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An American Progressive In Paris

By       Message Marc McDonald     Permalink
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Time For Some Mindless Fun

After several days of culture-overload in Paris, we decided that it was time for some mindless fun, so we were off to Disneyland Paris.

So we took the train and made the 30-minute jaunt to what I've read is the most-visited tourist destination in all of Europe. Not most-loved. Most visited---and I'd suspect that has a lot to do with the same reason that U.S. cinema dominates on the Continent---that is, vast, overwhelming budgets and sheer marketing muscle.

I have to admit: visiting Disneyland does have its appeal. I guess it did bring out the kid in me. Beforehand, I was a bit leery of riding the intense, state-of-the-art roller coasters, which I was sure that my bad back would never forgive me for. But as it turned out, the rides were a blast, and my back never once complained.

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These are not your father's rollercoasters. They can offer a jaw-dropping, hallucinogenic rush that's simply indescribable. These are the sort of rides that will dazzle even the most jaded teenager. One thrill ride, the "Tower of Terror," aims to simulate the experience of being in a falling elevator. It's not for the faint, or weak, of heart.

Disneyland Paris is pretty much like its U.S. counterpart (although from what I've read, many of the rides are newer and therefore, more state-of-the-art).

Some of the attractions, though seem out of place. For example, the picturesque "Main Street U.S.A." that greets you when you first enter the park. I can understand the appeal of this concept at the U.S. Disney parks. After all, in the U.S., we've allowed Wal-Mart and other monstrous big-box stores to pretty much devastate the downtowns of our small and medium sized cities. So Disney's idealized "Main Street U.S.A." is a welcome trip down memory lane for many Americans.

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I'm not sure how this concept plays out in Europe, though. After all, most of Europe still has highly-walkable, lovely, thriving downtown centers in many of its cities. You don't need to go to a Disney park to get this experience. European cities are by definition pedestrian-friendly.

I wonder how many Europeans who walk down Disney's "Main Street U.S.A." are aware that this idealized version of a U.S. city center is as extinct in America as our nation's once-world-beating passenger trains.

For the most part, nothing like "Main Street U.S.A." exists in most U.S. cities these days. Instead, people get in their cars and go shop at god-awful ugly strip shopping centers, with their endless banal neon signs, ubiquitous fast-food joints, acres of parking lots, and other eyesores.

We then made a visit to one of the city's top tourist destinations: Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, a marvel of stone built in the 12th century.

Needless to say, they don't (and indeed,can't) construct buildings like this any more. It's a lost art. Notre Dame is an amazing symphony of graceful stonework, soaring ceilings and flying buttresses. Curiously, it's one of the few tourist spots in Paris where we don't feel packed in like sardines by the crush of tourists.

Also, refreshingly, there's no entrance fee. We just walk in to the magnificent edifice, with no queues, or any hassles. And if there's anything more impressive that the exterior of this church, it's the dazzling interior, with its soaring arches and stained-glass windows.

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Another pleasant surprise is that (as was the case at the Louvre), there are no rules against taking photos or videos. And Notre Dame was the building that my Nikon was built for. I could have spent months there, snapping away at the endless marvels.

How this enchanting cathedral has managed to survive more than 800 years of wars, riots, rebellions and turmoil, is a mystery.

Our Paris adventure is coming to an end, and we're not yet had a chance to visit the No. 1 tourist destination in the city: the Eiffel Tower. It's quite impressive up close---and even more so at night, when the whole structure is brilliantly illuminated. But the incredible crowds that we managed to avoid at Notre Dame have returned. The elevator to the top is not an experience for the claustrophobic. But the sight that greets us at the top is worth the trip, as we gaze out over the lovely City of Lights.

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The creator of the progressive site, BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com, Marc McDonald is an award-winning journalist who worked for 15 years for several Texas newspapers, including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, before he quit his day job and set up shop (more...)

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