I have been to so many American cities in these years, but Paris was so impressive - the whole city has an aura associated with it. And different neighborhoods are so diverse, but never out of sync, and they fit in gloriously to give an unique character to the city.
One can call it the city of museums. Apart from the better known Louvre or d'Orsay, there are innumerable ones spread all over the place. I could only spare half a day for Louvre, and a couple of hours for d'Orsay. Everyone now knows about Louvre thanks to that book and the movie, and it indeed is as glorious, if not more. Mona Lisa is surprisingly small, and the center of attraction. Taking photos is not allowed in the room, but people click on incessantly, while guards try their best to refrain people from doing that. Each section can take hours to explore fully, if one wants to even glance through the details - which was not obviously possible for frantic trip like mine. The all to famous glass pyramid at the entrance, to be very frank, looks kind of gimmicky, but at night, it glows softly, resulting in a nice ambiance. D'Orsay is a treasure trove for impressionist paintings, and a local artist suggested me to visit it even before Louvre. He was probably right. It is much smaller, built in a old railways station - and the settings reflect that fact. The galleries are lined up with creation of modern masters - and gradually it doesn't seem that small after all. Another museum I hurried through was Center Pompidou, which is a weird building with a weirder front facade and weirdest objects of art inside, like a glowing red rhinoceros.
And then Paris is also a city of magnificent architectural landmarks, from quite old to not so old, from the grand Notre Dame to the chic Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel tower glows at dark - brightening up the entire skyline. The view of the thriving Champs-Élysées and the city beyond that from the top of the majestic Arc de Triomphe is an experience by itself. There are huge palatial buildings, often with golden domes. There are sculptures on the streets, St. Micheal's statue at Latin Quarters was one of the more interesting ones I saw. And the infamous red windmill at the not so inviting night club district is a landmark in its own right.
And finally, Paris is also a city of culture. There are used book stores on the sidewalk, artists at work in the open air at Montmartre, which is little hill inside the city. There artists offer to get your portrait done, and after a while I could not refuse. The proud painter pointed out that even Picasso started off with making portraits on these streets, so with some luck, he too can get there. The people in general was very helpful, the old couple at the overnight train from Venice, was very enthusiastic about making me well acquainted with their beloved city. On the streets, I could always find someone to give me directions, and once I did not even had to ask. An old lady, seeing that I am struggling with the map, stepped up and asked if I need any help in crisp English. The metro network is really helpful too, the trains are very frequent - the only awkward part sometime is the connection between different lines, often I had to walk miles through the underground maze, going up and down multiple times, just to go from one line to another in the same station, shown by just a dot on the map. One of the lines, the newest one is fully automated, with no human driver on the train - one can stand right in front and see the train speeding through the dark tunnels!
Switzerland was all about enjoying the stunningly scenic vistas, Italy was about getting a feel of history - Paris was just soaking in the sights and sounds of wonderful city, a perfect blend of past, present and future!
The photos are in my picasaweb page, as always.
(This concludes my weeklong frantic Europe backpacking trip experience. However, I was in CERN for a couple of weeks, and ended up going to Geneva all too often. I should post my CERN and Geneva experiences sometime soon.)