Take in the charms of a city that straddles beauty and bling, romance and reason
Within 20 minutes of entering central Paris, it becomes clear that every gushing cliché about this city is true. We're lucky to be visiting in late April when the flower beds that surround every open-air café are bursting with colour.
The tour begins at Trocadero, a popular public square with a view of the Eiffel Tower, dotted with activists' posters, skateboarding children, dog-walkers and dancers.
On the way to the Arc de Triomphe, a dramatic landscape comes into view — gargoyles sprouting from balconies, gold-edged window sills glinting in the sunlight, an Egyptian obelisk and of course, stunning Renaissance architecture.
The National Academy of Music is a spectacular building with countless exquisite carvings and it seems surreal when strains of music are heard in the background (the notes are traced to the artists' entrance where a few students are jamming with trumpets and clarinets). At the Notre Dame Cathedral, we're greeted by goose-bump-inducing stained glass art.
Hours later, we wade through the bustling crowds at the Louvre museum and realise that the best way to escape the chaos is to move away from the signboards pointing to Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa. Since the latter is a must-see, we eventually brave the mob to get a split-second glimpse of the bemused woman staring down at camera-clutching tourists.
Just a stone's throw from the frenzy is a much-needed breather in the Tuileries in Rue de Rivoli, a never-ending spread of lush gardens and serene fountains where Parisians in lawn chairs relax under the afternoon sun's rays.
The next day begins with a cruise along the river Seine (where a part of the movie “Before Sunset” was filmed) and though it is accompanied by a multi-lingual commentary, most of us skip it and focus on the sights along the way. After the ship docks, we take a stroll along the picturesque Champs Elysees.
We pass a cluster of purple flowers and nestled in the bush are two letters in cursive writing (one in English, the other in French) — “Dear passersby, we hope the fragrance of these flowers inspires passion in people. Touch them, smell them but please don't pick them. This way, the next time you see me, I will be bigger and prettier”.
When we reach the Eiffel Tower, it is still daylight (7 p.m. could easily be mistaken for noon) and it looks skeletal, like a gigantic work-in-progress, but Paris without make-up is just as exquisite. An exasperated Indian souvenir salesman is saying “Come on, Auntyji” to a potential customer after a 30-second tug-of-war in fluent Hindi.
Unmindful of the bitingly cold winds, visitors wait for hours for the sun to go down and the tower to light up, first with neon lamps and then with the twinkling white stars that shoot up and down the monument.
Across the street, a cotton candy machine churns out giant balls of pink fluff and a flock of good-natured pigeons gratefully accepts popcorn from children on a carousel.
Despite being overrun with tourists, Paris is one of those rare global cities that has not acquired the generic fast-food look that most others have.
The city is lovable for its ability to straddle beauty and bling, romance and reason. Skyscrapers are mostly confined to La Défense, the business area, and regardless of whether a building is home to a Gap store or an insurance company, it has character, flaunting wrought-iron grills, pretty brick walls and blossoming vines.
It's no surprise then, that people across the universe would much rather visit the City of Light during this season than any other. Springtime in Paris is quite a performance.