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Paris will be gay for Gay Games X

by Heather Cassell

The Louvre draws visitors from around the world to see the "Mona Lisa" and other artwork. Photo: Heather Cassell
The Louvre draws visitors from around the world to see the "Mona Lisa" and other artwork. Photo: Heather Cassell   

It had been a dream of mine to go to Paris, and that desire to go to the City of Lights was real as I leaned over my girlfriend, pointing out the airplane window, saying, "Regardez! C'est la Tour Eiffel."

"What?" she asked, not understanding a word I said.

"Look! The Eiffel Tower. We're in Paris," I said, excited to finally be in France. My goal for the next five days was to try not to speak English as much as possible and to soak in Paris.

I did many of the things that first-timers in Paris do. I saw the "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre Museum and checked out the impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay. We dined at the Eiffel Tower and local restaurants and ate crepes and croissants. I spent some time at the famed Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. I saw the gargoyles at Notre Dame and climbed the stairs to Sacre-Coeur, taking in the view of Paris before walking through the artists square around the corner and down the hill through the Montmartre neighborhood to see the Moulin Rouge.

This summer, I will have the chance to be charmed by Paris again when we go for Gay Games X, August 4-12.

My girlfriend will leave me in Paris to entertain myself with all the things I didn't do on my list during our first encounter with the city, while she plays golf at Versailles.

This trip will be our gay Paris trip since we didn't do anything very gay the last time we were in the city. And Paris will never be gayer - an estimated 40,000 LGBTs are expected for the Gay Games, according to officials from Gay Games 2018 and Paris tourism. They'll be flying in from around the world to compete or watch the games. I plan to see Le Marais, the gayborhood; Rue Des Les Ecouffes, where the girls are; the Gay Games village; and museums and cafes with our gay friends, who are joining us on this adventure.

Travelers who have experienced Paris tend to get a little amnesia about the grittiness of the city that is more than 2,000 years old, according to Discover France. I certainly have. Perhaps, it's the gray skies that make the perfect backdrop for taking in the iconic landmarks that make a romantic imprint on a traveler's mind.


Emy Ritt, participation and international relations director of Gay Games X. Photo: Heather Cassell  

Gay Games X and beyond
It's a historic moment for the Gay Games. The games were founded by the late Dr. Tom Waddell, a former Olympian, in San Francisco in 1982. This summer's event marks the first time the Gay Games has ever been hosted in a country's capital city, Emy Ritt, participation and international relations director of Gay Games X, told the Bay Area Reporter when we visited in 2016, a month after registrations opened.

Like the Olympics, Gay Games happen every four years in different host cities, and it is open to every adult. This year, registrations for nearly all the 36 sports, from bowling to dance to golf to track and field to sailing to p├ętanque (France's version of bocce ball), are filled.

"I think that people are really going to enjoy being in Paris," said Ritt, noting that Gay Games and Paris' philosophies align.

Gay Games believes in participation, inclusion, and personal best, she said, which fits neatly with Paris' mantra, "liberty, equality, fraternity," and values of diversity, respect, equality, solidarity, and sharing, said Ritt, 63, a lesbian who was co-president of the Federation of Gay Games for six years prior to joining Gay Games Paris' 14-member team to produce the $7 million event.

Ritt credited Cleveland's team for producing an incredible Gay Games IX four years ago, and for helping the Paris effort.

The city of Paris and France donated many of the venues, and the event has received support from tourism bureaus, among other sponsors and donors, she said.

The games kick off with a more intellectual look at sports and LGBT rights starting August 1. There will be 14 cultural events from cafe talks to a memorial quilt exhibit to gay-themed guided tours of the city to musicians performing at "key offs" throughout the city. Concerts at the Sport Village at the City Hall Plaza, are planned, as well as a fashion show, in a nod to the city being one of the capitals of haute couture.

"It's a life-changing experience," said Ritt. "I think for those who have already been to a Gay Games they can always remember their first Gay Games like it was yesterday."

The games begin August 4 with opening ceremonies at Jean Bouin Stadium and end with closing ceremonies at the City Hall Plaza August 12. Gala events will follow both ceremonies.

What to do
Not everyone will be participating in the Gay Games. For spectators and supporters who are going in part to visit the city itself, Paris offers many things to do.

"There's lots to see in Paris for both women and men," said Ritt. "Paris is a beautiful city and a wonderful city. We know that you will have a great time in Paris."

The City of Lights is also the city of innovation, rapidly changing while retaining its history. During my previous trip, I didn't get to everything on my itinerary. It's just another way Paris entices travelers back to her streets.

One of the first things we did was get up early to get in line to see the "Mona Lisa." Knowing a little bit of French helped, as I simply asked and was pointed in the right direction. When we got to the room, for a long minute my girlfriend and I were alone with Mona Lisa - and the guard - before the crowds arrived.

A full day could be spent at the Louvre, but as magnificent as Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is, for me, seeing the impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay was another breathtaking museum experience.

Some of the newest additions to Paris' museum scene are L'Atelier des Lumieres, Fondation Louis Vuitton, and the forthcoming Museum of Fashion housed at the Palais Galliera.

L'Atelier des Lumieres is the city's first digital museum of fine art located in a restored iron foundry in the 11th arrondissement (administrative district), a working-class neighborhood turned trendy with some of the city's hottest restaurants, galleries, and shops.

Fondation Louis Vuitton focuses on contemporary art from the past 20 years, according to its website, and is located in a unique architectural structure in Bois de Boulogne in the city's 16th arrondissement.

The Museum of Fashion currently only displays curated temporary exhibits from its collection of 200,000 pieces, giving visitors a taste of what's to come when it opens permanently in 2019. The House of Chanel, in partnership with the city, backs the museum project.

Contemporary artists and fashion designers will also be on display starting this spring at the Lafayette Anticipations - Galleries Lafayette Corporate Foundation located in the trendy Marias District.

Paying the price of our dinner at Le Jules Verne at the Eiffel Tower turned out to be a blessing. We dined peacefully as winds whipped around the iconic iron structure and the rain raged against the windows for about an hour during our six-course meal. Before and after the storm cleared, our view of Paris was impeccable - from the sunset to the lights twinkling below us as the tower itself lit up the night sky.

We got our exercise climbing the steps to Sacre-Coeur. The Romano-Byzantine cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was erected on top of Paris' highest peak, crowning the city's most creative neighborhood Montmartre, in 1914, nearly 40 years after construction began. The views are stunning, and the maze of the hilly neighborhood leads pedestrians into interesting galleries, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.

Travelers who are new to Paris will definitely want to take in a few museums and historic sites. The best way to access as many attractions as possible is to purchase a Paris Pass. You will not only receive a discount on the ticket and unlimited metro rides, but you will be placed in the fast track line at all the significant sites. The pass can be purchased online in two-day, three-day, four-day, and six-day increments and mailed to you in advance; an alternative option is to pick up passes at the tourism office.

For those who want to explore the city beyond the sports and festivities, they can find all things to do in the gayborhood, Marais. They can also go to www.parisparis.com or download GayCities app or Damron's Gay Scout or Gurl Scout apps for the latest happenings in gay Paris.

Where to eat
We dined at the granddaddy of touristy gastronomic affairs at the Eiffel Tower and enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Seine, but we also enjoyed neighborhood fine cuisine and eateries in the 9th arrondissement, the Opera District, where we stayed. One of our favorite nights out was at Hotel Panache restaurant, where we enjoyed a wonderful meal with a selection of small plates we shared: French cheeses, asparagus and summer truffles, and a spicy gnocchi. On our final night we enjoyed Moroccan cuisine at Chez Leon. For brunch and dessert, we dined on crepes at Le Petit Pont and La Creme de Paris.

We capped off our nights at Snoobar Restaurant/Les Saveurs du Moyen Orient, a Lebanese hookah bar and lounge, across from our hotel.

Our dining experience was random, which is often an adventure, but with foodies traveling with us this summer, our culinary wish list is growing.

Where to stay
We stayed at Cosy's Apartments Cadet. The apartment was perfect for our group, providing enough space for additional bedding, a kitchen, dining table, and daily housekeeping on a tiny street off Rue du Faubourg Montmartre. The apartment was in a great location within easy walking distance to the metro, which got us to all of the sites we wanted to see.

If you are planning to go to Gay Games X and haven't booked yet accommodations, vacation rentals and hotel rooms are going fast. Gay Games partnered with Misterbandb.com as well as KTS France (contact: paris2018@ktsvoyages.fr) to assist with travel arrangements at a discounted rate.

Getting around
Brushing up on your French will make your trip much more pleasant. Parisians are much kinder if you make an effort to speak French. Rosetta Stone, iTranslate, or Duolingo make it easy and fun to learn other languages.

Walking is one of the best ways to see Paris, but the city is spread out from its center. Getting a metro pass, if you don't get a Paris Pass, will help you zip around the city like a local.


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