A Wintry City Break to the Capital of Love
Where: Paris, France. Europe.
When: December 2004
What: Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Moulin Rouge, L’Arc du Triomphe, Pompidou Centre, Paris Metro, Champs Elysees, River Seine, The Louvre.
Country counter: +1 country
Illnesses or mishaps: Narrowly missing our flight home and being bundled into the back of a luggage cart which whizzed us out to the plane arriving only seconds before the doors of the plane closed - a suicide on the railway track was the cause of our delay; being drenched by incessant rain the entire time we were in Paris.
France does not inspire me, it must be said. I think it must be connected to the fact that I'd spent so much of my school life chanting "Dans le weekend, Jai visite La Rochelle" or "Jai regarde la television". I also think that the fortnight I spent living in Dagneux, a town near Lyon, with a French family as part of a French Exchange added to my laissez-faire perception of France.
Paris was nevertheless a city I hadn't been to; it was among the various European destinations on the drop down menu of a number of no-frills airline websites operating out of the United Kingdom and, having already been to a fair few of the other destinations, Paris became the next - albeit rather by default. My expectations were lessened even further when the time drew closer for departure. Blackened clouds gathered ominously over the French capital; I prepared myself for an utter soaking. The epithet "the capital of love" didn't just seem incorrect in this context, but completely absurd. Armed with our padded winter coats and an umbrella we traipsed through the capital, stopping off for a warming coffee (the French are particularly good at serving up an awesome latte) and chocolate-drizzled waffles (somewhat of a culinary motif on 'the continent'). Despite the rain our sightseeing achievements were fairly respectable all things considered; iconic Metropolitain signage, the famed red windmill of the Moulin Rouge, views of the River Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the L'Arc du Triomph (under which Hitler triumphantly marched his army), shopping on the Champs Elysees and the obligatory, if not thoroughly underwhelming, Eiffel Tower. I have always been of the opinion that the icon of France, the Eiffel Tower, must rank as one of the most hyped and over-rated landmarks in world travel. I found it difficult to feel uplifted by its iron girders and bulbous rivets - and not just because the queue snaked around the corner for tickets to take the lift to the viewing platform which sits at the heart of the structure. The tower which helps to put France firmly on the travel map was not uplifting - metaphorically nor literally.
Like many of my earlier travels, my trip to France pre-dated digital photography; I entered the French capital with nothing more than a cheap 35mm camera and a roll of film in my back pocket. This explains the woeful and grainy images featured in this Chronicle. Perhaps I will head back to Paris to give the city a second chance - and photographically, I'll make sure I'm far better equipped. However, I may check the forecast before I book my flight...
Eiffel Tower, perhaps the world's most underwhelming landmark ?
A cold and wet River Seine with obligatory umbrella in tow. Why did we choose December to visit Paris?
Iconic art-nouveau signage of the Paris Metro.
L'Arc Du Triomph.
The world's most infamous brothel, the Moulin Rouge.
Paris Metro entrance.
travel tips, links & resources
- Be sure to book ahead online if, like me, you want to travel up the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately this kind of online offering was not available at the time of my visit and so, instead, we arrived at the tower to be greeted by a queue a mile long. Book in advance to avoid waiting in line - particularly if your time in Paris is short.
- Paris does coffee shops and cake shops brilliantly. Ensure you get your share of the city's culinary treats.
- Being a major international city, accommodation gets booked up well in advance - particularly in central areas of Paris. To avoid resorting to inconvenient and, indeed, less-desirable districts, plan well in advanced. In my experience, staying somewhere further outside of the city to save a little money always proves to be a false economy; there is the additional time and hassle of commuting to where the real touristic action is. If your time in Paris is short, suck it up and pay more.
- Paris is a city best explored using a combination of walking power and the conveniently-located Metropolitain stations. Note that many of the things you will delight in will be happened upon by chance - one of the best things about traversing a major international city on foot.
- Travelling on Paris' Metro is a chance to get up close and personal with Parisians, bringing you in contact with the city's ethnic and social mix - probably more so than anywhere else in the city.
- As with most major cities, keep an eye on your belongings. Paris is beautiful, but like any other urban centre on the continent, it has its shadier side.
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