08.08.2010 - 11.08.2010
I’d never been to Paris. Instead my knowledge came from movies like Amelie, Paris When it Sizzles, and The Moulin Rouge. I’ve talked about Paris before, about the Eiffel tower and the student riots of 1968, about Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. Who doesn't know that it is The City of Lovers and overrun with huffy Parisians and a salacious night life. More recently Paris comes to mind in terms of the ongoing racial tensions in the suburbs and the imminent ban on burqas. I needed to go and A. wanted to take me.
On Sunday we bid farewell to the UK and took a cheap flight from London to Paris which ended up being exceedingly stressful and time consuming. A one hour flight equaled nearly 9 hours in travel time when considering getting to Luton airport, waiting to check-in, security, etc. Sadly, EasyJet was an organizational nightmare and through no fault of our own (we arrived two hours early as recommended), we were running to our gate to catch our plane. We did. And we arrived in Paris in the evening.
After the sweet life of b & b’s throughout the UK we switched to a university residence in the heart of the Latin quarter, called this because in a different time all the students spoke Latin. The rooms were clean and a good size though we needed to push the single beds together. As soon as we arrived we threw our stuff down and took a walk. Just ten minutes away was Notre Dame, the heart of Paris:
We went inside, the first cathedral of our trip (we skipped the inside in Salisbury). Since it was dusk the cathedral was dark and looming. I’d never been in a cathedral at night and there was something really medieval about the experience. But actually it is the gargoyles that are the draw, their twisted faces on horizontal bodies jutting out from the stone. They spit water under menacing glares. Here is a picture taken by A.’s steady hand:
After Notre Dame we ended up walking along the Seine towards the Eiffel tower, getting lost in the tiny twisting streets and taking the metro home before we actually saw it.
The next day we went to the Louvre, a total mess of chaos and frenzied tourists rabidly going from one great masterpiece to the next under gold vaulted ceilings. I’ll spare you the pictures of the Mona Lisa behind glass. But let’s just say taking it involved a lot of elbows and shoving. There is no mercy at the Louvre. Plus, let’s be honest, 95% of people don’t know or care about it beyond the Davinci Code. We also went to the much less crowded Islamic art section, which was still really impressive. There is this beautiful cobalt blue that is featured prominently in a lot of the Persian pieces:
There is something a bit weird about taking pictures of art as. It seems more worthwhile to purchase the postcard since it never comes out the way you want it to. This, of course, can't apply to street art, something Paris has a lot of:
Afterward we walked around the streets behind the Louvre for a while before deciding to head to Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre. We walked up the hundreds of steps, buying water along the way and fighting off swindlers. The tourist areas of Paris are particularly bad for cons and pickpockets, like Rome or Barcelona:
Sacre-Coeur is known for its views across the city, the iconic Paris skyline:
Walking behind we wandered through the Place du Tertre, famous for being the haunt of Dali, Picasso and Monet. Now it is just packed full of tourist shops, overpriced cafes and street artists vying to do your portrait for a fee. We walked down the steps and tried to find the Moulin Rouge, another famous resident at the foot of Montmartre. Instead we got lost. Since it was dusk we thought we should complete our Paris cliché so we bee lined for the Eiffel tower with a bottle of wine, fresh bread and stinky cheese. Here is the Eiffel tower:
Here is A. enjoying our picnic:
And us after dark:
For ten minutes on every hour the Eiffel tower sparkles insanely and the crowds cheer. After our picnic and wine we weaved under the tower, staring up into her belly of iron and suicide nets. We walked past people hawking every possible reproducible size of the Eiffel tower in every possible colour. On the other side there was more entertainment for the crowds, including a Victorian double-decker carousel:
Crowds bustled through the streets, a fight broke out on the bridge, bottles smashed and a man left with a bloody head. The flashing lights and endless crowds proved to be too much, as night engulfed Paris we slipped back to the residence exhausted.
On our last full day in Paris we walked along the Seine to La Monde D’Arabe, an Institute dedicated to Arab and Islamic art and culture. Here is the facade which was pretty cool:
On the 9th floor there was an open roof and yet another beautiful vista. You can see Notre Dame in left hand corner:
We spent hours in the Institute while A. took detailed notes. We left when hunger forced us back into the streets. We walked through the Ile St-Louis and then found these amazing structures designed for people to lay/sleep on along the Seine. They were triangularly shaped canvas where you can nap under a tree looking out at the banks of the river:
I had to cut our day short to do a job interview on Skype. It was for a research associate position in Toronto. Due to the microphone failure of the interviewers it ended up being just me speaking at the blank computer screen while the interviewers typed questions. It was the weirdest job interview I’ve ever done. Not to mention that it ended at 10 pm my time, making it the latest job interview I’ve ever done. I don’t feel that optimistic but at least I’m getting the practice. While I did the interview A. discovered that our residence had a rooftop area with (another) awesome Paris vista:
On our last day we found kitschy souvenirs for friends at home and made our way to the train station to travel to Stuttgart, Germany. From Stuttgart we headed to the much smaller town of Wimberg, a little village at the edge of the Black Forest.
I really really liked Paris because it felt alive. And even though we spent most of our time fighting our way through crowds, cursing our fellow tourists (and sometimes the French), it was so nice to be on the streets. It was exciting in a way that I never felt in London. We spoke broken French that was mostly fine. Unfortunately, Paris was so painfully expensive that we were forced to both cut our coffee consumption in general and switch it to espressos because they only cost $2.50 CAD as opposed to $6-9 CAD for a simple Americano (ouch!). After the first night at a restaurant where we accidentally bought $9 CAD bottle of water (double ouch!) we switched to grocery stores for meals. But we did eat croissants that were so amazingly buttery and we were tempted by these delicious pastries:
Now I am relaxing in the Black Forest with 100 of A.'s closest relatives. Village life in Germany is quite beautiful and the bread, chocolate and sausage combo is to die for. More to come.