I truly believe that behind each challenge in life there is an opportunity for each person to step up, develop your character, and learn something new about yourself and things around you. It offers you a chance to change your perception of the issue you thought you’ve known everything about.
A trip somewhere is always a new experience, especially when you are travelling alone. That is how few days in Paris turned into an opportunity to find out something new about myself and the city I was in.
My first trip to France was to be the biggest event in my life. Since Paris is surrounded with clichés and myths, it became my own must to see everything with my eyes. It is hard to tell which other city in the world has inherited such a beautiful history in combination with impressive architecture, exquisite cuisine, legendary style of chic women and rebellion spirit. Therefore, I packed all my stuff, revised my very basic French vocabulary and headed to airport with the mind full of great expectations.
First impression from the moment of landing in Charles des Gaulle is amusement from how chaotic it is. Charles de Gaulle airport that looks like an alien ship from the sky, seems to be a separate city outside of Paris, and approves the title of one of the busiest airports in the world. Starting to get lost in the airport already, I still believed it would be easier and different when I get to the city. Information desks and polite airport stuff helped me to make my way through the terminal and get to the bus that headed through the lush greenery of Parisian suburbs to the City of Lights.
My first day brought me the main lesson about this city – it doesn’t matter if you have a map and basic knowledge of French, you will get lost. Streets on the map may go straight, and it seems deceptively easy to find your way around. However, in reality, the avenues, other streets and squares cut into the street you need; they start at one end, and continue in completely unexpected way. Subway is even worse; it is also huge and unbelievably complex with often unpronounceable names of stations. The only true way to get around in Paris if you are a tourist is to take your eyes off the map and let the people around help you. Once I did it, I wasn’t able to get lost anymore. During the time spent in the city, I had so many pleasant small talks that helped me to find out a little more about people living in Paris. Parisians are mostly open, willing to help, and appreciate your trying to use French.
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Getting to know a bit more about the city with each step, I was getting more and more sure that Paris is a city of ghosts. It has so much behind its appearance since every stone holds the memory of glorious past, every building reminds you of the power and authority of the royal family, every monument is a landmark in the history of the nation. Moreover, the largeness of the city and its tender luxurious gloss still excite everyone who visits Paris. The city still remembers being the center of Europe, when the world’s famous aristocrats gathered here into one melting pot to give the birth for new inventions and achievements.
Apart from being the center of the art and intellectual world, it has been wrapped into romantic dreams of everyone in love as the most desirable place for marriage. Paris is still haunted by the glory of what is used to be and will never be again. Impressively calm and fascinating from the outside, from the second look, it is drastically different. This city of never-ending strikes, overcrowded with tourists, is chaotic and messy, not so safe and not very French anymore.
I really had to dig in a little deeper to find out more about Paris than simple clichés used to tell. And what is more Parisian than Louvre?
Louvre amazed me in hundreds of different ways, as it was definitely what I was not expecting from a tour to museum. I don’t believe that guides can tell you much, especially in those crowded places. Moreover, I do believe that works of art should be experienced on your own allowing you to perceive it through the prism of your own individuality and experience. Therefore, all I needed in Louvre was a map to find my way around. At first, due to some weird coincidence, I chose the halls, which were almost empty and silent with beautiful works of sculpture that were surmounting over you.
Louvre, with all its scale and realization that unique works of famous perpetual artists are represented there, makes you feel with astonishment how tiny and numb you are. The harmony around you is in the air; even the sound of your steps is dissonant to the ambience. It is great to get lost in Louvre, wandering around silent halls decorated with the pieces of art, facing either beauty or ugliness depicted in the works, either modesty of some art or luxury of Napoleon’s chambers.
The halls were legendary Mona Lisa is situated gave me another impressions. The myths related to this Leonardo’s work are walking around the world, literally gathering every possible tourist in Paris, who believes that he or she is the one to solve the riddle behind Gioconda’s smile. The hall with Mona Lisa was so overcrowded that you could barely step close enough to see the small picture behind the bulletproof glass from a specially measured distance you can approach it into the flash-lights of all the cameras in the room.
After so much fuss around this work of art, I saw people getting disappointed, as secretly in your soul, you may believe that one look in her eyes will help you receive an answer to the question, what makes this picture so special? However, the thing is you usually do not guess Gioconda’s riddle. Looking at the picture behind somebody’s back in an overcrowded room does not help in understanding of the great talent of Leonardo.
From what I’ve heard walking around Paris, you can either love or hate this city, there’s no way you can stay indifferent. On my way home I was puzzled with question on how my perception of Paris earlier differed from what I know now about the City of Lights and what will be my attitude. It seems that it combines diametrically different things – scale, fascinating architecture and luxurious gloss intercross with chaos and danger of being alone foreigner even in the center. Impressive works of art intermingle with overcrowded rooms that hinders your perception and makes it almost impossible to truly appreciate the experience, glorious past and blurry future. At the end of my flight, I knew I loved it. Paris is a city of contrasts, where there is a place for everything – beauty, chaos, luxury and danger; and who knows what this mixture can bring to world. Maybe, not all of the riddles of Paris are already solved since having so much in the past it can surprise us in future.