Paris revisited: debunking myths, discovering magic

From catacombs to cobblestones, a North Carolinians fresh perspective on the city of light


“Paris is always a good idea,” Audrey Hepburn once famously declared.

Before my journey from Raleigh-Durham Airport to Charles De Gaulle Airport on October 25, 2023, I was besieged with a litany of warnings: bedbugs in hotels, unsafe subways, filthy streets, ongoing yellow vest protests, rampant pickpockets, supposed rudeness towards Americans, and concerns about safety amidst global tensions. They all concluded with a resounding, “Paris is so expensive!”

In response, I packed Vick’s Vapor Rub, a YouTube-recommended bedbug deterrent. My attire included a passport-wallet-pocket combo, worn discreetly, and trusty old sneakers, primed for navigating cobblestones. I wondered, could Paris really be more expensive or unsafe than New York City?

The flight was a pleasant surprise, spacious and comfortable. The hotel, contrary to fears, was devoid of bedbugs. Parisian streets, apart from the occasional dog droppings, were pristine. No protests marred the cityscape. I saw gendarmes and armed female officers, a reassuring presence around landmarks like Notre Dame. There were no encounters with pickpockets, gypsies, or any unsavory characters. Surprisingly, the Parisians were as warm and friendly as folks back in North Carolina, and the city wasn't as pricey as Westchester County, NY. The Metro, though riddled with stairs, was clean and secure.

I didn’t revisit the Eiffel Tower, having seen it before, but its night-time glitter from afar was a breathtaking sight. Notre Dame, now under restoration for the Olympic Games, had informative displays about the fire and its aftermath. Montmartre, once a haven for artists, was now bustling with a more diverse crowd, including Chinese sketch artists. The Sacre Coeur Church, reached by a trolley, spared us the arduous climb up the stairs.

A new adventure for me was exploring the catacombs. Paris's iconic limestone buildings owe their existence to these ancient quarries. In the 18th century, these quarries turned into ossuaries when houses began collapsing into them. The catacombs, a solemn tribute to Paris's past, house remains of historical figures like Moliere and Louis XVI’s sister. Despite the daunting 132 spiral steps down, lack of lavatories, and the claustrophobic feel of the bone-lined tunnels, it was an unforgettable experience.

Emerging into daylight, we sought something more uplifting and found it in Sainte Chapelle’s stunning stained-glass windows.

Our exploration continued with a Seine river cruise, organized by North Carolina Travel in Siler City.

Erika Hoffman and her husband moved to Siler City in 1979 and their four children were born at the old Chatham Hospital. They moved to North Chatham in 2001. Erika has been writing professionally since 2011.