How beautiful Paris is in the autumn, the golden leaves falling on ground laden with the history of the Europe.
When in Europe, do as the Europeans (and tourists) do – go to Paris. Especially when it is only one and a half hours on the train from Brussels. France is the holiday destination of choice for most people in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Something about the food, wine and relaxed atmosphere.
Lauren and I met each other for four days of fun in Paris as one most certainly cannot not go there alone. Paris is expensive on a par with London and we were very lucky finding a rental apartment for â‚¬75 a night. When split between the two of us it was nearly the same as staying in a hostel. Plus we were only one block from the Louvre! On the first night we went walking along the bank of the Seine towards Concorde where we caught a midnight ride around a ferris wheel overlooking the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es. Magic!
We spent most of our time running around seeing what ‘you’ are supposed to see: Notre-Dame, Basilique du SacrÃ©-CÅ“ur, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Catacombs, la Conciergerie, Sainte Chappelles, the Moulin Rouge (more on that later), fine French dining, and more baguettes than you could shake another baguette at. Paris in the autumn – walking around we had to continuously remind ourselves we were in Paris.
First and foremost I discovered against much popular opinion that Parisians aren’t rude at all. They were incredibly friendly and good humoured at my terrible attempts at speaking French, which is the closest thing I can muster to knowing another language. The people praying on the tourists on the other hand, were often rude and nearly as numerous as us tourists ourselves. Tacky Eiffel Tower key-rings with glowing lights, portraits while you wait and friendship bracelets were thrust or yelled at you from every angle. The ‘friendship’ bracelet people were the most frustrating, attacking you with a friendly “don’t be afraid, here put your finger in this loop, buy my bracelet”. Is it just me or when a stranger says don’t be afraid I immediately become afraid; like the ‘friendly’ uncle who tells you that everything is going to be okay and this won’t hurt a bit.
The sheer volume of people blew me away, I imagine central Paris is standing room only in the peak tourist season. It took us two and a half hours to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower by which time we were so thoroughly exhausted and grumpy that enjoyment was the last thought on our minds. As evidenced by this shot of the shooting of the Mona Lisa the Louvre was not much better. It was the first Sunday of the month on which many of the museums around the city are open for free. Free museums are great if you can time your trip well, bad given that everyone else is also timing it well. We ran around the Louvre ticking boxes (Mona Lisa – yip, Venus de Milo – yip, St. Sebastian – yip, okay you bored yet? – yip) before escaping to the morbidity of the Catacombs.
Paris has an interesting art setup, the Louvre predominantly deals with antiquities through to 19th Century realism, the MusÃ©e d’Orsay has an extensive collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, romantic and art-nouveau work, while the Centre Georges Pompidou is everything modern and beyond. To split the collections along these lines means each gallery is the authority on each period. Needless to say I tried to spend as much time in the Centre Pomidou as possible but my return journey was thwarted by them not being open on a Tuesday. Instead I had to go and stare at Renoir, Monet and Manet at the d’Orsay – booooooring! Give me some repeating squares on canvas that represent the infinity of the human condition any day.
I had one day alone in Paris as Lauren had to head back for her writing course in Leeds. I first headed to the great Secular monument of the Pantheon where all of the French Republic’s heroes are buried, away from the trappings of religion. Except there are religious paintings everywhere. I admire the attempt at creating a giant mausoleum of science and politics but I wish they would knock out the wall friezes depicting the religious founding of Paris. Nonetheless for the first time I understand sanctity, standing between the tombs of the philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau with Marie Curie just down the hall. My kind of temple.
After leaving the Pantheon I couldn’t but smile when walking down the street. I noticed that the newspaper stands in the student’s quarter are quite different to the newspaper stands in any other city I have been to so far. Most newsagents have a mix of the latest gossip trash and mens mags, with big breasted women plastered across their displays. In the Paris student quarter, the pinup mags were all philosophy magazines, pronouncing the sexy Heidegger, Hume or Nietzsche. I would have been even more impressed if I could read French but alas, the Babel Fish hasn’t been invented yet.
Very sophisticated the Moulin Rouge cabaret was not. We spent way too much money to see the the show made famous by the posters of Toulouse Lautrect and I am sorry to say that his renditions in pastel were the closest to fine art it ever got. What ensued can best be described as a brilliant waste of our money, but not due to the amount of money they spent on the show with takings of at least â‚¬10,000 a night! My only conclusion is that whilst the Moulin Rouge is a cabaret, it can’t escape the fact that it is an upmarket strip show. It was a tacky musical with a giant swimming pool and live water snakes, naked dancers, people flying across the ceiling, jugglers, ventriloquists – wait aren’t we in Las Vegas? Of course there was the can-can, but the cheese factor was ridiculous. There comes the tipping point where no matter how much I ‘have’ to like what I just payed an awful sum of money for,Â I cannot stay blind to the awfulness. In this case all of the emperess’ had no clothes.
I just read on BBC news that there is a lot of discussion amongst Parisians about the state of architecture and its effect on the central city. Paris has (only) 2 million inhabitants contained within a ring road and very strict height restrictions which has meant that the city is becoming a living museum like Brugge in Belgium. In the ‘suburbs’ which is the real Paris, and which we didn’t visit, another 8 million real Parisians live. This will be a very difficult decision for the future, another Brussels would be a nightmare but Amsterdam is a prime example of how the old can mix with the new and what that can do for a city centre.