17 August 2020 Beyond words

Oh, Paris - the well-known French word

By Predrag Damjanović, Key Account Manager, Air Serbia

What is it that attracts almost 50 million tourists every year to the "city of light", Hemingway's "Moveable Feast" or Remarque's "only city in the world where you can have a great time without doing anything". What is the secret, if there is one?

There isn’t. This is the only city in the world that you should visit after all other journeys, because after that visit, even if it’s a short one, whatever you see anywhere else cannot be compared to Paris. Tourists from all over the world and French from the provinces come here to visit the city-museum that carefully preserves its sights and legends, or to sit and enjoy a glass of white wine on the terrace of a Parisian cafe and watch the people passing by. Artists come for inspiration under the night-lights and business people who, besides their meetings, take advantage of all the charms of the city to enjoy themselves.

Paris is a city that can be especially enjoyable if you don't work there. It was created for tourists, for the curious, for those thirsty for art, events, and even laziness. The French are proud of their language, anthem, history, flag and capital. They make a great effort to maintain the sights, carefully preserving what their fellow citizens have built for centuries ("life did not begin with us"). They restore the facades (it is forbidden to install air conditioning on the facade ), design passages in the style of the century when they were built, insist that new buildings be stylistically harmonized with existing architecture and may not exceed 5 stories, re-pave pedestrian zones, and even return the old candelabras to the streets. Many call this city a "city-museum" because Parisians have made tourist attractions on the slightest excuse, such as signs on the buildings where celebrities once lived or stayed for a short time.

To see as much as possible of Paris, the best advice is to stroll around on foot, making use of the well-organised public transport: metro, tram and bus. This is the only way to see some other places than the most famous sights (museums, churches, etc.), places that are not described in tourist guides (passages around the Opera or the Grands Boulevards) and, most importantly, to get a feel of the spirit and atmosphere of this city.

A short stroll up or down the Seine on the Cité island, the Romans founded the settlement that would become Paris. Here you will see the "heart of the city" with the Cathedral of Notre Dame (whose roof recently burned), the Palais de Justice, the miraculous stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle, the Conciergerie prison with the last guillotine that carried out executions in France until 1981. Opposite of the island is the Latin Quarter full of tourists and small restaurants, with the Saint-Michel fountain, the Arena and the Cluny Museum, a little farther on, the Sorbonne University founded in the 13th century, the Pantheon where the great figures of France (Zola, Rousseau, Mirabeau, PM Curie...) are laid to rest, and an oasis of greenery, the Jardin du Luxembourg gardens. On the way back towards the river, we descend past the Odeon Theatre to the Saint-Germain district, once a centre for artists where you can see their favourite cafes: Lipp, Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots. In a square opposite the oldest church in Paris, the 11th century Église Saint -Germain, we pass by the Academy of Fine Arts, the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Here we emerge onto the left bank of the Seine where we are greeted by one of the most beautiful museums in the world, the Musée d'Orsay, a railway station transformed into a paradise of impressionism.

Walking on, we pass the Palais Bourbon, home to the French parliament. Next, we have a choice to make: we can continue along the left bank to the Eiffel Tower and visit Les Invalides, with its military museum, the church of St. Louis, Napoleon's tomb (Le Dôme) and the Branly Anthropological Museum; alternatively, we can cross to the right bank where the Place de la Concorde, the Jardin des Tuileries and the world's largest museum, the Louvre, await us. To visit the Louvre, you need to set aside a whole day, and we recommend you buy tickets in advance over the Internet to avoid queuing for several hours.

From the Place de la Concorde stretches "most beautiful avenue in the world" - the 2km Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This leads to Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe, also called L’Etoile (the star), because 12 avenues meet at the centre. Here you can find the tomb of the unknown hero, where the eternal flame is lit every night at 6:30 p.m. From there, a 10-minute walk down Avenue Kléber leads to the Trocadéro, with the Palais de Chaillotwhose terrace offers beautiful views of the park's fountains, the Eiffel Tower, the Champ de Mars and the military college.

On the right bank you’ll find the Opera district, with the old Opéra Garnier, the Vendôme, the Hotel Ritz, the Palais-Royal, the Comédie-Française theatre, then the Madeleine district with its church in an ancient style and the famous Olympia Hall. Here, for shopping, lie the indispensable department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.

You really have to visit the Marais district, once the poorest part of Paris, a swamp (un marais). From here you can see the Place des Vosges, one of the most expensive parts of the city today, the Victor Hugo Museum, the Archives of France, the Picasso Museum and, of course, the Bastille Square with the new Opera.

And you have only just begun. You have yet to see Montmartre with the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur and the Place du Tertre, Pigalle, the Moulin Rouge, Montparnasse , the Cartier Foundation, the former painters’ cafes la Rotonde, La Coupole, Le Select and Le Dôme, and dozens of small theatres and cinemas with the inevitable cafes and restaurants with terraces and street musicians. We shouldn’t forget some fascinating experiences such as organized visits to the catacombs or the city sewers, the passages and galleries between avenues, flea markets, second-hand bookshops on the Seine, the flower and animal markets, racetracks or the inevitable tourist Bateaux Mouche boats on the river Seine. Tourist buses, bicycles and scooters, and even balloon flights are also available for city tours.

For the curious Serbs in Paris, there is also Belgrade street (Rue de Belgrade) and Kralja Petra Avenue (Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie), and a monument to King Alexander, who was assassinated in 1934 in Marseille.

Paris is a city of high fashion that holds glamorous shows every spring and autumn, setting new trends for the following year. At the same time, it is the city with the largest number of congresses, seminars and fairs in the world, and in 2024, the Olympic Games will be held there.

Tourists are usually in a rush to see as much as possible in a short time, and the offer is immense. They often go for the so-called "tourist menus" (steak, chips and a beer) or a sandwich of half a baguette with ham and cheese (jambon-beurre), eaten on the hoof. But you haven’t been to Paris if you have not sat on one of the terraces during a sightseeing break and tried a croissant for breakfast, a croque-monsieur or croque-madame hot sandwich with ham and cheese (the difference is that the latter has an egg), with lettuce or chips, crêpes made with beer to make them rise, with all sorts of savoury and sweet side dishes, and a selection of the 300-odd types of cheese and almost as many cured meat sausages or paté on a wooden board, with white wine from Burgundy, rosé from Provence, red wine from Bordeaux or the Loire. It is best to lunch in brasserie-type restaurants, whose kitchens and chefs work all day and are sure to offer 2-3 freshly-cooked meals (le plat du jour). Of course, Paris also offers refined gourmet restaurants whose chefs are highly rated in the Michelin Guide, where famous French specialties are served with special sauces for meat, fish, vegetables and seafood, but where it is advisable to check the prices displayed in front of the restaurant so you are not shocked when the waiter brings the bill. Paris is a tourist city and it is not difficult to find a restaurant from any part of the world, so the choice is not always easy. It may not be a bad idea to take the advice of a well-known restaurant critic who said: "restaurants that have large menus with many dishes on offer should be avoided, because they use microwave ovens and ready-made, frozen dishes". And don't forget to take home a few macarons from the Ladurée bakery for yourself and your loved ones from Paris, to sweeten your reminiscences of Paris when you return home.


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