A month in Paris goes by quickly. In a city with so much history, so much art, and so many people, it would be impossible to see “all” of it, so we saw much of what we wanted to and didn’t even try to see many of the tourist classics.
A common highlight was walking through neighborhoods. Paris is made for walkers. We never tired of the beautiful buildings, colorful planter boxes, busy cafes, and meandering lanes. Many of our wanders included trying a new bakery or chocolate shop and stumbling upon a green market or buskers. Particularly fun neighborhoods were Montmartre and the Left Bank, but every neighborhood has gems.
Another repeated highlight was the parks, commonly full of people. There are benches for readers and moveable chairs that migrate with the crowds, some set up for leaning back in a nap or sun-bask. Landscaping is mixed and beautiful so something was always blooming. Permanent pingpong tables at times host fierce competitions. Sculptures are mixed in with the trees. Most parks have play areas for children, from a simple structure to elaborate rope courses, games, and climbing gyms. Parisians clearly love their children and visiting the park is a daily activity. The largest parks on the border of Paris proper have miles of walking and biking trails, acres of fields, attractions like a zoo or botanic garden, a medieval castle. One warm afternoon we joined the hoards and found a lake where we were able to rent a rowboat and paddle around.
Père Lachaise Cemetery was just a couple blocks away. We visited this odd beautiful place often. It is a good place to stroll quiet cobbled lanes, to see leaves turning colors, to watch people, and to get lost in the simple crumbling old stones and large family pavilions. People have been memorialized and chose to memorialize themselves in fantastic ways. The cemetery today has one million people interred and many more in the columbarium but it was not always so popular. Père Lachaise was opened in 1804 because the cemeteries in the middle of town were all full, however no one was dying to get in this new cemetery that seemed so far away. The administrators created a marketing strategy that involved moving the graves of famous people, like Molière and lovers Abélard and HéloÏse. Multiple moves and ten years later, it worked. Today there is a waiting list and high price tag to get one of the few remaining plots. An additional bit of history is that the cemetery was the site of the end of La Commune (a revolutionist socialist group that ruled Paris briefly in 1871). The final 200 Communards retreated to the cemetery in their last battle. Those who survived the battle were caught, lined up inside the cemetery, and shot.
Three of the museums we visited stand out. The stunning Petit Palais was constructed for the same World’s Fair that brought about the Eiffel Tower. Today it is one of the free city museums with a fantastic collection of art. Even on a cold wet Sunday, we shared it with only a small handful of people.
The Musée de l’Armée showed us the French perspective on WWII with engaging exhibits including maps, uniforms, propaganda, and video footage. We also walked through Napoleon’s tomb, which depicts him as more divine than mortal.
We had a marvelous time in the Louvre. Our tourist info said if you spent 30 seconds looking at each piece and kept it up 24/7, it would take seven and a half months to see the entire museum! We carefully picked a couple areas to explore and let the rest go for next time. Despite the large crowds and multiple tour groups we saw, the museum is so well laid out, it was easy to look at art and walk around. An unexpected gem was the ancient art of the Near East.
One morning, we climbed the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon had it built as a monument to his success and greatness. He never saw it but his ashes passed through it on their eventual return from St. Helena. It is a great place to take in the city planning imposed by Baron Haussmann. Streets leave the Arc in a radiating star, many ending with a famous landmark or important site. Hoards of people walk along Champs Elysees. Rooftop gardens and patios, hidden from street view, top buildings. The Eiffel Tower rises above it all. The views were stunning!
We’re ready to say adieu to the dog poo on our street (this wasn’t true in most of Paris but our neighborhood was terrible), the incessant smoking, and the bustle of a large city. There are multiple things that we will miss: the phenomenally beautiful presence of the city, the bakeries, the ease of getting around between pedestrian-friendly streets and the subway, the cheese, our generous fruit stand man, and the way a crowd can be so quiet. Au revoir, Paris!