Saturday, March 27, 2010

Paris, Redux

We returned home from our second trip to Paris last night. Of course, today we're feeling the "Paris blues" that comes from spending an entire week in such an awesome city only to leave it behind rather abruptly. To be true, New York City is every bit as amazing a metropolitan center as Paris, but in its own different way.

The unique thing about being in Paris, of course, is simply the grand scale of HISTORY that surrounds you everywhere you go. I had a Parisian this week tell me that this is because my wife and I chose to stay in the very quaint and historic island of Ile Saint Louis. Sure, the island *is* one of the few places in Paris that still has many of its pre-19th century buildings intact. I'm not talking the isolated centuries-old town house or church here--which you can stumble across anywhere in Paris--but entire streets and neighborhoods that have remained virtually untouched since the 1600s!

So, yes, this person had a point. Still, walking down any street in the city will be a history lesson that can stretch as far back as the Middle Ages, if not to actual Roman times. There's a certain thrill to this knowledge, walking around such an ancient city, that you simply cannot get in New York City. This is not to say NYC doesn't have it's own unique history. It certainly does, and I love it! But who are we kidding? I walked through back alleys in Paris that dated back to before the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. It's hard not to be impressed by that.

And this is what I love so much about the city. But it is not the only thing that makes it so special. The people, the language, the art, the restaurants . . . the impromptu street musicians who spring up out of the blue!

Honestly, I can go on and on. So I will, if only for a little while longer. Bear with me.

Lisa and I had an even more fantastic time this second trip around. We went the exact same time period as last year (second-to-last week of March), but the weather could not be any different. This time we had sunny skies and mid-60s temps for most of our visit. It was glorious! Truly the best weather for walking around a city.

We did notice, however, that we were more jaded this time. Riding the metro, for instance, was a barely remarked upon afterthought. We simply used it to get to where we were going. What I mean is: we took the trains as if we were in NYC. We didn't feel like we were in Paris, or that there was anything special about the experience. It was a tool to be used as a means to an end. And that end was to get to parts of the city we could not get to on foot. No different than how we ride the subway here.

Suffice to say we were only rarely seen as tourists during our stay. Except the one time when I stumbled into a souvenir shop lured by the sight of Japanese samurai swords (turned out to be cheap knock-offs -- BLEH!) and suddenly lost what few words of the local tongue I knew when the Chinese owner came up to me and started hawking her wares in rapid-fire French.

To be fair, I think what threw me off the most was that, prior to this, she had been speaking to her friend in Mandarin, and my brain had a momentary WTF? lapse as it tried to process the Chinese it was hearing into the English internal dialog of my thoughts, all the while preparing a French phrase of apology as I quickly retreated out of the kitschy store. What ended up happening was that I became tongue-tied. The owner laughed and made fun of me in Chinese to her friend, before switching to English (don't ask me how she knew this was my native tongue) and asking me if I needed help. To cover my embarrassment, I was forced to buy a ridiculously cheap miniature of Notre Dame cathedral for 3 euros. I have the thing sitting on my desk right now. It's a constant reminder of how my ego can still be knocked down to size whenever I get too comfortable with what I think I know.

But that's Paris for you. Always full of funny and, maybe, not-so-funny moments if you are not paying attention.

Lastly, I'll leave you with this self-taken photo of Lisa and I at the Royal Palace grounds at Versailles. I didn't do such a good job of centering the fountainhead in the background, but I was flustered by all the annoying Spanish tourists surrounding us (thankfully) off-camera:

Keep your eyes on this blog as I update with more reports on our trip. And, of course, this includes my now infamous "Highlander: The Series" filming locations tour, the first entry of which I wrote last year and can be viewed by clicking here. Suffice to say I have even more and exciting pics to offer in the followup entry, which I'll be posting shortly.

Stay tuned!

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