Catching sight of the Eiffel Tower or Sacre Cour as the train rolls into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport always makes my heart leap and I pinch myself knowing I have arrived back in a city that makes me feel at home. I love getting the train from the airport as it instantly makes me feel like a local.
Arriving from Australia has usually meant that it is early morning. The city is beginning to come to life and the first waves of workers from the outskirts of Paris join the train. At Gare du Nord, the throng grows and I’m reminded of peak hour back home.
As one is usually not allowed to check-in to the hotel until after 2pm, I drop my bags, freshen up and head out into this magical city on foot. My destination will usually include a trip to the Tuileries Gardens and from there, the long walk up to the Arc de Triomphe.
That walk will help keep you awake after all those hours of flying! I love it because you see many of Paris’ famous landmarks – the Eiffel Tour, the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysees and of course the Arc de Triomphe!
Seeing all of that architecture, the intricacy of the artwork on the buildings, the gardens and the history gives me a buzz and helps me to feel grounded in my body. Often I will find a spare seat in the Tuileries where I can see the Place de la Concorde and beyond.
Taking in the hustle and bustle of the traffic and tourist buses that navigate around this area, the locals walking or resting on the deck chairs in the gardens, I love to breathe in the energy of this magical and beautiful city. There is a lightness about Paris that is hard to convey but is something that very quickly seeps into my very core.
If I’m hungry I love to stop at the end of the Tuileries gardens and buy myself a crepe chocolat – a delicious snack that will refuel my energy stores for the 2.1 km walk up the Avenue des Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.
Why do I love the Champs Elysees? It is a truly grand boulevard befitting of a city such as Paris and is usually lined with French flags. Each season heralds a change in the way the boulevard is decorated. One of my favourite times was winter when we visited for a weekend while living in London
With Christmas decorations and fake snow on some of the corners there was a certain romance and magic in the air – for a country girl from Australia who has always dreamt of a white Christmas it wasn’t hard to get excited!
Along the boulevard to the left as you begin your journey there is the Grand Palais building – an outstanding historic site that is a museum and exhibition hall complex along with Petit Palais. You could deviate here and visit the current exhibitions on show.
As you make your way up the boulevard past all the shops the majesty of the Arc de Triomphe becomes ever more visible. The arch is amazing but spend a few moments watching the traffic going around the huge roundabout – it is fascinating to witness how the locals navigate this spot and somehow find their way off it!
Hours can be spent just exploring the Champs Elysees and all of the streets that run off it. Yes it can feel touristy but it is iconic Paris and just a few steps away from this most grand of boulevards you can find yourself in quieter places away from the tourist throng, maybe enjoying your lunch with some well dressed Parisienne ladies or a table of office workers.
Of course, my first day in Paris would never be complete without consuming the first of many croissants or pain au chocolats! Maybe throw in a baguette for lunch and I’m likely to be very happy.
After a long flight and a day of walking I’m usually ready for bed by 7pm. With my ear plugs safely installed I lay my weary body down and enter the land of nod, knowing that tomorrow I get to wake up and immerse myself in more of this great city away from the tourist buses and closer to life as a true Parisienne.
This is what I call bliss and I look forward to going through my ritual above when I arrive for this year’s Paris to Provence: A Woman’s Journey tour in May.
Ps. do you have a place where you visit (or maybe you are lucky enough to live there) that makes you feel like you are truly at home? I’d love to hear where that place is for you
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