Europe | France | Paris – Le Aventure Parisien
The Parisians will continue speaking to you in French even if you started the conversation in English. They appreciate it when you can speak their language, so I thought it was cool when I could order “un café au lait, et croissant beurre, s’il vous plait”. But then they’ll repeat my order and I’ll say “yeah mate” instead of “oui”.
I got on the fast Thalys train in Brussels bound for Paris. The train is plush and comfortable, with carpets and good seats. On the train, I meet an Australian couple, Steve and Bec, with whom I would share a hostel room and the next few days with. Steve is a true blue Aussie, and roolly roolly talks loik this. We arrive at Gare du Nord and are greeted by a grey and rainy Paris afternoon. We managed to find a hostel ten minutes from the station, and the hostel staff think it’s a hoot I have a French name and pronounce it like the French do.
Impatient French drivers
The next day I went to see the Arc de Triomphe, basically a large arch. I think it represents the height of Napoleon’s reign. It is also set on the craziest roundabout in Paris. Thirteen roads lead into it, and on the roundabout itself there’s a crazy scrum of six unmarked lanes of traffic, with vehicles jostling for position.
As a pedestrian it is almost impossible to cross the road; even when the sign is green, cars will continue to plough through. I attempted to cross the road several times by first sticking my foot out to step onto the road, then having to zip it back in as a Renault zooms past. After several minutes of this, it resembled something like a stationary version of Monty Python’s ministry of silly walks. So it could be said the French are an impatient lot, and I’m certain of this because even the red Don’t Walk Man on the traffic lights has his hands on his hips. If you squint you might see him tapping his foot.
Louis Vuitton caper
The Arc de Triomphe leads into the Avenue des Champs Elysees, basically the main shopping street in Paris. It certainly beats London’s Oxford Street, as the sidewalks are much wider, lined with all the high street names. Even Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz have showrooms here.
When I got near the Louis Vuitton store on Avenue Montaigne, I was approached by a Chinese tourist, Fu Hong. He wanted me to go into the store to buy a men’s bag and wallet for him. Apparently, Chinese nationals are only allowed to buy one item per person, and he had already filled his quota. So he persuaded me to do him a favour, and before I knew it, he had thrust 1000 euros, CASH, into my hands and pushed me in the direction of the store. At this point I debated for a second on whether I should run down the street shouting “Eureka!” but decided instead to see how I would go with the assignment.
I enter the store, which has plush carpeting and designer decor, standing there in my wet backpacker’s attire and crooked beanie pondering for a moment. When I was assigned a sales person, French speaking of course, I tried to look like I knew what I was doing but failed miserably in the process. After looking over some merchandise, I decided on a wallet costing 295 euros (no more bags – four month waiting list), paid for it, and beat a hasty retreat.
Outside, Fu Hong was waiting in the wings and thanked me profusely for my help, promising me his first born child and inviting me to visit him in China. I didn’t receive any recompense for my services, but I’m sure if I pressed the issue he would have gladly handed over a tenner. So if you’re in need of some lunch money, hang around Avenue Montaigne.
What an Eiffel
The Tour de Eiffel is an obligatory monument to visit on any trip to Paris. I decided to climb the 700 steps to the second level before catching the lift to the top from there. Quite out of breath by the time I reached the second level, some comedian on the way down declares “sorry, it’s closed”. Ha bloody ha.
The platform at the very top level gives you a great view of Paris, and from here I was able to pick out most of the buildings and monuments. I decided to descend when I got tired of being buffeted by the wind at the top.
Funnily shaped buildings
For something totally different, I went out to La Defense, which is a modern business park dominated by tall shiny highrises. But, get this, it looks like someone had come along with a giant chainsaw and cut random chunks out of the buildings. The result is a collection of unconventional and irregularly shaped buildings. There is one which resembles a giant cube with a hole through it, a few wedge shaped ones, several crescent shaped ones, and a couple of cylindrical buildings with their tops diagonally sliced off and random chunks taken out of them. I was really impressed, as it made a refreshing change from the old French architecture I had been looking at.
My favourite thing to do in any city is to just explore the neighbourhoods on foot. I really liked Montmartre, an elevated community on a hill near the Sacre Coeur basilica. Up on a hill, the place contains quintessential narrow French streets, twisting and turning. The streets are lined with cream coloured houses with shutters on their windows, overlooking cobbled pathways. You half expect a peasant woman to appear at one of the windows and throw out a basin of water. The area is also packed with tiny cafes and restaurants, and old men in peak caps wait patiently to sketch your portrait. For pedestrians, long narrow stairs connect the lower streets to the higher ones. If you’ve seen the film Amélie then these streets resemble those in the film. Sadly the area is now besieged by tourists and souvenir shops, but you can picture at one time idyllic French life passing slowly by.
Lots to see
I visited some of the usual attractions over the next few days. I wandered by the gothic Notre-Dame cathedral, saw where Napoleon’s tomb is housed and looked at the usual complement of historical French architecture. I also paid a visit to the Musee du Louvre where I glimpsed the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.
By far the most unusual attraction, if you could call it that, was the Catacombes des Paris. I walked miles of dimly lit narrow tunnels several stories underground. The most macabre thing is that the walls are lined with thousands of human bones, which were placed here little by little from the city’s cemeteries about two centuries ago. Very freaky stuff.
I spent five days in Paris, but I know I’ve barely covered it. As a city of cultural importance, it contains numerous monuments and museums. I saw a lot, but there is a lot more to see. Little surprise then that it is a city which people return for a second or third time to visit.