I fulfilled a life-long dream to go to Paris on July 11, 2013. I spent 9 days in the city of light exploring the first couple of days on my own and the following week on a Rick Steves tour.
My initial impression of Paris was that it was a dirty city. Leaving the airport there was a lot of trash on the road, graffiti on walls and signs. It certainly isn't the utopia that tv and movies make it out to be. Having said that, I did enjoy my time there. The people were mostly friendly and they certainly don't deserve the reputation that they have of being snobbish, anti-American and anti-English. In fact, 95% of the people I interacted with were happy to speak English. I'm sure this wouldn't be the case outside of the main city and outside of the tourist areas but, by and large, I had no issues communicating in basic French and finding people that spoke English.
The sights in Paris are something to see. The views from the top of the Eiffel Tower are simply incredible. I lingered there for close to an hour just taking it all in. Napoleon rests under a huge, golden dome that is not to be missed. If you are a fan of military history or want to know more about France and US history during the World Wars, the close by military museum is a must see.
Paris is filled with beautiful churches. But after a while, a church is a church is a church. I could have done without half of them on the tour. The upside is one of the Jewish churches did come with some interesting stories about a handsome priest and how early the young women would get to services to assure their seats closest to him.
The Louvre and Musee de l'Orangerie are not to be missed. The amount of famous artwork (including the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Monet's Waterlilies are located in these museums) in these places are stunning. The crowds at the Louvre, in particular, are difficult to manage. At points, you literally shuffle along inch by inch. Pickpockets are a real problem here. Be sure to wear your moneybelt or hold your purse tightly.
I was incredibly impressed with The Palace of Versailles. Versailles, located about 20 kilometers outside of Paris, was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Words and photos do not do the palace justice. When you see it for yourself, you will understand the amount of tax money the French Kings were spending and how lavishly they were living. No wonder the French people revolted and killed the king.
Being an American and from a very young country, it was difficult to grasp how old things were. We saw city walls, churches, buildings, etc that dated back to the 12th century. As the tour goes on, you also start to see that things haven't changed much in all those centuries. People still lie, cheat and look out for themselves at your expense just like they do today. The history of the church isn't much different from today either. Paris and French history are filled with nobility going into the Church in order to make themselves rich. Not much different from the tv evangelists today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Travel really does open your eyes to things.
The Rick Steves tour itself was very enjoyable. I under-estimated the amount of walking that would be involved. In the 6 days of sightseeing, we probably walked 25 miles. Enough that my knees and feet hurt at the end of each day. I was hesitant to pay a premium for a guided tour but I'm glad that I did. It is one thing to see the sights but it's quite another to have a guide tell you all the history and funny anecdotes that go along with these places. You can't get that from simply walking around looking at buildings.
My 9 days Rick Steves tour in Paris was very enjoyable and the memories made will last a lifetime. I'm looking forward to my next tour already.