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Paris for the First Time




Station F is a business incubator for startups, located in 13th arrondissement of Paris. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Paris is beautiful. You cannot beat around the bush about its beauty. If you have never been, add it to your bucket list or resolve it into a resolution. Nevertheless, do not let the city surprise you like it did me.

I had never been to Europe, so a trip to France was the ideal icebreaker. Never mind I was going when the city was deep in fall and never experienced anything remotely close to winter except the weather up Elephant Hill in the Aberdare Ranges.

I sought advice from travellers who had experienced winter. They told me I would see and walk on snow, but they did not add that the trees look pretty much sick and weak in winter and that the wind hits your face like a brick. Paris was wet except for two days when the sun played peek-a-boo before rain descended.

Then there were these magnificently tailored buildings, in a city so well planned by Georges-Eugene Haussmann and others, after whom a Boulevard is named.

Paris is a melting pot, from the native French, to African, Arab, European, American, and Asian. You name it, you have it. It does not take much to see why it is the most visited city in the world with 24 million visitors annually.

As part of my visit, I was atop one of the biggest, oldest and beloved stores, Galleries Lafayette, a contemporary, urban, hip store that is a major shareholder of the Carrefour Group. Galleries Lafayette’s 120-year-old family history can be seen in the immaculately designed, stained glass dome ceiling at their Boulevard Haussmann store.

Perhaps the most beautiful ceiling you are probably ever going to see in a shopping store. All things French are housed under this one roof, with stores everywhere and easily accessible whether you are using a train, tram, boat, scooter or bike.

Then there is Station F that is a must-visit for any business traveller. Station F is a former train station made into a collective, art space, and start-up studio with acres of space taken up by established tech giants as well as innovators with ideas and a laptop.

Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann, a leading department store and Paris landmark since its creation in 1894

Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann, a leading department store and Paris landmark since its creation in 1894. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

They get funded from Afrobytes, which is managed by Haweya Mohamed, a Somali and Ammin Youssouf from Comoros Islands.

Let us talk about the classic French baguette, with its deep richness and crunchy texture, which the French love so much. You cannot miss a patisserie, every block has one.

Oh! Wine lovers, Paris is your paradise. At every meal, a decanter is set on a table even at a random food canteen in Lyon, a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region. In Lyon, you can see the Alps from the highway and can feel the briskly winds.

However, what Kenyans definitely have that the French could borrow is great tea and coffee. Certainly, a great export market.

No trip to Paris is complete without experiencing Le Paris D’un Grand Voyage by Bateaux Parisiens.

This is a boat voyage offering restaurant dining on the River Seine. It is a great sightseeing cruise experience over lunch or dinner while seeing 12 landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Louvre and Statue of Liberty.

Try to venture out of the ordinary to experience more than the cheeky Moulin Rouge quests, Champs-Élysées shopping escapades, the reflective Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica pilgrimages, or L’arc de Triomphe visits, to find if that is where the true soul of the city rests.

My last sight of Paris was at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport through the rain stained airplane windows reflecting the yellow streaks of light of a wet city of lights, as though it were crying at our departure.

Paris is a fantastic destination for the savvy business person or leisure traveller. There is so much to do in 24 hours, you can barely keep up with everything

Oh, and the romantic bits we all see in classic black and white films, well, perhaps you will enjoy that in the summer.