My wife Kim's first trip to Paris was my second, and we were celebrating our honeymoon.
I’d already seen the main tourist sights with my oldest daughter a few years earlier. We had gone up in the Eiffel Tower, roamed hall after hall of the massive Louvre, and marveled at the medieval architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Kim wanted to see these sights too, but in addition to the mainstream, she also has a taste for things less popular. Knowing her quirky inclinations, I was excited to return to the City of Light.
Working in the airline industry, I have many friends who travel internationally. Most of these co-workers won’t venture to France. In my estimation, the Parisians have been given a bad rap by Americans and I don’t think it’s their fault. They are suspected of being rude or self absorbed, but this isn’t what I found on either of my trips.
Before arriving, Kim had heard the same stories but to her credit, she doesn’t listen to people’s criticism of others and breezed through customs without any expectations either way. The stories of rudeness were completely dispelled when we scanned a rather daunting subway map and a young man stopped to ask if we needed help.
He provided the necessary directions to our destination, asked where we were from and, without skipping a beat, spread his arms wide, grinned and exclaimed in his lilting French accent, “Ah Paris welcomes you.” Kim fell in love with Paris before ever setting foot in the city.
We stayed in a small hotel not far from the Paris Opera with a subway stop right around the corner which allowed us to see anything in the city we wanted. Truly, the Paris Metro is an architectural marvel comparable to any of the wonderful city sights. There are over 133 miles of line and 300 distinctly Art Nouveau stations.
The network of shops in the stations is incredible; it is a fully self-contained city completely underground with grocers, restaurants, toy shops and clothiers. The streets above are a fabulous quagmire of cafes, rivers, museums and gorgeous beaux arts buildings which twist and turn until your head spins.
But if you can get underground (and you always can since there is not any point in the city which is more than 1200 feet from a metro station) then the city makes sense again. We bought a city pass which included free metro transit and entrance into most of the city museums.
Here are some of the off-the-beaten-track things that Kim and I enjoyed.
Notre Dame is situated on the east end of the Ile De La Cite (Aisle of the City) located in the middle of the River Seine. On the opposite end is a much smaller church known as Sainte-Chapelle. Consecrated in 1248, this building is a treasure to see. On the outside, it looks just like many other gothic churches but the real treat is on the second floor of the inside.
Upstairs you are literally surrounded by stained glass windows that depict 1,134 scenes from the Bible which cast a kaleidoscope of dazzling color when the sun streams through the windows. Many tourists have seen this effect, but how many can say they’ve seen a classical musical performance there at night?
Before leaving for Paris, Kim and I purchased tickets to see The French Soloists chamber orchestra. The four musicians who performed were beyond our comprehension. They played with a joy and verve that we have never seen before and the acoustics were perfect. The glass, lit from within, gleamed like precious jewels. The performance and the evening ended much too quickly.
The second notable visit we made was to the Rodin museum. For Parisians, and probably European travelers, this may be a regular stop, but I wonder how many Americans have heard of the sculptor Auguste Rodin. The museum and grounds were on the site of his actual home and property and much of his giant, caste bronze artwork is displayed among the flowers in the garden.
One of his most notable pieces, The Thinker, looks down sagely from his marble perch at visitors walking by. The expansive garden is beautifully manicured and a delight to walk through and the well preserved chateau houses many of Rodin’s ethereal marble sculptures.
Last, but not least, was our visit to Pere la Chaise cemetery.
Kim has always been fascinated by cemeteries. She takes along her brass rubbing stone and charcoal everywhere we go, just in case she can make a faithful copy of a sentimental epitaph. A visit to Pere la Chaise for her was like a youngster's trip to Disneyworld.
We walked along miles of winding cobbled paths, among the trees and flowers, admiring the amazing array of elaborate sepulchers, some dilapidated, some picturesque, and the overall effect was serene and romantic in a nostalgic kind of way. The cemetery, affectionately called by Parisians "cite des morts" (city of the dead), is the last resting place for many famous people like Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Frederic Chopin.
I hadn’t expected to see a vast array of museum quality artwork in a cemetery, but there it was all around us. There was a bronze sculpture of a grieving woman, placing a garland over a dying friend, and a haunting veiled figure, crafted from marble, with her hand draped over a family crypt. The stained glass in many of the 17th century memorials is every bit as intricate and lovely as any we saw in the cathedrals.
Paris, for Kim and me, was the perfect honeymoon. The people were charming, the sights were splendid and the city was warm and welcoming. I can only hope that we’ll return some day.
Chris Hale is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline who has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time he writes fiction novels inspired by places he's been. Find out more about his books at www.Chrisahale.com.