That’s my favorite line from my favorite movie – Casablanca. Rick sure knew what he was talking about when he said his final goodbye to Ilsa. You change and your circumstances change, but Paris stays with you.
My first glimpse of Paris in the late 1980s was emotionally charged. When I studied French in high school and college, Paris was my dream destination. I had anticipated my inaugural visit for years, and when I finally was there for the first time I became, in a word, unglued.
After Bill and I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we rode a train and then the Metro into the city. With luggage and jacket in hand, I followed him up the stairs of the station, holding my breath, and walked outside into the Left Bank. I turned around for a 360-degree view and was completely overcome. I dropped my belongings on the sidewalk and burst into tears.
Bill, thinking I was still close behind him, continued walking. He was two blocks away before he turned around to say something to me and realized I wasn’t there. He scanned the crowd, saw that I was a blubbering mess rooted to the spot, and ran back to get me.
“It’s so beautiful,” I sobbed uncontrollably. “Even more than I imagined.”
“I know, I know,” he said, gently guiding me forward.
We’ve returned to Paris a couple of times since then, making new memories. Now, in a sense, we’re seeing Paris for the first time all over again as we introduce one of our favorite cities to Bill’s mom, Ann.
We’re staying in a charming, two-level ground floor/basement apartment along the rue de Verneuil in the 7th arrondissement on the Left Bank. The buildings in our neighborhood date back to the late 1700s. Our apartment is perfectly located, two blocks from the River Seine and four blocks from Boulevard St. Germain.
Galleries and luxe home furnishings shops line the streets. We’ve already made frequent forays to some of our neighborhood’s food shops for provisions, and we’re on a first-name basis with Colette at Maison Guyard, the charcuterie-traiteur across from us. We’ve dined on her excellent meats and prepared salads, topped off with her apple tarts and crêpes. About a 10-minute walk from us is Poilâne, known for its bread, and Barthélemy, a tiny, aromatic shop densely packed with a vast assortment of cheeses. Dalloyau, also nearby and where we’ve purchased croissants, pains de chocolate, and macarons, has been in business since 1682.
As we did on our first full day in London, we hired a private car to give us an overview tour of the city. For four hours, our informative driver and guide, Yvonne, from Private Tours Paris, drove us throughout the city, giving us both a history lesson and an introduction to the city’s iconic sites.
The Latin Quarter was the first area to develop, thanks to the Romans who invaded the Gauls in the first century B.C. On an island in the river (now the IIe de la Cité) they found a small village created by fishermen. The Romans took the town and further developed it on the Left Bank, which is higher and more protected from floods from the river. The Romans invented cement and used it for buildings and roads.
After the Romans, the Barbarians invaded, and then came the Middle Ages. Subsequent homes were constructed mainly of wood. Given that wood burned easily, people built narrow streets with curves to prevent fire from readily going from one home to the other. Many of those streets exist today in the Latin Quarter.
Here are some of the venues we saw. I think of them as the city’s premier ambassadors:
Eiffel Tower – My hands-down favorite. Erected in 1889 and 1,062 feet high, La Tour Eiffel is a visual, technical and architectural wonder. When it opened it was the tallest tower in the world. It takes more than a year to apply the 60 tons of paint needed for the structure. The color is actually a little darker on the bottom so that it’s perceived to be the same shade all the way up. Happy 125th birthday!
Notre Dame Cathedral – 850 years old last year, they replaced the bells from the towers and displayed the new bells for a few weeks as part of the celebrations. It’s the highest and longest church in Paris. The famous flying buttresses at the rear help to maintain the structure of the roof. Many of the stained glass windows and rose windows date back to the 13th century. Intricately carved gargoyles help disperse water from the roof.
Louvre Museum – The site dates back to the 12th century, when it was a fortress. In the 16th century, King Francis I built a modern palace in the Italian Renaissance style. All the following kings until the 19th century added buildings, incorporating matching materials and styles for a homogenous look, which is why the Louvre today is so huge. It became a museum in 1793. Large crowds gather around such masterpieces as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid entrance connects the three main wings of the U-shaped Musée Louvre.
Jardin des Tuileries – Adjacent to the Louvre, the garden is a favorite outdoor gathering place.
St. Germain des Prés – The oldest church in Paris, the bell tower and arches at the entrance date back to the 9th century.
Jardin du Luxembourg – The Parisians’ favorite gardens provide the floral and tree-lined backdrop for the Italian-style building (formerly a royal home) that now houses the Senate,
Musée d’Orsay – Built as a railway station for the1900 international world’s fair, it became obsolete in the 1940s because the platforms were too short for the new electrified railway system. It became a museum in 1986 and houses a stellar collection of Impressionist paintings.
Place de la Concorde – The largest square in Paris, it’s where the guillotine stood during the French Revolution. The carved granite obelisk, a gift from Egypt, weighs 23 tons and dates back to 4,000 years B.C.
Pont Alexandre III – The most elegant and first single-span metal bridge in Paris, its crystal lamps are lit with gas and impart a soft glow at night.
Sacre Coeur Basilica – The church stands at the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris and known as an artists’ colony. Clos Montmartre is a hidden gem as the only vineyard in Paris, and it has an annual harvest and wine production.
Arc de Triomphe — Situated at the top of the Champs Élysées, this grand monument was built at Napoleon Bonaparte’s order so his victorious army could march through an arch of triumph when they returned home.
We also rode on one of the ubiquitous vedettes on the Seine for a scenic river view of the city at dusk. We were just in time to see the Eiffel Tower come alive with sparkles as its lights and beacon illuminated for the evening.
So what was Ann’s first impression of Paris?
“I was impressed with the old, majestic buildings, and amazed at the traffic and the motor bikes,” she said. “I love the close by restaurants, bakeries and tiny shops that you can walk to for such good things.