Paris – the city of lights, and the final stop on my 2018 world tour.
Though it wasn’t my first visit, Paris is such a large and complex city that it deserves multiple visits anyway. This time, I stayed in the Xe arrondissement in the northeast of the city. Though far from landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, I could easily walk to the hillside neighborhood of Montmartre.
Once upon a time, Montmartre was a rural respite from the city, where the most prominent structures were windmills. It was a favorite hangout for artists like Picasso and van Gogh, who helped make the neighborhood world renowned. One building in Montmartre became famous for another reason. The Moulin Rouge (“Red Windmill”), a cabaret theater, introduced the world to the cancan dance.
Nowadays, Montmartre is a fully-integrated part of Paris, but retains its own unique character. The streets are narrower and the buildings shorter and moss-covered. The highlight is the Sacré Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, which sits atop the hill. From the steps of the basilica, you can see nearly the entire city of Paris below.
As my visit to Paris fell on a weekend, I took the opportunity to attend Sunday mass in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the famous gargoyle-bedecked Gothic church on an island in the Seine river. The mass was completely packed, with what seemed like equal parts Parisians, Catholic tourists, and curious tourists.
Navigating the crowd in and around the cathedral turned out to be worth it though, for the music. The sounds from the massive organ filled the cathedral in a way I have never heard before, and the organist really let loose at the end of the mass, keeping people in the pews until well after the priest had left the altar.
To conclude my visit, I met up once again with my friend Marion, who had returned to Paris earlier in the week. Since I only had a short time in Paris, Marion suggested a unique way to see the whole city very quickly: jetpack! At an attraction called FlyView, we climbed up onto jetpack simulators with 3-D helmets and enjoyed an immersive “flight” over the boulevards and monuments of Paris, complete with motion effects and a light summer breeze.
Afterwards, Marion had another important stop in mind: a visit to Pierre Hermé, a bakery known for having some of the best macarons in all of Paris. The lady behind the counter carefully explained in great detail all of the flavors on offer, and Marion and I were left to the difficult task of contemplating our options for several minutes before picking out the ones we wanted to try.
Later in the day, we explored one of Marion’s favorite parts of the city, a trendy neighborhood called le Marais that was once the center for the city’s Jewish community. Le Marais also happens to be one of those places (another being the city of Malmö, Sweden) that is famous for a surprising non-native dish: falafel. There is an entire street lined with overcrowded falafel stands and pedestrians with their eyes barely peeking out over enormous falafel wraps. Naturally, we followed suit.
And so, with a stomach full of falafel and many amazing memories of the previous six months, I arrived at Gare du Nord and boarded the train to Charles de Gaulle Airport for my final destination.