6 August 2011

Paris, je t'aime?

Paris is one of the most exciting and fulfilling travel destinations. The capital of France, located in the north-bending arc of the river Seine, is everything a traveller could ever want; culture, history, beauty, nature, commerce and if you are lucky, passion. You can gaze blissfully at its broad boulevards, striking monuments, and remarkable, well-known works of art and enchanting lights. You must savour its gastronome variety of fromage, chocolat, vin and nourriture de la mer. Everyone needs to feel the wind in their face as they skate all the way through Bastille, or a frisson of fright and delight atop le Tour d’Eiffel.

Many of Paris' momentous sights are strung down the length of its river, and its quartiers each have their own distinct personalities, so it is surprising how much you can see without covering much ground. All of the most important things are able to be seen in a couple of days, although it is necessary to have copious amounts of energy to do so. I recommend gaining it by stopping at one of numerous cafes you will find along the way for a quick croissant or crepe au sucre.

Our mission to complete the main sights of Paris began on the Metro, travelling to the Champs de Mars, the closest metro station to the Eiffel Tower. Last time I went to Paris, I throughly enjoyed the metro. This time was a completely different story; I no longer saw the metro through the rose tinted glasses I wore on my previous visit. It was dirty, there were homeless people sheltering away from the weather, the doors were a safety hazard and what's more, this time I got pickpocketed. I use the same bag, in the same way on the underground, almost everyday, and it only took less than 24 hours of me being in Paris to be robbed.

La Tour Eiffel, 300m high and the most visited building in the world, it was built in 1889 for the World Exposition, which was held in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution. The tower is eponymously named after its architect and builder Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) who also designed the iron backbone of the Statue of Liberty in New York City harbor. Not only did I see the tower looming ahead of me but I also saw the mile long snakes of people coming from each entrance to the tower. The only queue without a significant tailback was the stairs queue - how hard could it be? We got to the second floor, my legs turned to jelly and I got hit by vertigo, I was shaking and on the verge of fainting, I have never been one for heights.

We recovered from the climb of the stairs and all of the walking with a pastis on the Champs-Élysées, moving in and out swiftly of the chic, designer shops; heavily armed guards giving you suspicious glares as you walk out of the door without a bag. Don’t be alarmed, they do it to everyone. The Champs-Élysées is not a place for those attempting to lead a more frugal existence but fantastic for creating dreams.

We next tackled the Louvre; The Louvre may be the world's greatest art museum - but it's also the one most avoided by visitors to Paris, most just march straight into the main hall, view the Mona Lisa then head straight for the exit. Intimidated by its size and overwhelming opulence, a lot of people head to less daunting galleries. But if you have even the merest interest in the fruits of human civilisation from antiquity to the 19th century, then a stop is essential.

We finished the day with dinner in the Montmartre; I understood why French women remain so slim, I was exhausted and felt my medium-rare steak tartare et frites was well-deserved. We had conquered most of Paris’ main sites within two days, in peak season; it was safe to say I was a little more than pleased with myself and a quick glance a la miroir confirmed a more pert posterior.
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