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I Love Paris.

Paris, France

Eiffel Tower 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’sNotre Dame 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.

Notre Dame

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
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 Champs Elysees 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.

Champs Elysees

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
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 keeper!

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!

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