After much thought over our choice of holiday destinations which included Galapogos, Amazon and South Africa, we decided to venture to the City of Lights, mainly due to the zillion ‘Oh you must go to Paris’ responses we got.
Rest assured that Paris is still an European city and one of the main tourist destinations in the world, though you might not think so after reading the rest of the blog.
The train ride from London to Paris was lovely. The arrival at Gare du Nord, considered to be the busiest railway station in Europe, was a SHOCK! The unbearable smell of urine was overwhelming, the bird poo, the cigarette butts, the dirty stained glass, the little food outlets which offered seats covered in bird poo, the lack of information and the lack of proper sign posts, was not what I expected to see in Paris.
Though old, dirty and smelling of pee, the Metro in Paris is still better than the Underground in London. The Metro runs on time and is regular and costs less than half the price for what seemed like a much better service. However, all signage was in French and there was no clear indication on how to use or buy tickets.There are a few sign boards in English placed at random intervals which I am sure an Englishman planted on the sly and the French would remove if they ever discovered them! Also God help you if you are obese or even slightly chubby because you will not get through some of the Metro gates, which seemed to have been designed for stick insects. Any kind of luggage, dogs, goats or cattle will most definitely have to be left out as not all stations provide luggage exits!
The very picky DH (Dear Husband) booked a lovely hotel in what seemed like a nice part of town. With kids dropping their ice creams in wonder at the sight of me clinging to what must have seemed a crossbreed of a Frenchman in his hat, I wandered the streets looking for a café that had an impressive menu. Cafes were aplenty; food was not. All cafes seem to serve the same 5 main courses. Very little choice, very bland food and yes, they speak only French in France.
Maybe it was our choice of location (about 500m from the Eiffel Tower) but we could not find anything nice to eat - burghers, steak, pasta and salmon were the main dishes, mostly served in what seemed to a bed of lettuce the farmer had thrown directly onto the plates from his truck. In what seemed to be this "very French "area, we found "very French" food and "very French" abrupt service. This did not stop us from relaxing in these cafes enjoying the bland food and for once we sat and had a leisurely meal.
Well known fact is that it is one of the seven wonders. The unknown fact is that the eighth wonder lies right below the Eiffel. The endless, chaotic, disorganised, jumbled together queues of people waiting to get in with absolutely no shelter from the rain or sun and no facilities for the disabled, the pregnant or children. It seemed to be a normal thing to queue for up to 3 hours. No staff or information at any accessible level or approachable distance. The worse thing is those who book via the web go past the ones queuing for hours and it seemed like there was no allocation or indications to how many of these booking were accommodated for each slot. So if you queued up for 2 hours and a group of 50 people come with online bookings then you just got to wait an extra 2 hours until they are done. There is no time limit for people to be in the actual tower so some spend the day there while a good 500 people wait from morning till noon to get on it. After 3 hours of queuing in the hot sun and looking like four pieces of toast, a British family was turned away with two wailing girls because one lift just closed with no prior indication. There was no attempt to get them on another queue or give them a token to come at a later time/date which would have been the case in London.
The absence of systems to deal with the crowds it attracts and lifts being closed for maintenance during a busy weekend was not what I expected when I decided to see one of the seven wonders of the world. DH went twice because he was able to get up in the morning and I joined for another attempt that same night. After 3 hours of queuing and further standing around we were able to go only to the second floor as the top floor was closed. I only saw what damage we humans had done to planet earth, the so called breathtaking view comprised of buildings on every inch of land I could see!
The area surrounding the Eiffel Tower was not very well maintained. There were open patches with no grass or pavement and very soon our shoes were covered in dust.
This, out of the few places we went to, seemed to be the cleanest and most organised. It would have taken days to venture into all the areas so we decide to stick to what we thought might interest us. We walked what must have been a couple of miles inside the museum. We managed to find Mona Lisa aunty hidden in one of the corners. I think the day we visited was when Mona aunties entire family had come to see her and they were all posing next to her for shots. After struggling and pushing and insisting that DH takes a shot of her I managed to take a quick glimpse of aunties face and crept out of what seemed like a ocean of bums in my face. I must say it looks very different to the copies we had seen.
This was the main place of interest for me. Again very interesting except for the mile long queue to get in. After convincing DH with a million ‘it will be worth it’ statements (I said long and loud enough for those around us also joining in telling him the same), we finally got in. It was a beautiful place - the stained glass was the nicest I had seen, surprisingly they allowed photographs and here are some of the shots.
A total waste of money! Nothing much to see. French blah blah on the little we did see. No eye pleasing sights at all.
Ok so another very long walk through Champs-Élysées which had all the branded shops in Paris – alas due to the public holiday all were closed (I am sure DH was very happy about that!!). After insisting that DH can stand right in the middle of the main road, next to a traffic light, along with his very big tripod and me guarding him while cars went whizzing past on both sides, DH spent what seemed like a good hour taking his shots. Yes it seemed in Paris anything was possible unlike in London where you cant park, stand, look or even take the camera out at half the locations.
After shooting the Arc in all the possible angles and me still not understanding the fascination with it we ventured under the Arc to the now welcoming smell of pee. We then had dinner in what seemed to be a pizza café where sharing of food was not permitted. Basically you order a plate a head and each plate was a tray with a family size pizza on it. 'Eat if you can or leave but pay' seemed to be their policy. Leaving anything on the plate in our case for a definite ‘no, no’ so I ate a thin slice and DH ate two whole family size pizzas but nothing to worry cos I am pretty sure we walked off everything we had ever eaten in our entire lives while in Paris.
I think, during the three days we spent in Paris, we walked more than we had ever walked during an entire year in London. Exhausted and dreaming of biriyani and wattalapam but having only a long, tasteless hard loaf of bread to eat all the time, DH suggested we go to the church on the hill! Hmm another building!! Well anyway walk up the hill we did. Quite a nice view and the Sri Lankan system was at work here. There was no queuing - we all just barge in and somehow creep into the church. Photos were not allowed. But the most interesting thing was the guy who was doing his bit with a football just outside the church. Totally awesome and some really great moves including climbing up a lamp post and balancing the ball on one foot!
Yes this is a bit of a moany blog but this was our first hand experience whilst there. I am surprised that not many people talk about or any review mentioned this side of Paris. I am sure outside Paris, the little villages with the cobbled paths and cafes do offer the kind of experience France is also about. If we had time maybe we would have gotten used to the total "laid back, do what you please, walk wherever you want, shoot whatever you need, pee smelling, not too tasty food" life Paris offered – I wouldn’t know because I, for one, will not venture to Paris again even on a free deal!