• Paris 1.0: Invading Europe

    by  •  • France, Travel

    Paris doesn’t disappoint. This is a rare thing to say about a tourist attraction. In fact, I can’t think of a single other tourist attraction that does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s beautiful, it’s got brilliant food, the wine is insanely cheap, the service is that adorable French antagonistic-yet-playful-yet- consummately professional style that I assumed was simply a pre-war stereotype.

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    Plus it’s got some metal tower or something. Whatevs, I walked under it.

    In the tradition of the early ‘impressions of London’ posts, je vous presente ‘Impressions of Paris’; a list of things I deem blogworthy.

    By the way, the photo slideshows from the trip are found in the next post down.

    Orientation

    This was what we might call an orientation trip. We have never been to Paris before so it was important to get the sights out of the way as quick as possible, thusly freeing up time on subsequent trips for eating, shopping, museums and so on.

    Fortunately, I do not have even the tiniest interest whatsoever in churches until some enterprising young homo turns them into bars. Both Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur would make excellent bars. We didn’t queue with the thousands of Americans to go inside, we walked around them, took some photos and were off again.

    Oh, and the Champs Elysees is shit. Not even the presumably ironically named l’Arc de Triomphe makes it worth the trip. Why would I want to walk for miles past Zara and Topshop stores? I have London for that! But again, you only find these things out if you make the effort to quickly check them off your list and then immediately go looking for booze and food elsewhere.

    The Marais

    This is my sister’s old stomping grounds/spiritual home. As a result we had some awesome recommendations all lined up. I loved it. At least half the shops were closed but this is apparently normal for Paris in August. The Parisians leave the city to the Americans for the whole month because it’s so freaking hot. Which it was. Hot and dusty. This meant that after a day of sightseeing neither James nor I was in any condition to make use of my sister’s fancy pants dinner suggestions.

    No matter. Picnicing in the Place Des Vosges was way better!

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    We found the place one afternoon and sat in the shade for a while. Victor Hugo used to live in one of the houses around the square and apparently wrote in it. You can see why. It’s fucking awesome.

    Despite being reliably informed that when it comes to public drinking in France, basically anything goes, we couldn’t see anyone lunching with booze. Finally a group of friends showed up, laid out a blanket and started unpacking their late lunch… With wine!

    Clearly the difference between a hobo drinking his life away in a park and a French picnic is the use of a blanket that isn’t made of newspaper.

    We had neither newspaper nor a blanket but made sure our food spread was suitably elaborate so as to give the impression that it all wasn’t just a flimsy excuse to get loaded in public. We weren’t the only ones with that idea.

    So we passed my favourite evening sitting by a fountain eating baguette, brie and sausiccon while reading Ursula Le Guin short stories. (We both had different collections. We weren’t reading them aloud you freaks! How horrible. I hope that’s what Enid Blyton is doing in Hell right now.)

    Pastis

    Ah, the iconic French aperitif. (Over to you, wikipedia!) I’ve always been rather fond of this, as Alisa knows. We drank it every day at least once.

    It is also our mandatory ‘this tasted so much better on holiday’ alcohol purchase without which no European holiday would be complete. So our one litre, ten euro bottle is sitting in the second bedroom waiting for us to get organised enough to make some ice.

    Here is part of James and some photos of Pastis. Pastis and rose because it’s actually really difficult to get hammered on pastis if you aren’t in the privacy of your own home. You’re supposed to move onto food afterward.

    How I am turning into my father

    About five years ago, Dad and I went on a skiing trip to the South Island (of NZ). I mocked his crazy, fussy ways because he pulled all manner of seemingly ridiculous items from his luggage, including a power board.

    His reply: “I always travel with a powerboard and a Swiss Army Knife.”

    Nice one, Macgyver, and I bet your fanny pack is ordered alphabetically. (Note, he doesn’t use fanny packs. I should mention this so he doesn’t sue me. His photo will never appear on a fanny pack photo list like this.)

    Swiss Army Knives don’t avoid getting a mention either:

    But… BUT… I’m a digital media nerd with a film degree. This means laptops, multiple cameras and at least two phones are part of basically any luggage list. My very first trip on my own, immediately after the skiing holiday… Well, holy fuck! I’m packing a powerboard.

    My hotel rooms have a tendency to resemble a temporary MI5 base these days.

    And this trip I learned something about Paris and something about me. This city built on and possibly of wine makes it extremely fucking difficult to buy a corkscrew.

    None of the supermarkets near us sold them. The tobacconists didn’t sell them. The gift stores at the station (we walked all the way back to the gard du nord in our quest) didn’t sell them.

    Whatever were we to do? Whilst brainstorming over some pastis in a nearby Bistro, James says “I could always push the cork into the bottle with a pencil.”

    My reply: “But doesn’t that make it really fucky when you’re trying to pour?”

    His response: “Only for the first glass. Then the cork floats horizontally on the wine so it doesn’t get stuck in the bottle neck. I used to open bottles of wine like this for my mother all the time, growing up.”

    WHAT??

    Leaving aside that disturbing, Charles Dickens childhood memory, this is what we decided to do. His final piece of advice was “but I should probably open it in the shower.” This too proved to be wisdom as the bathroom looked like Sweeney Todd’s salon by the next morning.

    However, the next day was ‘shopping day’. And we found a homeware store (by the way, French homeware is the shizz). Mon Dieu! Bottle openers!

    But our trip was to include picnicing and other al fresco eating/drinking experiences. We were going to need more than just a corkscrew. We were going to need a knife. And what if we wanted a couple of beers? And what happens on the next Eurotrip? We might be somewhere even more remote.

    The answer was staring us right in the face. A Swiss Army Knife. And it even said ‘Paris’ on the side. Monsieur, you have just possibly made your smallest sale of the day. Ring it up!

    And that’s the story of how I became my father.

    Middle Class Tourism

    It amuses me what different countries do with their historic sites of interest. This year was the anniversary of King Henry the 8th here in Britain. So they got actors to dress as the king and Catherine of Aragon, etc and wander around haranguing tourists intro pretending they’re really at a royal court. Surely the French wouldn’t reduce their own history to such a Disney-fied spectacle?

    Would they what.

    Whilst it’s probably decidely un-French to have actors playing Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette whilst at Versailles, it is apparently just French enough to hide speakers in the hedges of the garden. This way, when they turn the fountains on for exactly one hour in the morning, you are free to wander/sprint between them whilst being blasted with classical music… Thus somehow completing the illusion that you are an aristocratic member of the court or minor royalty.

    It serves the secondary purpose of moving people around the compound before ultimately funnelling them into the bookshop at the top or the restaurant at the bottom. Disney does the exact same thing except they use parades that force you like riot police into the stores that line Main Street USA.

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    Weird, huh? The Middle Classes might be slightly different but still Middle Class. It’s just an observation. I absolutely loved Versailles. Deffo go see it.

    There are a few more stories relating to my unholy mangling of the language. They’re a separate post. But let me just say a big thanks to Bill and Dan, my flatmate Jane and most especially my sister, Tam, for providing some truly excellent bits of advice and suggestions… And in Tam’s case also for providing around the clock SMS recommendations based on her eerie ability to pick which arrondissement we were in at any given time. No easy feat from half a world away.

    Paris rocks. The end.

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