Eiffel Tower. Arc de Triomphe. Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Mona Lisa and the Louvre, Cabaret and Moulin Rouge.
Those romantic walks around the River Seine. Nutella Crepes and Ladurée.
Locks of Love and that ride around the carousel.
City of Lights.
Capital of Fashion.
But for me, it wasn’t enough. It was too shiny, too glittery, too perfect. And as my experience in life goes, all that glitters is not gold.
For me, the real Paris existed somewhere else altogether. Somewhere between the less popular arrondissements, away from number 1st and 7th.
At Montmarte. At Pigalle. At Moulin Rouge. At the station far off from the center of the city. At the Centre Georges Pompidou. At the Catacombs.
The solo, budget friendly, traveler in me had almost cried with happiness, when I had discovered a hotel willing to host me for a decent price. I thought, maybe I was lucky, but boy was I wrong. As my cab approached my hotel, the realization dawned on me that the actual reason, behind the budget friendly room, was the location of that particular hotel. I was staying at Pigalle, the red Light district of Paris. And, my hotel wasn’t any ordinary hotel, it was a ‘love’ hotel.
(It was pre 2016, Prostitution hadn’t been banned back then).
I reached there somewhere after midnight. When Moulin Rouge was reveling in all its magnificent glory. I remember feeling unsafe and stupid at first, I was determined to check out the first thing in the morning. The added noise from the other room didn’t help my case either. But, the strange thing was that it felt oddly exhilarating. Sex wasn’t a taboo here.
The red lights. The women. The men. The couples. The singles. The sex shops. The innocent bystanders. The curious tourists. The bylanes. The bars. The Cabaret. The coffee shops. More sex shops. It was another world, altogether. It was risqué business and adrenaline was in the air.
Needless to say, I stayed there for a few more days.
I did the usual touristy stuff too, in the day time. But a city like Paris, it comes alive in the night. It becomes a different character altogether and for the most part, I liked this version more. Eiffel lights up and so do the lives of some.
The late night train rides were when I got to observe actual Parisians. Some were tired, coming back from work, some were just getting started, the night crawlers. The shoes they wore, the way they hid behind their headphones and the books. The accent, the sadness, and the laughter. The loneliness. For a city, which marvels itself as being the fashion capital of the world, the Parisians were relatively monochromatic.
It was at that relatively unknown bar.
Filled mostly with locals, Thank God! I am guilty of being a part of that crowd too, but for once I wanted to experience things the ‘Parisian’ way. The food they ate. The drinks they ordered. I wish I understood French back then, I would have come back with some interesting stories too. (Major Eavesdropper, Don’t judge already)!
It was at the Catacombs of Paris.
Home to the remains of six million Parisians from the 18th Century. The catacombs are macabre. An eerie feeling takes over as one enters the space. Twenty meters underground, it is a network of old caves, quarries, and tunnels stretching hundreds of miles, and seemingly lined with the remains of the dead. It’s not for the faint hearted. Any trip to Paris, without visiting the Catacombs is incomplete, in my opinion. Totally worth the long wait, you *will* find a queue, unfortunately.
It was at the Centre Pompidou.
I generally detest museums and art galleries. They are simply not my cup of tea, but modern art museums, on the other hand, have always intrigued me. And Centre Pompidou, doesn’t disappoint at all. Europe’s most prominent Modern Art museum looks equally stunning from the outside as the contemporary art it houses. Look out for the pipes in the architecture, color coded to denote their function - blue for air conditioning, green for plumbing, yellow for electricity, and red for elevators.
Paris, has something for everyone. Nobody goes back empty handed. You just need to look at the right places and viola! The city molds itself perfectly in accordance to the whims and fancies of the traveler.
Some people fall in love with Paris and some fall in love with the person they become out there.
So, what side of Paris do you prefer?
(For feedback, please email us at Khushboo@missnolabel.com)