One year in Paris

Paris is one of the biggest cities in Europe with a long story to tell. Most of the time it will be a love story, but you might not fall in love with the City of Love at the first glance (most French people do not like it either). My first time in Paris was in 2013- two short days just to get my visa for my European Volunteer Service in FYR Macedonia, and I did not fall in love with the city. Two years later and I was back for a longer spell. Paris was the destination of my first internship. I had not chosen the city, but rather was sent there with no other option. 

I was in Paris during the attacks. Luckily not ‘“there”, but I was not far away. A terrible night and an awkward week that left Europe in shock by what happened on November 13th. Paris was not Paris.  A desert city on Saturday, a city frightened by any rumble-tumble on Sunday and a suspicious city commuting during the week. For a moment Paris was not the City of Lights, was a city of darkness. No one expected that, no Parisian has ever seen their lifestyle attacked. The city recovers, but it does not forget.

The Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21) was held in the suburbs of Paris where an historical agreement was achieved. Paris was Paris again. The French capital was again leaving its mark on world history. While the auspicious agreement has been ratified by almost all member-states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), this is still not enough.

Being Portuguese, I have to refer two more historical events. For the first time in Portuguese history, a President of Portugal celebrated the National Day outside of Portugal. Portugal’s National Day is a day to celebrate Camões, but also the Portuguese communities who live abroad. Paris, being home to more than one million of Portuguese citizens and descendants, was the right city to celebrate the date. The other historical event to take place in Paris was Portugal beating France to win the UEFA European Championship for the first time in their history.  One of my happiest days in Paris.

While these are historic moments that made my stay in Paris different, I had other great moments- the big metropolis has always something happening: festivals in the streets, music at museums, Christmas lights and markets, amazing gardens, and shopping everywhere. Something that cannot be missed, however, is sitting on a terrace with French wine and a cheese board overlooking the daily life of Parisiennes.

Paris is also home to the well-known Louvre, where you can get lost for hours and are still not able to see all the rooms. And do not try expressing admiration for I. M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid that has stood outside the museum since 1989- the French deteste it, just as they did the Eiffel Tower after it was built for the Exposition Universelle in 1889. But can anyone now imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower? No, we cannot. The Eiffel Tower is now the city’s lighthouse that makes the nights of Paris even more beautiful.

Paris is also a city of small and nice places. Around the Marais or Montmartre you will find unique neighbourhoods with special stories that will make you feel like you are no longer in a big city. La Villette has the modern spirit of the city, while the Île de la Cité preserves the origins of Paris. Small parks in the middle of the city like Buttes-Chaumont, Montsouris and Monseau are the perfect escapes for a picnic or a run. If you are brave enough, it would be worth running  from the Louvre to La Défense, crossing the Tuileries, Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe.

If you are going to Paris you cannot miss The Orsay Museum and the Pompidou Centre, the amazing French crêpe in front of the Cité Internationale Universitaire, and squares like Place de la Contrescarpe and Place du Marché Sainte Catherine are the ideal place to enjoy a glass of wine. The Place de la République is also a mandatory stop, and has been the place of many demonstrations and memorials. In the Canal Saint Martin you will find the perfect places to brunch after having partied the night away in one of the many clubs in the vicinity..

Paris is still not one of my favourite cities but, after one year living as a Parisien, I have to confess that it is not that bad.  As the famous Portuguese Poet, Fernando Pessoa, said once about Coca-Cola “primeiro estranha-se, depois entranha-se” which means "at first is strange, then it becomes entangled”. This is how I feel about Paris. I did not liked the city when I first arrived, but I learnt how to like it, and I must admit that now I kind of miss it.