Being there for three days, I saw a lot of the city, but it just feels sacrilegious to try to cover it in a blog entry. That's like summing up New York City with a post card of the Empire State Building. Any two-dimensional picture my words conjure up will be like a fleeting image on a digital camera.
So I'm not going to try to be your eyes and ears here, but I will give you a taste of some of the things I noticed about the cultural, fashion and commercial capital. Remember, I'm speaking here from the perspective of an awed tourist, not the avid traveler who's going to show the ropes of how to get around.
You can't always trust the movies, but they hit Paris' cafe culture on the dot. I saw one drive-thru on the outskirts of town - it was a McDonald's, mind you - but for the most part, there seems to be a sit-down cafe with a nice ambience on every corner. Unlike my part of America, where free-standing chain restaurants dominate many areas, you can walk most any street in Paris an expensive but delicious place to relax and eat. My boss and I dropped into about four different cafes. I can't complain about any of them.
At the same time though, France is not all glitz and glamour. Paris has astounding historical beauty, but that beauty still rests in the middle of a thriving modern city. That means graffiti, dirty metro systems, poor air quality at times and a general lack of the polish that suburban Americans might not expect.
But any dissatisfaction fades away the monuments reveal themselves. I never took a day of European history class, but I was stunned by the height of the Eiffel Tower, the breadth of the Louvre, the stout mass of the Arc du Triomphe and the mystical beauty of Notre Dame. I'm sure it's even more fascinating when you're not lacking in culture like me. I don't think I've ever given France due respect for its contributions to the world.
Cars are an interesting phenomenon in Paris. They're extremely tiny and apparently must be one of about five or six brands: Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Smart Car or Mercedes. With their cars, the Parisians who actually drive seem to value the utility of their vehicle in a cramped city over ostentatious displays of wealth that characterize many of the big cars in America.
I could go on, but there's more to come, so I'll leave now with some bullet points on travel logistics:
-Trains - RER from airport to city is long, especially when you arrive at 6 a.m. and disgruntled commuters are mad that you put your 40-lb. suitcase in one of the seats.
-Metro - Don't expect luxury from the Metro. It has one purpose, to move people, and it does that quite well, unless you're unluckly like me and happen to come at a time when they're renovating one stop you need and closed the other.
-Hotels - Maybe it's because we got set up by a government agency, but Parisian hotels are extremely expensive.
-Internet - Get acquainted with the city's wireless networks to avoid paying 5 euros per hour in the hotels. I wasn't educated on that, and I suffered. Not very many of the cafes seemed to be wireless ready, and plus I had little time to surf.
-People - France is a country of a little more than 60 million people. It gets 84 million tourists a year. The French people were extremely nice and helpful to us. I don't know how they have the patience after seeing people from all over the world trampling on their turf.
-American Abduction? I saw extremely few Americans. Global financial crisis, anyone?
-Weather - During winter, Paris is gray and dark. Spring is coming soon, as evidenced by the nice weather we witnessed.
-Take a spouse or significant other - It's lonely in a foreign city with no one to talk to.
All photos Copyright Trevor Williams 2009.
From top: First visit to the tower; Notre Dame from the inside; Seine River at evening