I first visited Paris as a baby, or so I’ve been led to believe. As a teenager I got a brief glimpse of the city when passing through during a family holiday to Brittany. I finally visited the city for a propper look in my early twenties with my then girlfriend, now wife.
I liked the street stalls selling paintings on the Seine. I liked the Champs Elysées at night and the Arc de Triomphe. Notre Dame in the sunshine and the roller-bladers doing tricks for tourist tips outside. The Eiffel Tower looked better from afar, the new glass pyramid in the Louvre was hideous. The restaurants were expensive and the touts that called themselves artists were relentless. But the streets, the people, the language – it was all ‘Parisien’ and I loved it!
I had a feeling that there was more Paris for me to see, and just last Christmas I got a chance to go back and find out. This time I would be doing it on the cheap with my brother and, on his advice, we were staying in Montmartre.
With just two nights in the city, we didn’t waste time getting started. First stop was a perfect little patisserie to pick up some sweet pastries, a quick refuel while we searched for our hostel. Once we’d checked into our room and rushed through a few unavoidable ‘chores’, we were back out on the dark streets of Montmartre, the buzz of anticipation adding energy to our footsteps.
A few Metro connections later and we found ourselves surrounded by ticket touts. Not a problem – around the corner Paris Saint-Germain were battling Lille for a place at the top of the French league. With the game already started and the touts much less organised than I expected, we were able to pick up some cheap tickets without much hassle. I think we paid about fifteen euro each. I’m not a big football fan but the stadim was packed and the atmosphere was great. We never found our actual seats, neither fans nor officials seemed to get too fussed about who went where or did what. At half-time I got chips with mayonnaise just to be French.
Walking the Champs Elysées that night, we discovered that the Metro doesn’t run all night. But a long walk through empty Paris streets is sightseeing too… They have big rats in Paris. Speaking of ratatouille, my taste buds are not refined enough for me to really appreciate French cuisine. But I love their snacks and sweets – day after day I feasted on crepes, pastries and even liqourice cooked in a big cauldron at the local Christmas market.
It can be difficult to relax in a hostel the way you would in a hotel. That said, I like the opportunity it gives you to meet other people. We befriended our Australian roommates and had a nice interesting meal out with them and a few exciting games of table-football too! Last time I’d visited Paris I hadn’t made it over to Montmartre and I didn’t realised what I’d missed at all. The narrow streets, the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur make this an area that I’m glad I didn’t miss second time round. Sacre Coeur is very impressive and offers great views as an added bonus but my clearest memory of the place is the hawkers about half way up the steps trying to put twine around your finger. I don’t know what the purpose was or what they were trying to sell, but they were far too persistent/intimidating for my liking.
Our last morning in Paris was spent wandering around the grounds of the Louvre, along the Seine and up to the big ferris wheel and the Champs Elysées. We took our time and climbed around a bit to get a good look at things. Then it was time to go. Our bus back to the airport got caught in severe traffic jams and we had to run around the airport to make our flight. A lively end to a cracking trip. This city has really charmed me, I look forward to going back.
Up next, the Caribbean!