Paris: Where the stuff dreams are made ofALANA DIXON
Paris is a city of myths.
Other places, like London or New York, might have just as many songs, films, or stories dedicated in their honour as the French capital does. But Paris really does have that je ne sais quoi - that special something, something that's hard to put your finger on.
I think it would be fair to say everybody has an image of Paris in their mind; I'm no exception.
But between the excitement of not only seeing some special faces from back home, Mr and Mrs Mark, for the first time in 2013 and frantically trying to remember some long-since- forgotten French vocab (sorry, Miss Dawson), I hadn't really thought about the fact that I was getting closer and closer to setting foot on Parisian soil for the first time.
The first few days after Mark's parents arrived in London were filled with showing them some of our favourite sights - Little Venice, Camden, Mayfair and the South Bank - in our new hometown.
Then all of a sudden, our suitcases were packed, we were sitting in our seats on the Eurostar, and it hit me that in a mere two hours I would be, hopefully, wandering along the Left Bank, trekking along cobbled streets that conjured images of Hemingway and The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.
My mind was speeding along just as quickly as the train - were my clothes chic enough to be seen in Paris (no)? Would the eclairs be as amazing as I imagined (yes)? Would the crowds of camera-happy tourists snaking around the base of the Arc de Triomphe dull its shine (no)?
Above all, I wondered if Paris would live up to the hype - after all, that's a lot of hype to live up to.
In a city of such mythical proportions, it's easy to think that a visit to Paris that entails zooming to the top of the Eiffel Tower, jostling among the crowds at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, watching the effortlessly and impeccably dressed locals, and schlepping to the top of Montmartre is the best Paris has to offer.
But, as I've consistently been reminded on my travels, it's looking out for the small pleasures that really make a destination sing.
But my lasting memories of my first (and definitely not only) trip to Paris?
The first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. As you turn around a corner of a random road and all of a sudden you're standing on the side of a bridge spanning the crystalline (unsure if this is factually accurate; I may have been blinded by seeing a river that looked clean after being subjected to the litter-strewn and murky Thames for the past several months) Seine, with La Tour shining like a beacon in the distance. I can confirm my jaw dropped. It even beat Main Street at Disneyland. (Trust me, I don't say that lightly. Main Street at Disneyland is pretty frikkin' amazing. Unless you're the Grinch, or a blogger.)
Sidewalk restaurants in little neighbourhoods far from the tourist centre; the chef-slash-owner told us he couldn't sell us wine - curse those pesky laws blocking alcohol sales within 20 metres of a school - but the supermarket down the block could. Cheap red wine + delicious Parisian food + table in the evening sunshine = very happy customers.
Reading the inscriptions scratched or written on to padlocks spanning the Pont des Arts, near the Louvre: couples are meant to write their names on the padlocks, chain them on to the bridge, and throw the key into the river below to show their commitment to one another. Corny, yes, but this is Paris, guys! If you can't be a romantic clown here, where can you?
Monet's water lilies mural at Musee de l'Orangerie in the Jardins Tuileries - hands down the most beautiful art I've ever seen in my life, eclipsing any Picasso, Modigliani or Da Vinci. My parents had a print of The Nympheas hanging in our house when I grew up; seeing the eight murals (which show different stages of the day, from dawn till dusk, in Monet's garden) in the specially designed, light-filled two rooms of the museum was magic. It was everything I hoped it would be.
It turns out, the Paris of my dreams wasn't a myth at all.