26 August 2008

The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay… I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café...

Jour un:

Bonjour, le bitches!

It’s kind of apt, I feel, to arrive in Paris by train. There’s something romantic and old fashioned about train travel. Sure modern trains are fast but there are much faster modes of transport…trains require patience and force you to reflect on the world as it passes you by. That's very French. As French as infrequent bathing and surrendering at a drop of the hat.

Trudi hooked me up with a quaint little hotel in the Ville de Puteaux which is west of the city centre; it’s small and a bit out of the way but it’s clean and the staff are friendly. Plus there’s no bed bugs which I understand is good for at least half a star in the official rating schema. The bathroom was très faible...you had to stand in the shower to go to the toilet (not that I was peeing in the shower, it was just really close to les toilettes). It was a pretty easy commute to the city proper on the Metro which rivals London’s underground in efficiency and ease of moving about but doesn’t seem to have any of the delays or breakdowns. I would have liked to take buses in order to see more of the city but that’s a project for next time. The entrance to some of the Metro stations have these awesome art deco sci-fi signs which look like alien street lights out of a Jules Verne novel. It’s the little touches of whimsy like that which really add to the magic of Paris. It’s no surprise the Bauhaus art movement never took off here; they don’t mind if something’s unnecessary or impractical so long as it looks good.

The French may not be able to fight, rock or make a decent mojito, but they sure know a thing or two about architecture. Like most European cities, Paris is spread out over a vast area but still manages to have a quaint crammed in feel. There are almost no skyscrapers, or indeed any buildings which reach over 2 or three stories. But the facades of some of the buildings are just breath-takingly elaborate. The exteriors verge on works of art...so much so it almost pains you to go inside. But when the weather is as crappy as it was on my first day, sometimes it's a pain you can live with. But still, even in the rain, Paris is a beautiful city. I wandered past the Palais Royal and the Palais Petit and across the Pont du Alexandre III towards the Hotel de Invalides (which is neither a hotel nor full of invalids, unless you count the hordes of elderly tourists getting in the way of my photos). Because the skyline is so low, you can pretty much see all of the major Paris landmarks from anywhere on the river, so getting your bearings isn't too difficult.

It was around this point that some gypsy street kid tried to scam me. They do this thing where they target the obvious tourist and bend down in front of you, pretending to pick up a ring or piece of jewellery which is hidden in their palm. They offer it to you as though you had dropped it. When you tell them it’s not yours they make a big display of showing how it’s too big to fit on their fingers and offer it to you “for good luck”. If you’re silly enough to accept it they then ask you for some money in exchange. Thankfully I was hip to this game before I got here so I pocketed the ring and kneed the little prick right in the pommes de terre.

I wandered over to the Eiffel Tower which is another one of those classic architectural icons which doesn’t quite seem real, even when you’re standing on it looking out over all of Paris. Paradoxically, it seems both smaller and larger than it should be but is so ingrained in your imagination that you struggle a little to believe that you're actually standing in front of it, let alone atop of it. And it's brown...eeewww! Taking the elevator to the top seemed like the chumps way of ascending so I took the stairs which made it feel like something more of an accomplishment. Regrettably, all of the chumps were waiting for me at the top so any chance to be alone with one's thoughts as I gazed out over the expanse of Paris while the sun broke through the clouds at dusk was completely lost as a seemingly endless procession of fat tourists of all nations and creeds jostled to pose with their over-priced tumblers of champagne around the observation deck. Then I had to take the stairs all the way back down. Hard to believe that even in Paris one's sense of romance can be trampled underfoot.

Tiring of the hordes and the incessant drizzle, I wandered back to the Metro via the Arc de Triomphe, which was something of a disappointment as you have to pay money to see it up close. You can get a decent view from the edges of the roundabout surrounding it but if you want to get right up in it's grill you take these subway tunnels underneath the street and fork over a ludicrous amount just to stand beneath. Instead I braved the insane traffic hurtling through the roundabout for your standard postcard shot.

After seven hours of wandering my poor feet were killing me, for the most part due to my brand new Chuck Taylors which I'd bought specially for the trip. So it was back to Puteux for a scrumptious dinner of cheeses and meats and pastries and a little too much wine before hitting le sack in preparation for some serious sight-seeing the following day...

À être poursuivi...

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