What is Paris really like?

Posted: 26/10/2008 in Europe

My final stop via busabout was Paris and the bus was virutally empty as it’s coming to the end of the season. It was a long and boring ride into Paris, we didn’t arrive until 9pm. After a useless sleep due to the inconsiderate people in my room it was off for a day of exploring in the rain. My first stop, the Louvre…it was closed (should really pay more attention to the opening/closing times). So I wandered along the river to the Notre Dame. While walking I had a lady pick up a ring off the ground and ask me if it was mine. I was tempted to say either “I know all about you ring people andI’m not falling for it” or “Oh yes, I can’t believe you found it” and walk off with it, however I just ignored her and kept walking. Their trick is to pick up the ring, ask if it’s yours and when you say no encourage you to take it as a gift because what on earth will she do with it. When you say yes and take it she appears to walk away but then comes back and begin to tell you how much you could get by selling it and that really, she should be compensated for giving it to you. After forceful conversation and arguments people often give in and give some euro. I had been warned before I went but I saw a guy get suckered in by the same lady who approached me and yep, he handed over some cash.

The outside of the Notre Dame is an interesting Gothic piece of architecture with these unusual beams that come out of the side of the church. The inside is yet another catholic church (do I sound like I’ve seen too many?) with a separate museum for relics and papal stuff.

Having had enough of the rain, I caught a train to the catacombs, or at least where I read on the map that they were supposed to be. I walked and wandering and grumbled and frowned andwalked some more for a while, looking at the map in every possible way. I couldn’t find them. By chance I wandered through a roundabout type road back to the train station and came across a tiny little pub looking building that were the entrance to the catacombs. This is not where the sign was pointing!!!!!! Anyway they are these creepy tunnels filled with the bones of long dead Parisians, put there when the tombs were overflowing. The walls are literally made up of bones and skulls. Apparently there are famous people in there but they can’t say where, I mean there are only tens of thousands of bones that all look alike, it can’t be that hard. I have restrained myself to not take photos when signs say not to or keep my flash off when told, so seeing no sign I flashed (my camera!!) away only to be told off. I felt terrible at first then peeved that there was no sign. Maybe there was one, just down the road or hidden. Maybe the sign outside the train station pointing to the catacombs was actually a sign pointing to a sign that said “no photos at the catacombs which are that way”. I seem to be having sign problems here.

And finally to end the day….another church, why not. This one is called sacre coeur and I have to say it’s actually been one of my favourite churches in Europe. The outside is very eye pleasing and the alter inside is surrounded by beautiful arches. Above the alter is a rather dominating painting of the Christ and of course it’s full of stained glass windows. It’s on top of a hill in Montmartre and offers stunning views of Paris. A storm passed over while I was there and it was amazing to see the clouds and rain fall over the city. A storm was brewing at the bottom of the hill too where these guys with bits of string ask you to hold onto it so they can make you a bracelet. When they’ve finished they harass you to give them money for it. Again I ignored them as I’d been warned and kept walking, besides lets think about it, ummm, bits of coloured sting tied into a plait like thing or gold bracelets, ummmm, hmmmm, hard decision. They’ll ask all sorts of questions just to get you to stop so they can engage in conversation and hopefully get this string onto your finger. Grrrrrrrrr, just let me do my sightseeing and leave me alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I spent some time out at Versailles the next day and of course had to see the gardens. They are huge and stretch forever with many different garden rooms. There is always a focal point at the end of each room andby far the biggest is the main viewing area. It overlooks a pond, walking area lined with statues, a larger pond with enormous bronze statue of men and horses, a massive square lake and of course it’s all tree lined. That’smy kind of garden! Being autumn has it’s advantages in the colours you get to see on deciduous trees but you miss out on colourful garden beds and shrubs full of flowers. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see inside the palace as I had to get home for dinner then a night bike ride.

The ride was so much fun flying through Paris in the lit up streets, hair blowing in the wind, despite the cold having so much fun but realising that your not feeling the cold because you are numb! I love not having to wear helmets although would not, not wear one if I had a choice. Our guide obviously had our safety and best interests in mind when he said his aim was to get as many honks as he could and that we were taking up the whole road not going single file. Once we were out though most of it is on dedicated bus/bike lanes (because buses and bikes are so fairly matched aren’t they?) and the honking was when we were infrequently crossing roads and stopping all traffic. We saw all the main sites and ended at the beautifully lit up Eiffel tower. It’s blue at the moment and looks fantastic when they make it sparkle every hour. Unfortunately during my stay in Paris I didn’t get a chance to go to the 2nd level (top was closed) so it’ll have to be on another trip.

It’s funny, I had always thought of Paris as a bland and boring city as far as appearance goes but I realise that because the buildings are all multi levelled you can’t see the gorgeous tree lined streets. I loved Paris, don’t believe what anyone tells you about Parisians being rude and expecting you to speak French. They were the friendliest people and it didn’t matter if you didn’t speak English. I had a number of people come and offer me help if I looked lost with my map, it’s just a little harder coz most of them don’t speak English, but why should they have to in their own country? I love the city to, it’s got a nice feel to it. The buildings are nicely designed, the streets lined with trees, the shops and cafes all beautifully decorated and it’s clean. The only thing I hated was the metro, but I found most of the big cities to be crazy in regards to metro. During the day it was always busy but in the mornings and evenings it was mental. People were crammed into trains like sardines to the point that faces were almost pressed against windows and yet more people try to get on the trains. At one point there were guards stopping people from coming out onto the platforms so that those already on the platforms were either able to get on the train or not get pushed under it. Madness! Gay Parie, the city of lights, it’s a must for anyone coming to Europe but you’ll need more than 3 nights.

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