The first time I stepped foot in Paris, I remember being struck by how similar the world was there to here. It was my very first time in Europe, and I had built it up so much in my mind that I had imagined the colors being brighter, the air smelling sweeter, everything looking like it came straight from the Renaissance. But the sky is still the sky, air is still air, the sun is the same sun no matter where you are. I was so prepared for this major culture shock that I was surprised by the similarities more than the differences.
One of my favorite things about Paris is the architecture. I have a degree in Art History, so a city like Paris is a dream. The majority of the buildings were built using limestone quarried from beneath the city, creating a vast network of underground tunnels which now make up the catacombs. The 18th century architectural style is maintained throughout the old part of the city, and there are no skyscrapers or metal buildings to disrupt the authenticity of the area, which makes it unique and wonderful. There is absolutely no mistaking that you are in Paris.
Notre Dame 2016. c. Leah Putz
Notre Dame was the first place I went in Paris on my first trip there five years ago, and when I took my mom for Mother’s Day this year it was the first place I took her as well. Even after all these years and the many cathedrals I have seen since, Notre Dame remains one of my favorite. The Gothic architecture and symmetry never fails to take my breath away. It’s astounding to me that people could create something so massive and beautiful without the use of any sort of modern tools. The interior of the cathedral is just as beautiful as the exterior- I felt overwhelmed and emotional gazing at the massive rose windows, the sculptures, and just the sheer scale of the building.
Zero Mark Point, the Center of Paris, in front of Notre Dame cathedral, 2011. c. Renee Brown
One great thing about Paris is that the major sites are fairly close together. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can walk from Mont-martre to Notre Dame, to the Louvre, to the Arc de Triomphe, to the Eiffel Tower. It’s safe to say you’d have to be really ambitious, but there is also a very easy to use Metro system if you aren’t up to the long walks. What I did was purchase a 2 day pass for a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city which took us to many of the landmarks so we didn’t have to walk or take the metro. We sat on the upper deck and was able to enjoy wonderful views of the city whilst resting our legs for our next adventure. I had bronchitis and couldn’t handle too much walking without wanting to hack my lungs up and go to sleep on the sidewalk, so this bus tour pass was a godsend. My mom could admire the city and take pictures of the sites and laugh at me when I inevitably passed out.
Incredibly flattering photo of me passed out on the bus as we passed the Eiffel Tower, 2016. c. Holly Williams
Sacre Ceour, 2016. c. Leah Putz
While my favorite part of Paris is Notre Dame and the Latin quarter, my mom’s is Montmartre. It’s a bit of a hike up the hill to the basilica Sacre Coeur, but it’s well worth it. Not only do you get a fantastic view of the city, but there are many wonderful little shops and cafes in this small area of the city. Montmartre was the home of many famous Parisian artists, and their essence still lingers in the area. It’s buzzing with a creative vibe and many of the shops are full of art. It’s here that the cafe in Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night painting still exists! I recommend heading up there in the evening. A little path off to the left of Sacre Coeur provides a panorama of Paris, and it’s quite stunning at sunset or even after, when the Eiffel Tower lights up.
Mom and I, Louvre Courtyard, 2016. c. Leah Putz
Another must see for art lovers is, of course, the Louvre. One could spend months coming to this museum every day and still not see everything it has to offer. Housed in what was once a royal palace, the number of rooms and halls now chock full of art are endless. It’s overwhelming, especially if you are on a time crunch, so I recommend trying not to limit the amount of time you spend here. This is one of the most famous museums in the world, for good reason. Some of the most world-renowned works of art are housed here, including da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Nike of Samothrace, and many, many more. The building itself is a work of art, with gilded ceilings and marble staircases. The only thing I don’t like about the Louvre is how difficult it is to get out. Both times I’ve been here I’ve gotten lost trying to find the exit. This last most recent time when I was so sick, I almost had a mental breakdown going in circles just trying to escape to get some fresh air. Protip: grab a map of the place.
Entrance to the Parisian Catacombs, 2016. c. Leah Putz
Parisian Catacombs, 2016. c. Leah Putz
If the phrase, ‘Stop! Here is the empire of the dead,’ doesn’t scare you away (or just the idea of being hundreds of feet underground with millions of skeletons), then you definitely have to check out the catacombs. During the 18th century, Paris’ cemeteries were grossly over-crowded and the city began searching for a solution. Someone had the brilliant idea of placing the corpses under the city in the mines carved out during the hunt for limestone. Near the end of the 8th century, someone else decided to organize the bones of the deceased. Now its an underground museum full of skulls, leg bones, and arm bones arranged in a morbid sense of decoration. The bodies are organized based on what cemetery they came from, or which battle in the Revolution they died during. The remains of millions of people are here, and it’s mind-boggling gazing upon the bones of so many unnamed souls. There’s no way to possibly know about any of these people’s lives, and yet here you are, staring into their skulls.
Renee and I before the Arc de Triomphe, 2011. c. Renee Brown
There’s far too many interesting and incredible things to see in Paris than I could possibly mention in a blog post (a few examples include the Musée de l’Orangerie which house Monet’s water lilies, and the Palais Garnier opera house- the setting of the Phantom of the Opera). While it isn’t my favorite European city I’ve been too (it’s a bit dirty and has an underlying scent of urine), it holds a special place in my heart as the first one I’ve visited. There’s just nowhere like Paris.