Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting to Know Paris

The days after our out-of-town adventures to Disneyland and Versaille were spent meandering, checking out monuments and avoiding decorated lampposts. We saw the Arc de Triomphe, looming directly in front of us as we ascended the escalator from the Metro (which is nowhere near as cool as the London Underground and is dark and smelly and dirty). We strolled Champ d’Elysees, the main street. We checked out Place de la Concorde but it wasn’t anywhere near as picturesque as it could have been, filled with construction materials and temporary bleachers. I’m not sure what the half finished construction was for, but I have a feeling the Tour de France is on soon?

We attempted to love Jardin des Tuileries but the French just don’t do parks like we do (or like London does). What little grass there is, is out of bounds. Massive dusty dirt pathways take up most of the ‘park’ space, and Parisians sit on metal chairs in the dust to enjoy the view of the grass (and gardens and ponds). Instead, we found a funfair right alongside the park and watched scam artists trick people into trying to win prizes they could never win, and ate churros and crepes.

We waited until 6pm for free entry to the Louvre, which is at the end of a direct line from Arc de Triomphe through Champ d’Elysees, Place de la Concorde and Jardin des Tuileries. We saw Mona Lisa and Venus de Milos. We wandered the halls taking in 17th Century paintings and ancient Roman urns, but after a busy week I couldn’t handle hours walking around. Apparently it would take you years to see every artwork in the museum, the largest of its kind in the world. We saw the must-sees and successfully caught a train home for the first time.

We spent our last day in Paris sleeping in, and made our way into town for our 4.30pm trip to the top of the Eiffell Tower, a gift from work when we left. We walked down Champ d’Elysee again, this time turning off towards the tower and finding ourselves metres from someone very famous, whose identity we have no idea. He was driving out of the Grand Palais – who lives/works there? – in a little red mini, waving to the people outside. One girl chased him down the street to get a photo.

I spoke weeks ago of my expectations for Paris – having watched too many episodes of Gossip Girl they were skewed. I hadn’t seen a single GH-looking person in Paris until we wandered on from our brush with fame and found ourselves on a street named something like Rue Montagne? It was lined with every big name designer you can think of. Louis Vuitton had a queue to get in, but if you didn’t want to wait (!) you could shop at Prada, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli – an entire street of designer store after designer store. On one corner was a café, and there they were – the Parisian elite, people that actually dress and talk and behave like the cast of Gossip Girl.

When we finally made it to the Eiffel Tower, it was everything we could have hoped for. For a start, there was grass you were allowed to sit on. Secondly, the two 20 minute queues we had to wait in for the 2 elevators were nothing compared to the hours-long queue for tickets (thanks AnnMarie and Nik!). And lastly – the view. It’s insane. The queue for the second elevator is half way up and that was high. The top was something else! It’s not just a view of Paris, it’s a view of France. It stretches for miles and miles.

After we descended, as we sat at a Parisian street café with a view of the tower, drinking a half-full glass of orange juice that cost $NZ12 and a gross shandy that was sold as beer, I started to like Paris. I knew that by looking forward to it so much I was setting myself up to be disappointed and I was. Not by the beautiful old buildings and winding alleys. Not by the river or the sun. A little by the dust parks and lack of grass to sprawl on. Mostly by the people. Not for rudeness or arrogance as rumours would have you believe, but I just felt like I was always in someones way. I couldn’t stop and take it all in.

At the Eiffel Tower, we finally got to stop and take it all in. Literally all of it. I feel like with Paris I needed 3 weeks, not one, to be able to see the sights (there was so much we didn’t see) and learn the transport and the food and to like of sink into Paris a little bit.

I had wondered if perhaps I just wasn’t a big city girl. I didn’t like London at the start, but it grew on me. I loved New York 4 years ago though, and so I wondered if it was me that had changed, that it wasn’t a difference between cities but a difference in me. A week in New York was busy but long enough. A week in London was the same. A week in Paris was not long enough. Generally you would only say that if you loved a city huge amounts and wanted to bask in its glow longer. For me I felt like we were just getting to know each other, Paris and I, and I left with unfinished business.

Penelope_nz's Paris, France photoset Penelope_nz's Paris, France photoset