Long before the ‘saree pact’ or ‘saree challenge’ that happened on social media I took up a challenge to wear a saree. Now before you can say “So what?” let me explain. I challenged myself to wear a saree on my maiden visit to Paris. Yes, I did it for fun, and lived to tell the tale.

It’s not that Indian women do not wear sarees when travelling abroad, our mother’ generation did and today’s generation does it too, but for fun or to look exotic. I confess I did it for both. Can you imagine competing with Parisian chic, well I think only an attire like a saree can beat it. I was ready for the adventure but what my spouse was worried about was that we had decided to discover Paris on foot, well mostly, and I was wearing heeled sandals. We did take the metro to return to our hotel. By ‘we’ I mean us and another couple friend.

Since childhood I have been a Francophile, loved everything French. During my college days, I took to learning French. And here we were in Paris, finally, the City of Lights, on our maiden trip. My spouse’s deputation to UN Police in Kosovo made it possible for us to travel to France. Itinerary for the whole day was planned out, everything seemed perfect, and we were set. We start off with the all-important breakfast at our hotel. Did I get a few curious glances, yes I sure did, I was wearing an emerald green silk saree, the colour was bright and attire was interesting if not exotic. The weather and timing were perfect.

As we neared the Eiffel Tower I was awestruck by how huge it was, I had seen it thousands of times in books, magazines, TV shows and news but nothing prepares you for the sheer magnitude.

First on the agenda was of course the Eiffel Tower. We took the Metro and got down at Bir-Hakiem, the closest Metro station to the tower from near our hotel. From there we walked towards the tower. I was doing fine so far.

Eiffel Tower is witness to the saree challenge.

At the Eiffel Tower

As we neared the tower I was awestruck by how huge it was, I had seen it thousands of times in books, magazines,  TV shows and news but nothing prepares you for the sheer magnitude. I had read that the tower is painted in three shades: lighter at the top, getting progressively darker towards the bottom to complement the Parisian sky. We found a huge queue below the tower; tourists were waiting their turn to ascend to the second floor of the tower. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m (906 ft) above the ground – it is the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the whole of European Union we were told. But most of the time it is off-limits. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second. Climbing the stairs draped in a saree was out of the question so after purchasing tickets for the second level we stood in line for our turn, just near the bust of Gustave Eiffel unveiled by Antoine Bourdelle at the base of the north leg in 1929. It was Gustave Eiffel’s company which designed and built the tower.

When our turn came we took the lift to the second floor of the tower from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the magnificent city of Paris. We looked through the telescope to catch a glimpse of other historical sites in Paris. While we were clicking away pictures from all possible angles and corners of the tower a group of Japanese tourists came up to me and asked if they could get pictures clicked with me. They told me they love what I am wearing and love the colour as well. Well, didn’t I tell you the saree was sure to stand out. Of course I obliged and had fun posing with them.

For those of you who have time, the tower has two restaurants: Le 58 Tour Eiffel on the first level, and Le Jules Verne, a gourmet restaurant with its own lift on the second level.

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After feasting on the breath-taking panoramic views of Paris, we descended from the tower and sat on the beautiful grounds at the base of the tower and later we walked the pathways around it.

From then on the Eiffel Tower was a constant companion, I would keep looking back to see if it’s still visible, yes, it was much like Rani in the film Queen. Only difference was that she was running away from it while I wanted to see it every time I looked back.

It was time to bid adieu to the tower and head to our next destination the Louvre.

The Louvre is big, in fact very big. We did not have the luxury to wander around it aimlessly which can be enjoyable otherwise, but if you like us want to see the major sights or any specific wings, make sure you plan ahead.

Louvre for its architecture, lighting and ambience

When we finally arrived at the Louvre what caught my attention was the glass pyramid. It is an eye-catching piece of creation. After buying tickets we enter the most visited museum in the world which boasts of over 35,000 pieces of art. The Louvre is big, in fact very big. We did not have the luxury to wander around it aimlessly which can be enjoyable otherwise, but if you like us want to see the major sights or any specific wings, make sure you plan ahead. So, we aimed for the Mona Lisa, the Egyptian collection, Winged Victory statue perched atop one of the majestic staircases and the Venus de Milo to begin with and then decide if we could do more.

In front of the Louvre

From here on my feet had started to protest. The heels were definitely not suitable for the Louvre. But I pushed myself, for this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Mona Lisa up close. But wait what’s this, the Mona Lisa has more admirers than I thought. There was a huge crowd in front of it!

All I can advise is to keep in mind that the Mona Lisa is a tiny painting (I was frankly disappointed at the size) that is secured behind bulletproof glass and is separated by a barrier. If you’re thinking of analysing the brush strokes up close like me, you will probably be better off looking at high-resolution pictures of the painting online. After the mandatory photo-op we rushed off to the Egyptian section then to the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory statue. Though we ticked off what we had planned to see at the Louvre we had just seen a fraction of what’s on offer. It needs many many more visits to see the full extent of all that it houses.

When we finally emerged from the Louvre in the distance I saw the brightly-lit Eiffel Tower. Yes, it was evening. The City of Lights was at its romantic best in the evening. It was time for our cruise on the Seine.

My feet were hurting by now and the thought of sitting down for a cruise was more than welcome.

We were informed that there are a total of 32 bridges across the river. We did not glide under all 32 of course but we did under some of the most beautiful ones. Many of these bridges are masterpieces and are adorned with magnificent statues and sculptures.

The Seine River cruise is must for scenic riverfront nights

For a truly romantic Parisian experience, a walk along the banks of the Seine is a must. So before we boarded our boat we walked along the banks and explored the many bridges, sculptures and outdoor bookshops along the riverfront. I walked confidently with my saree still intact, the ambiance was making me do so. I felt proud I knew I had mastered the art of draping a saree now that I had carried it throughout the day while walking all over Paris. What we discovered was that during the day, the water may not be so impressive, but a walk along the banks in the evening reveals the shimmers in the water and reflects the rows of scenic architecture.

Just before the Seine River cruise

We scrambled onto the boat with hardly any waiting time and soon we glided off. I wanted to experience the river from close so I took up a vantage window seat near the door.  Each seat was equipped with a headphone and commentaries in English, French, and other languages were available. The commentary brought alive the history and romance of the various buildings and structures that dotted both the banks of the river very effectively.

As we gently glided in the tranquil waters of the Seine, we watched in awe at the beautiful Parisian landscape. I was thrilled to glide under the bridges that spanned the river. We were informed that there are a total of 32 bridges across the river. We did not glide under all 32 of course but we did under some of the most beautiful ones. Many of these bridges are masterpieces and are adorned with magnificent statues and sculptures.

The boat finally turned and we were headed back towards the Eiffel Tower, from where we started. The brightly lit up gilded bridges looked like bejewelled necklaces on the river. Not long after the Eiffel Tower came into sight and I along with others let off a collective sigh at the beauty that stood tall in the horizon. The tower was visible in its full glory, it was illuminated and it shone with the radiance of a bride all decked up and ready for the most important day of her life. Not for nothing is Paris called the city of eternal romance. The city has the power to make you fall in love for sure.

By now I was ready to retire, ready to take off my sandals change into something more comfortable. I had completed my challenge so it seemed…but wait there was more to come.

The end was not the end  

We headed towards the metro station ready to buy our tickets. But there was one problem, we remembered our hotel name but did not know the general area of its location. There were three or four other branches of the same hotel chain. We did not have the address or a card or the brochure of the hotel. We learnt the hard way that we should carry some details of the hotel when travelling, especially in a foreign country. In which direction should we head was the dilemma. While racking our brains I now had the sandals in my hands, I was walking bare feet with the pleats of the saree held high. What a night! Did Paris seem romantic now? No, definitely not.

Each seat was equipped with a headphone and commentaries in English, French, and other languages were available. The commentary brought alive the history and romance of the various buildings and structures that dotted both the banks of the river very effectively.

Finally, we figured out the general area should be from where we entered Paris from the direction of Lucerne in Switzerland. We were right, we did reach our hotel, and it was midnight when we did.

At the Egyptian section in Louvre

As for me I straightaway headed to the bathtub to soak and soothe my aching feet and body, for I had to ready myself again for another day in Paris to see other landmarks. For another adventure.

So, did I regret wearing the saree? No, I can definitely do it again but maybe this time I will wear my sneakers with it!

Also read: TravelHer: Delphi, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth And Back

The views expressed are her own.

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