris. In addition to the Louvre, we also wanted to go to another museum (this time a museum of Paris history) but I read reviews online that said the exhibits are only in French. This was disappointing and surprising given that Paris attracts so many international tourists, not all of whom speak French. Since I speak Spanish, which is also a Romance language like French, I can sometimes understand things that are written in French, but it takes a lot more time and mental energy than I wanted to spend trying to translate an entire museum. This is a good opportunity to make some general observations about Paris, starting with...

Languages

As with all places in France, it is not as easy to get by speaking English in Paris as it is in many other places in Europe. French people generally do not speak English gladly, and it is expected that when you are in France you will speak French. Tourists who don't speak French (and there are a lot of them) can find assistance and can order food in English, but don't expect the French speakers to be happy about it or to strike up a conversation with English speakers if they don't have to. I had heard of this tendency before I arrived in Paris, so I was prepared, but it was normally described to me as a snobby habit of the French to value their own language more highly than others rather than simply a lack of faith in their own English skills. What I experienced during my interactions with French speakers was not the snobbishness or haughtiness that I was expecting, but rather a hesitation to speak a language that they did not feel entirely comfortable speaking. Our second couchsurfing host in Amsterdam said he thinks most French people are embarrassed to speak English because they don't feel their English is good enough, and I think that is closer to the truth than what I had been hearing from many people before this trip. 

Commercialization of tourist attractions

Paris, unlike Amsterdam, has quite a few iconic locations that tourists flock to, which leads to another phenomenon that was not present in Amsterdam: people walking around attempting to sell cheap souvenirs like keychains and scarves to tourists. This is one of my least favorite aspects of visiting popular tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower. I don't like being constantly approached by people trying to get me to buy the same Eiffel Tower figurines that everyone else in the city is selling. Fending off salespeople detracts from my enjoyment of the place I'm visiting, and at the same time I can't help but feel bad for not buying something because the people selling the stuff probably don't make a lot of money. I don't mind when people walk around selling bottles of water or when a food cart sets up shop next to a popular place, but I can't stand when sellers descend like vultures trying to squeeze as much money from the tourists as possible. This happens all the time around the popular spots in Paris, much like what I experienced in Venice (although in Paris it isn't quite as bad). 

Awe-Inspiring Achievements

Paris was the first place I visited on this trip that really made me appreciate the seemingly impossible things that human beings have been able to create, even before industrialization and modern technology. There are so many beautiful and almost impossibly massive buildings and structures in Paris, and thinking about people building those things, with but even more so without the help of modern technology, fills me with awe. I've only explored a few cities in a few countries in one region of the world, and I can only imagine all of the other stunning places on earth that people have left a beautiful mark on. I'm stunned by the capacity of human beings to create and advance and seek bigger and better things. I know the human race has also done and continues to do some truly horrible things, but seeing all the beauty that humans have created makes me a bit more optimistic about our species. It makes me think that maybe the balance of good and evil might be shifted a bit further towards good than I often think. 


All in all, I enjoyed Paris much more than I expected to. It's many famous sites are famous for a reason, and I can certainly recommend visiting them. I especially recommend the Louvre, which has almost every type of classical art you can possibly imagine. (And if you time your trip right like we did, you can even get in for free on the first Sunday of the month.) Stay tuned for my posts (or possibly one combined post) about the cities we visited next in Spain. [Click HERE for Barcelona!]

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