Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Travel: Paris

Paris, famous for many things and so easy to get to from our soon-to-be-fractured Kingdom that it seems rude not to visit more often. Admittedly, this time I may have hijacked my father's Eurostar points, which meant that not only was the trip easy, but also free which made it even more enticing. Coupling that with the £130 hotel for four nights meant the overall cost was £65 each for myself, and my girlfriend. Plus all the associated costs for vacationing in one of the world's most expensive cities.

Admittedly the hotel, in the suburb of Saint-Denis, was fairly basic. A bed, a sink, a TV, and a single light. The sheets were stained with something that I don't care to think about, and only hand towels were provided - which made drying yourself an interesting challenge. Saint-Denis itself is home of a beautiful cathedral, although its exterior is covered with scaffolding, which slightly detracts from the spectacle. At times though it did feel intimidating, with the emergency services being a fairly common sight. One night we rose from the Metro to a cluster of vehicles bathing the area in a piercing blue light; we didn't stick around for long.

The center of the world's most romantic city was surprisingly empty, maybe not unexpected considering we were there from Thursday-to-Monday around June's first full weekend, before Summer has really kicked in. It still happened to perfectly coincide with Pentecost weekend, a national holiday south of the Channel. The Queen herself was also in town to mark the seventieth anniversary of D-Day. Her Majesty, and François Hollande, paid respects at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier - which lays beneath the Arc de Triomphe - whilst we were at the other end of the Champs-Élysées wondering what on Earth was going on.

Unfortunately the emptiness of the city meant that there were less tourists to trap into handing over money. We happened to find ourselves in this situation, when a caricature 'artist' dragged us over to a bench after we couldn't say no enough times. Never slow down. Personally, I'm pretty happy with how I turned out; Lauren less so.

The obvious Parisian landmarks are awe inspiring, and normally completely terrifying. Why anybody would endanger their lives by clambering to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or even the aforementioned Triumphal Arch is beyond me. A view of Paris is much better achieved, I imagine, from the Sacré-Cœur, where you have the bonus of all the street performers. A particularly impressive spectacle consisting of a man juggling a football while climbing a lamppost attracted a rather large audience.

Disneyland is obviously a must visit, but with the temperature hitting thirty it was the shade offered by queue lines that was most attractive. Aerosmith's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster not only gave riders a fantastic sound track, but the 0-to-60 mph in 2.8 seconds was a great chance to cool down too. Disney seem incredibly adept at creating conversations in English and French where there's no direct translation, but you can still follow what's going on perfectly. A technique employed on the Walt Disney Studio's Tour where Jeremy Irons, who I'll never look at in the same way after watching Dead Ringers, somehow bypasses the language barrier whilst flirting with a French Actress. I'd never stuck around until closing in the park before, but this time I caught the closing show - which works its way through everybody's favourite Disney films with added fireworks and lasers, while projecting images onto the castle. It's flawlessly done, and definitely recommended should you get the chance.

The Bois de Boulogne is a national park on the edge of the city which allegedly spans an area two and a half times larger than Central Park, and although the home of Roland Garros I had never heard it mentioned before. We took a stroll around the lakes on a hot Saturday afternoon. It seems like the closest that Paris gets to the beach with family picnics, and people packed onto every inch of grass. On the way back into the center of Paris we ended up at Ranelagh, a Metro station, which brought memories of secondary school flooding back. shudder.

Due to my lack of understanding that literally nothing opens on Sunday, even in Paris (or at least where we were), our plans to shop changed into going to the Jeu de Paume - an art gallery in the gardens between the Champs-Élysées and the Louvre. We managed to stumble in on their tenth anniversary weekend, which meant that we got free books and a free ticket to the exhibitions. Which was a nice surprise.

On our final day we packed up and left the hotel for Gare du Nord. I definitely didn't anticipate the number of people packing their bags into the left luggage, and when that was full we ended up having to trek to the Gare de l'Est in search of a more useful facility. A lovely detour on our way to find the cult Abbey Bookshop. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, it was a bank holiday, and when we eventually got to Rue de la Parcheminerie it turned out it was closed. So that's definitely on the to-do-list for the next visit, along with actually seeing half the stuff in Saint-Denis, which we sadly neglected.

On our way back to the train station we walked down Rue Saint-Denis - nothing to do with the other Saint-Denis in the present day (the road historically used to lead to the suburb, interestingly it was also at the centre of the June Rebellion - the more you know) - which was lined with sex shops, and the occasional prostitute. I honestly I have no idea how the former can survive in today's world, but the overwhelming number means that they're doing something right. The city of love, I suppose.

With seriously painful feet, and - somewhat surprisingly - no sunburn we journeyed back under the channel. I had to get back to Birmingham for my third year induction, and all of Lauren's trains back to Peterborough were delayed due to a suicide near St Neots. It's good to be back, England.

More photos are on my flickr, here!