Paris: The City of Light

As a little girl, I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower featured in magazines and books and on television.  Its sheer size seemed to tower over the city of Paris similar to the way the Jolly Green Giant would dwarf the citizens of Munchkin Land.  The sparkling lights atop the tower created a magical spectacle that left me speechless when I fulfilled a childhood dream and set foot on Parisian soil for the first time.   From the glistening top of the Eiffel Tower to the sandy bottom of the River Seine, Paris is a city of wonder with its stately architecture, classic cuisine, and stunning sights to behold.

The moment you step onto the sidewalks of Paris, you will be captivated by the beauty that surrounds you.  But maintain your focus and make your way to Rue Cler, a street for locals and tourists alike.  The boutique hotels on this street offer an affordable accommodation in a setting that is perfectly Parisian.  My choice would be the Hotel Grand Leveque, a hotel recommended by the prolific European traveler Rick Steves.  I recommend paying a little extra to reserve a room street side on an upper floor, where you can lie in bed at night and watch the Tower twinkle atop the buildings down below.  I can personally tell you your final night in Paris will be a breathtaking one as you reflect on your journey through France while watching this magical sight unfold.
Rue Cler is a street built for foodies with its fromageries, bakeries, cafes, and markets.  Be sure to spend a day perusing the street, stopping in for a freshly baked baguette from the bakery, a slice of your favorite cheese from the fromagerie, some thinly sliced meat from the delicatessen, fresh fruit from the local market, and for dessert, a flaky, buttery croissant with a creamy chocolate filling.  Once you have shopped like a Parisian, carry your items to the perfect spot for a picnic: the Eiffel Tower.  For you see, while Rue Cler does not feel a bit touristy with all of the locals shopping and eating there, it is within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb, and many other Paris landmarks.  The American Church of Paris is also just around the corner.  This cathedral provides an interdenominational service that will uplift and inspire you, complete with the beloved melody of a choir and pipe organ.  You will also find the École Militaire metro station a few blocks away, which makes it easy to travel to far-reaching destinations within Paris and nearby villages.  So make the most of your vacation as you become acquainted with the locals and do a little sightseeing as well!
If you want to see Paris from a bird’s eye view, climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the famed Champs-Élysées.  This noteworthy monument honors the French men and women who gave their lives for their country during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  If you want to see even more of the city from high above its chimneys and steeples, make the trek via metro and funicular to the highest point in all of Paris, butte Montmartre.  While there, visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, an impressive structure that was completed in 1914.  Finally, the Eiffel Tower offers a panoramic view of the city by day and an enchanted spectacle of lights at night.  You can brave the 600+ steps from the ground to the second level or use the lifts that will take you all the way to the top!  If it’s the Eiffel Tower you want to see from a semi-bird’s eye angle, visit the Trocadero, considered by many to be the number one place to have your photograph taken with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop.  There’s nothing like sitting on the marble steps basking in the awe of this magnificent Tower that has graced the city skyline for over 120 years.  The fascinating spectacle of this romantic city seems like an image taken straight from an artist’s canvas.
A trip to Paris would not be complete without a day spent at the Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums.  The architecture of the building alone is enough to make anyone take a second look.  Construction began around the 12th century.  While it has undergone major renovations and additions over the past several hundred years, visitors can journey to the crypt and see a portion of the medieval Louvre.  While many people may think of the Louvre as an art museum, it is much more than that.  This museum houses some of the greatest collections in the world, from the Code of Hammurabi to the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  While there, be sure to venture over to the Denon Wing to see Da Vinci’s renowned depiction of Mona Lisa.  Across the room, marvel at the beauty of my favorite work of art in the entire collection: The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese.  It is a massive painting that measures over 20 feet high and 30 feet wide.  The subject of the painting is the miracle performed by Jesus in the Christian New Testament when he turned the water into wine.  If you can pry yourself away from this awe-inspiring canvas, peruse the galleries filled with artwork and ancient relics from all over the world.  Just don’t expect to see it all in one day, as there are over 35,000 exhibits on display.  Still, you can see the works of art most important to you in one day, if that is all your itinerary will allow.
During your stay in France, you will discover, just as I did, that French cuisine absolutely lives up to its name.  Whether you are searching for the classic French meal with French Onion Soup as the appetizer, Beef Bourguignon as your entrée, and chocolate mousse for dessert, or an eclectic fusion of flavors with your choice of Asian-inspired ginger-glazed salmon over a bed of long grain rice or a play on Italian cuisine with homemade lasagna, Paris has it all.  One of my favorite places to eat in all of Paris is Le Petit Cler, a café that is always filled with local Parisians lingering over a glass of wine, fresh baguettes, and a deliciously prepared meal.  This café has several options to choose from, including a succulently seasoned rump steak that is moist and tender, paired with a salad of freshly mixed greens, a baked potato, and a cream sauce that pleases the palette.  Want some lighter fare?  Their chicken salad features the freshest ingredients topped with strips of real chicken and their special house vinaigrette.  Cap your meal off with one of their signature desserts, including a creamy vanilla custard or sinfully delectable strawberry tart.
Want to take a day trip outside of the city limits?  Catch the metro and then transfer to the high speed rails for an excursion to the Palace of Versailles, an exquisite royal estate situated just 20 kilometers from Paris.  If you are traveling with children or are still a child at heart, journey to Disneyland Paris.  It’s a unique experience, even for those of us who have been to Disney’s Parks in the United States.  Think classic Disney with a European flair.  They maintain Disney classics like “it’s a small world” and Pirates of the Caribbean while bringing in new adventures such as Pinocchio’s Fantastic Journey, a dark ride featuring animatronics and a multisensory experience.  Looking for something more grown-up?  Visit the beaches of Normandy and pay tribute to the brave men and women who lost their lives in 1944 during a surprise attack and battle that raged on for over a month.
After an amazing day of sightseeing, enjoy a sunset cruise on the River Seine as you soak it all in, from the silhouette of Notre Dame Cathedral to the Eiffel Tower.  Prepare to kiss your sweetheart as you sail beneath Lover’s Bridge, the perfect landmark for the capital of romance, as it showcases padlocks placed by couples from around the world.  It is the perfect way to conclude a memorable journey through the City of Light.  Whatever you choose to do during your stay in Paris, you’re guaranteed to have a delightful glance into the French culture and lifestyle.  And don’t cry when it’s over.  Just smile because it happened and remember that a return trip is a must if you desire to see and do it all!  Paris is infinitely more than an once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What are some of your favorite things to see or do in Paris?  Please comment below and share your recommendations!  May you always have joyful journeys!
Jennifer Campbell

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