I was spoilt rotten and taken to Paris, the “ville de l’amour”, for my birthday. Here’s a little travel guide/review/diary of our time.
On the few weeks before hand, who ever I spoke to gave me reals of recommendations and suggestions: “you have to get to Notre Dame before 10am or the queues will be hours”, “you have to walk up the Tour Eiffel, it’s a better experience”, “you have to visit a cemetery that’s 2 hours out of the city – it’s really worth it!” After a long week at work, Friday morning heading to the Eurostar and I was already exhausted. The concept of attempting to pack every single sight into a short weekend break was daunting, especially all the stairs we were expected to take. In hindsight, I think we experienced more of Paris doing as we did.
Arriving in Paris at 2pm, we wandered down a few cobbled streets and bumbled into a bistro, Le Bébé, on small square. If situated in London, it would have been ironically hipster, with soft Jazz, a bookcase with everything from Vogue to Catch 22 in French, group of suited businessmen were negotiating over a long lunch, with an array of “contemporary” art and traditional bare wood covering the walls. We swiftly ordered a bottle of white wine and watched the tourists drag heavy suitcases down the cobbles and up over curb-sides. We lunched Paris-style.
After de-cluttering and cleaning up in the hotel, we left for a wander. We had a vague idea of which arrondissement we planned to cover but we were happy to swan about at the tempo of everyone else. We found ourselves at L’Arc de Triomphe and decided to stand and watch to see how long it was before either a car was crunched by the mad lane-changing or a tourist was hit from standing on the end of one of the joining roads for a photo op. Hands up, we did take our own, but remained on the pavement – not so adventurous. Accompanied by the melody of car horns, we turned and wandered down Avenue des Champs Elysées. And from then, I’m not actually sure where the evening went. We talked endlessly about mad plans and funny things and weird people that we saw, ending up in a little restaurant near our hotel.
Our hotel, Hotel Splendor, was another story. Tim told me he chose it because “it wasn’t like any hotel that you’d find in any city” and boy, it wasn’t. It was magic themed and they had seriously stuck to the theme. With a bunny rabbit in the lobby, the rooms were all themed around playing cards, clowns and burlesque. Our room was carpeted in giant playing cards, following the theme, painted only in black and red, with a ginormous picture of a woman throwing cards, that changed as you moved around. It was prodigious, to say the least. On a practical note, the bed was comfy, the room was spacious and the Juliet balcony made for good people-watching.
To get away from the endless sparkles and red and black paint, we found breakfast out. We sat in a little bar with croissants and coffee and, watched everyone else busy around. It was incredibly liberating to know we didn’t have to do anything all day. Our leisurely start continued throughout the day, and although we walked 18km, we didn’t actually do anything. We stopped for a midday beer on our way to Le Louvre and mimicked tourists with our failed attempts of taking a picture looking like you’re holding the pyramid.
We lunched along the Seine, at Café Du Ponte Neuf, in the beautiful spring sunshine, listened in to conversations and watched the mass of people flock by. Despite the reviews of this place, it was a perfect place to watch the world go by and the food was beautiful. After a short amble, we sat and listened to the 3pm bells at Notre Dame and read the story whilst watching the line of tourists shuffle towards the cathedral. The sunshine had resulted in us carrying our coats in arms and we wandered along the Seine riverbank back west, towards the Tour Eiffel. It was the most romantic part of the holiday, a real recommendation. We walked hand in hand past the endless people sunning on the river. The Tour Eiffel itself wasn’t as magnificent as I’ve been told. It was breath-taking but with the dust and crowds of people and endless building work around it, it felt a bit claustrophobic. However, we did spend some time there to exhibit our inner-bohemian.
(After seeing the Hockney exhibition at the Tate Britain, we were enthused by Hockney’s photography work (take a look to see what I’m on about!) and attempted to recreate this at the Tour Eiffel… the final result is still in progress. We’ll see!)
Again, we stopped for drinks for the rest of the sunshine at Carette, a bustling restaurant, 5 minutes from the Tour Eiffel view point. We returned to watch the lights sparkle at 9pm, which was a real show.
Anyone who confidently visits a country where they do not speak the language is my hero. This is something that really daunts me. Since my mum took 14 year old me to Barcelona, I have spent the majority of my time abroad in Italy and happily mistaken as Italian and I like it that way. Although my French isn’t complete awful, I was nervous, to say the least. But with the French I had, we were welcomed with open arms and spoke through a mixture of nervous French, Italian and smiles.
Paris is a gorgeous city. Endless and timeless architecture that hasn’t been ruined by the odd, inconsistent, modernised building. It’s clean and, if taken at a leisurely pace, relaxing and welcoming. You can never truly experience a city until you do as they do.
Why wait in hours for a queue to look over the top of the city, when you can sit outside a café, with a cooling glass of wine and apéritif, and listen to and watch the city.