I Love Paris.
Seen from above, Paris looks curious uninspiring – dull, even. It’s just a mess
of white and grey, meandering over low hills. That, at least, is the impression
you get from the top of the Eiffel Tower, a structure worth going up more for
the experience than for the view.
At ground level, it’s one of the great cities of Europe, giving
place only to London, Venice and Rome for splendor and things to do.
A really good way to start a vacation in Paris is with a trip
down the River Seine in one of the many tourist boats. They stop at various
points, allowing you to get off and have a look around. This is a city, like
London, that has its river at it’s
heart. All the famous buildings from Notre Dame cathedral and Les Invalides to
the ultra-modern Pompidou Center are within a stone’s throw of the Seine.
Notre Dame is worth a look, though like many cathedrals in
France and Italy its exterior architecture is more interesting that the gloomy
insides of the building. It’s a masterpiece of gothic work – all miniature
spires and flying buttresses. Equally interesting are the small traders and
bookstall owners that set up their wares outside the cathedral and on the
opposite site of the river.
Head downstream a little further – towards the Eiffel Tower –
and don’t be surprised if you come across a beach. A couple of years ago the
local authorities shipped hundreds of tons of sand to the side of the river and
constructed an artificial beach to try to stem the mass migration of residents
that closes down the city every August. Whether it’s had its intended economic
effect is uncertain, but there’s no doubting that it’s been extremely popular.
Sacre Coeur, Montmartre
Some parts of Paris don’t really live up to their reputation. Montmartre, for
example, location of the notorious Moulin Rouge nightclub, is these days rather
scruffy and tacky – and possibly has always been so, owing its legend to fond
memories rather than anything approaching reality. Much more fun is the Latin
Quarter, an easy walk from the central Place de la Revolution. There are some
great restaurants and cafes around this region. A trip to Paris wouldn’t be the
same without visiting a restaurant. But be warned that Parisian eateries don’t
dominate world cuisine as they used to now. Although the French-awarded
Michelin stars are still largely given to French establishments, most
experienced international diners reckon there are more top quality places to
eat in London and New York these days.
But don’t let that put you off: don’t let the notorious rudeness
of Parisian waiting staff deter you, either. It’s widely suspected that they
get training in how to be offhand and dismissive of tourists, and you should
see it as part of the city’s unique charm.
Walking around Paris can be quite tiring, so it’s a
good idea to plan an itinerary in advance. There’s excellent shopping to be had
– kids will like the Champs Elysees for this, as it contains a healthy mix of
international chains and small boutiques. Watch out crossing the road in this
part of Paris, though. Parisian drivers are nearly as bad as Roman ones, and
you won’t see many cars without a few dents from minor collisions.
You’ll also probably notice the wideness of the streets and
boulevards. This is deliberate. Parisians have been a notoriously revolutionary
lot ever since the original French Revolution of 1789. During the nineteenth
century it didn’t take much to get them on the streets building barricades and
opposing – and sometimes toppling – central authority. When Paris was
extensively rebuilt in the later nineteenth century the government pursued a
deliberate policy of making the central streets as wide as possible. If you’re
a revolutionary you have a much tougher time barricading a wide street against
the forces of law and order than a narrow alley.
Paris In Winter
With perhaps the exception of the rebellion against German occupiers in 1944
and the student riots of the late sixties, Parisians have been pretty quiet for
the past century. Although central Paris is a busy place, you don’t have to go
far to find a bit of the peace and quiet that the French enjoy. Just a few
minutes walk from the center there are any number of pleasant leafy parks where
you can enjoy the afternoon sun. Just be careful about letting your kids play
on the grass: people generally aren’t allowed on the grass except in specified
areas – infringements are likely to attract a whistle from a passing park
It’s a great city, especially in spring and fall when the
temperatures are very pleasant – it can get very humid in the middle of summer.
Go there sometime, and maybe you’ll wind up loving Paris, too!