Paris.. this city evokes a myriad of emotions in the hearts of travellers, tourists and locals. And those emotions have a wide range from awe to puzzlement.
Parting from Paris was bittersweet. But lets start at the beginning.
My regular readers know that I met Kevin, an Irish gentleman, in Bratislava last winter. We went to Vienna Christmas market and parted with a promise of meeting again.
We kept in touch and decided that Iceland could be a good idea for next trip. As I looked into the visa process I was quite disappointed to learn that I had to send my passport over to Danish consulate in Ottawa to process which could take upto 45 days and since we wanted to go during easter break it was not enough time.
So, it was back to the drawing board. We contemplated several options: Caribbean : too hot in April, London: won’t be travelling for Kevin, South America: Too far for Kevin and not enough time, so we landed on Paris. A city not yet seen by me or Kevin.
The visa process was simple enough and on March 29th, after a crazy day at work, I was on my way to Paris.
March 29th: Enroute to Paris
I ended my last work call at 5.30, boarding started at 5.40 p.m.. Leaving unfinished business on work front is not my style, but I didn’t have a choice. I got on the plane and reassured myself that my capable PM will take care of things.
I was flying Air France and they had impeccable service, they even have small printed menu for their food, so pretty. The staff was attentive, helpful and upbeat. A world of difference from Air Canada!
It was a comfortable flight but I could not catch even 5 min nap. I think i was very charged from work and also excited about Paris.
In past 5 years, I have read most about France, understanding their food, culture, music, movies, fashion!
With open eyes, I dreamt of Notre Dame, walk along Seine. All things French!
March 30th: Landing in Paris
Reality struck when I landed in CDG; I had to stand in line for an hour just to pass border control. This is worse than India. On getting out, I was greeted by yet another line up just to buy the ticket for train to the city centre! Shocking !
In my opinion, this was partly due to Easter break and also Paris being a popular european destination. Each trip has a theme, Chile was bad food, Mexico was crazy schedules, Paris was waiting in lines. If I had to chose a one liner for Paris, it would be: Paris: it builds character.
But despite this, I have to say French people, the employees working in those venues such as airport, transit and other tourists spots were very upbeat and patient.
I managed to get on the train and reached my hostel, checked my luggage in and took a walk around the block, saw a pretty church and then grabbed a coffee at a bistro.
In the meantime, Kevin reached Paris on Eurostar and we decided to go to the main tourist area. Which houses Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, St Chapel, Louvre etc.
We reached Notre Dame and were astounded by a 4 block queue up to go inside, it was so easy to give up. We walked around and found an old city staring back at us with empty eyes, sighing as many tourists trampled past its bosom.
The Gothic architecture makes for a very stark setting. Against a backdrop of dark clouds, the looming towers provided a perfect foil for a mystery or a dark romance.
We took the metro to St. Germain and grabbed a late lunch at a bistro. I ordered a croque monsieur which was disappointing, because I had a different rendition of that in Boston which was way better. Tsk Tsk Paris! Sometimes, I wonder.. as evil as I find America, they do a grand job providing a wonderful twist to other cuisines.
We made our way to Eiffel Tower only to find it cordoned off by steel boards for security. We stood 4 hours in various lines: Security, tickets, 2nd level lift, top level lift, All the while suffering through wind and rain. As we stood in the line, I asked Kevin , how long did he think it would take, to which he replied, I dont know!
Was it worth it? Not 4 hours of beating that we took. Yes, we had a stunning view of Paris from the top; but as far as views go, have had better. Coming down was easier, we then walked across to a bar and had wine and then took a bus back to Gare Du Nord. We took in the sights of Paris from the bus and it was beautiful, but we remained unimpressed. Partly due to Vienna hangover.
March 31st: City tour
Due to my jet lag, i got up at 11 the next day, half the day was gone. I am sure, Kevin was not pleased but he seemed pretty ok for a person who had been up for 3 hours sitting in his bunk bed reading a book while Paris awaits exploring!
I quickly got ready and we made our way to the Champs-Élysées, along this street, there are many points to explore such as the Cleopetra’s needle, arc de triomphe , etc. We spotted Angelina, which is this famous place for one of the best hot chocolates in the world, as yes, you guessed it. There was a mad rush right at the front!
Just our luck that we ended up in a shady restaurant at the back of an alley with sub par food. I was beginning to build a slow burning resentment towards this city and more importantly towards anyone who thought Paris was this heaven of fashion, food and culture. I wondered out loud, is this really the best Paris has to offer in term of food? to which Kevin replied, I dont know!
I had decided to get something for my mentor and manager at work and thought chocolates from Paris would be very appropriate , i tried to ask Kevin of his opinion of a store off Champ-Elysees and he replied, I dont know. I was getting fed up this reply so explained it is a common practice in several culture including Canadian to start a conversation with a question and its ok not to answer in facts but in opinions. He learnt quickly and provided me his opinion the next time I asked a question. 🙂
Kevin looked up a walking tour which was to start at 3 and we decided to catch that. The tour guide was Irish and very entertaining. We started at the St. Micheal’s square and he took us to important sites around explaining the history of Paris right from inception with a Celtic community called Parisi settled here as a fishing tribe. They were later attacked by the Romans who gave Paris its name as a salute to the bravery of the opponents.
The city is divided into two parts by Seine, and joined across by 37 bridges and each and every one of these bridges provides scenic vistas of Paris from various angles. Each side boasts of imposing structures of significant historical importance.
Paris is a city to be marvelled at by History buffs. Anyone who is not into history is just lying that the enjoyed Paris. Or else highly superficial and a complete tourist. As far as beauty goes, Paris is not my top 5, it is smelly, dirty, unkempt. It pales in comparison with Vienna, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon.
The tour guide also gave an overview of the history, gave recommendations on which spots to visit etc. He ended the tour at the statue of king Henry who was killed in an assassination.
I won’t say Paris is any different or special if you compare with any of the other European capitals of the west, all were influential, opulent, colonial, scarred by world wars, declined in supremacy against USA in that order.
One thing I missed was greenery, parks or any areas where people can enjoy outdoors in the city. there were few parks around the city centre, but more like patches of garden than a proper and planned green space.
After the tour ended, we went to Arc De Triomphe commissioned by Nepolean who didn’t live to see its completion, It was later used for a march of victory by Charles De Gaulle.
At that point, I was bone tired and so was Kevin, we walked into a beautiful hotel and decided to have our dinner there. It was an expensive affair. 128 Euroes for drinks, appetizers, mains. For 200 CAD, it was steep and nothing exceptional. We felt so under whelmed. I felt like a fever coming on and suggested that we call it a day.
I was dead as I laid asleep. But then I woke up at 12.30 to the loud music from our hostel club and thought of waking up Kevin to see if we could talk to pass the time. I shook him and asked , are you sleeping.. and he replied testily.. I was untill now!
I retired back to my bed and stared at my phone till i was tired and fell asleep.
April 1st: Versailles
I woke up at 9 with a start and kicked right into action as we had decided to go to Versailles that day.
We took the train to Versailles, the day was chilly and grey. But there was a promise of musical fountains turned on special occasions , Easter being one of them. We considered ourselves lucky while the Gods in heaven laughed on our folly!
On reaching Versailles , we saw a procession leading to the the palace. Hundred of people in droves were walking to the Palace. On reaching we found out that there was a wait of 3 hours to get inside the palace. 3 HOURS!
Needless to say, I had lost it by that time, I started to show my displeasure at the person who informed us, as if she was personally responsible for this. Kevin remained calm and maybe secretly enjoyed my consternation at the long queues.
And this was after we had planned and bought the tickets the night before. Fat lot of good it did. Resigned to our fate, Kevin suggested that we go check the gardens out first.
He dragged me in fuming and kicking. As I stood on the steps of the palace overlooking the garden, the wide expanse of the gardens, fountains, and the lake calmed me down, or just defeated me.
We took a walk and enjoyed the musical fountains, took in the sculpture all the while hoping that the crowd would have thinned out for the palace. Kevin was very confident and I kept telling him , he is dreaming and as usual i was right.
Back at the entrance we saw 10 lines of long winding queues. I decided to stand in the (another line) line of the cafe to grab sustenance, Kevin stood for the palace. Divide and conquer. 40 mins later, I joined him, we went through several emotions for 2.5 hours, shock at the no of people who had turned up, the fact that no blogger ever mentions this ridiculous line ups when they talk about Paris and so on we bitched relentlessly. First world problems.. right? !
As the line trudged along, we chatted, joked, tried to make the best of it. At last we were at the door steps. Our enthusiasm was tempered considerably as we realized that we were going to be back to back with 200 other people as we walked along the path that they had cordoned off. Many selfie sticks were stuck into our faces, poked in our backs as we tried to look over people. Hall of mirrors, where the treaty of Versailles was signed was exceptional. It was ornate, gorgeously decorated with murals and designer mirrors reflecting off each other across the long hall.
We went up and spotted another location of Angelina. Kevin joked that it saved us another queue up. I found myself not laughing at that point.
We waited with bated breath for the chocolate only so Kevin could declare that the one in Bratislava’s unpretentious cafe was better. I had to agree. This was good, but.. we have had better. The dessert was also nothing to write home about, I say this, as I write about it in my blog. Irony!
It felt like we desperately wanted to fall in love with Paris, but it kept fighting us, testing us, taunting us. Defeated, we made our way back to Paris.
Just so the day was not a total loss, I suggested we should take a boat tour along the Seine at night. By that time, we had grown so resilient that the sight of a line up didn’t deter us, in fact, spurred us on. As we stood up for the line, we met two girls who had been in our walking tour the day before, they sold us their tickets to the tour as they had a package deal in which this was included. We were very grateful to skip at least one line up. Even so, we missed the 8 pm tour, but caught the next one.
The commentary on the tour described the sites as they appeared and sure it was pretty but hyped up by bloggers. For me, it was another of the check mark for Paris, been there done that, not impressed.
We caught the shimmering Eiffel tower at 10 pm. The tower is set to shimmer at 9,10,11 and 12 at night everyday, which makes for a pretty picture.
As 10, we had had enough of Paris and decided to call it a day.
April 2nd: Louvre and Moulin Rogue
Today we had decided to tackle Louvre and the Moulin Rogue at night. Keeping it simple.
No prizes for guessing what we saw as we entered Louvre. The blasted queues! Partly it was my fault for not waking up earlier. My quiet grumblings turned into full on rage on this city.
I went on a rant on everything and everyone, at which point Kevin asked me to shut up. We had a row and walked off from each other in opposite direction. He went in direction of Notre Dame and I found myself walking back to Louvre, without a map or internet.
Then i walked to Notre and tried to look for Kevin in the long line up, considered shouting his name, but considering it is a fairly common name, gave up. Then i went to St. Chappel thinking he might have gone to the shorter queue.
Not finding him there, I swallowed my pride and texted him that I am stuck and if he wants he can find me at the St. Chappel queue. Notice that I mention the queue, not the location itself. 😛
Needless to say, I felt extremely sheepish at that time, having walked off in fury 10 mins before. Although I told him that i needed the maps, but in reality I did miss his company and calming effect. I felt relief, joy and comfort when I saw him walk towards me.
This city had unsettled me so much, I needed something / one familiar to feel comforted. I hugged him and apologized for being a c*** (his words). As we stood in the line, he quietly suggested that maybe we should head back to Louvre for our 1 o clock entrance. I agreed and on the way he took me a small street market which was selling trinkets. I bought one and Kevin noted that I was smiling, meaning I am was somewhat normal now. of course I was normal. I never was not ok. Its just very normal of me to fly into rages like a dragon breathing fire at real or perceived unfairness and then be a complete playful puppy. hehe!
We were admitted early to the museum and went into the bigger glass pyramids and I fell down the stairs majestically making a fool of myself. With Kevin and I burst out laughing, the morning was so tense, it was good to release the tension. We had a mission: to be in the 20% of the public who sees something other than the Mona Lisa. So we tottered off to find Venus De Mello, then to Egyptian exhibit, then to South American one, and finally to Mona Lisa. A crowd was gathered around it and only view we had was a sideways one.
Now, having processed it , I kind of get why it became so famous. For sure, it was stollen and then got huge publicity on recollection from Italy. But most importantly, very few times, a common person (real or imaginary) has been depicted in paintings of that era. Mostly the painters focused on god, angles, landscapes, themselves (Van gogh), royalty. So it was interesting that Da Vinci could feel confident that by painting a mere mortal he was not going to become a common painter. And that is the beauty and greatness of art, its not what is , but what it is depicted as seen by the artist.
Another significant discovery for me at the Louvre was the Easter Island heads, Maui, which I hd seen in Chile. It was like my travels had come a full circle!
The collection is massive, impressive and just mind blowing, anyone who has gone to Paris and not to Louvre should make another visit. It truly is the best Paris has to offer.
We went in search of a good restaurant for lunch and landed on one at the Champs-Elysee. After a glass of wine, food, and tiring walk, i was ready to sleep.
I woke up at 6.30 and got ready for the show. We walked to Montmart, as we turned a corner, we saw Sacre-Coe church imposing itself on the city. We decided to walk up and Kevin was accosted by a bunch of Africans who wanted to sell him stuff. One of them tried to stop me, and I glared straight at him while calmly asking him to mov away and he complied. I almost went to rescue Kevin, but he managed to escape. Poor white guy! lols
We went all the way up to the church and were rewarded with a beautiful site of the city on the outside and a tranquil high domed ceiling on the inside. We waited for the darkness, so we could see Paris in the night from the top. Even though rain took the edge out of the view, it was much appreciated.
We made our way to the performance but decided to grab dinner and drinks on the way. We chatted about our new room mate.. who was rather special in that she was a lunatic. lols! Kevin told me all about her stalking and crazy dating , information he collected while I snored blissfully. I had only managed to catch the tailend of the conversation where she was asking Kevin about my star sign , and had thought I was Taurus. Which is extremely funny, because taurus are supposed to be calm and cool headed. Boy, I really give people wrong impression. But what must I do, start yelling when I first meet them? Above all, I am reasonable!
On our walk to MontMart we realized that it is the red light district of Paris, not a surprise because Moulin Rogue was the yesteryear s strip club. What was gauche in past is sophisticated now! I dread to think of what my kids will think of porn from this era!
The theme of the line continued, we were brought all around the theatre and finally to the entrance. The hall is lit in stark red light, and tables are arranged on several levels so everyone can have a good view of the performance. Beautiful lamps, furniture, rugs give an air of opulence and remind you that enjoying naked woman was not so pedestrian in the past. I say naked woman, but fact is that these are some really talented individuals.
The show started with a foot thumping no. There several high points, most popular being a daredevil act of skateboarding, then a funny juggling act and a eye popping moment when the performer was thrown in a water tank full of cobras.
All the while, we drank champagne, it really was the perfect night!
Kevin suggested we Uber to hostel due to it being late but I was too drunk and felt like a daredevil myself, forcing the poor guy to walk 30 mins to the hostel through some pretty dangerous streets of Paris lined by drug dealers and prostitutes.
April 3rd: Alternate Paris
Today was our last day in Paris, so we wanted to do the alternate Paris. And most importantly i was anxious to go shopping. We headed to the shopping district and grabbed breakfast at a high end cafe right in front of the Opera house. Kevin wanted to try a tea place and I promised him we would go there later, i feel bad that we could not. 😦
We went into the Opera house, then walked into Gallerie Lafayette , a huge mall, very pretty from inside. But overwhelming to shop at. We were quite jaded and then Kevin just asked me to follow his lead. He took me to Charoun, a hip cool district , with cafes, bistros and boutiques lining up the streets. I was in paradise and went from one store to another, falling in love with a leather jacket. It was pricey so we thought we will grab a coffee while I mull over the possibility of buying it.
In the end, I decided to buy it. My trip was finally worth it. I had been looking for a simple but elegant leather jacket since an year and this neat and warm Scandinavian piece is a timeless classic. And not just pretty it is utilitarian , functional and lends an air of easy sophistication and instant glam at the same time.
We walked through the various parts of Paris which were much better than the usual touristy crap. We had a glass of wine and took shelter from rain. Then we walked back to the hostel; in the meantime I had managed to take offence as Kevin’s innocent remarks. he said he preferred to travel alone after this experience, on one hand I agreed, cause we certainly see travelling in different lights, on the other hand, I don’t, because he would not have been better off without me, he would still be standing in line ALONE! not having gone to Moulin Rogue! Not having gone to Alternate Paris !
And same goes for me too, had it not been for him, I would not have gone to Eiffel Tower, Versailles , I would have given up at the queues. So, I think we enriched each other’s experience and it pissed and hurt me in equal measure that he thought otherwise.
I contemplated branching out on my own and leaving him to his devices for that evening. But I felt it would be very immature to start a fight and lose a friend. So I came up with a plan to hit the bars and try something new. He was on board and we proceeded to the north east area.
We went to Mama Shelter, hip bar and grabbed drinks, chatted about Paris, about ourselves, and laughed on our silly fights. I was happy that we reconciled and was enjoying the night. In the evening I had talked about having moroccan cuisine and lo and behold as we walked from one deserted and nondescript street, we came across the no. 1 moroccan restaurant in Paris. A small , unpretentious little nook with gracious hosts. Angana was one fo the best Chicken Tagines i had, all prepared with love and attention by his wife, Fatima. We conversed in broken French, English and gestures. And they were so thrilled to know that they were no. 1 ! I highly recommend branching off from the beaten track..
As the night was young, we decided to end with another drink and walked back to the boutique area that we had gone to in the afternoon. But since it was a Tuesday, it was dead and not at all appealing to sit outside, besides I was starting to feel sleepy from a full stomach.
I packed my stuff as we reached hostel and slept off.
April 4th: Back to Toronto
Kevin woke me up at 8 and i changed quickly and was ready to leave at 8.30, we grabbed breakfast and chatted away. He bid me adieu and we promised to look each other up if were in London or Toronto.
I battled at the airport with blocked entrances, long queues, lack of signage, with 30 mins left to departure I managed to buy myself a beautiful scarf from Longchamp.
The flight was delayed by 2 hours but after an uneventful journey, I stormed in Toronto.
It was bittersweet for me.
On one hand, I was glad to be coming home, happy i made a great friend for life. On the other hand, I felt like Paris slipped through my fingers like quicksand. It felt a lot like dangerous liaison with a stranger, you just don’t know where you stand with them, They have shown you enough to want to go back, but you wonder if going back would mean a entanglement that you will regret or finally a happy ending?! 🙂