I always believed that I would find my one true love in the most romantic city in the world- Paris. And funnily enough, on my maiden voyage to the City of Lights, I did fall in love, an inexplicable kind of love, with something that changed my life.
The minute I landed, I felt the air around me go through a magical transformation. Paris is home to some of the most beautiful things in the world- the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum with the Mona Lisa, the iconic Arc de Triomphe and so much more. Pairs, I knew you had something special for me.
I lived a fairly hectic life in the capital city, New Delhi. I worked with a digital agency and all my days, and often weekends, were consumed amidst PowerPoint presentations and Excel sheets. I was always calculating and always online, easily accessible to all my colleagues and clients. It wasn’t a bad life but it was exhausting and, needless to say, I was a raging workaholic. I seldom had time to curl in the corner with a book, let alone explore my beautiful city. My Paris trip was a gift to myself, after eight long years of working weekends and burning the midnight oil.
In Paris, I was staying in a hostel close to the iron lattice, Eiffel Tower. With very little time in hand, and the urge to explore as much of the city’s architecture and history, I rented a bike and decided to discover the winding history of this city on two wheels.
My agency life in New Delhi seldom allowed me to enjoy my city, but I was always drawn to its architecture and history. When passing through the bygone areas, I would rattle off about facts and figures and names of rulers and artists that once resided there; I was very interested in the backstory of Chandni Chowk and loved taking my friends around Qutub Minar and the Red Fort. I felt a similar love for Paris, the minute I laid my eyes on it.
While I made a mental note to try all the delicious delicacies that Paris was known to offer, my eyes were marvelling at the city’s landscapes and mixed architecture. I decided to skip a guided tour and discover the city on foot, all by myself. Little did I know that exploring the streets of Paris would turn me into a guide.
Every day in Paris was a new one; my bike took me through the city and I captured everything on my camera, with the hope of retaining all of the memories. I was lucky to have been in Paris on the first Sunday of that month, which meant that Avenue des Champ- Élysées would be car free. My bike was ready to go down most beautiful avenue in the world. I explored the Louvre, strolled through Tuilerie Gardens, admired the Place de la Concorde and took multiple pictures of the majestic Arc de Triomphe. There was a strange energy around this gorgeous avenue, extremely inspirational. It egged me to pull out my notebook and write about all the things around me; the picture perfect street, the many people, the delicious food and Paris at large.
I took out my travel diary, that was filled with food bills and ticket stubs from previous trips, and started a brand new chapter, titled “Discovering the city of lights, one monument at a time.”
My Paris travel journal was filled with information and images. Whilst at the Musee d’Orsay, I was fascinated by its gorgeous chandeliers and the many relics that were nestled in the various parts of the museum. My favourite was the Musée d’Orsay Clock in the main hall, designed by Victor Laloux in 1900; it was said that this has become an iconic symbol of the museum’s rail-inspired past. I also loved that it had the beautiful landscapes by the likes of Monet, Manet, Seurat and Sisley to name just a few. I remember spending hours at the museum space, and, in my journal, drawing parallels to many museums in New Delhi, especially the National Museum and the National Gallery of Modern Art. The more time I would spend at the various museums in Paris, including the famed Louvre with its ‘Mona Lisa’, the more I would interact with the museum visitors, officials and tour guides.
I remember sitting in my hostel room that night, after having spent the day gorging on baguettes, macarons and eclairs, looking at the lit up Eiffel Tower in the distance and wondering to myself if I was ready to take that plunge. After visiting over eight museums and looking at sculptures, paintings and various other relics, I had a keen sense of how one should talk and present a museum to the people around them. I also understood something about myself; that I was a cultural nerd, I consumed cultural content and facts the way a thirsty man would gulp down gallons of water at first sight. I kept looking at the Eiffel Tower and almost as if the city was giving me a sign, the lights began to shine brighter. At that moment, I knew that once I’d return to New Delhi, I’d be saying goodbye to my stressful agency life and starting a fresh new career that would emphasize on a city, my city’s cultural heritage and museums via guided tours. That night, I sat to reread my travel journal, highlighting all of my favourite moments in the beautiful city of Paris, with all its sights and sounds that had persuaded me to change my life for the better.
Having had this moment of epiphany, my Paris trip became more about self-discovery and how I perceived art, heritage and culture. I spent a lot of time by the Seine river, cycling to and forth, admiring the city sights from Pont des Arts. On the days that I gave my bike a rest, I would walk through the many lanes of Paris, armed with a macaroon and my diary, taking notes and trying to understand the French accent. I explored Vitry-sur-Seine, marvelling at its street art that had abstract art, portraits and splashes of colour. I discovered the city through its parks, the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont with its waterfalls, cliffs and temples, was my favourite to collect my thoughts and ideas about how I’d pursue my idea of being Delhi’s foremost tour guide.
My neighbourhood walks gave me perspective and life. Paris’ Montmartre had a rich history and locals urged me to spend the day shopping at the traiteurs along rue des Abbesses, eat some delicious supper from bistro Le Miroir or grab an exotic cocktail at La Famille. The neighbourhood around the Canal Saint-Martin was perfect for charming strolls along the nearly 200-year-old waterway. I even took a bike tour around the Château de Versailles where I went through the grounds’ many forest trails, gardens and attractions like Marie Antoinette’s picturesque hamlet and the Petit and Grand Trianons.
I spent my last night admiring the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower. With the city lit up to its finest, I remember looking at it and reminding myself that I will always have Paris. When I boarded my aircraft to return to New Delhi, I knew that I was coming back as a whole new person.
No sooner did I land had I put in my resignation. In a matter of a few months, I had launched my very own city tours, where I’d take the locals and international tourists through the many by-lanes of New Delhi, filling their minds with tales and stories about heritage and legacy. I spoke to them the way I spoke to myself when I had frolicked through the many lanes of revolutionary art and culture, during my short-lived Parisian life. I urged them to make little travel journals and fill it up with memoirs, ticket stubs, flavours and colours. And often, if I’d spot someone with a twinkle in their eye, I’d tell them about my life before Paris and insist that they take a trip to that beautiful city to figure out who they want to be.
That city, with its beautiful sights, had given me a whole new purpose.
Paris, you have my heart. Je t’aime.
Ishani Chatterji likes to document all her travels using leather diaries, Instagram stories and her Polaroid camera. When she isn't doing that, she can be found indulging in Bollywood movies, watching plays and gobbling sushi.