Ok, I know what I said the other day, but I think I have a NEW favorite street.

I arrived in Paris scheduled to the hilt: I had 2.75 days to do what was more realistically probably 2 weeks of touring, but by God, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Just I Overachieve At Peace Corps and everything else I do, on that unexpected day when they give out medals for Overachieving At Being A Tourist In Paris, I intended to be on the highest podium. I would give a humorous yet deeply moving valedictory speech and inspire generations. ( I have no off switch, remember?)

But if ever there were a city that encouraged one to crumple up your timetables and toss them over a bridge railing, it’s Paris. I spent roughly 24 slightly stressful hours determined to do things like shoehorn a half-day walking tour into 2 hours before I realized I would be much happier seeing less but taking more time. (And become Valedictorian of Seeing Things Slowly While Eating Crepes. ::cough::) I no longer timed my leisurely ambles and lacked any compelling reason not to spend an hour seated on the edge of the Fontaine Saint-Michel nibbling a pastry and people-watching. I could spend a lifetime in Paris and never see it all, so I may as well enjoy the parts I can.

Fountain of St. Michael

Arc de Triomphe

At the fountain in the Place de Concorde

A bridge near the Louvre, where it is said that walking with your sweetheart, attaching a padlock, and throwing away the key with ensure lifelong love. ( The French generally dispute this notion, and I’m inclined to buy into their worldview on this one.) Serendipitously, I DID have a pair of surplus non-TSA compliant luggage locks in my Mary Poppins-esque purse. However, I had no particular true love in mind at that moment, and choosing someone near at random (“Hot Train Guy”? “Dude With A Gorgeous Accent From The Brasserie”?) seemed inadvisable (what if he’s a serial killer? Or a cat person?) so I just sat on a bench beneath it and watched the happy couples seek out the perfect lock spot.

Lighting a candle in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (and silently dedicating it to the living martyrdom of Pussy Riot. St Joan of Arc [background] knows a thing or two about common folk speaking out against those in power.)

The famed Palace of Versailles. Of the 29 million tourists who visit Paris each year, 22 million of them can be found here on any given day, and 80% of them will be directly in front of you in line as you queue for the loo and/or to retrieve your complimentary audio guide.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been the affability of the people I’ve encountered. No doubt influenced by Hollywood, but also first-person accounts of friends who’ve lived/studied abroad here and fellow backpackers on this trip, I’d been informed that Parisians have a reputation for a certain … aloofness, if you will. The vague surliness of ennui that we would all doubtless cultivate if forced to cope with the inherent hardships of living in a clean, stable city filled with art, culture, reliable public transport, endless excellent food, and accessible socialized healthcare. In fairness, much worse statements have been made of New Yorkers: we’re all loud-mouthed assholes ready to shoot you over a parking spot. (For many people, this isn’t far off the mark, but it’s half the charm of the city.) To quote a friend who spent a summer here, “[There exists a] particular brand of Parisian nastiness that emerges throughout the city. They can be mean, but it’s never without intrigue, if that makes sense; and they’re never so mean that the experience ever approaches unbearable.”

Perhaps it is merely the contrast to Romania that is playing havoc with my perception; there, a woman working an information desk at the train station responded to a polite inquiry with a hostile “HOW SHOULD I KNOW?! ASK SOMEONE ELSE!” and gazed at me with a contemptuous look that said, “Only my many years of training and utmost self-control are preventing me from leaping this desk and throttling the life out of you right now.” My grievous sin in this exchange had been to ask which track number I could expect Train 123 [or whichever] to be departing from. And that is but one of many many examples of the kind of Romanian hospitality there I experienced. So perhaps against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that a waiter’s reply to a statement of gratitude as “Uh-huh” (instead of the “You are welcome, miss” that traditional Southern hospitality would dictate) should be seen as almost a statement of tender affection. Regardless of cause, virtually all of my interactions – from policemen to hoteliers to random people I grabbed in the Metro to ask for directions – have been pleasant.

Booksellers on the “left bank” of the Seine. Here you can browse very old books, prints of art created by Parisian artists, and extremely impressive collections of vintage erotic postcards.

A line of souvenir-selling stalls behind the Notre Dame cathedral, peddling countless identical pieces of mass-produced crap that we all love. In several, I narrowly avoided ejection by leaving on my own, having been scolded by shopkeepers to stop swirling the snowglobes, opening music boxes, or running my fingertips over plaster reproductions of famous sculptures. I am so inexcusably tactile that I could never do so. If you chopped off both of my hands as a preventative measure, I’d probably walk in and start licking things.

My very own mass-produced souvenirs. I would have sprung for the ceramic statue depicting the Eiffel Tower as built from baguettes with a crepe French flag at the top, but I was concerned it would break in my luggage.

There’s a lot to love about Paris, obviously, but one of the things that keeps coming to mind is the hobbit-like existence it seems to encourage. A lot of time seems to pass like this:

1. Eat a freshly-prepared and delicious breakfast, then linger over coffee for it to digest.
2. Explore immediate surroundings. Make plans to visit outlying location.
3. Realize outlying location really is a rather long walk away; find self forced to fortify with another artisanal pastry and large glass of wine.
4. Walk to outlying location.
5. Lunch.

And how can it not be this way? The French culinary tradition is bar-none one of the finest in the world. Rather than gulping down enormous portions of over-fried but ultimately tasteless food, as we do in the US, food is an end in itself, to be savored slowly and with generous pours of wine.

Lunch on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées: traditional Paris crepe of ham, cheese, and egg, with a creamy lemon vinaigrette-dressed side salad and rather ample glass of Chablis, followed by an orange zest crème brulee (not pictured).

Cheese, wine, crusty bread. The basic Parisian food groups.

Don’t quote me on this – Paris is a city that likes to keep her secrets – but I’m fairly certain this restaurant doesn’t actually serve food. When you walk in the door, the floor drops out from under you and deposits you in an underground chamber. There, Paris’s scores of Michelin-star rated chefs take turns hitting you with a cricket bat.

I’m not disappointed that I failed to make it through my entire must-see list. Already I am making plans for my next time in Paris: next time I will make it to Vincennes, next time I will rent a vespa so I can cover more ground, next time I will make a reservation for a 3-Star Michelin restaurant and treat myself to a tasting menu, next time, next time, next time … You see, Paris is not a city like Kigali, or Bujumbura, or Dubai, or Doha, to be ticked off a list in the past-tense with a satisfied adventurer’s smile. It is a place to be revisited and rediscovered as your mood and life circumstances suit. I suspect it genuinely is a place that stays with you, and not in the “Malaria: a gift that keeps on giving” sense.

I’ll be back, Paris.

Count on it.