Paris at Night
The city comes alive when the lights burn down
I arrived in Paris from Avignon after a long train ride that sped across the French countryside like a boat at sea. I met up with my two friends who had arrived earlier in the day from Frankfurt, Germany at our hostel on the north side of the city. Our hostel overlooked a wide canal, shared between an assortment of eclectic houseboats and dingy commercial ships. This area was home to a few college campuses and this was apparent by the influx of young people lolling about by the canal, strumming on guitars and spreading soft cheeses on crackers under the blue skies.
By the time I was reunited with my companions and checked in, the bright sunshine had faded to a golden hue in the advancing dusk. We decided to hit the town. Since none of us had ever been to the City of Lights before, we didn't set an agenda, instead choosing to meander among the labyrinthine streets, soaking in the Parisian atmosphere as the city prepared for nightfall.
We took a subway into the heart of the city center and disembarked a stop away from the Louvre. Reaching one of the many bridges which span the Seine, we were able to see Notre Dame behind us and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We went to Notre Dame first and stood in the majestic building's shadow as the facade was lit up from grounded spotlights. However, the interior of the cathedral was closed so we put a more formal tour on the backburner and turned towards the Eiffel Tower.
From our position on the Île de la Cité we were able to just see the tip of the tower as it poked above the buildings like a submarine's periscope. At night, there is a searchlight that revolves at the top of the tower, briefly illuminating sections of the city as it makes its sweeping arc. We fell just short of the light and decided to make the trek across the city to see the tower up close. On paper, the walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower is approximately four and a half kilometers, in person, on that warm night in central France, the walk felt around the corner. Along the Seine were the compartmentalized stalls of street vendors who try and entice passersby with promises of hidden jewels, folded deep inside the dark green wooden crates. Paris during the day is everything you would expect: open-air cafes, plentiful museums, street artists, fashionable Parisians sporting long coats and small dogs. It's all there and I would come to love it in the following days. With that being said, Paris at night is a completely different city.
Instead of a dull excitement which exists among the tourists during the day, the locals put a charge into the narrow, cobblestone-lined streets. We passed a myriad amount of boisterous cafes that spilled out onto the sidewalks. We saw huge party boats, laden with well-dressed Parisians, floating down the Seine; lights flashing from the packed dance floors inside. We were able to walk the length of the Louvre and stare up in awe as we proclaimed it "the biggest building in the world" (later in the trip, we would see the accuracy of this statement). Finally, after passing Michelin-starred restaurants and foreign embassies, we stood at the entrance to the grounds of the Eiffel Tower.
After the sun sinks below the buildings and it's shadow is finished reflecting off the dazzling canals, the Eiffel Tower comes to life. At the top of each hour the Tower sparkles for five minutes like the inside of a disco ball; entrancing those on the lawn and straining necks as the onlookers peer up to see the Tower against the cloudless sky. The sparkling tower is the closest thing I will see to a star on Earth. The image is mesmerizing; it even distracts you from the hawkers selling replicas and cheap wine who slither from one potential customer to the next.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night was my favorite part of my time in Paris. There was something so vindicating and visceral about the event that struck me and forced me to sit down on the grass and simply look for an hour. That sight and those feelings will stay with me for a long time.