Until I made the trek to Paris, I never understood its appeal above any other wonderful, historic European city. I’d been to a few but not Paris having only stood in the graces of its presence during layovers at Charles de Gaulle, and let’s face it, while the airport is nice, it’s about as much a representation of Paris as one of the many mementos hawked by the vendors that line its streets. The real Paris has to be experienced by all your senses to truly appreciate the beauty of it.
There’s no better time than spring to visit the City of Light. The winter doldrums and rain have moved on leaving behind gorgeous blue skies and an emerging warmth that engulfs you like a warm blanket on a chilly morning. The nights, while nippy, are crystal clear, which is perfect for sauntering around the city in search of the reasons why it is called the City of Light. The old street lamps, many likely used back in the day when they had to be lit, may have modern day lighting now, but they still provide that comforting golden hue that many Parisians likely experienced back in the 1800s.
Speaking of old, the buildings are absolutely amazing. Even pedestrian apartments and office buildings are gorgeous and ornate with French doors with tiny patios beneath them opening up onto the street. The curvy, wrought-iron railing circumvents the lower half of the doors above the street giving the buildings a gilded, royal look that can only be at home in Paris. I found myself snapping photos of many of these buildings, while I chuckled to myself that I’d rarely take a picture of an apartment building back in the States.
Of course, there is much more to see than plain, old buildings. The beauty of Paris encompasses a plethora of landmarks that are as famous as the city itself. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc of Triumph, Concorde Plaza with its view of the Obelisk and the Hotel of the Invalids, and the Louvre. Every angle and time of the day revealed a new face to these many landmarks. Set back in the stunning blue sky, these landmarks sparkle, but they also come alive at night as the famed street lights provide a golden aura that makes them all the more memorable.
I imagine that Paris is gorgeous any time of year, even in the dreary winter rain, but spring brings out the absolute best in the city. I ran the Paris Marathon during my stay there and had the opportunity to see the best the city has to offer over my 26-mile trek. It started on Champs-Elysees, the famed boulevard stretched between the Arc of Triumph and Concorde Plaza. In the beautiful morning sunrise in the shadow of the glowing Arc, I began my run straight down the avenue toward the giant Ferris Wheel in Concorde. The warm morning air enveloped me and 54 thousand other runners as we took a turn in the Plaza and circumnavigated the Obelisk. I felt elated to be running in such an iconic race in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Blooming trees and chirping birds competed with the spectators for my attention. The course took me by most major landmarks, and although I had been in the city for two days as of the day of the race, seeing it from the perspective of a runner was certainly unique on the “once in a lifetime” scale. Perhaps the most perfect part of the course came when we turned out of the park at the eastern end of the course and winded our way down to the Seine River. Running along the wide sidewalk with the river to my left and the city to my right gave me a burst of energy just when I needed it. River boats lazily glided along the river. Pedestrians leaned on the bridges over the river alternately cheering us on and taking pictures as if they weren’t too sure what to do first.
Most races have that seminal moment where some part of it just sticks in your mind forever. When I ran a marathon in South Africa, the moment where I had two adult giraffes running alongside me for a brief time has held my fascination for years, but in Paris, that moment occurred when I entered a tree-lined portion of the Seine boardwalk and ran in full view of the Eiffel Tower on my left and the Museum of Modern Art on my right. The shade of the blooming trees relieved me of the burden of the emerging heat, but their striking beauty in the shadow of such a historic landmark provided just enough push to keep me going toward the finish. With that view permanently etched in my mind, I kept putting one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face.
The only question I had when I finally left for the airport to return home was how soon could I get back. I had fallen in love with the City of Light, and I will most certainly return.