Paris

A weekend in Paris was on the cards with some good rates on the Eurostar. Stepping off on the Gare du Nord and a short walk to our accommodation in the nearby trendy suburb of Saint Denis seemed all too easy. We waited for the flatmate Matisse to arrive and let us in the flat, where we were greeted by the cat and its overfilled litterbox. The flat was inhabited by artists, with abstract works lining the walls, shelves and kitchen sink. It didn’t take much time for us to drop our gear and move on into town.

Using the Paris Velib (public bikes), we cycled to the Seine River and found the Pont des Arts (Lovers bridge), lined with thousands of padlocks with vivid markers proclaiming initials and affections. They all seem quite recent, likely that some Parisian council worker goes along and regularly applies his bolt cutters. The bridge is apparently weighed down by the weight and has had a few repairs over the years. The land all around the Seine was all built up with grand architecture and palaces, all in perfect symmetry. This was a legacy of Emperor Napoleon III and his demolition and renovation of the central crowded neighbourhoods in the 19th Century. One of the major landmarks to rise from this is the Louvre Museum. The Louvre courtyard is full of African pedlars selling Eiffel Tower statuettes (linked together on a steel loop like chatter rings) and padlocks. The pedlars have a quick system to warn each other and collect up their merchandise (as it’s illegal to sell) before the local Garda can arrive and apprehend them. The Notre Dame cathedral, on the central island of Ile de Cite was lined with stone gargoyles on the spouting. We managed to witness the local mass before riding through the packed streets of St Germain to the Lindenburg Gardens.

Finding a local supermarket we went about putting together the “ultimate baguette” for dinner under the Eiffel Tower, at the price we paid we probably could have gone out for a meal, but it was all about the view. Arriving under the shadow of the massive steel monolith, we found a lot of groups of tourists and Parisians doing the same. French wines unfortunately have only cork bottle tops as they would never dare stoop to drinking from a screw-top. So we went for the classier cask wine option. They all seemed to have corkscrews too… After the sun slowly dropped and as the cheap red vino started to set in, we decided to hop back on the bike for a cycle to the Arc di Triomphe. The Arc was a bit of an organised chaos of cars making their way around the roundabouts and into the radial streets. We managed a quick loop around the Arc before heading southeast along the Champ d’Elysses, cycling back to our little flat.

The next morning a bit of culture was on the cards, heading back to the Louvre Museum to see the large collection of European and Egyptian artefacts, including the famous Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Tam got a bit restless after a couple hours, while Mitch could have probably stayed the whole day. To prevent a tantrum and get some food, we got out and found a loud purple cafe to eat some questionable buckwheat crepes.

A climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower was definitely on the cards. With long lines expected, we enjoyed a climb up the steps where we shared the observation decks, cramped in the massive steel structure, it didn’t seem the best place for people to propose, yet we heard quite a few people pooped the question every day. Not while we were there though… For dinner we biked to Bastille, site of the medieval fortress prison and flashpoint for the French Revolution. Today the area has a bustling nightlife, with neon signs leading people to different themed bars and restaurants.

Monday morning was a quick trip uphill to Sacré-Coeur, the white domed basilica on top of the hill to the north. The cobbled streets down the hill took us past artists, street music and ice-cream parlours to the Moulin Rouge windmill. We didn’t stick around too long for a show as the Eurostar was leaving for London again and we needed to get our full quota of wine bottles.

Paris was an amazing city, as we haven’t done many cities in Europe we can only imagine what some of the others will be like. The grandeur of the place was much more than expected and we’ll be back sometime again soon, hopefully to see Versailles and a few other sites.

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