Back from belle Paris, my first visit to the City of Lights. We travelled via Eurostar and were suitably impressed with St. Pancras International. We ate at Le Pain Quotidienne, as if we were starting our French affair already.
Our hotel in Paris was right outside Gare du Nord for easy access and being relatively close to the 17th arrondissement for my next morning ‘special’ appointment. The day started off nicely, the sun was shining and our destination that morning saw us being buzzed into a passageway through a courtyard, which was slightly reminiscent of India, and finding a lovely little clinic at the end with a pretty little bench outside with flowers. Very different to London, immediately.
The rest of the day was a little blasé only because it was 1st of May and a national holiday which meant the museums et al were all closed! The Louvre included. Not like London at all where such places are open because it IS a holiday and everyone will be out on the streets and it would be a nice thing to do, i.e. stroll into a museum if one wanted to. Alas no, the continent is different, non? So instead we marvelled at the Palais Royal and we strolled down Les Jardines Tulieries, down to Concorde with the amazing obelisk of Cleopatra taking pride of place in the centre. Now the French know how to place monuments – giving them their due space and prominence so that one can see if from afar even. Moreover, it is capped with gold, a lovely embellishment. In London, it’s just plonked in some random area of the Embankment and people just drive past it without consequence, you could easily miss it! In New York, it at least sits in Central Park, where it can be noticed.
From Concorde one can see the amazing view down the Champs Elysees to the Triumphal Arch. Again, there was real planning done around these parts of Paris, the scale and perspective is stunning. And there is nothing between them to spoil the view whatsoever. So we decided to walk all the way down to the Arch – oh my god, it’s a lot further than it looks. The walk down the avenue to get there takes the better part of an hour and with the holiday crowd out it was slow going. The only disappointment was that we didn’t have energy to stick around this part of town until the evening when we would have seen the Champ Elysees all lit up. The Arc de Triomphe was simply huge! I was taken aback by it actually but loved the arrangement of all these avenues fanning out from this monument placed on a roundabout. People were risking their lives to cross over and stand by or under the arch. It was pretty legend, really depicting the once-imperial might of this country, and encapsulating the grand scale the French love.
The next day was a busy one – an attempt to fit in what we hadn’t been able to do the previous day – and that meant the Sacre Coeur, Le Louvre and Notre Dame. We went to Montmatre and the Sacre Coeur first. We climbed the steps up the hill, seeing the stunning views over Paris (which is very flat by the by) and we were presented with the sight of an awesome structure. Something about the basilica reminded me of a mandir, with the three dome-headed formation. It’s a very clean building and inside is just as a gorgeous – not flamboyant or gaudy but there’s definitely beauty in the details. We couldn’t take photos but that’s okay, I wasn’t there to pictorially recount the moments there – it was just wonderful to be there and soak it in- there as some service for one of their Saints on and the choir began to sing as we finished circumventing the place and it was very amazing. Mum was overwhelmed and got teary eyed – particularly on viewing the mosaic on the ceiling depicting Christ in this maagnanimous halo holding out his arms to all. The craftsmanship needed for that must have been out of this world. I lit a candle there, thanking the lord for allowing me to have come here and be a part of this whole thing.
Then we headed downtown to the Louvre again to try our luck and lo, the whole city had the same idea and there was a MASSIVE queue to get in. (sidenote – the Louvre is huge, pray tell, why is there only ONE entrance? – Ok I checked the website and there is more than one – huh – I think it was because of the free admission). So we didn’t have many hours and knew we couldn’t afford to wait in the queue. Alas that was disappointing. Next time. Instead we headed to the Notre Dame, the day turning into a decidedly ‘religious’ one. Very different from the Sacre Coeur which is built of white stone, for the Notre Dame is of course very gothic and has a certain gloom about it, yet the deep shadows and warm light of the candles didn’t feel gloomy to me at all, in fact I rather liked it. There was a certain peace in it and the stained glass windows at every turn – my oh my, my heart was beating fast at seeing so many, at trying to capture the sheer beauty of them all on camera yet knowing the futility of attempting to do so with such petty technology. Again, the work that has gone in it takes ones breath away. My sister commented on the vast ceilings and yes, they are definitely high, forcing one to contemplate the endless, lofty heavens and then the lines of perspectives created by the columns – beautiful.
We ended with eating some yummy crepes avec Nutella (had to be done) and then we were off for the evening, back to Londres. One thing though, Paris is tres expensive – a cup of tea, a sandwich, a basic pastry costs twice as much as London – does my head in to think that people go around saying London is so expensive. I have never felt so ripped off before. The Metro though was very cheap. We travelled around with a 2 day pass and I was impressed – ok it ain’t clean and smooth like Singapore but its fast and very easy to navigate. Also, it’s ‘roomier’ with less awful upholstery and one an open the windows etc without feeling like they’re dying from lack of oxygen. It just smelt a lot of pee is all.
Definitely going back to Paris to see all those things that we missed and next time doing some research on recommended restaurants etc.