Experiencing Paris changed me. Just being in there resonates on many levels, alters your perspective and leaves its mark forever. I will always have that place inside of me to which I return when I am reminded by something I associate with those memories.
If Paris is, as Hemingway said, a moveable feast, it’s not one that can be consumed at a single seating. You could never be “done” with Paris. You can explore as deeply as you want, and there will always be more at the end of your line of inquiry. And always, above all, there is just the feeling of being in Paris.
Paris is infinite layers of time and space and intersecting dramas. One humbly takes a serving of it, whatever one can, and is grateful for it. It’s a great privilege just to be there and experience it for oneself. To actually see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the great Seine, is like thunder in the soul. But although those iconic features put a recognizable stamp on your experience, they are only the outward manifestations of the deep and rich character of the ancient city itself. That unique, finely blended and marinated essence casts its mark on everything within it. The tiniest fragment of Paris embodies that character in microcosm. The soul of the city leaves its distinctive mark on every part.
People come from around the world because they are drawn to that spirit. Many stay and become a part of it. In Hemingway’s case, Paris became a part of him that he carried with him for the rest of his life.
For Vincent van Gogh, it was the light of France that he craved, that he wanted to see, to paint. He had seen it in Holland and England through the paintings of the French Impressionists. He had to go there to experience it himself.
For Miles Davis, Paris was a place where he could experience nearly royal treatment in respect to his music – while back home in America he was still prohibited from entering many hotels and restaurants because he was African American. Paris is millions upon millions of stories. Every visitor experiences his own Paris.
Independent of any iconic site, the experience of being in Paris is in the air. It’s an exhilarating experience. It’s in the atmosphere, the cultural environment you breathe in through all your senses when you are there. Paris is an infinite storehouse of treasures. The consciousness of being in Paris vibrates in the air electrically. Mais Oui!
Hotel as Art Piece
The fine hotels of Paris brought me to a new level of understanding of what a designer can accomplish in a hotel. The design reflected an acute attention to detail, such that every single thing seemed to fit perfectly into the overall design conception. Every detail seemed to speak with intelligence. It all related to the core idea, using themes of color and shape and symbol to pull it all together.
I had not experienced that. As a traveling musician, I stayed spent in hotels across the Midwest. They were basic, functional, no frills. In Paris, the design was so well conceived it seemed the designers were communicating with you constantly through the design features, giving you little winks, little messages. See? I anticipated what you would need here.
It was not just a phenomenon of hotels. It was a reflection of the highly cultured mind of Parisians. It wasn’t just that they do hotels differently than in Des Moines. It’s that they look at everything that way, as a work of art, with a highly refined eye. It’s as if they are saying, “If it can’t be a work of art, why bother?”
Experiencing that consciousness in the hotels and on the streets was a bigger revelation for me than anything I would see in any museum. To experience the living culture of the city, that city that has produced so much great art, music, philosophy, literature, and many of the major events of world history – that was the core of the experience. From that perspective it’s hard for me to imagine a bad way to experience Paris. It is a great thrill just to be there
River Cruising In and Out of Paris
I’m glad we don’t have to choose one single mode of travel for the rest of our lives. Each trip is an opportunity to create a new world, experience a new dimension. But if some strange new law was passed, and I had to choose one mode of travel only, I would choose river cruising. It’s a perfectly balanced combination of the essential components of a trip. It’s a great way to visit Paris because the Seine is the aorta to the heart of the city.
A river cruise is an especially good way to see Paris. During the period of my life when I was traveling every month, I took many trips that have faded into vague memories that only resurface now and then, when drawn forth by some random association. I can’t remember how many river cruises I have taken. The memories blend together. I’ve cruised rivers in Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America. The experiences have differed widely, but there are some elements shared by all. I don’t recall ever being disappointed by a river cruise.
The comfort level, the sense of security of a stable home base must come high on the list of the advantages of river cruising. It’s a cliché of cruise marketing that “you only have to pack once…” But it counts for a lot. It’s a significant reduction of the stresses you have to deal with when you travel. There are always stresses in moving from place to place. So, when you can remove a layer of them, it’s a bonus. That frees up time and energy for other things that are more fun.
A Seine river cruise can be a nice addition to touring Paris. You can expand your experience by traveling through the land where Paris is situated. On the Seine, you can travel all the way from Paris to the English Channel, and the route is studded with treasures of this ancient land.
You can stop in Giverny, where the great Impressionist painter Monet lived and work, and you can still visit his home and the colorful, lush garden that gave him inspiration. The Impressionist Museum is also in Giverny. You can also sense Monet’s presence at the stop at Rouen, where he was so enamored with the cathedral that he painted it more than 30 times.
The route also includes the chance to see Mont-St-Michel, the island with surrounded by tides that rise and fall dramatically 50 feet between low and high levels. Buildings clustered near the top of the island culminate in the upward surging tower of the Abbey of the Mont-St-Michel.
In between the major points on the map you can enjoy the French countryside and villages along the river, where there are plenty of chances to sample the wines and cheeses and other staples of one of the world’s most admired styles of cuisine.
Other stops along the way may include Vernon, Les Andelys, Caudebec-en-Caux, Beaches of Normandy, Étretat and Honfleur, offering a wide variety of experiences to enrich your French journey. When you experience the landscape, the cities and villages along the river, and sample the various wines, cheeses, fruits and vegetables along the way, it greatly deepens your appreciation of Paris and of France. A Seine river cruise is definitely something to consider as a way to expand your friendship with France.
Your humble reporter,