Sunday the 14th of June
The European Highlights Tour in which I am partaking is renowned for being fast paced – a way to see as much of the top half of the hemisphere as possible in a limited period of days. Anticipating this intense journey, I had not expected the speed of the tour to be as rapid as I now know and am exhausted from my adventures today. We arrived in the heart of Paris in the early morning with individually planned routes pencilled on maps in our pockets and a skip of excitement in our steps. We were given seven hours to explore the aged city so felt encouraged by our deadlines to get everything done in the given time.
Musee d’Orsay was our starting point, a museum for contemporary art situated as a fair central point between the iconic attractions of Paris. Although we did not enter the wide wooden doors beneath the golden clock face brimmed with floral engravings, we saw art in the architecture of this building. We followed the green waters of the Seine which had lowered walking banks beside the protective dam walls that made it seem as if we were walking on the water’s edge. This accommodated for a new view of the gold and copper -stone houses. With the river as our guide, we reached the Institut De France which was the body responsible for instating and regulating the phonetically difficult French language. The other side of the road came with another attraction that, although newer, was an icon of culture in its own right. The Love Bridge began its construction in 2008 when a militant died in combat in Afghanistan and his widow placed a lock on the bridge to symbolise her locking away her regrets and sorrows to only remember positive memories. Since then, couples have added locks to the bridge to the point that it has run the risk of buckling under the huge weight. For this reason locks are being removed from the bridges as encouraged by the slogan ‘love without locks’.
Golden embellishments decorating the spires of the municipality gate guarded the councilmen inside allowing no entrance for visitors. This was an official building that had been restored to its original grandeur sparkling aside the Seine. We crossed the water and came to a small island within the city on which the Notre Dam Cathedral stood from where the folklore tale of the hunchback originated. The two recognisable towers, circular glass stained window in its centre and statues of royalty standing between raised pillars had onlookers staring open-mouthed. The high archways were also intricately carved with citizens surrounding the pope, telling a story of religious prose. The stained glass windows that illuminated the grey building provided an eerie glow to the gothic church with the organ music adding to this impression. We arrived as the morning procession was beginning – the tourists were ushered to the sides of the church as the minister spoke with the people to the lord in the formal setting of the full company. Artworks and still life settings preserved in the olden rooms portrayed private prayer chambers and scenes from the bible. Our stomachs began growling with hunger just as we passed a pancake stand – banana nutella crepes please!
Our rapid pace somehow increased for the second part of the day in order for us to see all the sights and make it home in time. We followed a straight path from the Louvre, a museum in which getting lost was inevitable and a glass pyramid was featured in its centre to represent the alignment of the landmarks in the city. Then, to the spire-like memorandum of Egyptian origin named the Obelisk and finally down the busy and beautiful Champs Elysees until we reached the Arc de Triumph. The arch of triumph was surrounded by incredibly chaotic traffic too dangerous to cross. For this reason an underground passenger terminal was available that took us directly to the florally engraved panelling showing acknowledgements for deceased soldiers. The arch stood as shelter to an eternity flame memorial surrounded by flowers and a patriotic ribbon of the colours of the flag.
The day had already been beyond exhausting yet it was far from over; once we had finished our individual exploration, a trip to the province of Montmartre was on the agenda. Here we climbed up the many stairs to the peak of the Sacre Coer where we were delighted with the beautiful sunset scenery. The stairs of the Basilica was lined with locals and tourists alike soaking in the view and ambient vibrance. Our Parisian dinner consisted of a three course meal beginning with escargots, then beef bolognan and finally a chocolate mousse tart. This was accompanied by a glass of red and of rose which I was surprised to actually enjoy! Thereafter it was off to the cabaret! We went to the Nouvelle Eve which showed a traditional rendition of this burlesque style theatre show featuring the typical singer and dancers but also intermediary acts of comedians, acrobats and even a mime! The show had an eighties vibe to it which I imagine must be true to its roots.
Although this is not my first time in Paris, I am swept away by the magic of this city that has been preserved throughout history. My impression of France three years ago was tainted with disappointment of my expectations. Paris is a city that has captivated artists over the centuries. Whether through a medium of canvas or literature, it is portrayed as a place where romance is imminent and influenced by breathtaking scenery. The reality I saw from the centre of their inspiration was of a claustrophobic concrete jungle with views of rooftops. It was ugly. It was dirty. The air was tainted with pollution and litter covered the narrow streets. The locals weren’t friendly either. I had been gullible to the romanticised ‘landscapes of love’. I came back to Paris today with little expectation which has allowed me to see and appreciate what lies before me. A different group of people with an excited rapport full of anticipation had done wonders to provide me with a new perspective of Paris. I am happy I am here.