Embracing The Night - Paris after sunset
It may seem like an odd photo to use when talking about Paris at night, but let me explain. When you walk around in Paris during the day, you are surrounded by plenty to see and hear. If, however, you wish to see what is inside the many shops, restaurants and stores, you will be obliged to go inside and check it out. All of that changes at night. Storefront windows become giant versions of movie screens. Everything that couldn't be seen in the brightness of day is now on full, technicolor view. Add that to the ambiance of the twinkling, romantic glow of the city and, believe me, you can walk and window shop for hours.
The city lives up to its name, The City of Light - La Ville Lumiere. Ok, Ok...So that nobody feels the need to correct me, I know that Paris is not called the city of light because of the wonderful light show it becomes at night. In fact, the name dates to a time when there were no electric lights. Paris was The center for higher learning and university education during the Age of Enlightenment. Since education is considered enlightenment, Paris was a center of light through education, but in fairness, it was also during this same period that Paris began to install gas street lights throughout the city center. So the name was a shoe-in, and it stuck.
I have to admit that i am more than a little biased about Paris, so I don't think there is a bad time to be there. However, there are times when it's humid and warm in the summer and it's far more comfortable to be out after dark. Sometimes I go to the Marais or near the Champs Elysees to window shop and be lured into the stores because of the fantastic sites in their windows. Many shops which I might never have entered during the day may be closed at night, but the windows are well lit and I see things which make me want to return the next time I am in the area and visit them when they are open.
Besides walking around, it's also a great time to choose an outdoor table at a bistro and people-watch while having a meal, a glass of wine, or just coffee. The feeling is very european and typically french. Speaking of an evening meal, it's also a great idea to splurge and take a dinner cruise along the Seine. There are plenty of tour boats to hop on and see the city from the water, but a dinner cruise offers much more comfort with outstanding food, wine and service while you get a first class view of nighttime Paris as you drift along the Seine.
Whether you are headed to an evening movie and will be inside for a couple of hours, or you are going directly to dinner, take my advice and leave early enough to walk around the area at your leisure before you go inside. If you are in Paris for a lengthy time, consider getting off of the Metro a stop or two before your final destination so that you can take a nice, long, relaxing walk to the theater or dinner. If you are like me, you will need the promenade to battle the calories of the wonderful bread and sauces which make french food so famous.
Do yourself a favor and see Paris at night. It's a different side to a city that is beautiful - night or day.
MAIN ENTRY TO THE LOUVRE, INSIDE THE PYRAMID, JUXTAPOSED AGAINST ELEGANT, OLD-WORLD ARCHITECTURE.
Surrounded By Art; All the world's a gallery in Paris
I'm relatively sure that millions of Americans had their first introduction to the pyramid entry into the Louvre Museum by seeing it in the Da Vinci Code movie. Enter through the turnstiles of the Louvre Pyramid and you'll be in art heaven, but you certainly don't have to go to a museum in Paris, nor all of France for that matter, to get a huge helping of art and aesthetics.
Dating from the age of patronage, the french culture puts a high value on art for the sake of art. Citizens regularly sign-up for classes in painting, mosaics, pottery, sculpture, poetry, creative writing, music, dance, theater and gardening. Throughout Paris you can find artistic courses being offered by the city halls of all the different neighborhoods. This is not only a sympton of their historic love of art, but it also introduces younger generations to the idea that artistic endeavor and appreciation for art is normal behavior for everyone, rather than something reserved for the entitled or for prodigies. It's good for individuals and good for society.
Whether you're going to the market or taking a subway across the city, there is a feast of intellectual and artistic expression all around you. I know I talk alot about the architecture; I think the buildings are beautiful, but they are sometimes just the backdrop. The buildings often add to the impact of the artwork by virtue of the fact that they reflect the same time period, style and social pressures existing when the piece was created. Frequently, however, the architecture is such a contrast to the ultra-modern or contemporary artwork that it exaggerates how the art affects passersby. For instance, last year I visited the Chateau Versailles and was (not to my enjoyment) exposed to a celebration of a cartoon artist from Japan. The entire chateau, and much of the grand lawn, had become an exhibition gallery for huge, colorful statues of cartoon characters made famous on Japanese TV and in comic strips. I have no idea if the cartoons are also famous in France, but the french celebrate art, so artists from around the world are often invited to join in an exposition or to have their own, dedicated installation. I just prefer to see the home of the kings without giant, pastel, cutesy characters in every room. It was more than a bit distracting! On the other hand, I love the modern sculptures and artwork in front of buildings around Paris and in contemporary museums or sculpture gardens. I can imagine how it must have felt when people first saw impressionist paintings. The artists were often scorned and rejected before winning-over the public or finding a wealthy patron to subsidize their new artistic methods.
Visiting Paris today, you will have no difficulty in finding substantial galleries, small installations or tiny collections of art. Although there are plenty of museums where you can queue-up and pay to see the exhibits, there are also plenty of free museums and public gardens where you can spend hours enjoying the art or watching artists practice the nuance of painting, and students critiquing a collection for a school project. There are painters selling their landscapes on the streets in the more touristy areas, and there are theater and music students performing in the metro tunnels and on the subways. Everywhere you look, Paris is truly a gallery.
Who needs a gym membership?
Down And Out; Taking Paris By Foot
Many French buildings were built before elevators were used for transporting humans. Although many of the old buildings have been retrofitted with tiny elevators, it is more often the case, as in New York City, that the very old residential buildings are walk-ups. The old spiral staircases are usually very impressive and are a beautiful mix of fine wood and decorative wrought iron. That being said, they are much prettier on the way down than when, at the end of a long day, you have to climb back to your apartment. It puts a new spin on the old saying that what goes up must come down. In this case, he who comes down must often sulk his way back up. I would gladly own an apartment in Paris, even if it meant climbing stairs to the tenth floor. I quickly learned that you don't leave the apartment unless you have everything you need, and you don't plan to be back for quite a while. You certainly don't go out for trivial reasons. On the other hand, after a few months you should have legs and buns of steel. Luckily, as a visitor or expat in France, you are probably more aware of all the beauty and abundance around you as you walk through the city. What the locals take for granted, we are impressed by and can't get enough of it. I haven't been a wide-eyed tourist for decades, but I have lost none of my love and amazement of Paris. It's no longer information overload. I am able to hit the streets with focus on where I am going and what I wish to do, but I still look at everything and notice all the nuance.
Although the city is swarming with cars and motorcycles, it's also very much a pedestrian city. The Paris Metro and hoardes of city buses are constantly shuttling from one arrondissement to another. Sometimes I head into neighborhoods and streets where I've never been, but it's more often that I go to favorite landmarks or museums to see an exhibition or revisit the permanent collections.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a very patient shopper or tour guide. I easily tolerate taking friends to see sights which I've seen many times.
Shopping on Rue Cler
It helps that Paris is as hip and new as is it ancient and formal. There are shops and stores galore. If chic new clothes or cutting edge decorative items are your interest, then you will never want for a place to shop in Paris. I love visiting the weekly markets as they spring-up around the city. There are also plenty of brocante sales (neighborhood yard sales) scheduled throught the year. Walking around in Paris is the way to absorb the culture, see the wares and join the action. I'm certain that I walk a hundred miles for every mile I ride on the metro. If it's not raining, I walk. I use the metro to get me to the area I want to see, and I take to the streets.
Bread stores may join-in on market days
The long walk to reach your apartment at the top of the stairs may not be fun, but with so much to do around Paris, and with the excercise you get while walking around, it doesn't take long to learn to grit your teeth, climb the stairs and remember that tomorrow you get to go back down and find something you missed today. I think it's a pretty good trade-off.