In every city I visit, there is one place that somehow becomes ‘my place’. I’m sure you’ve experienced it too – that one miniature square with half-derelict wooden benches hidden away in shame in the elite section of town; or the vibrant, fish-smelling alley in a coastal town where colorful laundry and good-natured chiding in a Mediterranean language flutters over your head.
I have my own special derelict bench in Lyon; I love (albeit with trepidation, for natives would condemn my choice) the district known as ‘Le Panier’ in Marseille. In Paris, I had many such small, personal gems – a whole collection actually, but that should spark a separate post.
One of my favorite places in Paris that IS a tourist mill is Notre Dame Cathedral. I always find that in spite of the bustle there is a quiet corner waiting for me where I can just sit and take in the wonder of God, and man. And the evening when I shelled out a ghastly sum (for a student-budgetting tourist) to climb to the top of the towers to survey Quasimodo’s kingdom was magical. I reached the top of the towers just as the vivid colors of the sunset melted into a perfectly dusty and dusky ‘dusk’, and while I was lingering to catch my breath, I was treated to a spectacle worth more than the euros I had paid at the bottom.
I had chanced upon the summer lighting of all the important Parisian sites. Montmartre Basilica called out from its hilltop to Hotel des Invalides, which blinkingly responded. The magnificent illumination from the Louvre was reflected in the Seine River. I had a splendid 360-degree panorama of the city, and I was not about to surrender it to anyone, even the security guards impatiently trying to herd me on.
All that to say, if you ever find yourself in Paris during a summer sunset, try to be one of the last people climbing the Notre Dame Cathedral towers; you will not regret it.
In a strange but comfortable parallel, I found my own place in Montreal: the Basilica of Notre Dame in the Old Town.
It may not look like much from the outside, especially on a gray spring day:
But inside it’s all drama and blue and yellow and light and life and shadow:
Apparently this style is known as Gothic revival. It definitely revived my senses.
The 11 AM High Mass, replete with a beautiful choir and imposing and dramatically awe-filling classical organ music, was the high point of my trip.
What about you? What are your favorite secret or not-so-secret places in cities you’ve recently visited?