Backpack Benji

Paris – City of Lights and Love.

From Gouvy, Belgium, I made a pit-stop in Brussels and then trekked down to Paris to experience the famed city of lights and love for myself. I entered the city via the train at Gare du Nord, Paris’ North Station which handles nearly 200 million passengers a year, the busiest train station in the world outside of Japan.  The massive station has been seen in several movies including The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Ocean’s Twelve.  I had rented an apartment and figured out that I would need to take a local train to get to the neighborhood where it was located.  I stood in line to purchase a ticket for Métro de Paris, the world’s largest subway system.  As I stood in line, a man in a blazer approached and asked what I was in line for.  I told him I was in line for a metro ticket and he stated that I was in the que for bus tickets only; he showed me an official looking badge and said that I should come with him to the office to purchase a rail pass.  I left the line and began following him when a French Policeman came over and asked to see his credentials.  The man quickly became agitated and then I demanded that he show me and the police officer the badge he had shown me. He began cursing at the policeman and me, and walked briskly away.  The officer informed me that he was using a scam to attempt to sell me expired tickets or to pick my pockets with his gang who were waiting around the corner.  I thanked the officer, and got back in the line, grateful that I had not been duped.

The Métropolitain as the métro is known in Paris is insane.  There are endless tunnels and underground passages and it is possible to get lost inside of any of the over 300 stations in and around the city.  I made my way to Rue Saint-Merri, a trendy street in the 4th arrondissement (there are 20 “administrative districts” in Paris).  The area was extremely multi-cultural and I could watch the large population of Orthodox Jews who lived there in the cities’ oldest neighborhood, rubbing shoulders with the gay crowd, who had also established a large presence there.

My flat was just above an Italian restaurant, had a washer and dryer (an electric dryer is a rarity in Europe), and a small private garden terrace. It was a perfect oasis when needing to escape the madness of the city streets, or to enjoy a home-cooked meal, and I love to cook!  Filled with trendy boutiques, lively markets, and gourmet food shops, the neighborhood came alive at night.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame was a short walk from our flat, so one day we took a tour of the medieval Catholic cathedral, lit candles in silent remembrance of our lost loved ones, and listened to the ten massive bells (each weighing tons) while marveling at the Gothic French architecture.

Paris is the kind of place where anything and everything can happen. At dusk one evening, we took a boat ride for an up close view of the action as the night started to come alive.  My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower was during this open-air cruise down the River Seine.

Montmarte is a huge hill (440 feet or 130 meters) upon which sits Basilica of the Sacre Coer as well as many funky studios and galleries. This neighborhood is where famous artists including Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent Van Gough all hung out.  We followed the distant hum of what sounded like humans having fun and followed our senses to a huge food and wine festival spilling over into several streets!  We tasted numerous delicacies and enjoyed Parisian street food at its finest.  As night began to fall, we wound our way downward through the Pigalle district, passing by the Moulin Rouge and Paris’s intense club district before catching a taxi and being swept back to our flat on Rue Saint-Merri.

Over the course of a few days, we walked along the Triumphal Way, passing the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the Arch of Triumph which sits in the middle of a massive roundabout in the center of Charles de Gaulle Place, and made our way along Champs-Elysées to the Grande Arch in the city of La Défense. We enjoyed taking breaks at some of the over 350 fountains that can be found throughout Paris.  The fountains were originally designed to provide drinking water for residents and are now a destination for weary walkers interested in relaxing and watching the world go by.  We also chanced upon a large demonstration with a large police presence and people chanting.  This was not the first time I have been in the midst of some sort of hullaballoo, and as before, I had no idea what the protest was about.  La Défense is a massive business district filled with skyscrapers, concrete, glass, and steel. Aside from the thousands of business people, residents, and students, we were two of the over 8,000,000 tourists that visit the enormous city complex each year.  Here are some pictures of my wanderings…

Of course no trip to Paris would be complete without visiting the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. Atop the massive tower, is a champagne bar and of course, the view for miles.  During the visits to these icons in the city of love, we chanced upon not less than three wedding pictures in progress.

In additional to all the sights and culture, is the unique French food.  For the best escargot, crème brulee, steak and frites, crepes, and onion soup you simply must come to Paris.

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