Paris. I had no idea. In fact, I always thought that there was too much focus on this city when people speak about travel ambitions to Europe. It never attracted me, partially for that reason.

In Germany, we refer to Paris as the city of love. Another reason not to visit, I always thought. But this year, I decided that it was time to get to know Paris, only a 9 hour drive from my hometown in Germany. I expected a huge, buzzing metropolis, possibly dirty, overcrowded and too touristy. As we approached Paris on the A4, the European Autobahn which was almost empty when entered France, Paris opened itself and sucked us in.  Suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds of cars that cut in front of us constantly, tall buildings and to our left the river Seine. I was in awe. Paris captured me with its careless elegance and charm, its inviting sidewalk cafes, and its amazingly beautiful people. Parisians are a pleasure to look at – they dress well and are slim. I theorized that this could be due to the fact the city is very expensive and the parking situation dire. Therefore, people walk a lot, and probably can’t afford super-sized meals.

When I travel I prefer rented apartments over hotels. They often have a personal touch from the owner and allow for more freedom. I can open a bottle of wine, prepare coffee the way I like it, and make a salad at night when I don’t feel like eating out again.   And our Paris apartment was simply a great choice. On the 7th floor we had an incredible view of the Eiffel tower. Needless to say, we spent many hours there. We would stop at a fromagerie in the evening, pick out a few cheeses and often, right next door we purchased some wine. This, and some salad made for wonderfully simple dinners, with a view.

The different parts of town in Paris are almost like their own little cities with their unique flair. After many miles of walking and many Euros spent on metro tickets, I decided on St. Germain as my favorite place. Artsy, a little trendy, with tiny streets that you can walk forever and discover one great place after another – bookstores, design shops, museums, churches, art galleries, boutique hotels, historic cafés and restaurants. But then again, you will have this experience almost anywhere in Paris. Parisians say that you eat well everywhere. Its true.

We visited the Louvre because that is what you do when you go to Paris, but be prepared to be overwhelmed, exhausted and unsatisfied. The place is too large and crowded to truly enjoy it. The Mona Lisa is blocked off; you can admire it from a distance. And while it is nice to stay in front of David’s Coronation of Napoleon or a Rembrandt, I preferred the smaller Musée d’Orsay, a former train station. As an admirer of impressionist art, I was taken by the remarkable collection of paintings by  Gericault, Delacroix,  Moreau, Degas, Monet, Renoir, and Sisley.  There is something about walking in an ancient museum, with cracking wooden floors, high ceilings, a musty smell, and large windows that overlook the city.

Paris and its cafes. Paris is expensive, but its worth it. When I finished one 6-Euro coffee in one place, I looked for a pretext to sit at the next place across the street.  The brasseries are part of the experience. I tried wonderful dishes. Forget about the cesar salad, you can eat that here. Venture out. I would ask the waiters what they recommend and just took a risk – I was never dissppointed. As you walk down the streets of Paris, the sound of dishes accompanies you. I loved it. I miss that here ….  

I will return to Paris. I want to sit the pews of the Notre Dame early in the morning, when tourists are still in their hotels.  I want to stand at the steps of the Sacré-Cœur at sunset and take the view in with more time. Next time I’ll walk along the Seine again, but in the rain, when everyone else seeks cover. Paris has captured a place in my heart.