Disclaimer: I have received indirect death threats from my many friends living in Paris to ensure I would blog positively about their beloved city. Nevertheless, and to the detriment of my safety, I will aim to remain objective.
My stop in Paris starts off at the Gare du Nord train station. The second I step off the train I hear people speaking French left and right. For some reason it feels odd. I guess I have never lived in a purely francophone country. Montreal is bilingual (if not more, due to all the international residents) with a Quebecois accent and lots of English mixed in with French. And Lebanon is bi-or-tri-lingual depending on the region, with a thick accent and all sorts of spoken mistakes.
On my first day I start off my tour as usual: after waking up, I take a few essentials in my daypack (rain coat, guidebook, water, and iPad), skip breakfast, and start my long walks to explore the city. I generally organize my routes the previous day, taking suggestions from friends and my guidebook (LonelyPlanet Europe).
Day 1 starts off at l’Arc de Triomphe, I walk along the Champs élysées, towards the Jardins des Tuileries, north to the Palais Royal and its gardens, then Place Vendome, and I settle down in a restaurant in a nice corner to have my first meal of the day. After a week, I’ve become used to skipping breakfast, it saves me time! When I’m done, I head towards the Louvres and its famous glass pyramid! I go in and explore 3/4 of a floor on paintings, drawings, and decorative art and belongings of French monarchs. Damn, those kings had money to spend! We’re talking about crowns with 295 diamonds worn only once. And of course, I walked in front of the iconic La Joconde (a.k.a. Mona Lisa). It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Here are two metaphors to clarify what I mean. Read 1 if you are Lebanese, read 2 otherwise.
1) If you’re Lebanese: Imagine yourself skiing in Faraya on a warm and sunny Sunday waiting in the mess to board the lift at the bottom of Jonction. Well this image feels so pleasant and peaceful compared to the battlefield that is waiting to see Da Vinci’s masterpiece.
2) If you’re not Lebanese: Don’t bother imagining anything. You can’t get close to a mental picture of this mess.*
* Actually, I couldn’t think of an event that was universally recognized as a soup of swarming humans, so I got lazy instead and wrote the above 🙂
Moving on, I check out L’Opera from the outside and start strolling in the bustling streets of Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain. There are many beautiful small restaurants tucked away here. Even a bunch of Greek restaurants with lots broken plates at their entrance in the Latin Corner. Apparently, the tradition of breaking the kitchenware is undertaken by the owner in order to share his satisfaction (and his poor financial skills, in my opinion). For dinner, a bunch of friends and I decide to sit down at the renowned Leon De Bruxelles to eat a Belgium specialty, moules et frites (mussels & fries). I finish the night at a bar with friends then call it a day.
Day 2, my traveler’s ambition goes up a notch. I’m on my feet at 11:30am** and keep on walking until 10:30pm. That’s 11 hours of continuous walking punctuated only by a quick lunch and coffee break. I was very proud but very ignorant as to what was coming. To sum it up I started at the Champs de Mars***, walked in front of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Trocadero, the Musée d’Art Moderne de Ville, the Egouts de Paris (Paris’ sewers), an underground visit of the sewers of Paris and their history. Yes, even sewers have a history, quite an interesting one I might add. Napoleon said the renovation of the sewers would be his biggest contribution to Paris and would go unrecognized. Next stop was the Notre-Dame cathedral perched on the Iles de la Cité island, an impressive structure with intricate sculptures and detail on the outside, and intimidating ceilings and ornaments on the inside. Then, I hopped onto the neighboring island, Isle Saint-Louis, to taste what some people call the best ice cream PERIOD, Bertillon. Some of you may shout blasphemy because I never eat this “kind of stuff”, but you’ll have to excuse me, I’m on a eurotrip. (and also: you ain’t seen nothing yet). This stuff was heavenly! And to be fair I had bought another type of ice cream the day prior and threw it out after eating only a few spoonfuls, I’m not used to eating this “kind of stuff”.
** Considering I have been sleeping at 4:00am every night for the past week, this is a miracle in my opinion.
*** Have you heard of the “running of the bulls” in Spain? Well Paris has a similar event that takes place quite often on the Champs de Mars (leading to the Eiffel Tower). I call it the running of the tourist-catchers. At the sight of a new tourist bus arriving, the very professional “street salesmen” stampede across the Champs taking down every one in their way to arrive first at this new gold mine. They carry with them countless grossly overpriced Eiffel Tower figurines.
Small interlude: At this point, I had seen a good portion of Paris’s architecture. It was magnificent, but to be honest it was starting to get a little repetitive. Almost everything is Built according to Haussmann’s typical Parisian style, and all streets started to look alike. Don’t get me wrong, it was all beautiful but just a little too much of the same. Maybe it’s just me, but It needs a little more variety. And on top of that the people designing all the parks seemed to have some sort of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that we’ll refer to as Obsessive Mathematical Perfectionism Disorder, or OMPD for short. All the parks were laid out in perfect geometrical shapes, trees were aligned in all directions and trimmed into the shapes of spheres or cubes, flowers were positioned to form intricate embroideries, etc. Again all too “square” for my taste. I need a little more randomness and wildness (it must be the hunter-gatherer in me that is getting restless)
But then I start visiting different areas. I get out of the metro in the Barbes region to experience the other Paris, the Paris of the less fortunate and less fashion concerned. A good reminder that everything is not as it seems. Kids here were playing football/soccer (pick your version) in sandals with an empty plastic bottle, whereas kids on the Champs-Élysées were playing on their Nintendo dressed up in Channel clothing. From here, I walk to Montmartre. Ah! I finally get my long awaited fix (I’m talking about architectural variety). This is a charming corner of Northern Paris, on a hill (hence the “Mont” in Montmartre), with tiny streets and lots of small coffee shops and boutiques on the sides. Luckily, I also get to enjoy a beautiful sunset in this corner of Paris.
Just in case you forgot, this is still day 2. And I’m not even done! But I’ll cut it short to avoid boring you. The final thing I have to mention is dinner: 1Kg of top quality argentinian beef cooked rare. If a restaurant offers such a mouth watering challenge, I can’t refuse it. enough said.
Remember the part where I said I was ignorant? Well, on day 3, I wake up and start my routine as usual, then get on with my walk. Just a few minutes in I collapse – figuratively not literally, don’t worry – I can’t feel my legs and I’m so exhausted I need to rest after walking up two stairs. I realize I had put my body in overdrive and now it was failing on me! Oh well, I couldn’t do anything about it, so I decide to take it easy and visit only a few spots today: The Tour Montparnasse and the Jardin de Luxembourg, another OMPD afflicted designer park, although this one is especially beautiful. Then, exhausted, I decide to do what most Parisians enjoy, sit down at a coffee shop and just stare. In Paris, you’ll find that a lot of coffee shops have all their chairs outside aligned and facing in the same direction towards the streets, instead of the regular face-to-face with a table in the middle. This is perfect for staring! While indulging in a good espresso, as usual, and 4 macaroons, unusual but necessary in France, I spot a man doing Parkour in the park and decide to approach him when I’m done. Unfortunately, by the time I finish he was gone.
A few final noteworthy moments: visiting Le Marais, another charming Parisian corner, where most artists flock to get inspired and shop. Eating some French fine cuisine (beef liver) and the traditional baguette (blasphemy no. 3). Walking around the Centre Pompidou an avant-gardiste museum turned inside out: all components generally found inside a building are placed on its outer facade e.g. Elevators, pipes, stairs, etc. Listening to classical music in the subway stations.
It is only on day 4 that I realize I had planned to leave Paris the next day but I still hadn’t decided where or how I was going. As most of us do in school projects, I waited until the last minute to organize the next leg of my trip. And since I seem to be doing good at school/university there was no need to change any habits. I chat with a few friends, call up a few others, read some pages in my guidebook, and do some google searches. In about 2 hours, I lay out a rough new plan for travel. I will be heading to Switzerland for 3 days, one in each of Geneva, Interlaken, and Lucerne. Then on to Germany, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. The beauty of Europe is: that on Thursday afternoon I decided to go from Paris to Geneva; I simply called up and notified a friend living there. 24 hours and a quick train ride later, here I am in his apartment, late at night on Friday, typing away on my iPad, regretting the moment I decided to blog, wishing I was sleeping on my comfy bed… Just kidding!
I think you’ve had you’ve had enough by now… I had a great time in Paris, by the end of the 4 1/2 days, it seemed as if I had lived there for years. This trip is turning out to be more than what I expected. Off to bed, I need to make the most of my 3 days in Switzerland. See you in a few days.
This post is part of a series on my 2011 eurotrip, check out the whole series here