PARIS, France – With couples strolling along the banks of the Seine, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and dreamily gazing artists looking for inspiration, Paris is one of the most famous and inspiring cities in the world.
So when my school offered a special trip that took senior students back and forth to Paris in 24 hours, I was stunned. I knew about the trip, since the school offered it to last year’s class as well, but it made me realize again how close Paris actually is to my home in the Netherlands.
Of course, I knew Paris is a six to seven hour drive from where I live, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Living in a small and quiet town in the Netherlands, it’s hard to believe this world famous romantic city is actually that nearby. It normally seems like Paris is worlds away. But it really isn’t.
At five o’clock in the morning, the seniors of the Christelijk College Nassau-Veluwe in Harderwijk – and some sophomores who were lucky enough to fill in the places that were left over – gathered in front of the school. It was dark and gloomy, and it was pretty hard to imagine that we’d arrive in Paris in just a matter of hours.
The drive took us about six and a half hours and as we were driving into Paris, we noticed the weather was great, which is always a good start.
After we had worked our way through streets crowded with tourists from all over the world, we were standing, still a bit dazed, in front of the Sacré-Cœur, with a nice view over the city. Here, we were given a day ticket for public transport and we were off, an entire day of Paris stretching out in front of us.
After a quick look inside the stunning Sacré-Cœur basilica, my friends and I headed for the Cimetière de Montmarte, a big cemetery in the Montmarte district. It was a nice walk, through cute, cobbled streets that look like they come straight from a movie set. Every street corner seems like the perfect setting for an unfolding love story.
Slightly less romantic is the penetrating smell that intensifies from time to time, to a point where you can barely breathe. Paris certainly isn’t going to win an award for being the cleanest city.
As crammed as the streets with their souvenir shops around the Sacré-Cœur are, at the Cimetière de Montmartre, an intense and almost unworldly silence fills the air.
The atmosphere there is serene and lugubrious at the same time and I think we were all happy it wasn’t about to get dark. It’s absolutely fascinating to walk past the rows of graves. Some of them are so old and dilapidated, they look like they haven’t been touched by human hands in years.
These old graves do have a certain charm, but it’s a little sad as well. Everyone who could have remembered the people who were buried there is probably long gone as well.
After this, we decided to try a more lively part of town. If you’re ever traveling to Paris, you should definitely go see the Galeries Lafayette. Not only does this expensive department store have a stunning glass and steel dome, its roof terrace also provides a magnificent view over Paris. It’s definitely a place to snap some pictures.
Taking a look at stuff you’ll probably never be able to buy anyway is always fun as well, but finding the restrooms might prove to be a bit difficult in Galeries Lafayette.
Following the signs, at least to the point where the signs suddenly stopped, led us to a lot of places, but not the restrooms. This is a problem we encountered more than once during the day. In Paris, they somehow seem to think that people will miraculously know how to continue after following one or two signs in the right direction. We got lost more than once.
After hours of figuring out subway maps, asking for directions in French and lots and lots of walking, we’d seen most of the city’s highlights.
We took pictures at the famous Louvre museum and its glass pyramids and walked along the Seine, with a thousand little shimmers lighting up from the peacefully rippling water. Eventually we even got to the Notre-Dame. We were getting really tired, but before heading to the Champs-Élysées we had one more place to go: the Eiffel Tower.
or hours and we were pretty hungry. After taking a look at the Eiffel Tower, it pretty hard not to look at it when you’re within less than a 30-meter distance, but we decided we’d go look for a place to eat first.
Most of us, intrepid world travelers as we are, wanted to go to McDonald’s. In these globalized times, you’d think that couldn’t be difficult in a metropolis like Paris. Yes, that’s what you’d think. But apparently, there’s no McDonald’s Restaurant anywhere within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Some people even looked a bit puzzled when we asked them, like it was the last place on earth anyone would think of establishing a fast food restaurant.
Ultimately, after it became clear that our search would remain fruitless, we had no choice but to go to the Champs-Élysées, where they do have a McDonald’s. In fact, they have a very special one. It’s the only McDonald’s restaurant where the M logo isn’t yellow, but gold. That’s pretty amazing, but we still weren’t there, as the McDonald’s is practically at the end of this very long street.
So, in the end we decided to eat at another fast food chain, also at the Champs-Élysées. It wasn’t really that great, but after that we really could enjoy the Champs-Élysées, probably one of the most famous streets in the world.
In the meantime, darkness had started to settle in and soon it became obvious that Paris lives up to its nickname: The City of Light.
At night, the street is even more gorgeous. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower lights up and from time to time it even starts to sparkle. Even better, you can see the iconic Arc de Triomphe at the end of the street, bathing in light.
As charming as Paris is by day, it’s enchanting by night.
Unfortunately for us, the darkness also meant the day was almost over, which meant we had to get back to the bus.
Paris is hard to leave. I had visited the city before, but I’ve never loved it as intensely as that evening. It’s not just about the historic buildings, the romantic places and the scraps of conversation in French you overhear.
It’s the atmosphere that makes it really fantastic. The city is modern and fast-paced, while at the same time it breathes history and creativity everywhere. It’s not hard to see why Paris is the dream destination of millions of tourists from around the world and why it inspired so many artists. It truly is a place to fall in love with.
I’m the kind of person who always finds it hard to leave a place I really like. So, on our way back to the bus, I tried to absorb every little detail.
I want to take my amazing day in Paris home with me and never forget it.
Caroline Nelissen is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.