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What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?

By 01/10/2014April 26th, 2020blogging, travel, writing
Paris evening

Last week, I went to Paris.

I would have posted excited pictures, breathless descriptions. I would have told you I saw the Eiffel tower, arriving there after two missed trains, just when the lights began to blink, that I stared up at it against the clouds, that it seemed to rise and hover in the air, like a golden tower made not of steel, but strings of light.

I would have told you that the bridges gleam day and night, that the coffee is lighter than in Rome, that the croissants and crepes disappointed me somewhat–not that they were bad, that sitting outside watching the world go by seemed overrated when tourists sat by the Seine in traffic smoke, that the Notre Dame looked like calligraphy in air, like a papiermâché thing I dared not visit for fear that the illusion of its lightness would disappear.

That the Mona Lisa underwhelmed, the ladies taking selfies with her made more of an impact, but that the Louvre made me feel like I wanted to lie down and die, because surely then I would be reborn inside of it, as a guide, a cleaner, a waitress. And wouldn’t have to leave. That d’Orsay does not do justice to the Impressionists, shutting away all their shimmering outdoorsy light in a smallish hall, where you have to peer over heads and shoulders to see them from a distance. That Van Gogh looks sadder in his swirly blue self-portrait than I remembered from prints, that his starry night over Paris looks far better than the sky today. That Rodin’s Thinking Man makes just as massive an impression as I imagined from the pictures.

But it is the people who remain with me.

The waiters who looked down their noses as they took orders, unsmiling, the pretty girls in snug scarves, that tall man crossing an alley shouting in French on his phone trying to look manly, the Chinese model being photographed at the Tuilieres Garden, who joined us minutes later in the metro wearing frayed shorts and golden eyeshadow, the artist at Montmarte drawing a smiling little girl’s portrait who would be oh-so-disappointed in a few minutes, a group of old women dressed in black lace, hobbling uphill on walking sticks, laughing, lugging loaded Desigual shopping bags, the Arab women covered top to toe, being led along by their husbands in shorts, the tall black men at shops and restaurants, regal despite their valet coats, the young couples, kissing in parks, eating long sandwiches, sipping wine, smoking, always smoking. I’ll remember being stuck in a jam in a back alley, looking up at the sky, only to find a bald old man and his Persian blue cat staring straight down at me from their red-flowered window.

I will, of course, go back, given half a chance. And this time I would spend more time watching people in the less tourist-infested areas. I’ll sit down and get lost, merge, disappear. A writer’s job is to paint what she sees, not interfere with the picture.

But on our way back now, on this long haul flight back from Paris to Singapore this is all I can think of: each of us, the protagonist of our lives, is just a part of the picture in someone else’s eyes. Note to self: no matter where you go and what you do, you’re just a tiny, insignificant part of the picture, remember that. The world is bigger than you, it would go on. Be here, now, and let that be enough.

Been to Paris? What is the one thing you remember the most? Would you go back again? What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • This is such an excellent piece of writing, and I totally agree with you! 🙂 Holidays abroad are always about the people I meet, and not necessarily the ones I get to know either. For a writer people are a huge interest, and the scenery just adds to the enjoyment of those fascinating characters. I remember the first time I went to Spain, finally escaping the tourist areas on a bus journey to visit some historic caves in an area called Nerja. The final destination wasn’t for me that interesting at all, in fact it was a bit dull, but the people, places and stunning countryside I saw from the window of that bus I still haven’t forgotten twenty five years later. It was the ‘real’ Spain, so colourful, and made me feel depressed to go back to the tourist area we were staying in. People are everything, so I can identify very much with what you have said here.

    On a completely different note I was just wondering if I could publish this inspiring post? I’m the editor of a new online literary magazine, and I’m always on the lookout for new material for the next issue.

    The website only has one issue published at the moment, but it’s received a lot of views and Facebook/Twitter shares/likes in a relatively short time, and my Twitter friends are being very kind in helping me to constantly promote it. I’m hoping it will build a good readership quite quickly. It’s free for anyone to read and the aim is primarily to highlight writers on websites and blogs from all over the internet.

    The copyright remains with the writer and I always include a link back to the work where it was originally published and also will include any social media links you’d like me to include (please let me know which ones – if you have any).

    If you would be interested in allowing me to publish your work please check out the magazine and let me know your decision. If you’d rather not, then don’t hesitate to say no, I really won’t mind.
    Suzy 🙂

  • cdibbs says:

    I love your story, what a great last sign off — live in the moment. My stepdaughter lives in Paris, going to school there. I can’t wait to visit. I too want to visit where the locals hang, non-tourists places.

  • dpnoble says:

    I have visited Paris more times than I can remember. It is a city of contradictions. On the one hand the architecture, both classic and modern is striking and impressive, on the other hand much of it is not respected by its own inhabitants and the dire economic times that France is going through see major monuments occupied by beggars, people sleeping rough and contaminating the streets with human waste. Graffiti is common place. That this city houses some of the worlds most famous works of art can at times seem incongruous with some of the human misery in the streets and the attitude of Parisians to tourists that is snooty and rude. Paris is often seen as a city of love and a city of fashion. It has been both of these in the past, and one day I hope it will return to those values. One can of course miss much in Paris if just visiting the main tourist places, doing so you will largely be protected by the facade put on for those that come into Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and the rest, but just scratch the surface and you will find something different, something disturbing at a human and social level. You scratched the surface and revealed something of the true current day Paris – a shadow of its former self.

  • dougstuber says:

    In Paris, the river Seine will always stick in my mind. The last city I went to was Beijing. IN Biejing, when walking alone, it was one or two females always asking to speak in English, and the SAME over-priced (I mean insanely overpriced) Tea Shop they ALL tried to take me to. I kept playing along. Never got mad. One still emails me. She likes to practice her English. Beware fellow travelers, Beijing and other Chinese travel spots have a lot of scams walking around. Still I love China, and Asian culture, when it is distilled form the current malaise.

  • olganm says:

    I really enjoyed your post. One of my best friends lives in Paris and I’m godmother to her girl, so I tend to do quite often, although we don’t really do the touristic bits so much and she does not live in the centre. I was there not long ago and I enjoyed a brief visit to a well-known bookshop on the other side of the river ‘Shakespeare & Co’ full of character. I loved the Rodin museum although it’s been a while since I visited it. I agree on your thoughts about the Mona Lisa and also about the Louvre…

  • andrewghayes says:

    The last time I was in Paris was with my mom, who – in poor health – knew it would be her last visit to her favorite city. It was wonderful to revisit this city with her childlike wonder. Your post reminded me of that – the light, the lightness, the juxtaposition of the city’s sleek elegance and bulging tourism is very memorable.

    • The last city I visited was my city of birth, Sydney. After arriving from a sleepy country town all I can say is it iß now a city of spivs, shysters and people who take themselves way too seriously. Yes, the harbour still sparkles but the city has lost its flair in my opinion

  • I was in Paris for a night once. I am not sure I want to talk about it!! But I did love this post

  • athling2001 says:

    ‘But on our way back now, on this long haul flight back to Singapore this is all I can think of: each of us, the protagonist of our lives, is just a part of the picture in someone else’s eyes.’

    Love this line. It made me think of the world in an entirely different way. I’d never considered being part of a picture in someone else’s eyes. WOW! Gives me chills. Thanks so much for bringing new light into my world and I hope you don’t mind if I use that line (credited to you, of course), as the inspiration for a post on my blog. And reblogging..

  • Dixie Minor says:

    Wonderful post. I have never been to Paris, but you made me feel almost as if I had. Your description of the Eiffel Tower and of Notre Dame are gorgeous, and I wanted to be one of the people eating a long sandwich! ? As far as the last city I traveled to. . . Jackson Hope, Wyoming is very small, but fun and charming and best of all. . . located near the beautiful Grand Tetons.

  • I cried at that. It was so beautiful. Thank you.

  • Budapest and I thought it was fabulous. Set on the Danube with striking Old WOrld architecture, it rivals Paris as the most beautiful city in the world.

  • Awesome post and introspection on such an external experience 🙂 Hmm I miss traveling myself. maybe someday I will get to do some traveling again in about 5 years or so.

  • chrispavesic says:

    After reading this I want to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa. (I never take selfies. It wouldn’t be the first, but I would bet by the time I go to Paris I would still be able to count the number of selfies I have taken on one hand.) I now have a goal and must renew my passport! Chris

  • The description and pictures were amazing ! The last city I visited was Miami, Florida. The balmy weather and swaying palm trees greet you from the moment you step out of the airport, a hello from the Sunshine State. What I remember the moment was the thunderstorms that happened way off on the horizon and you could see thick stripes of lightning zizag acros the sky. It’s a powerful image that still stays in the mind.

  • Great post, loved reading about you stay. I was in Bangkok recently and it’s extremes of aspects of like was staggering. You are confronted and warmed, fearful and welcomed, love and hate really is the key to Bangkok. I’ll return whenever I get the chance.

  • jambo75 says:

    I first visited Paris in 1975. I had just turned 18. I remember eating crepes at Montmartre and Africans selling trinkets. It was beautiful .
    The last city I visited was Indianapolis, three weeks ago for a wedding.

  • Wonderful impressions of Paris. I’ve never been there, but the last city I visited was New Orleans. There, the air hung hot and heavy like a palpable presence in its own right, infused with the smell of beautiful decay. Bourbon Street was loud and filled with drunks. It was a relief to go only one block away and hear street musicians playing jazz. The food was fabulous and piquant. There was a certain southern charm, with a decided lack of southern accents. We rode on loud, clacking streetcars, and heard snippets of daily life. It’s a wonderful place that works it’s way into your soul.

  • jlennidorner says:

    My word you have some fantastic people descriptions there!
    Beautiful. This post is breathtaking.

  • Alina says:

    I’ve been to Paris in 2008, when the Eiffel Tower was covered in blue lights.
    You just inspired me to want to write a post about it soonish. 🙂 My today post is about London, but Paris is definitely my favorite town till now. What better choice for this hopeless romantic? It is the city of love, after all. 😀

  • I was last in Paris overnight a couple of years ago. It was a freezing February and I woke in a snug attic room and looked out of the rooftops and thought I was living in the opera, La Bohême. I love Paris and your descriptions, but tell me, why was the Monmartre artist disappointed… or did you mean the little girl? Last city we visited was Siracusa, the Island of Ortigia, in Sicily. Very friendly and a passageway for history.

  • DebraB says:

    Your question led me to think about the last city I visited: Beijing. I wrote about it here on my blog. Thanks for your post–it really made me think!

  • Murthy says:

    Your description made me read entire write-up.Beautiful..!

  • djklmnopi says:

    “Be here, now, and let that be enough.” – ♥ this. to BE in the moment no matter how insignificant one can feel.

    I failed to answer another question you posted-how did Bali made me feel? More appreciation of hand-made products cos most of their products there are hand-made, painstakingly carved wooden statues, jewelries, paintings, cloth! Their patience really wowed me I felt ashamed of my impatience! ((: Overall, Bali gave me that tranquil, relaxed vibe LOVE it!

  • djklmnopi says:

    I want to see Paris, someday! (: To see the sunrise and sunset and the Eiffel tower and yes, like you mentioned, to people-watch. (:

    Last city I’ve been to (on vacation) was Bali in Denpasar Indonesia. It was a short trip, we had 1 day to tour then the other days we stayed by the beach. Bali is nice, especially for honeymooners, for surfers and it’s also a wonderful experience to know about their culture. (:

    If you ask me which city that I’ve already been to that I love the most – TOKYO! 😀 Well, Japan in general. 😉 For beaches, of course, it’ll be those in the Philippines, hands down. The beaches here are lovely.

  • Mani says:

    Hi Damayanti, Loved your post. Most people miss out on the most important aspect of travel, the people. Was reminded of the need of every writer to observe. 🙂

    • Damyanti says:

      Mani, people, my fellow species, do intrigue me. I can’t claim to have compassion for all of them all the time, but I try to empathize, as much as I can.

  • First half of your post looks like you had one of those Paris Syndrome, lol.
    Everything in the post was so beautiful- the details, the picturesque description, kudos

  • I’ve only been to Europe once, but I didn’t see Paris, sadly. Love these descriptions of the people and attitudes or expressions. Yes to what you said (and ditto’ing), what I noticed in Europe, too, though it was a different country and about 12 years ago now: more smoking, more environmental awareness/recycling, less obesity overall [perhaps connected to the former awareness, in that a lot of people walked and/or used public transit, bikes, or tiny fuel efficient cars], more freedom of sexual expression [on television, anyway], and a pet-friendliness that at that time I think would only have been common in large cities in the U.S. (I stared in wonderment as several people were walking their dogs inside the pristine airport in Germany, for example.)

  • Birgit says:

    Oh I feel kind of sad that you had some not so good memories. I don’t feel insignificant. I feel like I contribute to my small little world because we all have that part. There are the few who actually can change the entire world and, even then, most people do not know their names nor care to. I choose to ignore those people. Yes I have been to Paris. I was ready to deal with the insults etc… but I was pleasantly surprised. I tried my best to speak french(horribly i might add) and my husband, at that time, and I had good times. I LOVED St. Chapelle and we listened to a concert in this church (Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons). I loved The Louvre but we spent the entire day there and went to the Germanic area which was quiet. In the last 2 hours we headed to the Mona Lisa and saw the throngs. We saw the Musee D’Orsay but also a midieval museum that held many tapestries and it was on an old Monastery where archeological digging was going on and we could venture through there. Versailles was great and we saw the fountains in all their glory. The last trip i went to was the town of Indianna PA to see Jimmy Stewart’s home town and then Jamestown to see Lucille Ball’s hometown. We loved the trip (best friend and I) Indianna was very quiet especially for July 4th and happy to see the museum now as fearful it will one day close. Jamestown is a city that needs some help. Aside from the museum there is not much in the downtown so it needs help but still loved it:)

  • eileen049 says:

    Oh I want to go to Paris…one day. And thank you for the follow! I greatly appreciate it.

  • ccyager says:

    Hi, Damyanti!

    Yes, I’ve visited Paris but only briefly, to travel from one train station to another. It was a wild visit, however, that began with me, a student, trying to figure out how to engage a taxi outside the train station. I watched the people, then imitated them. I tapped the taxi’s roof and the driver, a woman, smiled and nodded. After securing my bag in the trunk, I slid into the back seat, prepared for seeing as much of Paris outside the windows as I could.

    The cab driver, however, had something on her mind, and began talking in warp-speed French, She drove extremely fast, weaving around other cars, while gesticulating with her hands to punctuate her words. I don’t know French. I asked her in the little I know if she spoke English. No. German? No. Spanish? No, followed by a gush of French. I hung on to my seat for dear life.

    Although I saw little of Paris on the way to the Lazare station, when I asked the cab driver how much it cost, reading the question from the paper a friend had given me, she wrote down a surprisingly reasonable amount. I’d heard about Parisian cabbies over-charging tourists. Later, on the train, when I told others how much she’d charged me, they were shocked by how little it was. I still remember that cabbie, what she looked like, her hands in the air above the steering wheel, and her genuine smile as I paid her. She made up for all the rude Parisians I met before and after her…..

    The last city I visited was Duluth, MN. It is a major harbor on Lake Superior in northern Minnesota, and the state’s second largest city. What I loved about Duluth was its hills, looking out over the harbor to the lake, and feeling like I was looking at an ocean. It made me feel small and expansive at the same time.

    • Damyanti says:

      It IS that one person, right?

      In our case we were cheated quite brazenly by a very handsome waiter at the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and we let him, because we didn’t want to argue with him and ruin the evening.

      I met some very good Frenchmen later– friends, colleagues, but that one waiter is going to stay with me. People, when they interact with tourists, don’t often realize that, fairly or otherwise, that they end up representing their country to outsiders. I’m sure the reverse is also true.

      Re: Duluth, small and expansive at the same time is a wonderful feeling. Very few things made by man are capable of invoking it. It is always nature.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • tomejrid says:

    Hi there, one of the last cities I’ve travelled to as a tourist is actually Paris.

    The one thing I remember the most is how while I was there, I somehow chose to treat the City of Light like an ordinary theme park I’d find on the outskirts of my hometown, and well long story short, I ended up getting lost and separated from everyone I was with for a good 6 hours. During those 6 hours, which I now look back at with absolute fondness, I got to really stick my teeth into Paris. I got to meet and speak to, in horrible French, a lot of diverse and memorable people who call Paris home. While wandering almost aimlessly, trying to find our hotel, I got to hate the city, fall in love with it, hate it and then fall in love with it again.

    • Damyanti says:

      While wandering almost aimlessly, trying to find our hotel, I got to hate the city, fall in love with it, hate it and then fall in love with it again.

      That’s a damn good way to interact with any city.

  • “each of us, the protagonist of our lives, is just a part of the picture in someone else’s eyes.” Wow. You got me there. So beautiful.

  • Peter Mander says:

    The last city I traveled to as a tourist was Nantes. The Edict, Jules Verne, Muscadet, Tour Bretagne, Mechanical Elefant. Nantes made me feel that it had lost its way at some point. Uncertain. Frayed. Folk are less demonstrative here. Keep their joys and sufferings to themselves, and count their change. It was a place I could visit again.

  • Dan Antion says:

    I love your descriptions and I totally agree that it’s the people that make the difference. I took your title as a prompt for my blog. Thanks for a great post and some inspiration.

    • Damyanti says:

      I’m glad my post could inspire you to write another. Thanks for being such a good friend and supporter, Dan. You have no idea how much it means to me.

  • I was there a month ago. Your description of it is so apt, it took me back.

  • Found your post through Dan Anton’s blog and glad I did. I was born and raised in France and lived ten years in Paris before moving to the USA. Your descriptions of the city of lights are pretty accurate and made me smile and a little homesick too.
    I have traveled and moved enough to agree with your pertinent statement: “And this time I would spend more time watching people in the less tourist-infested areas. I’ll sit down and get lost, merge, disappear. A writer’s job is to paint what she sees, not interfere with the picture.”
    Your ending is excellent too. You’ve got a new follower.

  • macjam47 says:

    I’ve never been to Paris. I think the last city I visited was Boston, which made me very happy because I was visiting my son and daughter-in-law and grandsons.

  • Sheila says:

    Yes, I have been to Paris. Just this past April I flew with my daughter to celebrate her 31st birthday. We were fortunate enough to stay with family for a few days, and it was amazing. I have heard often the Eiffel Tower would be the most impressive, but for me it was not. It was the architecture of all the old buildings. The art of the ancient stones both on the streets and buildings were breathtaking. I found the people to be lovely, open, warm and friendly.

    The trip made me feel awestruck for many reasons. It was a once in a lifetime experience shared with my daughter. It was beautiful.

  • I just got back from Munich a few day ago. People always make the place. I still can’t get the sound and sights of hundreds of people drinking liter mugs of beer during Oktoberfest and swaying arm in arm while the band played on. Good times 🙂

  • Loved reading about Paris! Last week I went to stay in The Hague with a good friend. She lives in a 1930s house, which was visited by Mondriaan, and sheltered Jews in WW2. From there it’s a cycle ride (she lent me a bike) into the city centre. It’s a relaxed, democratic place, where strangers can talk to you in the street without being harmful, and a Turkish man sells fantastic chips and mayo from a tiny shop. In the cafes they sell mint tea, stems of fresh raw mint steeped in water. I saw the art of the Dutch Golden Age at the Mauritshuis, and the next day we went to the Rothko exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum – mentioned on my blog

  • Would love to visit, someday. You presented an idyllic Paris and that’s what writers do:)

  • Antone Media says:

    I’ve never been to Paris, though both of my kids have…. I studied French for 5 years in school and cannot read or speak much now. The last city I visited, was Orlando, FL as I returned from and originated a flight before a cruise there. Leaving Orlando left me sad. I had to return to work the next day and wanted to head back to the Cruise Ship and head back into the Caribbean….

  • hya21 says:

    I loved this post. It spoke to me more than any pictures that you had taken would have. I must say that I share your sentiment about the Mona Lisa – but I had put it down to my youthfulness (and not being an art student). Great sentiments.

  • edpeters06 says:

    Your details are exquisite. LOVED the last lines especially…moving. Thanks for the inspiration today.

  • I would absolutely love to go to Paris. Beautiful photos.

  • Peter Nena says:

    Great write, Damyanti. I like how you paint the scenes. Those people. I can see them. So alive and vigorous. So wonderful. And the conclusion–it is incisive. We are but specks in the grand scheme of things. Just see how the earth floats in a vast emptiness!

  • ashokbhatia says:

    People there were extremely helpful. And, yes, smartly dressed and well mannered!

    Allow me to share the post which covers my recent trip to Paris.

  • authorcrystalcollier says:

    Deep. My hubby and I like to move to new places so we can really get the feel of it–rather than doing the tourist thing. I too get stuck people watching, and it’s amazing as you take a second to imagine what their lives must be like. The human experience is so varied and amazing.

  • “…like calligraphy in air” … love this imagery. Right now I’m in Kansas City, MO for work. Last night a group of us went to the Zona Rosa district, with its expensive- looking stores and restaurants. We walked after dinner in the warm breezy evening, and even I, who dislikes shopping very much, wanted to spend my money somewhere in that district. I thought that was interesting. I resisted, however; just walked in my heels and enjoyed the warm summer-like evening with people I barely know.

  • Kat says:

    I was in Paris just last year and this depiction is quite spectacular. The picture you paint is quite accurate.
    Being in Louvre with all those other people was over and underwhelming. I loved the food, I didn’t care for the people. Especially the ones trying to rob me.
    The thing that stood out for me was the little bakery down the street from where I was staying. All manner of sweets and treats and breads. And the little cheese shop across the street that had an amazingly smooth almond capped cheese.
    Now I live near DC and travel in at least once a month. The difference in capitol cities and how they explain the culture of the citizens therein is interesting. I think the problem with only seeing capitols is that there are too many tourists and not enough natives to get a true sense of what the country is all about.

  • I go to Paris regularly, but it is unusual to experience the city – a drive of around four hours from our home in the Auvergne. The usual reason for making the trip (frequently up and back in a day) is to collect my daughter’s dogs when she and her man go on their travels. The next trip will be in the last few days of October. It will probably be done in a single day, because I can’t spare two days out just before NaNoWriMo!

  • Seafarrwide says:

    I love ‘Louvre made me feel like I wanted to lie down and die, because surely then I would be reborn inside of it, as a guide, a cleaner, a waitress. And wouldn’t have to leave.’ I do love Paris even when it’s so busy 🙂

  • I went to Paris for the second time this past spring. Loved it! Did the d’Orsay which I loved. I think my favorite, though, was dinner at sidewalk cafe in Montmartre.

  • asmukti says:

    I loved Paris, getting lost in the day to day meandering of the streets, watching European Cup football in backstreet bars, having a romantic interlude with a French Canadian.. As I go on with these romantic notions though, some Parisians have turned around and said ‘Might be nice from the outside but just try living here!’ 🙂

  • Jill's Scene says:

    The last major city I travelled to was Bangkok. It made me edgy and excited and energised. All those people. All that life! I’ve been three times now and am going again in a few months. (I love Paris, too. I’ve been twice. The last time was 2004 – already ten years ago – now that’s scary!)

  • Susan Scott says:

    I would LOVE to go to Paris! Last city I travelled to was in the States, San Francisco is really lovely. But wherever I travel I get the sense that I’m just one person amongst all the millions of others …but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the ‘now’ experience.

  • Rachana says:

    I’ve been to Paris and not surprisingly the thing I remember the most was the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know if I would go back again though. The last city I traveled to was Busan in Korea. It made me feel hopeful and happy 🙂

  • Jax says:

    The last city I went to was Paris last weekend. I got back to Manila last night. I was by Porte de la Vilette, where there were some tourists, but really only around the hotel (it was an American one called the Forest Hill Hotel).

    That part of the city is all concrete and grass and canal. Grey and green and brown. You walk down the street and away from the Metro stop and the tourists disappear. Instead, there are Chinese, Middle Easterns, Africans, all speaking French along gritty sidewalks.

    You turn down into Rue de la Crimée and follow it past an old drawbridge, then sneak down a small section of road. Around the corner you come to the canal lined with houseboats and masses of dark Parisian figures hunched all along the quay with their wines and sandwiches and beers. And smoke – yes, always smoke. The moon shines above the still but clean waters and all along the quay are the glow of yellow lights.

    There is a café perched on the side of the quay. It’s called, punnily enough, café O.Kay (au quay!). In the middle of the terasse, you hear only French. A cheerful waiter bounces around, but I guess it depends on the day. A few nights before, the waiters had been sour.

    The week before, I had been in the city of Dijon. There, I felt particularly small, as if I were invisible, always misunderstood.

    Great, thought-provoking post 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  • simonfalk28 says:

    Ohhh… in just a few sentences I was back there again! Wonderful post! Sadly, both times I was in Paris I missed the d’Orsay. 🙁 Thank you for a post that just took me back to the Paris I remember.

  • R. J. Nello says:

    I’ve been to Paris a bunch of times. I’ve always enjoyed it. Yet it’s also not “really France”; it’s like most other huge, global cities now. I find smaller cities – in France and elsewhere – are more intriguing.

    I spent two weeks in July in the Florida Keys in the U.S. Key West – a small city – was an incredible discovery. From Hemingway’s House to the Truman White House to the clubs and restaurants and general relaxed atmosphere, I’d go back there tomorrow. 🙂

  • Dee Connell says:

    This was so engaging, so beautifully written!
    We currently live outside of Paris, and when we arrived we noted that everyone was much more friendly than we’d heard about. We were expecting the waiters who “looked down their noses”, but we got waiters who smiled and laughed and tried to speak Spanish to us.
    Paris can be a bit much, so I don’t go often. But if you ever get a chance, visit the Loire Valley. There are so may beautiful sights to see, like the Chateau de Chambord.

  • I enjoyed reading this so much

  • Paris is beautiful!!! I remember walking along the Seine with my mum and wondering what life would be like living in those boats 🙂 yes would def go back! The last city I travelled to was New York and it was quite a rush 🙂 although I’m closing becoming partial to European cities, North America cities are all about hustle whereas Europe is culture

  • Juan Zung says:

    Never been to France. The last place I visited was Healdsburg, CA. It felt very cozy and drunk. They have a local version of everything: wine (of course), beer, gin, tonic water, chess.

  • aletifer says:

    “What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?”
    1) It sure wasn’t Paris
    2) I felt sad that this was so. 🙂

  • So good to go to Paris. I never go there.


  • JustMeMike says:

    I was last in Paris in October of 2012. It was my first trip there since 2003, and my 4th overall.I usually stay in the Rue Clerc district, and I have many great memories of Paris. Best memories – sitting in a side walk cafe watching life pass by.

    I am off to San Francisco tomorrow and isn’t the City By the Bay another place with considerable charm.

  • Dalo 2013 says:

    Loved the photo, and your descriptions of Paris is so what we felt & experienced when we were last there (especially the waiters…just part of the gig I guess for them). Loved it though, even had a moment with street urchins running a little scam on my girlfriends backpack…amazingly alive is how I would describe the city.

  • Sammy D. says:

    I’m sorry that some of you felt the French waiters were snooty. I had a completely different experience. Whether it was a waiter, a store clerk, a museum or hotel attendant, or a person on the street, we had nothing but pleasant encounters with very helpful Frenchmen and women.

    Perhaps their lack of effusiveness and relatively more reserved persona is mistaken for snootiness. i was so pleasantly surprised by how welcome we felt as we made our way around that lovely city.

  • May I repost in my blog, Spaces for People (


  • This story, for me, is not about Paris, but about what you saw and felt. Beautifully written and wonderfully engaging. William H. “Holly” White, noted New York urban sociologist once said, “the street is the river of life.” You have captured that essence perfectly.

    Thank you.


  • Part of the picture in someone else’s eyes. That’s deep.
    I visited Paris MANY years ago. I do remember snotty waiters. And a few other snotty French people.
    But one of the things that really stood out to me during that time (I was living in London) was two guys getting on the Underground who looked like deadly gang members with mohawks and everything – and one turning to the other and saying, ‘Do you think Buffy will be at the party?’ in the most dignified and charming manner. Five seconds of their banter and my friends and I knew they weren’t gang members! Looks can be so deceiving…

  • Paris is not on my list. I did go there right after college and can still remember the ‘waiters looking down their noses’. I guess when I feel they’d enjoy my visit, I’ll return.

  • MadlabPost says:

    No I’ve never been to Paris. Would love to go there though. The last city I visited was New York. I was a little sick but otherwise I felt…. busy, inspired and a little behind, like a sudden urge to catch up to the rest of the world.

    We are insignificant because the world is much larger than we can imagine. The world turns with or without us but we can still make an impact and contribute something of significance while we’re here…even if those contributions are only felt in our little part(s) of the world.

  • Sandra says:

    Love Paris! The last city I visited was San Francisco. It always makes me feel like a free spirit, not sure why. I love to just wander and pretend I’m back in the days of flower power.

  • TheLastWord says:

    Paris! Yes, I would go back. No, did not meet a single rude waiter and we ate out all the time. Loved the coffee and the fact that I could sit there for hours writing in my book on just one cup and no one bothered me. The bread, the cheese, the ham – ah!

    I’m in the middle of a multi-part review of my Paris trip from May/June 2014. Broke off after Part 3 to write the 8-part series on my first trip to Kathmandu.

  • I have been to Paris three times, including when I proposed to my wife. I loved all of it, the history, the art, the buildings, and yes the people. I wish that I spoke French so that I could have understood better. During one trip my wife and I got a tour of one of the very old churches. The tour was given exclusively in French as the woman spoke no English. Fortunately my wife understands enough that she was able to explain most of it to me. But, as little as I understood still made the tour one of the most memorable parts of that trip.

  • atempleton says:

    ‘…only to find a bald old man and his Persian blue cat staring straight down at me from their red-flowered window.’. I love this description. I can picture it exactly.

  • I was in Bucharest for 3 years. Been back ‘home’ for a few months. I miss Bucharest so bad. Your writeup on Paris is fantastic. You are also correct about we being specks and to appreciate the here and now where one is, though your correctness in this matter is no easier to swallow or to resist depressive states when remembering where one was and wish like anything they could rewind the clock a few months and know to not leave. Excellent post.

  • tabularin0a says:

    I have been to Paris and would love to go back. I was enthralled by the Eiffel Tower when I was reminded that it was finished in 1889.

  • Marc Kuhn says:

    And I oh so much have always wanted to visit Paris…and now I am not so sure it would ruin everything. Nonetheless, I enjoyed your “review”

  • Kristen Hopf says:

    I was in Paris two years ago and it was BEYOND beautiful! I stayed in Montmartre, which was just breathtaking. Did you go to the Sacre Couer? My friend and I strolled the streets aimlessly for days.

    The new cities that I have visited this year were Boston, Chicago, Glasgow and Prague. All beautiful places, all places I would love to spend a lot more time in.

  • Francoise says:

    Thanks for your very nice post, loved it!
    I was raised in Paris, and spent my first 20 years in the center of the city. Of course, your writing brings back a lot of memories. Now I live in California but go back every summer to Paris.

  • Sammy D. says:

    Loved loved loved Paris. Would go back in a heartbeat. Your lively, colorful descriptions took me there. We did not spend time inside Musee d’Orsay; instead we strolled and sat in the lovely statuary garden in a gentle misty rain and had it all to ourselves. We like the off-tourist activities and cafes best.

  • Yep, I’ve been to Paris and loved it. You brought it alive for me. It’s surprising how underwhelming the Mona Lisa really is! hahaha

  • We spent 3 weeks in Paris in May/June 2013. I didn’t experience any waiters looking down their noses, because we never ate in a restaurant. We rented an apartment and used the money we would have spent in restaurants on fine cheeses and wines and cooked all our own meals. If you want really fine pastries, you need to get to the non-tourist places.

    The Mona Lisa is normally a zoo, but given that we went to the Louvre almost every day we were in Paris, we stopped by near closing time and got to see her up close more than once. She is amazing, really.

    We attended masses and concerts at Notre Dame, and I sat out in the garden behind Notre Dame and filled a photo order for a client on their free WIFI. We would stop in various churches on Sunday mornings and listen to the organs and choirs. We found several free concerts by fantastic musicians during our stay in Paris. These concerts were in non-tourist areas and in churches not on the tour lists as they were smaller and often in disrepair — we met a lot of friendly people in these out of the way places.

    The press in the French press coffee maker that came with the apartment broke one day. There was a Boudin store down the street from the apartment, so I took the broken press to the store and the salesman, who was very friendly and helpful, pulled out a drawer full of parts and tools and fixed the the press with superior parts than what it had before, so it wouldn’t break again. When I asked him what I owed him he said nothing, free. I bought a kilo of coffee from him as some compensation for repairing the press.

    We had a lovely time in Paris, and the people we dealt with were friendly and helpful. We need to go back and spend 3 months in Paris to see and do everything we would like to see and do.

  • I adore Paris. I first visited when I was sixteen and a foreign exchange student. When my friend was in school her mother took me sight seeing, and as she didn’t speak a word of English, armed with a dictionary she tried to share her experiences of the city with me. I loved seeing it through her eyes, and it remains a treasured memory 🙂

  • Norm 2.0 says:

    Haven’t been to Paris yet but it’s on my list. Great post and some wonderful descriptions. It really is the people we come across that make these adventures what they are isn’t it?

  • Carrie Rubin says:

    I was an Au Pair girl in Paris after high school, and I’ve been there a few other times. I love it. In fact, I think it’s time for another visit. 🙂

  • viewpacific says:

    The last city I visited was Los Angeles.
    Well, it was one of the many cities within Los Angeles. This was the first time in a long time that I noticed the beauty of the trees alongside the freeway. Most of the time, there has been nothing much to see of LA. Just freeway after freeway chopping up whatever it was that had so many people move there in the first place.
    Maybe the difference this time was, as you say, the people. Maybe it was me. I visited a group of loving friends, and that really brightened my perspective for everything.
    I wonder how much any view we have has much to do with the city or architecture or even it’s people. So much seems to be filtered and shaded by our own eyes, mind, and heart.
    Thanks for your inspiring reminder of Paris.

  • A fabulous capturing of your experience. I never went to Paris, not any major European city, other than Rome, which I detested. I simply caught a train to a little obscure village in each country and stayed in each for several weeks. That way I fell in love with every place. How many Englishmen have never been to London? How many Chinese have never been to Beijing? The heart of a country is not in the city galleries but, as you captured in Paris, in the people…

  • That is a great description of Paris, of any city — the beauty, the vitality, the unpleasant parts, the art … oh, the art. Last major city I visited was Washington, D.C., and I absolutely loved it. It helped that the person who designed the National Mall is the same architect who designed Champs-Elysees. I imagined all that power behind closed doors, the White House, but my favorite, by far, was the Capitol Building. I passed through Paris (spent one night) during one of my visits to Romania (my native country), and found it gorgeous, romantic, artsy, and a little too overwhelming. People weren’t always friendly, but that changed when I tried speaking some French. Perhaps a little of that is true in any major city. Yes, I felt small in Paris — kept thinking of the history, of all that passed through before me. Great city.

  • I was in Paris earlier this year. Your post brought my visit back to me so clearly I could almost smell it, see it, hear it and taste it. Thank you for taking me back to the City of Light so vividly.

  • Andrew says:

    The only city I really ever go to anymore is San Francisco, but I only really ever experience the traffic and lack of parking, because we’re always going to some place there, never just there.

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