One of the best ways for one to truly appreciate the experiences they’ve had is to be able to contrast them with others. They provide a frame of reference to better understand what you’ve gained from those experiences. Ten of us had the opportunity to do just that when we spent a few of our precious (and limited) days in San Sebastian in Paris. A bus to Biarritz, a flight into Paris and a ride in a French Uber brought us to our Airbnb right in the heart of Paris on Thursday night. A bus line and metro station were within walking distance, giving us quick access to just about anywhere we desired to be in the city.
When we first got up on Friday morning, we grabbed croissants and fruits at a local supermarket that was right across the street. We then headed off on our first journey into the city. We first stopped at Notre Dame, which was unfortunately closed, meaning we’d be unable to view the beauty of the building’s interior because of the fire from 2019. So we continued on our journey, stopping next at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This store’s original location during the 1920’s had been a place of interest for many of the 20th century’s great writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
Countless books and novels of various genres lined up throughout the store, taking one to topics of the current day or foundational works of the distant past. Some of us were able to purchase books, myself included.
Next up on our journey was the Sainte Chapelle. The holy chapel was finished back in 1248 for King Louis IX to house some of the most important relics of Christianity, such as Christ’s Crown of Thorns. One of the greatest achievements of Gothic architecture from the time, the Sainte Chapelle (along with the neighboring Conciergerie) was part of the Capetian royal palace, one of the oldest buildings from it that still stands today. The stained glass that lines the walls of the upper interior level was a sight to behold.
Our next planned destination was the Eiffel Tower, but we were able to explore a few other places along the way. Along the Seines River, there were a few little bookstores that had older French books, a few of which I was able to purchase as a gift for my sister. We then walked through some of the exterior of the Louvre (more on that later) before finally arriving at the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower was quite magnificent, living up to its billing as one of the world’s premier landmarks. There is actually work being done currently to modernize, as well as recoating the tower’s paint to give it a golden hue in time for the 2024 Olympic Games, but it’s iconic look hasn’t been impeded at all. Stopping at a nearby local supermarket, we were able to have a picnic right under the Eiffel Tower, enjoying sandwiches, crackers and wine.
Part of our group at the Eiffel Tower for a picnic
After a while, we were able to witness a beautiful sunset right near the tower. The aesthetic lighting of the tower at night alone is worth the wait, but the light show that followed shortly after was something to behold. A picture won’t do it justice, but I’ll try anyway to help craft the image of what we experienced.
The Eiffel Tower, lights flashing in the night
To top off our first night, we ended up at a very fine French restaurant called Bouillon Julien where we were able to try snails for the first time; it was a dish that, I will admit, was not my favorite, but it was certainly an interesting experience in its own right.
Snails (or Escargot) from Bouillon Julien
The next morning, we got ourselves up for a 9:30am visit to the Louvre Museum. Personally, I found this to be the most interesting part of our Paris excursion. A labyrinth of art and history across four different floors, it’d be almost impossible to describe all that we were able to see, much less the myriad priceless artworks that would’ve taken days on end to see all of. Our first visit was to the Mona Lisa, which was surprisingly small compared to what most think it is. We weaved our way throughout the different time periods and nations that were separated into their own special sections of the museum, whether it be French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Roman, or Egyptian; art and history spanning from thousands of years B.C. to the Renaissance, French Revolution, and beyond. To keep this from becoming a laundry list of hundreds of exhibits we saw from the four to five hours we spent there, I’ll stick to a few personal favorites: “Liberty Leading the People,” a statue of Julius Caesar and, of course, “Saint Sebastian.”
“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix
Julius Caesar statue by Nicholas Coustou
“St. Sebastian” by Andrea Mantega
Towards the latter half of our final day in Paris, we finally got to do what we weren’t able to the previous night: make our way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. One can walk 674 steps to the second floor if they so choose, but we ended up taking the elevator to the second floor and then the top. I just recently mentioned that the Louvre was my favorite part of Paris, but the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, seeing across the vastness and variety of one of the largest cities in the world, is a close second. As has been the case for most of what we saw, the images could easily speak for themselves.
View of the Parc du Champ de Mars and beyond from the top of the Eiffel Tower
As a part of our time here in San Sebastián, we’ve been working on improving our Spanish through language courses each day. One of the topics discussed in said course was that of the difference between a “tourist” and a “traveler.” A tourist is someone who is there for the main sights and attractions that a city has to offer. By contrast, a traveler is someone who dives a bit deeper beneath the surface, looking to fully immerse oneself in the culture and breadth of experiences available. For us, we’ve been travelers when in San Sebastián, experiencing more than just the occasional major landmark that’s been advertised to foreigners. But when ten of us decided to adventure to Paris for a weekend, we got the opportunity to be tourists rather than travelers for a few days. To experience both sides of the proverbial coin has given a whole new and deeper understanding of San Sebastián and what we’ve been able to do here.