I head off to the French capital for a short visit. Long post, but lots of photos
Monday 5 Sep 11 - Tuesday 6 Sep 11 23 °C
Monday morning, and I was off on my last mini-trip before I start my big Eurotrip. I packed my bags in the morning for destination Paris, and Rich gave me a lift to the station. But the train was running twenty minutes late, and I was going to miss my connection to London. But Rich stepped in and saved the day, very kindly giving me a lift into town.
The rest of the trip passed without fuss, though, and after catching the Eurostar, I alighted in France for the first time. I walked towards my hotel, but after seemingly wandering in circles for half an hour, I gave up and caught the underground Métro. Looking on the map, I can’t believe how far I had walked, and how far away I was from my intended destination!
It all ended well, though, and after settling into my cigarette-smelling room, I got back on the Métro for the Arc de Triomphe (my spell check is going to have a field day in Europe). It was unbelievable, to walk up the steps of the station and have such a magnificent site come into view, with the sunset casting a delicate soft light on the monument.
I walked down the famous Champs-Elysées (pronounced shom-ze-lee-zay, not champs-eh-lie-sees), trying to find a cheapish meal, or if that wasn’t possible (and it wasn’t), the Eiffel Tower. I probably let slip another gasp as the Tower came into view – it was brilliantly lit up against the night sky, with the moon sitting just behind it.
I took a few photos, but was too hungry to think about climbing up, so I returned to the hotel and picked up a kebab from a local shop. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Paris, eat kebabs.
I needed all of the kebab’s energy as I embarked on a long afternoon of sightseeing the following day. After taking the Métro to le Place de la Concorde, and seeing the stupendous monument covered in hieroglyphics, I walked through the beautiful Jardin (garden) des Tuileries and then along the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay. It was a 45-minute wait in line, an all-too-common occurrence in such a tourism haven.
But I managed to cotton on to what seems like a bit of a scam. A perfectly legal scam that actually saves me money: free entry to all museums and art galleries for EU citizens under 26. Apparently it goes back to politicians wanting to make them all free for French ‘youths’, but under EU law this was deemed discriminatory, so they extended it to everyone. I just present my British passport and walk in!
And for a free attraction, it’s certainly a pretty good one. You know an art gallery is good when guys like Cezanne have their works shoved in a corner. And the building itself is very impressive, a grand, well-lit, open space, with statues scattered around the hall and a huge clock dominating one wall.
For what it’s worth (not much), these were my top three works (obviously they looked better up close, Renoir’s, for instance, seemed to sparkle in the light of the gallery):
I walked back across and along the river to the Île de la Cité, an island in the river which has been a focal point in the history of Paris for hundreds of years. I had a quick rest in a square on the end of the island, enjoying the peace and getting some energy back before I tackled the Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the most famous and extravagant in the world.
After admiring the front of the church, an incredible example of Gothic architecture (or so I’m told), I joined the queue to go inside. It was an incredible space, with magnificent stained glass windows and incredibly high ceilings. Without all the pesky tourists crowding the paths and making noise it would have been even nicer. I decided not to wait in the queue to go up to the tower, instead pushing on.
I did have to wait in a queue for the next attraction, though, another church, Sainte-Chapelle. Significantly smaller than its neighbour, Sainte-Chapelle nonetheless packs them in because of its incredible windows. The French certainly know how to build a grand church!
I had a brief look outside the Palais du Justice, the court, and caught a few snippets of conversations between French lawyers out on their cigarette break (very high smoking rate in Paris, it appeared to me). I dropped in on La Conciergerie, which served as a prison and a courtroom during the Revolution, housing such celebrity prisoners as Marie Antoinette.
It was also one site were guillotines were popular, with the execution-hungry republican court ordering many of the city’s elite and royalists to their deaths.
I crossed back on to the mainland to St. Germain-des-Prés, one of the oldest districts in the city. I started at the incredible Jardins du Luxembourg, one of the most exquisite green spaces I’ve ever seen. Statues adorn the well-manicured lawns, benches galore sit under large trees, while a giant fountain sits in front of the Palais, once a royal residence and now the home of the French Senate.
Then I was back on to churches, visiting two within an hour and taking my tally for the day to four. The Eglise (church) St-Sulpice houses a 6700-pipe organ, as well as a number of small chapels scattered around its corners. In another town, it would be a primary attraction, but in Paris it’s probably just in the top five churches. Arguably.
The last stop was the Eglise St-Germai-des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris, dating back to the 6th Century. I was probably a bit too tired to fully appreciate it, but I did like the frescoes along the wall and a statue of the main man himself.
I picked up some supplies at the supermarket before heading back. One of the many things I learnt today is that French sounds much better in my head than when it comes out of my mouth. I found that I did remember a fair amount from school (I did do French for two years), but I’m horribly out of practice and this lack of confidence means that whatever I say sounds meek and pathetic.
Plus, my vocab is slightly dodgy. At a patisserie, I ordered what I thought was some sort of potato pastry, but it turns out I confused ‘pommes’ with ‘pommes du terre’, and I ended up with an apple pie. Could have been worse…