One of my favorite things to do here is set out and just explore. Like I’ve said before, getting lost here is the best way to discover the city. Yesterday my Bucket List Buddy, Alyssa, and I set out to explore St. Michel. It was another absolutely beautiful day, and as we set off strolling down Boulevard Saint Germain, I had an inkling that we would make some excellent discoveries.
One of our finest discoveries was a smoothie shop called “Wanna Juice”, that sells delicious smoothies that are freshly made (they have a huge orange juicer to make their own fresh-squeezed orange juice). I had “Apasionada”, which had mango and passion fruit in it, while Alyssa opted for a “Pink Latte”, made of an assortment of red fruits. Though a little pricey – at least 3,50 Euro for a small – they were delectable and refreshing.
We also discovered Notre Dame, which I have seen from a distance before but had not yet been inside. It was beautiful, but I was surprised by how much it has turned into a tourist trap. For me, churches are not meant to be consumed by tourism the way other sights are: they are supposed to remain divine places that are respected for their history, cultural significance, and above all, their main purpose. It seems incredibly disrespectful to me to turn a church into a shrine of itself, with displays and museum-like exhibitions for which tourists are charged. Photo-snapping is abundant, even with the flash on, and their is no sense of respect or the expected hush-tones as one walks through. I was incredibly disappointed. I much prefer Sacre Coeur, where the atmosphere is devout and quiet, tranquil and respectful, and photos inside the church are prohibited. It is more humble and sacred, and one can truly feel that it is a place of prayer rather than a museum.
Alyssa and I went 100% French and sat in a cafe (Le Petit Pont, right next to Shakespeare and Company) and drank coffees and talked about life. Ah, how relaxing to spend an afternoon exploring and relaxing with a friend – ca c’est le joie de vivre that the French are so good at.
After Alyssa departed for her 5pm class, I spent some time exploring on my own. Independence. Freedom. Solitude. All adjectives that I have learned to throw my arms around and embrace like an old friend that I haven’t seen in a while. I went for a nice long walk through St. Michel, along the Seine, and stopped and admired the view from Pont Neuf: you can see the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais, and Notre Dame on Ile-St.-Louis. I then walked onto the island, where I saw the Palais de Justice and the most Parisian little cafes surrounded by rustic-looking storefronts and old French men bickering on the sidewalks.
How content I felt, walking through on my own, alone with my discoveries and pulling my thoughts together. I got myself motivated for a nice long run and some housework, as well as loads of reading, and headed home feeling completely at peace. What a lovely afternoon. When I got home I ran 4 miles to Place de la Concorde and back, passing along the way such marvels as Gucci, Dior, Chanel, and the chocolate shop once run by Marie-Antoinette’s personal pastry chef and chocolatier. Four miles of marvel. What a life.
I think that Paris is called the City of Lights for this reason: during the day, if it’s not raining and grey, the sun shines so brightly that it feels as though a million lights are shining over the city. The sun feels a mile away, like it’s shining just for Paris, and it lights up the whole city and the souls of all of its residents. It feels so much more special after many days of rain and fog, like the city is finally being rewarded for muddling through those grey days. At night, the city is lit up by millions of actual lights, so much that walking home at night feels hardly different than in the day, and one feels like the city is just as much alive as ever.