Holiday: Paris (July 9 - July 14)

20 August 2006


A Blue Perspective: Holiday: Paris (July 9 - July 14)

Ah, to be in the World's most romantic city without any romance. Still, you have to make the best of things, so luckily that first day in Paris I had the most awesome smoked salmon club sandwich ever. Mmmmmm ...

Said sandwich was eaten right around the corner from our hotel in Marais – Hotel du Vieux Marais – which we found out on arrival was the gay district. It made for some interesting walks home past the appropriately named "Cox Bar", but it's a great area; full of cafes, Campers stores, and bookshops with titles like "The Gay Vinci Code". And its proximity to Notre Dame can't be beaten; it's probably a ten minute walk? One that was traversed very frequently.

We did a surprising amount the first day that we got to Paris, actually. We met up with one of Lynn's friends from Poland – Martin – who'd already been there a couple of days, so he had the general gist of the area. It was afternoon, but right after lunch we stopped off at the Centre Pompidou, the modern art gallery famous for having its internals on the outside: (ineffectual) air conditioning, plumbing, and assorted other pipes all colour coded to produce a tubular red, green, and blue exterior.

It's also where the public records are kept, so I wandered around the library for a good half hour before figuring out where the stairs to the gallery were. As modern art goes, I wasn't overly impressed by what the Pompidou had. One exhibition featured crappy pixel art on a dozen alternating widescreen TVs, set to some cheesy hard trance. "I don't get it". However, there were a couple of highlights – seeing the giant comb which terrorised Homer in the episode where he has a modern art freakout, and also an architectural exhibition that had an extremely unique way of interacting with the viewer. It displayed a whole number of architectural models set under a glass floor, which viewers walked around on to get a bird's eye view. To prevent smudges from obscuring the work, everyone had to wear elastic boots over their shoes, like there'd been a chemical spill ... it was quite amusing to watch.

Right after that we went for a stroll which turned into a marathon. We were ambulating along the banks of the Seine river when we thought "Why not go see the Eiffel tower?" Lynn and Martin, having been here before, opted to take the Subway, but Rick and I – virginal Parisians – thought it might be nice to see the city on the way. Five kilometres and an hour later, we were standing under the Eiffel tower. Thankfully, it was worth it.

On the walk to the tower, it's ever present on the horizon, and just doesn't seem to get any bigger. The reason is because it's huge, and you're far away. Once you actually begin to get nearer, it towers over you, until you're standing right beneath those huge arches, perpetually gaping upwards at this giant wonder of iron latticework. We'd heard there was a light show right around dusk, so we walked up Pont d'Iena to get a good view from the steps of the Palais de Chaillot. Unfortunately the show is a bit ... well, crap. Basically it looks like the tower is covered in tourists with high powered flashes; "lightbulb static" I like to call it. Still, once that garbage is over, the Eiffel looks magnificent by night: it gives off a golden glow against the night skyline, and the spotlights which perpetually orbit its tip can be seen from all over the city, like a beacon summoning you to worship its magnificence. Actually, it's the French bat signal.

At night is when the carousels around the Eiffel come alive as well. We sat watching the most ornate and beautiful merry-go-round I've ever seen for at least 15 minutes. Double storey, hot air balloons, aeroplanes, galloping horses; it had it all. Great photo opportunity if you have a camera which actually likes nighttime (not mine).

We thought the line to get up the Eiffel tower was a bit long that night, so we vowed to come back in a couple of days. Instead, we opted for dinner, but unable to find an open restaurant at 11PM (mainly due to our ham-fisted searching methods) ended up at McDonalds. The shame. Our first dinner in France was a cheeseburger.

We had a definite tourist checklist of everything we wanted to see in Paris, so first thing next day we were off to the Notre Dame cathedral. One hint when you want to see any landmark in Europe: never go by yourself. Take a group, and take shifts in the line. Because there will be lines. The wait for Notre Dame was about an hour – not too bad – but by this stage I was pretty sick of lines (little did I know that the worst was to come). At Notre Dame, while you're lining up to go above, it's pretty easy for one of your friends to go into the cathedral itself, and that's what we did. It's nice inside, but there's two things I probably don't need to ever see again after this trip: churches, and paintings of Jesus. Notre Dame gave me both. Going up top was way more impressive.

Once we'd survived the line, we climbed up to where Quasimodo had humped away his days. The roof of Notre Dame is covered in gargoyles of all shapes and sizes; clinging to walls and eaves, leering out over the rest of Paris. It's almost a little meditative to stand up there with them and imagine what changes they've presided over while crouched on their spectacular perch. Notre Dame isn't that tall, but Paris is a pretty low-built city, so you get a good view anyway. Oh look, there's the Musee d.Orsay, that's where we're going next! (Cue montage of street scenes, crowds crossing the street, vespas, quick cut to blinking pedestrian signal.)

Each of the museums in Paris presides over its own period of history. The Centre Pompidou covers the 20th century, the Louvre has all your pre-Renaissance, Renaissance and Baroque artwork, and the Musee d'Orsay covers those bits inbetween. Think Monet and van Gogh. From a building perspective, it's probably one of my favourite museums. It used to be a train terminal and they've kept the giant ornate clock which ticked away the locomotive seconds. It's a truly beautiful artefact and fits in perfectly with the cavernous hall it hangs over.

My camera was having issues that day, so I didn't get as many photos as I'd have liked, but there's a fantastic selection of Impressionist and neo-classical pieces in the Musee d'Orsay. Of course, my favourite has to be the lifesize sculpture of an art deco polar bear. I just wanted to hug it (unfortunately the security guard was too alert).

3 hours was just enough time in there – you haven't quite seen everything, but you've seen enough to sate your hunger – before we were ushered out, and in good timing, too, because the World Cup final was on! And us in Paris! What better place to watch France grind the Italians into the ground! Exclamation point!

One of Lynn's friends, a Canadian Dutchman called Brian (gee, she has a lot of male friends, doesn't she?) had suggested a venue in Trocadero to watch the game, so there we were, rammed uncomfortably into the top floor of a Parisian bar while people all around us sang various songs about Zizou. When France scored, we cheered. When Italy scored, we didn't. When Zidane exploded, we exploded. When France lost, we stormed out angrily. It was a bitter night, and there was definitely an evil vibe on the streets that night. Lucky I didn't wear my hat. Curiously enough we ended up at an Italian restaurant for supper. C'est la vie.

OK, so everyone says you could spend 3 days in the Louvre. We were doing it in six hours. I still reckon it was enough.

The outside of the Louvre is an experience in itself. We'd wandered through there on the way to the Eiffel Tower, right as the sun was setting, and it was spectacular to emerge into the main courtyard and see the sun glinting off the surface of I.M. Pei's iconic glass pyramids. There's no denying that the size of the Louvre is intimidating, though, so we had a list of must-sees. Got to remain focused.

The Mona Lisa, meh. I've never been a big fan, and in person it's not any better, particularly surrounded by an impenetrable wall of other sightseers. As I said before, I was thoroughly sick of paintings of Jesus by this stage, so the whole Italian wing was pretty much a write off. Full museum fatigue was beginning to set in. The thing that revived me in the Louvre was sculptures. I'd never been much of a sculpture man, but the stuff here was incredible. Winged Victory, Eros and Psyche, the tomb of Phillipe Pot, some dude and a snake. It was great. So yeah, if you're not anal about your art, you can still enjoy the Louvre in six hours and get to see some good stuff. But if you want to photo document every piece of art in there, you might want to bring your tent.

After our failure to ascend the Eiffel on Saturday, Tuesday was the day we were going to the top, no obstacles would stand in our path. But they tried.

The four legs of the Eiffel tower each act as gates. One of the legs was closed when we went, and one of the legs is reserved for stair climbers. We weren't pussies, so we wanted to take the stairs instead of being elevated in oblivious luxury, but the lines were pretty similar at each of the legs anyway. An hour and a half later, we were walking up one of the legs of the Eiffel Tower. That gets you to the lower floor, and it's great to look down on the queues of people from above and think back to those halcyon times when you were one of them.

There's another level above that – they're not too distantly separated – and that gives you a nice view over Paris. I can remember looking out over Paris and the best sight I saw was a soccer pitch with people on it. So long since I played, man I wish I was on that field. "Hey Rick, you want to go have a kick?". "Sure, you can go embarrass yourself, but I'll just watch". That was the end of that dream. Anyway, you're only at the middle of the Eiffel tower by that stage, there's still the pointy bit to go. But that's another hour and a half wait. So we waited. Ugh. Man I wish my MP3 player wasn't broken.

In retrospect, I wouldn't do that second wait again. Sure, you can say you've been to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, but the view from up there isn't much better than the middle level one. I suppose it's a badge of honour, but my knees weren't feeling too honoured.

After all that standing around, it was good to just sit on the grass at the foot of the Tower and soak in the atmosphere. In the middle of Summer it's a real festival down there – people playing soccer, baking in the sun, juggling devil sticks, pestering you for money – and you just can't beat the view. I wish we had sandwiches.

And there was our tourist checklist completed. Time for some downtime a.k.a. Internet access. Lynn headed off home on Wednesday, so Rick and I were left to our own devices. A bit of shopping here, some lunch there, we even caught a session of Superman Returns with French subtitles, in possibly the hottest cinema on the face of this planet. (Hot as in sweaty, not scantily clad women.) We also stumbled onto one of our best culinary moments in Paris. I can't say I was ultra-impressed with the food in Paris – there were definitely some strange combinations (chicken with dried apples, duck with some weird sweet spices?) – but we did have a great Moroccan experience. With a large circus tent inside, and dyed wads of fabric hanging from the ceiling, how can you go wrong?

Due to inexperience with the menu, we ordered enough food for about five people (reassured by the waiter that it was enough), and it was all beautifully flavoured – couscous with a steaming urn of vegetable stew, roast chicken, meat platter, salad, sultanas, nuts. I couldn't move afterwards. I think that was the night when – after avoiding Cox Bar – we stopped off at another drinking establishment and I discovered Batida de Coco – the best thing you can have in your mouth! Coconut milk, rum, and sugar. Sounds simple, but it's the king of cocktails. Haven't been able to find one in Melbourne, though.

Friday July 14 was the day I flew out of Paris, and had we planned it better I might have flown out the next day because that is, of course, Bastille Day. It was a scarily military city as I left – I was a bit alarmed to be walking the streets with my luggage and have bombers flying low over the city, streets quiet except for early morning gawkers. I expected at any moment for air raid sirens to sound and have barking german shepherds chase me down, but fortunately that didn't come to pass.

It was hard to leave Paris. It's easy to hit all the obvious tourist spots and see the sights, but the city itself is just beautiful. Big sweeping streets, cosy little buildings, and a sense of history that you don't get in Australia. If those damn French people didn't speak French, I could so easily live there. Oh well, maybe I'll just have to learn.

/End trip.

Holiday photos



  1. 1/3

    britney commented on 25 August 2006 @ 19:25

    Well next time you want to go to the city with Romance let me know would love to take the weekend off sometime and fly to the city of love.Been to Paris several timesand always every four years go back love the tower and tourists traps, but always like to make my way to Amsterdam while I am in Europe.

  2. 2/3

    Lars commented on 27 August 2006 @ 03:09

    Many parisians dream of Australia, you could exchange appartments/houses next time.

    btw it is "Pont d'Iéna" with an "i" ;)

  3. 3/3

    Student Organization Guy commented on 31 August 2006 @ 15:57

    Wow, that snake fighting man is classic. Make that the background for those muscle man pictures you can get at carnivals.

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