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Travel Not Tour - by Liv Hambrett

A Tumultuous Love Affair

May 7th 2008 00:22
Where do you possibly begin with a city that has been (rather successfully) in film, literature and music for about as long as it has been in existence. Do you start with the snooty Parisians who, high on living surrounded by such impossible beauty, rarely deign to mix with Non Parisians, especially if they don't speak French (or are German ... lest we forget Victory over Paris in Berlin's Parisiaplatz). Or do we, continuing along the vein of petty, trivial things, in order to get them out of the way, comment on the weather which made sightseeing (read: skipping along the River Seine in a striped babydoll dress sipping a Cafe au Lait) a needlessly tiresome process. But lets not blame Paris for that, let's blame the human propensity for screwing up the environment. And so now the two things that dampened our days in the City of Love & Baguettes are dealt with, I can proceed on a much higher note.

We arrived in Paris a little worse for wear, the reasons for which have been previously documented. No one likes a hangover and a flight. As we stood in the cab rank, a shouldering a total of 30kg of luggage each (except for Satie who went with the backpack option and so weighs in at a mere 18kg) watching large gleaming Mercedes ferrying weary travellers away and thinking how God really skimped on Sydney in the cab department, a decrepit vehicle that sold well in 1987 came to a halt in front of us. No gleaming Mercedes for the grubby Australians. Some time was spent gesticulating wildly to our cab driver, in order to make our address in Paris known - not because we don't speak French, but because we don't speak Mandarin.

Our residence, off Boulevard Voltaire, in the charming district of Nation (Nass-e-on, Mum, my French pronunciation has come a long way) was on the second floor of a quaint apartment block that belongs in Hollywood's library of French cliches. As did the street on which it was situated. Riddled with similar cute apartment blocks, one covered in ivy and sporting a courtyard perfect for breakfasting on pain au chocolat in, mornings saw the windows flung open and the residences enjoying the balmy weather on their little wrought iron balconies.

Our first official day in Paris (not counting the one in which we ate a kebab and fell asleep at 8pm) it rained. Our sightseeing enthusiasm undeterred, we donned berets and Chanel couture (a girl can dream) and set out for the Eiffel Tower. It is nearby this stunning monument that I embarrassed myself beyond belief. It has happened before and it will happen again - I like to blame my weak ankles and gammy knees. I fell over. Face planted. I absolutely, face first, ass in the air, hair in a puddle, fell over.

Once more, a direct entry from my journal ...

Later ... in cafe drinking $9 cup of hot chocolate. Had to soothe soul and ego following disastrous and mortifying trip. As in fall. Stack. FACE PLANT. Waitress = rude & french.

On a quaint French street ... running through the rain in a carefree manner, wind in my hair, bag clasped to my chest, calling out to Dee and Satie in gay tones. Left ankle gives way, twinging as it cruelly bows out. Buckling from full weight of chinese-bloated body, left knee folds it in, leading to bizarre moment of surfing, arms outstretched, down puddle riddled alley. Eventually fall onto belly, seal style, and continue to surf the puddles for a good two metres, gliding to a halt, facedown in particularly large puddle. Am now drenched, there is a hole in my leggings, a scrape on both my knees and my right elbow.

Strangely, the day then became magical. The rain eased enough to be able to walk through it, and so we made the Arc di Triomphe our next port of call. Why not knock over all the Lonely Planet hotspots in one day. Drenched. And bleeding. From the knees and the ego. We reached Champs Elysee as the rain stopped for good, the sun began to set, and Paris suddenly decided to smile. As did a strange man who kissed me after his friend photographed us together beneath the Champs Elysee sign with his mobile phone. As we walked down Champs Elysee, it was decided that although the day had surfed dizzying heights (sitting beneath the Arc di Triomphe as the sun set) and plundered crushing lows (facedown in a puddle being stepped over by chic Parisians and their Chanel wearing dogs) it was the kind of introduction to a city you never forget.

Rain (and a mini hailstorm) forced us to take cover in romantic archways and Edith Piaf soundtracked cafes the following day. A simple half hour walk down Rue Faubourg, past Bastille and onto Notre Dame, became an extreme sport. However, as it often is with extreme sport, the work was worth it. Notre Dame is exquisite. And although it is somewhat ironic to have to watch one's bag and shield it from pickpockets in God's house (pickpockets are mad for sinning under His nose) it was an architectural and spiritual highlight. We continued on, down the River Seine, to the Musee D'Orsay. A simple flick through the Lonely Planet would have revealed to us what we discovered after a half hour walk, that the D'Orsay was closed ... but combatting blustering winds scudding off the river was well worth the walk. The sun came out that day ... at 9pm.

And to the Catacombs, for an education in the macabre. This 2km stretch of quarry is the home of the skeletal remains of over 7 million Parisians, displayed in, as the guide at the beginning puts it, in a 'decorative manner'. I'm not going to lie to you, it is bizarre. Particularly when the father of an especially heinous father-son duo produces a blue light, holds it underneath the nasal cavity of a skull and encourages his son to take a photo. I mean, really. And, watching various tourists embrace skull photography with great enthusiasm, I was left to wonder, what is the appropriate pose for you, a skull, and a pile of artfully arranged femurs? Do you smile? Are you really that happy to be surrounded by the remains of 7 million people who died in horrendous circumstances? Do you look sombre, so as to befit the occasion? Because, when flipping through your travel album twenty years later, do you really want to see you posing dourly next to a leering skull? Surely not. We elected to skip this photographic dilemma and instead, watched in horror, as people went about making their own rules that at times, as aforementioned, involved props.

Take two with the D'Orsay failed to see us actually enter the building. To the uninitiated eye, it would appear we were casing the museum for a potential break in. This time it was open, but the queue was two hours long and the museum closed in two hours. Tip - for the big stuff in Paris, pre buy tickets. Or cry. We walked home, along the River Seine having walked over 7 million graves, a million spokes piercing the stormy sky.

Third time was a charm with the D'Orsay, which was as confusing as it was wonderful. I got lost and ended up riding escalators for a good half hour admiring the lesser known sculptures they put near the bathroom, for lack of wanting to look like I was actually lost in a museum. Having learnt our lesson, we set out to pre buy tickets to the Louvre and got thoroughly lost. That being said, if you are going to get thoroughly lost anywhere, do it in the winding little laneways of Paris. There is no better place to be. Especially when you sit down to some lemon pie and a cafe au lait, only to have a passing, portly old gentleman pat an imaginary extended belly and point at you through the window. We didn't, however, learn our lesson enough. That evening we attempted to see Harry Potter only to find both french and original versions were sold out. So we pre bought our tickets for the following night, in perhaps the most exciting pre buy to date.

The Louvre and Harry Potter dawned on the same day. Venus de Milo blurred into Voldemort , Mona Lisa into Draco Malfoy. It was a very, very exciting day. I really don't need to say anything about the Louvre, because I really can't say anything that will do it justice. Yes Mona Lisa is tiny, yes I almost cried when I saw Venus de Milo and yes the Greek, Roman and Estruscan collection is heaven, endless rooms of heaven. A personal highlight for me, however, came in the form of an Australian tourist, straight from the Kel Night mould. He managed to situate himself in an empty archway (Venus' room was under construction, so there were plenty of these empty archways) and, adopting some god forsaken imitation pose, boomed to his fellow tourist group 'oi, it's Simon de Milo ...'

Simon de Milo.

There we are, in the Louvre, everyone breathless and starry-eyed, bloated with culture, Asians peacing out madly - and the Australian coins himself Simon de Milo. Not quietly either, but in a loud, suburban twang, in a hall that needed no help with accoustics. I laughed, very hard.

For the record, Harry Potter was superb. Absolutely superb. And book number 7? Breathtaking.

Our last full day in Paris began as it did every morning, with severely sprained necks. Our beds rivalled concrete slabs for comfort. Leni arrived in the morning to continue her European Jaunt. From the word go, it was the most beautiful day in such a city, anyone could have asked for. If the first day was a faceplant in a puddle, the last was a bubble bath in champagne. Crepes and cafe au lait, from a tiny off the beaten track (until the Lonely Planet reviewed it) lined our stomachs for yet another dalliance with the dead. This time the skulls were safely ensconced in the rather beautiful Cimetare Pere which is the resting place of Moliere, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison among thousands and thousands of others. And let it be said, this time, we took pictures and we smiled. What else would Oscar Wilde have wanted?

Sacre Coeur was next, along with a brilliant, sundrenched view of the city in all its glory. And of course, the sun came out for our final 24 hours, so everyone was out lounging on the grass, listening to buskers sing Heal the World (no I did not make that up). And finally, we came full circle and spent the rest of our last evening at the Eiffel Tower. It was the day before Bastille Day, so the city was feeling festive, and by sunset the lawn in front of the tower was packed with picnicking Parisians (and drunken youths a la Milsons Point on NYE). Not to be outdone in the picnic stakes, we rustled up some Camembert, red wine (purchased from the very same cafe we had sought refuge in following the face plant) chocolate and Madeleines and had ourselves a bona fide French picnic, as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower and the fairylights came on to scatter it with stars.

We left for Barcelona the next morning, having finally fallen in love with Paris.


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1 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by AmyHuang

May 7th 2008 02:33
Paris is one of those places that does take a bit to get use to and love. Mainly because of the fact that it's been romanticised by films and literature.

However I am glad you finally fell in love with Paris. Despite all its' apparent upper class rudeness, it really is a beautiful city.

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