I’d never thought of myself as a “Paris girl.”

I love French food, the French aesthetic, and the French Bulldog, and I am an enthusiastic fan of “Emily in Paris.” But for some reason, visiting France stayed tucked away as a “someday” scenario. I consider myself a bit of a Europhile, but carving out a travel-heavy lifestyle hasn’t quite come together…yet. But a few months ago, the forces aligned and I found myself with five days to revel in the sights, sounds, and smells of a surprisingly “me” kind of place. And I discovered that I am, indeed, a “Paris girl.” 

When I plan a trip, there are usually three major things on my mind: what am I going to photograph, what am I going to eat, and how can I experience the true essence of my chosen destination? Since I’m a visual person, I had some ideas as to what I thought a trip to France would look like, and I was dying to see a new place through my lenses. If you know any photographers, I’m sure you’ve seen us spend entire trips with a camera covering our faces…finding the right light/angle/vibe. It’s all-consuming. Truthfully, it’s a consumption that I revel in, but admittedly, it can get in the way of experiencing things.

With that in mind, I wanted to feel Paris. That’s exactly what I did. I felt it. I breathed it in, I tasted it, I listened to it. I communed with it.

With my sister Alison as my compatriot, I walked, cycled, and at times hobbled the cobblestone streets of that magnificent city. There were days that we covered more than 13 miles on foot, and once I realized that we were going to need a faster way to get around, I decided to do as the Parisians do and grab a bicycle. The skeptic in me felt slightly unsure at first: would I be able to cope with the traffic? Who was I to brave the streets of a completely foreign city in this way? It only took one glance at the hotel's (en.pavillon-faubourg-saint-germain.com/) classic French, basketed bicycles to convince me that I MUST ride. After all, how could I pass up the chance to be a bell-dinging tourist with a basket full of baguettes for a le petit dejeuner?

Cycling in Paris was invigorating – a perfect way to see the city as the locals do, joining their mad dash through the wildly tight corridors. With the wind in my hair, the sun on my face (unseasonably warm for November), and my newly purchased rare and exotic perfume wafting around me, I felt reborn. Try www.jovoyparis.com for the best perfume experience. Side note: the puppy and its person in the picture below must have lived in Saint-Germain-des-Prés; I saw them together every day learning to navigate city life.

I promised myself that I would immerse all of my senses, which meant more just "being" and less camera-bound. And as I acclimated to this glorious city full of everything that I love – ancient architecture, gritty and gravelly textures, intoxicating smells, and delicious treats – I found myself being very selective when using my camera. 

Being in and feeling my way through Paris helped me be better in more ways than one.

There are a few concepts that Paris embodies for me. The first is harmony. Everywhere I looked I found color schemes of grand design. Vignettes looked perfectly orchestrated, but at the same time, completely organic. Cafes, flower shops, and bakeries all had themes. Often it was harmonious color splashes, delicately thrown together decor or flowers, but sometimes it was just the arrangement of shop items or simply the neutral palette of the city itself that created the harmonious effect.

Everything in Paris has what I would call flourish. People smell good (at least I thought so-it was autumn) and they bother with little embellishments like hats, scarves, and jewelry, yet they remain practical and casual at the same time. The streets of neighborhoods like Montmartre (worldinparis.com/things-to-do-in-montmartre-paris) are lined with enticing window displays, samples, and beautiful versions of daily staples. Service providers seem to enjoy their jobs and go out of their way to provide an exceptional experience.

“Handcrafted” seems to apply to the entire country. Things just look pretty and seem extra special. All the time.

And then there is the preservation. There is so much reverence for that which is timeless, and being enveloped in antiquities is humbling. My favorite display of this was Les Peuces (www.paris-flea-market.com/), the monstrous Parisian flea market that a client friend of mine suggested I put on my to-do list. I am happy that I made the trek to the edge of the city to see it. From quirky tchotchkes to rare collectibles – there is something for everybody.

This wouldn't be an ode to France without some black-and-white images. Here are a few of my favorite doorways, details, and local haunts.

I returned home high on butter and smoggy fumes (it’s the pollution that creates that coveted Paris light) and I can’t wait for my next chance to be there again. The weather had been so beautiful and I spent as much of my time outside as I possibly could. I quickly hit the traditional highlights (the Eiffel Tower, the Gardens, the Seine), but more importantly, I feel like I lived as the Parisian do.

For now, I have my photographs to carry me back to those five dizzying days. If you’re a lover of all things French, or you have been to Paris and want to relive it, perhaps these images will give you a different perspective. If you’re looking for some images that can transport you, check out my full gallery here: kristenvallejophotography.pixieset.com/parisfrance/

Au revoir!