During a previous life, some years ago now, I had spent much time working from Paris in France. I loved it there, explored most corners of it and found it full of life and inspiring vigour. In more recent times I decided that I wished to return to the City and look up so many of my old haunts. The pandemic suddenly came along and that was the barrier to my return. I remembered with much sentiment all my ancient adventures from all those years ago. I wondered if I would ever be able to go back to the dear old Paris to refresh my memories.
Times have changed in recent months. I have been back to Paris and I feel twenty years younger. Events have moved on and I have re-lived experiences from the older days and re-discovered the past as though it were a new life just starting all over again. I had always felt that Paris was a city of life and light, a city bursting with history that we all somehow are a part of. Paris has come back again and is open to all of us 24 hours a day. Paris is once again a city of sights, art, tastes, architecture and wine. There is so much to look at and admire, things to experience, languages to practice, places to shop and bargains to find. Once again there are bustling colourful markets in so many of the streets. Paris exudes the love of life everywhere.
I returned to Paris and stood just opposite the Gare du Nord and took in the City atmosphere once again. I located my budget hotel, dropped my bag off and paid the bill. My adventures in Paris were about to re-kindle. I set off towards the centre of the City on foot.
The first city landmarks that I wanted to find were the Pie Pyramids and the Louvre museum. They were still there I thought almost waiting for me. The principal route stretching far out towards the west led me under the Arc du Carousel, along the Champs Elysee, through the Arc du Triumph and way out to the glittering La Defense business district. I walked all the way, about 10 Kms. The bluster and the pace of life and commercial intense activity was just as I had remembered. It sort of took my breath away and fired up to full pelt my new sense of experience and excitement. The whole route stretching from the Royal Palaces out to La Defense was as straight as a die. This arrow straight walk was inspired by President Mitterand when he was re-designing the architecture of Paris so many years ago. Margaret Thatcher was apparently very jealous of it all. The Arc du Triumph was huge and the final business district with its great Grand Arche and glittering contemporary, upward reaching skyscrapers were as impressive as ever. I stood at the top of the plinth on the steps to the Grand Arche and surveyed the Paris vista reaching so far back away from me.
The Eiffel Tower dominated the skyline. I and my friends had been right to the top in a much earlier time. We had gurgled some Dutch courage in a French glass before our ascent towards the radio masts. Despite my long career as a pilot, heights bothered me profoundly if I was still fixed to a structure on the ground. Many pilots, even the very distinguished ones, have this problem. They say nothing and neither did I. We went right to the top about a thousand feet above the ground. I had to wait in stiff silence for about 20 minutes until the lift came back to return my sanity to me. Not for me this time I said to myself.
The view from the Grande Arche enabled me to take in the river Seine with many of the historical bridges that cross it. River trips in grand motor yachts were taking place carrying many tourist passengers. Along the bank edges I could see the most impressive French architecture. The Notre Damn Cathedral still going through its restoration process after the fire. I could see the wonderful Gallery de Orsay containing some of the world’s greatest impressionist art works. The newly re-furbished Picasso Museum was just visible and of course so was the Pompidou Centre gallery that has all the insides built on the outside making its mark. It seemed to represent an enormous steam ship. This gallery was designed by a British architect and was designed exclusively to exhibit contemporary art by the shed load. Many of these features led my eyes towards the north of the City.
The next day I set off towards the district of Montmartre and the Cathedral Sacre Coeur. Montmartre was up the hill and that was where I was headed on foot. The City Metro system was mostly underground and dark and that was not why I had returned.
Sacre Coeur Cathedral is even a bit higher atop its own little hill. There is a useful funicular train that goes up and down if anyone wants to use it. The Cathedral with its distinctive style is an absorbing sight that stops visitors in their tracks. Walk through it and around it outside and digest the most elaborate Paris vista below your eyes and feet. Go behind the great structure and find the Place du Tertre. Visitors can get their portraits drawn or painted in so many different styles by the most talented of artists. Find also here the secret little vineyard that is only one of two within the City limits.
I headed off back again to the ‘centre ville’, down the hill this time. I loved stretching my legs in Paris and began to think of supper. Once again the many restaurants and bars everywhere spoilt me for choice. I savoured the taste of French wine in France again.
I thought I would search for a little eating place in one of the many shopping galleries along the route. They were active with shoppers and filled my eyes with many distractions as I looked. It was slow progress but it was the old Paris that I have really learnt to love. I stopped and had a beer. Supper would be a treat in fine French style.
I spent a few more days on my nostalgic Parisian visit. I wanted to go back to my old obscure hangouts from the past. I looked up the House of Horrors once again, (children under 12 and people with a heart condition not allowed), All a good laugh though I thought as I trembled away. I had a beer at the Cat café which was still there. This was a permanent home for stray street cats where visitors could dine if they wished. You need to be a real cat person to enjoy the atmosphere. I wandered past the Paris science museum, bought a ticket and reminded myself of all the contemporary exhibits once more. The Paris atmosphere and culture was embracing for me. It all felt a little like a very familiar home.
I have acquired a taste for impressionist art during my life and sense it now as one of my great comfort zones. I returned to the Musee de ‘Orsay and the Musee de l’Orangerie along the banks of the Seine to gaze at the prized original works. I was rooted to the spot as I admired them. The Louvre Museum was just a bit too overpowering for me so I didn’t bother going in. The Picasso museum was available to visit but I had always found it a little mysterious. I moved on again.
I had been back to Paris. I’m not sure why I had felt such a passion for it really so quickly in my life. It was like an early love affair that I couldn’t forget about. I had often dreamt about it. I will never forget it. I love it as part of my personal life experience and acquired culture. I shall return for sure as long as I am able.
I have described only a few of my enchanted Paris features that I returned to. There is so much to enjoy. Take a trip some time if you fancy it. Public transport is plentiful in the City. Just buy a book of tickets almost anywhere.