When you arrive at a train station in Paris, either coming from the airport or by rail from a nearby city, province, or country, you can feel the spirit of the city. Paris is a place of revolutions, artists, and existential philosophers, and for a period, the favorite city and second home of the great American writers.
Paris is a bohemian city, so different than the rest of France that people joke about the Parisian accent, and assure you that “there is Paris, then there is France.”
The iconic monuments, like the Eiffel Tower, are not to be scoffed at. To truly understand the magic of the city, you have to walk up to an observation platform and look over patchwork of blue and grey rooftops, and the array of streets that shoot out in every direction, cutting up the neighborhoods. If you can get to the top of the tallest structure in all of Paris, you’ll be standing at the height of an 81 story building.
The highest point in Paris is not, however, the Eiffel Tower. The Sacré Cœur, a Roman Catholic church and basilica that was finished in 1914 but consecrated after World War I, built on the summit of our favorite neighborhood, Montmartre. Though overflowing with tourists, it is still edgy and lively.
Not far from the Sacré Cœur is the Moulin Rouge, now also more of a tourist attraction than the steamy cabaret. Known as the birthplace of can-can, the building is culturally significant in popularizing the dance throughout Europe, and for introducing patrons the the green fairy.
A better known church, the Notre Dame de Paris, a Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of a small island, the Île de la Cité. Walk around the parks and enjoy the outdoors as much as the indoors, and then find your way to the legendary Shakespeare and Company across the river.
In the evenings go to the parks, especially the ones outside the Louvre near the pyramids of I.M. Pei. Bring a bottle of wine or two, some cheese and cured meats, sweets and bread, and have a feast with friends.
Paris is about people. I’ve been there several times alone, but it is not intended to be a city for the loner. Paris is inspiring, and the romantic charm is something you will want to share to fully appreciate what it means to be there.