Paris has to be one of the most touristic cities in the world. There’s a certain romantic appeal about it, and it is home to a number of world famous landmarks and icons. Over the four days I spent in Paris, I managed to see almost all the major ones. There was quite a few other things that I wouldn’t have minded seeing, but it’s such a vast city that in the end I simply didn’t have the time to make it everywhere – or the energy between partying for Pride. Rather than trying to pack it all into one exhausting day of sightseeing, I took my time and did a little bit each day over the course of the four days.
After the rough end of my first night Paris, I spent the better part of Friday morning in bed trying to catch up on some sleep that my illness had robbed me of, rising only to catch the end of the included breakfast in the hostels kitchen. While Rathana had told me the French eat chocolate for breakfast, all that was on offer this morning was a glass of orange juice and some cold cuts of meat and cheese, providing me with the valuable lesson that I shouldn’t ever really get that excited about any hostel whose price included breakfast. But pressing on through a very dissatisfying morning, I pulled my tired, slightly hungover self together and hopped on the metro to the city centre. It was still a little overcast with drizzles of rain here and there, so I decided today would be a suitable day to visit the famous art museum, Musée du Louvre. I do have one hot tip to share, courtesy of the Lonely Planet guide book: there is absolutely no need to line up for an hour outside the iconic Pyramide du Louvre, the main entrance of the museum. By all means go and have a look, but buy your tickets from the nearby Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping centre located directly next to the Louvre. Tickets are no extra cost, and I lined up for a maximum of ten minutes, despite the wait outside around he pyramid being over an hour. After buying my ticket, I was able to walk straight past the line and into the museum. Of course, there’s the option to book your tickets in advance online, but for a spontaneous traveller like me, this Carrousel du Louvre was an incredible time saver.
I have to give another shout out to my grandmother, who urged me to visit the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and surely would have loved to join me through my stroll through probably the most famous art museum in the world. Though unlike the Hermitage, I was allowed to take plenty of photos inside the Louvre. So I did – these ones are for you, Nana.
The Louvre is massive. I spent about two hours there, which is no where near enough time to see it all, so I focused on some of my interests when it comes to art. I have a thing for sculptures and statues, and I also think they translate the best into photography, so most of my photos comprise of the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian relics. However, I did manage to see the Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa and, like everyone had previously warned me, she is rather underwhelming in size. It’s actually quite hilarious to see the swarms of people that crowd around this tiny portrait taken dozens of photos of, and even with, the mysterious lady, when there is a giant, epic painting, The Wedding Feast at Cana, on the other end of the hall, seemingly invisible in comparison to the attention Mona Lisa gets. Yet despite my bemusement, I couldn’t help myself but sneak closer, just to get a glimpse of the famous Mona Lisa smile.
After leaving the Louvre, I wandered along the right bank of the River Seine and crossed a bridge over to the islands in the middle, where I made my way towards the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was an impressive sight, and I have to say that while I’d already seen a fair few churches in my travels so far, it was remarkable how so many of them were so unique and different in their own ways. Of course, I suppose all the famous ones have to have something about them that makes them stand out. I visited the inside of the church too, although there was quite a long wait to go up to the upper viewing levels. By this stage of the afternoon I was well and truly exhausted, and as the rain started to get a little heavier I decided that it was a sign to should head home and take some shelter.
The next day was bright and sunny – perfect weather for climbing the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately there is no real way to skip the lines for this world famous attraction without booking ahead online, and even then I think it can be a monstrous hassle. The lines are particularly long if you wish to take the elevator up to the very top of the tower, presumably because there isn’t a lot of room for a lot of people up there, yet it’s the place everyone wants to go. Loathing lines as much as I do, I decided there was no way I was going to stand around by myself in that queue, so I joined the queue for walking up the towers stairs, which was by no means short but it was considerably shorter than the elevator queue. If you’re a solo traveller like me I strongly suggest bringing a book or something, because the wait was still the better part of an hour – keeping in mind I was there in practically peak season.
So far I’ve climbed every other attraction that I was able to climb, including the Great Wall of China, but the hike up approximately 670 of the Eiffel Towers stairs definitely counted as my daily workout. The day was clear, though it was also windy, which became nice and refreshing as my breathing began to labour towards the top. By top I mean, of course, the second level of the tower, which is as far as the public can ascend via stairs. Even up on the second platform, the lines for the lift were ridiculously long and would cost an extra fee, so I contented myself with the still spectacular views of Paris from the second platform. Though I have to admit, it looks a little less like Paris when you can’t see the most iconic attraction – because you’re standing on it! Nevertheless, it gives you a good idea of just how enormous the City of Lights really is.
Afterwards, I trekked it back to the bottom and headed to the Champs de Mars to get a photo with the tower. I know I’ve talked about being a traveller and not a tourist, but there really are some pictures that you just have to take. Afterwards I sat in the gardens and had a crêpe for afternoon tea and sat around marvelling at how very French I was being.
My last major sightseeing day occurred on my final day in Paris, the Monday in which I would be heading to Barcelona in the evening. At the suggestion of Greg, a Parisian friend I had made over the weekend, I visited the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, more commonly known as Sacré Cœur. The church is made of white stone, an ancient building that sits atop a hill in the central-north of Paris, and I was told that it gave a spectacular view of the city that even rivals that of the Eiffel Tower. In an area heavily populated with tourists, I dodged past the street vendors, and men trying to sell me bracelets by making them around my wrist before I’d even given consent – since my time in China, I’ve gotten better at avoiding scams – and marched to the top of the stairs and entered the church. It was an old building with narrow, spiralling stone corridors to the top of the dome, but Greg had not been wrong – the view was quite awe inspiring. You could see most of the city in one sweeping view, stretching on for miles into the distance. The Eiffel Tower looked tiny from up here, just a needle in a mass of other French buildings. It made me realise that the true cityscapes of some places aren’t as iconic as romanticised ideals in pop culture would have us believe, mainly because they’re just so huge, and all the really iconic buildings could never fit into the same shot. Yet whether or not it was wholly recognisable, Sacré Cœur did provide a magnificent view of Paris.
The other feature of Sacré Cœur is the tombs underneath. I wandered through the quiet corridors, and while I didn’t take note of exactly who was buried there, there was something else peculiar going on in the tombs that caught my eye. The area wasn’t flooded with tourists, but the ones that were there were taking so many photos. And not just photos of the tombs and crypts, but actually with them, posing to smile or take a selfie with the grave of some long dead French king or archbishop or something. I could be wrong in assuming that they had no familial or otherwise significant connection to that particular grave, but I don’t think I am… especially when they took photos with nearly every single one! I mean, really, lady? Do your Facebook friends really want to see you and your son posing in front of 10 different crypts? Not only is it kind of insensitive to the sanctity of the holy place you’re in, but it’s just kind of creepy. I’m not religious, so I can’t say I was particualrly offended, but I was definitely disappointed, and a little ashamed on behalf of non-culturally insensitive tourists everywhere. The whole thing really killed the feeling of spiritually or sanctity within the church, and I’m still a little stunned at those tourists who feel the need to take photos of absolutely everything.
After Sacré Cœur I headed down south to Av des Champs-Élysées which was, as the song would have be believe, quite a busy street. It was congested with traffic and mainly lined with brand name shops, so I just walked about the bustling pavement until I reached the last of iconic monuments in Paris: Arc de Triomphe. I took a couple of photos but decided to pass on climbing the monument, instead continuing to wander and explore the smaller, hidden streets of Paris. My days of sightseeing had made me appreciate just how big a city this place was, but the popular attractions are only a fraction of what Paris has to offer.