Monday, 5 September 2011

Days 26-29: Paris

We kicked off our first full day in Paris by basically retracing the steps we'd taken the night before, and having a look around Montmartre in the daytime, heading back to the Sacre-Coeur and the surrounding area at the top of the hill.

From there we went back to the hotel, picked up all our stuff, and shifted it to the hotel we'd be staying at for the rest of our time in Paris. Our second hotel was situated near the Bassin de la Villette, and owned by a French couple who spoke no English whatsoever, but were nice enough. Our four-bed room only actually had two double beds, making our time in gay Paris a tad bit more gay than I'd have otherwise liked, but aside from that and the fact the overground metro was right outside our window, it was pretty nice, though in a rough area. Certainly good for the price given how expensive most places in Paris are.

We split up at this point. Jamie was meeting with a friend who lives in Paris, and I wanted to watch Arsenal v Liverpool. Nick and Gerry wandered into Paris to see the sights on a little man-date, Jamie disappeared to meet his friend, and I went on wander towards the centre to try and find a place showing the game.

In any UK city this would be a trivial exercise. You get pubs and sports bars everywhere, and they'd almost certainly be open at what was about 12:30pm on a Saturday. In Paris, this is not the case. Partly because sports bars and pubs just don't seem to be particularly common, and partly because for the month of August all Parisians apparently fuck off elsewhere and most places are shut.

I ended up at an English pub called "The Frog & Rosbif", which is around two and a half miles away from the hotel, though given the indirect route I took and the getting lost (the map I had was totally useless for smaller roads), I probably walked a good four miles by the time I'd gotten there. And it was the first pub I'd come across showing any sport, let alone Premiership football. Having to pay €6.50 for a pint hurt, but I was grateful just to find somewhere showing the game (and I'd later find that in Paris that isn't actually that expensive).

Liverpool won 2-0, so I was in decent spirits for the rest of the day and met back up with the guys at the Notre Dame cathedral. The weather had really kicked up a level in Paris, and it was in the mid-to-high thirties in the sun. From Notre Dame we made the short walk to the Shakespeare & Company shop, which is a tiny but densely-packed English bookshop just on the other side of the river. It was pretty much the same as the little bookshops in the centre of Cambridge, but a little more crammed in. We chilled out for a while before heading back to the hostel.

The next day we got out fairly early to hit the Musee D'Orsay, an art gallery consisting mostly of art from the 1850-1930 period. The building itself is a spectacular ex-railway station, and it has a massive amount of art in there. It's not completely my preferred sort of art, but I quite enjoyed the Nouveau and Impressionist stuff. Plus most of the museums and galleries in Paris are free to under-25 EU citizens, which is fantastic.

The D'Orsay took up the entire morning, so we had lunch at a café nearby and moved on. The other guys went to chill in the Jardin du Luxembourg, whilst I went to walk down the historical axis. The axis starts at La Defense, and continues in a straight line through the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde to the Louvre. In total it's around five miles long (8km).

I started by getting the train out to La Defense and the Grand Arche, which is ridiculously big. It's pretty difficult to get a decent photo of the thing, because you have to be stood miles away just to get the whole thing in shot. The rest of La Defense is pretty nice as well, with a lot of fairly new skyscrapery buildings.

I grabbed a java chip frappé from the Starbucks in the shopping centre there and started off my walk down to the Arc de Triomphe, which seemed miles away (and I guess it literally was). On the way I also happened to randomly stumble across a really ancient Jaguar, which my dad has since correctly identified as a Jaguar C-Type.

Though my huge chilled chocolate-coffee thing barely lasted me a third of the way, it actually didn't take too long to get to the Arc de Triomphe, probably helped by the weather being pleasant. It's possible to go up the Arc, again free for EU U25s, and the views from the top are pretty good.

From the Arc de Triomphe I continued down the Champs Élysées, now somewhat freshly excited for the fact that I was on the course for the circuits on the final stage of the Tour de France. I even managed to find what I'm pretty sure is the finish line (I have no idea why else there would be a white line painted across the road). It was also getting into the latter half of the afternoon and it was really hot at this point - some of the patches of tarmac on the Champs Élysées were literally molten.

At the end of the Champs Élysées is the Place de la Concorde, with its huge Egyptian obelisk, the fountains, and some quite nice surrounding architecture. It also has the HQ for the FIA, which I didn't know was there but the name of the Concorde Agreement makes a lot more sense now.

The final part of the axis is through the Jardin des Tuileries, to the square in the middle of the Louvre. I've been to the Louvre before when I was younger, but I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer size of the thing. It's absolutely massive on a scale I'd never really known before.

Having gone the whole way down the axis, the final thing I wanted to find was the statue of Joan of Arc, which is a something that's fairly heavily seen in the Tour de France TV coverage. It actually took me ages to find the sodding statue, because the camera positioning on TV makes it seem like the statue is in a fairly open space, when actually it's tucked away off to the side of the Louvre in the middle of a road junction, right next to some large buildings.

Absolutely knackered at this point, I headed back to the hotel, somehow ending up in the Les Halles metro station, which is just staggeringly big underground. I swear by the time I'd actually walked from the entrance I came in at to the line I needed to get I'd pretty much covered half the distance back to the hostel.

The next day we started out at the Pompidou, which I'd been looking forward to. I think the building itself is really cool, but it's also primarily the art period that I really like. It didn't disappoint, and some of the stuff on display there is awesome. I particularly liked a video Nick directed me to of a bunch of scouse primary school kids describing a Picasso painting and coming out with some of the most hilarious stuff.

From the Pompidou we headed back to the Notre Dame (at which I used up the last of the well-preserved camera battery), and then again to the Shakespeare & Company shop. I wasn't really interested in superfluous browsing of books or buying anything (I mean, it's going to be cheaper on Amazon anyway...), so I went to the park next to it to read the book I had in my rucksack, and was joined fairly shortly by Nick. Turns out the public park had free wifi access courtesy of Orange, so instead I actually checked emails and Facebook and the like for an hour or so until the other guys were done in the bookshop.

From the bookshop we wandered through Paris a bit trying to find areas that were good for pubs and bars. Our final full day in Paris was Gerry's 21st birthday, so the plan was to spend most of the afternoon and evening using up what remaining Euros we had. We stopped for a pint in a fairly small pub, and it turned out that Gerry's twin brother was actually in pretty much the exact same area we were. Unbeknownst to Gerry, his brother had come to Paris for our last two days to celebrate with him, so we moved to the pub they were in, and they sat in the table next to us until Gerry noticed they were there.

With drink being ridiculously expensive in pubs, we went back to our hotel, buying a ton of cheap (really cheap) wine in a convenience store in the next street. There were various drinking games, lots of alcohol was consumed, we got very, very drunk.

The plan for the last full day was to go round the Louvre. None of us were particularly interested, but we figured that if it was free we might as well pop in and see the Mona Lisa. It's probably a good job we weren't looking forward to it that much, because the Louvre is apparently shut on Tuesdays. So is the Musee de l'Orangerie, which was another option. Most of us felt like crap and weren't too keen on walking much anyway, so we defaulted to an alternative plan of sitting by the fountains in the Jardin de Tuileries and not doing an awful lot for a while.

We did a bit of walking around the gardens and the Champs Élysées, before going back to the hotel and heading out to go drinking. Gerry's brother, Pete, had brought a ton of money with him from their dad, which was greatly appreciated because most of us were broke by this point. The Irish bar we were at was pretty good, and the barwoman who served us at the start of the night was decent for giving us discounts on account of it being someone's birthday, though her shift ended about halfway through and the guy who replaced her was far less generous. Still, it was a really good final night of the trip.

I liked Paris a lot more than I thought I would, and I felt like we did OK in terms of time there, having thought that six days might be a bit excessive, though it did help we spent one of them hungover and didn't really do a great lot. It was also brilliant for sights being cheap/free for students, unlike a good 80% of the other places we've visited. Definitely one of the best cities on the trip, and a lot more than simply where we were catching the Eurostar from.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the last section very much and it makes me want to visit Paris again. Not that I need much encouragement. Great blog!