There are few things quite as exciting as visiting a foreign country for the first time. The amazing foods, historic sites and multi-cultural atmosphere can take one’s breath away. This past summer I spent two weeks in Paris, the “city of light”. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. From the time I first arrived at the heart of the city, I was presented with new aspects of culture that I had never encountered before.
My first surprise came on June 21, the night of the Fête de la Musique, or Music Festival. This is one of the most popular nights for both the French and tourists, as professional and amateur artists from Paris and many other parts of the world present their unique style of music. From fine restaurants showcasing skilled violinists to pop jazz artists or roving troupes of traditional dancers and ethnic musicians, the city had much to offer for style and talent. I was with friends and the weather was perfect for the night. This definitely left an amazing lasting impression on my mind.
Of course the famous Eiffel Tower is one of the greatest attractions. After getting off the subway several days later, my friends and I began wandering around the city for the evening. The intention was to visit the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, two of the most prominent landmarks in Paris. After seeing the Eiffel from a distance, we continued on toward the Arc de Triomphe. However, we suddenly encountered one of the more memorable parts of my stay in Paris. The World Cup had been going for nearly two weeks in South Africa, and of all the teams in it, Portugal was one with a large population represented in Paris. It turns out that they had clinched the second round that night, so all the youth took to the streets, either in mobs or by piling in convertibles to celebrate with much energy and jubilation. All we could do was smile and give them the “thumbs up” sign. A friend of mine told me that he has encountered major mobs of this sort on both of his visits to Paris. Apparently, Paris is quite a lively city. Yet, it was well worth it to see the excitement.
I eventually made it to the Arc de Triomphe, which unfortunately was closed due to the excited mass of Portuguese students. However, as a history fanatic, I still found it impressive from the outside with its awesome stone carvings. The traffic circle surrounding the arch was itself impressive with ten solid lanes of traffic making its way around the circle. It was definitely a grand experience and one that I would do again any time.
Another of my favorite places, while not actually in Paris, was the Versailles Palace a short distance outside the city. It is the most exquisite building I have ever been in, with extraordinary marble floors and walls throughout. The collection of paintings and statues was one of the vastest displays I have ever seen. Containing famous pieces of historical characters, these works were beautiful and highly representative of many centuries of art. The gardens were by far the largest and finest that I have ever seen, with extensive footpaths and towering statues at every crossroads.
Other popular places that I would recommend are the Louvre museum, the Louvre Pyramid, and Notre Dame Cathedral.