The First Time I Saw Paris

This, finally this. Travel on a grand scale. Passports, intercontinental flights and adventures in a land where every sound, taste and sight is a new experience. Our first three days of a two week trip started in Paris. First impressions: Charles de Gaulle Airport seems to have a limitless supply of hallways and rolling sidewalks (that roll both up and down hill) with no discernible plan to the layout, yet you get through customs checkout and pick up your baggage in fairly short order. The van ride to our lodging progressed from traffic at a standstill to careening at break-neck speed across and around the city through neighborhoods of tall nondescript apartments and once stylish, now shabby complexes, with graffiti on every possible and some improbable surfaces. Once the heart of the city comes to view, you are struck by how little influence modern architecture has had on it. While the oldest established cities in the U.S. may have a core of a few blocks of well-preserved historical structures and landmarks, the expanse of structures dating back century upon century seems limitless. Old building are repurposed, retrofitted, and modernized from within, but remain largely unchanged on the outside. Streets are narrow and winding. One-way streets and roundabouts are the norm. Shops and restaurants are tucked into every nook and cranny at street level, and flats fill the upper floors.

Arriving midday on a Tuesday, we found our lodgings, partook and a lovely meal, and settled in for a not-so-quick nap before exploring our neighborhood on the Right Bank (north side) of the Seine. We broke our fast at the restaurant next door to our lodging, Au Pied de Cochon, which specialized in pork, as proclaimed by the decorative signage outside and the little piggie meringue after dinner treats.

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Every window, door, wall and roof has intricate details announcing the era of its origin. There is so much to take in at first that it is a bit of a blur. Even the seemingly most mundane things, such as the streets in our neighborhood, were a work of art.

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Motorcycles, scooters and bicycles are as prevalent as small cars, and pedestrian outnumber all other travelers on local streets. At nearly every corner, a line of motorcycles stand awaiting the return of their riders.

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Small grocers, butchers, cheese shops, bakeries, and venders of fruit, fish and flowers overflow with beautiful and sensational smelling wares.

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And around every corner, in every plaza, in the center of the roundabouts and at the end of every street are beautiful statues, fountains and churches.

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One of the luckiest finds of our first day was a quartet we found playing at an open air restaurant the evening of our first day. We were drawn in by the gypsy jazz played by a bass, violin and two guitar quartet named Opus 4. Responding to our heartfelt, enthusiastic interest in them, the band serenaded us with the sweetest rendition of Le Mer (Beyond the Sea). I may have cried a little. Then, to completely cement our devotion, they played Over the Rainbow.

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