If you were to ask most travellers where the heart of Paris lies, most would say the Eiffel Tower without hesitation. Some, perhaps slightly more acclimated, might say Champs-Elysées or the Louvre.
But if you were to ask Sonia, a resident of Paris for the last 30 years and the public relations specialist of the Parisian Hotel Adele et Jules, the very same question, you’d get a subtly different and yet wildly dissimilar response. Embodying that je nais sais quoi only a French woman could, I gobbled up each of her words as we sat across from one another in the quaint and colourful breakfast parlour, during which she gave me an introduction to both the property and the whole of Paris.
Within ten minutes of conversation, I had garnered knowledge on all of the local boutiques, the low-down on the up and coming French fashion labels, and the whereabouts of all the real Parisian hangouts.
“I hope you will not go to the Eiffel Tower,” Sonia said suspiciously. “Palais-Royal, that is where you will find the real Paris.”
My 24 Hours in Paris concept, and reality, beckoned to me, inspired by Sonia’s colourful tales. I meandered first through Passage de Panoramas, an arched passage-way lined with unique, eclectic restaurants and small boutiques, and then made my way towards the great Palais-Royal.
In the heat of the sun, I found relief in the shade of the beautifully manicured trees, and was amused at the quaint rose gardens surrounding the centre fountain. The surrounding shops, an unlikely and yet equally as fitting place for such prestigious designers, amused me. And, finally, I discovered the very spot I’d hope to finally see in Paris. The art exhibition by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, which is reminiscent of a checker board in the middle of the courtyard of Palais-Royal, made for the perfect photography haven.
It wasn’t until later that evening, when the heat of the sun began to wane and the sparkle of just after sunlight hours began to set in, that I captured the imagery and energy Sonia had earlier described.
I’d finished off my 24 Hours in Paris with an uncharacteristic nap, exhausted from the heat and the foot and metro travel that took me all the way to, yes, the Eiffel Tower and back to the hotel. But it was only 7pm on a Friday night in Paris and it was, after all, my final European moments before returning home.
I took to the streets with my camera, grateful for the cooler breeze, and headed back to Palais-Royal for another glance.
Much fuller than earlier that day and yet somehow more calming, I noticed friends and couples sitting on the patios of the open square restaurants before I meandered back towards the gardens, through the path lined by the manicured trees.
I passed two caucasian women and a tiny little blonde haired, blue-eyed girl practicing (to my surprise) Qigong, a form of Chinese meditation involving slow yet deliberate movements often mistaken for Martial Arts. The little girl followed along to her elders movements impeccably, her focus unstirred by my nearby observation.
A pop of a champagne bottle got my attention next. I turned to see two women conversing on a bench, surely celebrating something worth sharing.
Groups of friends played bocce ball with shimmering silver spheres, and further down the corridor, two men practiced their boxing, gloves and all.
I walked slowly, mesmerized, all the while groups of small children chasing one-another about, couples sitting around the fountain drinking wine, and friends gathering with cherry red tomatoes and blocks of French cheese.
In those few moments at Palais-Royal that Friday evening, I felt I’d entered another world completely.
Sonia was right, after all.
Palais-Royal, that is the real Paris.