One hour and twenty minutes into an Aer Lingus flight and Paris loomed into view from the oval peep hole to the side of us. Never having stepped a foot in France, this was a new one for me and a Birthday related trip for my Fiancée.
Last Thursday - the day we travelled, didn’t start out too well. One thing you don’t want to see on the way to the airport are fields sugar-coated with snow and clouds up above exuding more. Normally such a sight on a weekday morning would fill me with excitement and I’d head out of the door with a smile on my face. With a flight due to take off and hotel reservations paid for however, the same sights do tend to hit a different chord. A little sense of unease and uncertainty took over. Was the flight going to be delayed? Will it be cancelled? Will we make it to the hotel the same day?
Thankfully the answer to the first two questions was no and to the last, yes. Unlike Templepatrick just down the road, Belfast International Airport had hardly seen much snow at all and the planes were pottering about as normal. After a very expensive breakfast and an unsuccessful attempt on the dance machine on difficult level we were full throttle on the gas and up in the air. Within a few hours we arrived outside our hotel on the streets we recognised from the brilliant Google street view.
After dumping our guff in our room and having the customary hot beverage to recharge the batteries we headed out into the heart of Paris. I soon learnt that both pedestrians and drivers in Paris have a little bit of a kamikaze nature. There seems to exist some sort of system whereby going through a red light is ok as long as you don’t hit anything and for pedestrians, it’s ok to walk through someone as long as they are the ones to lose the game of chicken and no one complains. Still once you get used to it; it did seem to speed journeys up. Though I’m glad I wasn’t nursing any injuries at the time.
Our first evening was spent walking around the Galleries Lafayette looking at things we could never afford followed by a really nice curry and a shared bottle of wine in the restaurant Marinisa near the Moulin Rouge which seemed more popular than the queue for passport control at the airport.
A wee walk later we found a rather French looking bar where we sipped another drink outside watching the world go by. It would have been the perfect end to the evening had I not accidentally thanked the bar man in Spanish. Oops. Half in preparation for the day ahead and half to cuddle up somewhere comfortable we headed back to our hotel.
Friday morning dawned and we made a relatively early start (by my standards anyway). After a quick wander past the Madeleine, around a posh chocolate shop, a few photos around the Place de la Concorde and a dander along the Seine we found ourselves in the Louvre.
As much as I like to immerse myself in a dose of culture, I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy the Louvre for the educational value. Within the museum we stayed largely within the Denon and Sulley buildings as they housed the exhibits we were most interested in as we planned our route in the coffee shop.
There were many things you could only stand back and admire. Some of the works and exhibits must have taken someone, somewhere in the depths of time, a whole lot of their lives to create. Not being a regular subscriber to the religious connotations pulsing through a lot of the artworks on display, I found it nice to find a few paintings with some pretty clouds. Those were much more appealing to me than yet another over elaborate artist’s impression from the 15th Century of a larger than life baby Jesus.
The Mona Lisa still had the crowds at her mercy and the other major works were all being ogled and flashed more than a streaker at a cup final.
As well as impressive the sculptures were great fun as were the Egyptian, French, Roman, Greek and Medieval artefacts. In a room of statues it was ideal to recreate a scene from the Dr Who episode ‘Blink’ where the statues come to get you when you close your eyes.
The Venus de Milo was still using her phantom arms to hold up her drapery and eat her apple whilst looking on into the middle distance luring everyone to admire her assets. No mean feat when you're over 2000 years old. If the museum is anything to reflect the culture of the ages, then along with religion the other main trend was the age old healthy obsession with bits n’bobs, it did cross my mind to wonder how many phalluses and breasts were actually on display? Answers on a postcard!
Later in the day, after a flying visit to Notre Dame. We refuelled with Banana and Chocolate pizza washed down with a wee bit more of the red stuff before pushing on towards the Eiffel Tower. As we approached its base I finally had to get over the fact that indeed it probably was a little more impressive than Blackpool tower. More annoyingly though were the mass of ‘1 Euro’ mini light up Eiffel Tower sellers who were constantly asking over and over again if you’d like to buy one. When the police moved in they all scuttled across the bridge, it was a very odd sight but that didn’t deter them. I have to give it to them they were persistent. Before heading up the tower we made it past another wave of mini tower sellers up to the Palais de Chaillot where we took in a great view.
Sunset was fast approaching as we made it to the front of the queue on the East entrance. When we made it to the 2nd floor we fell out of the lift to find the prettiest view of a city I think I’ve yet had the fortune to see. It really was beautiful. Paris stretched as far as the eye could see. A few wisps of cloud scattered the mid distance of the sky as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, holding on for us just a few moments longer than for the river and people below.
Just after sunset we made it to the top of the tower. The 'city of lights' illuminated around us and after a quick smooch we wandered around the top deck admiring the beams swirling around the sky light a light house for pigeons. Not wearing a coat, no matter how beneficial in the sun and whilst walking around the Louvre earlier in the day, now became a bit of a disadvantage. Putting the cold out of mind it was still an awe inspiring view. The cold did eventually beat us and another brew, this time on the first floor, was required before we dared venture back down to ground level and carry on to the Champs-Élysées and to the Arc de Triumph.
With very, very sore legs and tired feet we finally arrived back after a meal and slumped into our hotel room, into the shower and before long to a deep and much needed sleep.
I don’t know why it took me so long to visit Paris. Funds and situations allowing, I’d love to visit again and do all that we didn't have chance to this time - is it sad I was jealous of all the kids at the airport heading back from Eurodisney?
On the plane home, between turns playing travel scrabble, I did ponder what Belfast might be able to do to compete with Paris? The best I could come up with was that they have their towers and arc’s but what they don’t have is two giant yellow cranes. The Harland and Wolff cranes are already a working tourist attraction of sorts. Maybe one day they will go ahead with that fun idea of sticking a coffee shop on top of one of them so that French tourists can grab a warming brew between the cranes creating offshore wind turbines ... who knows, stranger things have happened?