The second half of spring break my friend and I were in Paris. We flew from Prague very early in the morning on Thursday (March 18), and arrived into the city a little after 8am at Gare du Nord (North Station), a few blocks east of our hostel, located probably a mile or two north of the river and the center of the city. After finding the hostel we took the Metro “downtown” near most of the major museums, sites and tourist attractions Paris has to offer.
First impression of Paris – it is enormous and a little disorienting if you don’t have a solid sense of direction where you are. Not really what I had been expecting, the different sites seem much more disjointed. Unlike Rome where the central ancient city is a deceivingly small area, Paris is just the opposite with everything further apart than one might expect from a map view. The overall scale of buildings and blocks in Paris are of course much larger than in Rome. Certainly more orderly (considering sventramento, the later slicing through of wide avenues through the city), but more difficult to comprehend at a human scale due to its urban massiveness. There seems to be less hierarchy between major and minor streets, so it is not as easy to orient oneself to a particular prominent thoroughfare. An aspect of Rome I may have criticized before, the juxtaposition of ancient and newer neighborhoods of contrasting scales and configurations, is actually quite useful for someone unfamiliar to be able to tell distinctly when moving between different portions of the city.
On our first day in Paris we went to a few of the major sites: Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and of course the Eiffel Tower. The spatial quality around the Eiffel Tower was not what I expected. It seemed much less grand on the ground than I had imagined. We walked up to the second level (not the very top) which still provided a great view of the city in all directions.
Friday morning we met up with my friend and classmate Jackson who was also visiting Paris that week and actually staying in the same hostel. We took a regional train out to visit the Palace of Versailes. The gardens were massive but unfortunately not in bloom yet as we visited in mid March. I enjoyed the Hall of Mirrors. After a few hours Spencer and I returned into the city for lunch and a visit to the Louvre. The museum was enormous, but we actually didn’t stay there very long. We then took a long Metro ride out to see Parc de La Villette that I wanted to check out. It is a large contemporary park (1980s) designed by Bernard Tschumi, with 35 “follies” – large red cubes placed on a grid throughout the park that are all deconstructed into various forms and functions. Like most places, it was not quite as I had imagined, but it was certainly interesting to experience.
On our last day Saturday we visited the Pompidou Centre. I enjoyed the contemporary exhibits much more than those in the Louvre. For lunch we ate at a cafe nearby. On our way to the bus stop to the airport, we stopped at La Défense. We flew out of Paris Beauvais, a very small rural airport, and got back to Rome around midnight.
I’m glad I made it to Paris. Given our short time there and the massive size of Paris, we mostly had to stick to sightseeing and didn’t really get to explore much of the city as a whole. Knowing very little French and being generally fatigued after a week and a half of traveling were also factors. Overall it was a good week though and we were able to see a lot of interesting and significant places. See all my Paris photos here.