June 5, 2011

A brief taste of Paris

I realized how lightly I had prepared for the trip: I knew there were a set of sites and museums I just had to see but I hadn't really paid attention to the finer details of your typical trip to another country. Without mobile Internet, I whipped out some offline maps on my phone that I had thoughtfully got before leaving home. With the help of GPS it was pretty easy to find my way to the hostel relying on nothing more than a photographic memory of the hostel's location on Google maps (this could have ended badly though with no backup plan had I recalled falsely). While I had intended on using the Paris rental bike scheme, Vélib, my credit card kept on getting declined so while maintaining my resolve to see the city from above ground and not from the dark tunnels of the metro, the long walk was the only choice.

St Christopher's is a such great hostel to be in: It quickly becomes obvious that this chain of hostel's has learned from its past reviews and has answered every bad point with a clever solution. Our room overlooked a beautiful canal portion of the Seine, the view adding to the clever bunk system which included curtains, night lights and power points built into each of the 10 bunk cells. A lockable cage rolled out from under the beds giving a secure place to store luggage and valuables while out and about. Madde joined an hour and a half later having not been so lucky with her London sleep as I had.

By purchasing online, I had circumvented the payment problem for Vélib and it was time to go exploring. My first meal in Paris after having not eaten anything since Ramsay dinner the night before was a beautiful tuna and egg roll on the most gorgeous freshly baked bread. After such a long time hungry, it was the best meal imaginable! It really does seem strange when Madde and I reflected on having been in a different country that morning, hopping on a train and being in a completely different cultural surrounding. The French don't seem to like using English and we both felt so inadequate when high school teachings had obviously accounted for nothing regarding speech. We tried but they probably were only getting hints from our body language.

Maybe it was just the fact that it was a beautiful and sunny Saturday but I felt astonished by just how many people we saw outside. Be it running, sitting at the Cafe or just soaking up the sun in a park, everyone seemed to be out and utilizing every common space in the city. While the hostel's north west part of town was rather quiet, as we approached the centre of town, it got so busy as people all seemed to be on foot or bicycle. It seemed to me that Paris was another one of those cities where the car seems just a bit redundant.

After struggling at first with the hire bikes, with nothing but a random sense of direction taking the lead, we started seeing more and more people on the footpaths, encouraging us in the right direction. The first sight confirming our direction was the Opera Garnier, a fantastically sized, opulent building dedicated to music. Next came the Collone Vendôme before the sights started to come on heavy. Having followed the road along the north side of the Tulleries gardens, we rounded the corner and as if from a fairy-tale, the Eiffel tower rose from the skyline. With the Obelisk and the tower right in front of us, we then knew we had found what we both associated with Paris. It is here that the the latter half of the 18th century really shows itself where Paris was a world centre for science and the arts. The remarkable architecture in this part of town impresses no end with remarkable buildings like Hôtel des Invalides and Grand Palais simply astounding the mind with respect to scale and artistry. With this epic concentration of art at the city centre, one quickly understands why Paris is such a must visit destination.

Having cycled and walked in the summer heat for over 4 hours without eating or drinking, it was time to rest the weary legs and return home to recover from the long morning and the physical exertion of a full on day of superficial but astounding sightseeing. We rode through the Louve on the way home, once again struck by the sheer scale of space dedicated to the arts in this city. It became more understandable that one could spend weeks and weeks in that place and not see half of it.

This little expedition has only just whetted my appetite for what is to come and I am now so excited for tomorrow. There are just so many places I have seen today that I want to know more about and want to see in more detail from the outside and from the interior. Sleep will come easy tonight and a big day awaits.

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