Paris – The Minefield
I’ve never found myself needing a reason to travel before. Never. Be it on a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas, a flight to Thailand to meet a pal who’s travelling the world or a walk to the local shops for a chip-butty. Never. However, when it comes to Paris I’ve always found a reason NOT to travel. It’s the city of love, the city of romance and the city of over the top, absolutely predictable marriage proposals. Add to the that the preconception that Paris is rude, overpriced and a little bit pompous and you can see why I wasn’t jumping up and down about the idea too much in the past…
Since 2011 my travel buddy has always been my very patient girlfriend and therefore I always felt that I couldn’t take her to the cities that screamed romance so loud and so proud. I couldn’t take her for the fear that she would would be expecting a proposal. I can imagine that every time that I would bend down to tie up my shoe lace, or fumble with the inside pocket of my jacket to play with that spare button that they always give you or simply asking the waiter for the ‘best seat in the house’ would lead to her to having some serious heart palpitations of dangerous proportions (yes- I think highly of myself). Fast forward some years later and we’re happily married. We can travel anywhere we fancy with no fear of love-induced heart failure… Our first wedding anniversary was spent in Venice and I thought where better to take her for her 21st birthday (hah, no shes 30…. bless her) than Paris? That’s two for two. No more Romantic cities for us no more. Nuh uh- not no way, not no how…. done andddddd dusted.
Anyhow, now I’m older, wiser and married-er I’m finally ready to take on one of the most metropolitan cities in the world. But Paris is a monster. It’s huge. Stay in the wrong part of town and your experience could be a drag, don’t plan your stay properly and you’ll end up missing out on some of the cities most wondrous sights, arrive with preconceptions of the Parisian people, prices and culture and… prepare to be surprised. The whole notion of Paris can feel like a bit of an overwhelming minefield.
Travelling & Troubling
We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport for midday on Friday (See: Planning Paris for details) and found ourselves gasping at the €50 Uber into town. Simple solution- subway. It was amusing that our first stop in Paris was at a Marks and Spencer’s in the airport’s train terminal. All of the advertising, products and descriptions were in English. In fact, I picked up a bottle of Still Scottish Mountain Water and some Percy Pigs before I even realised that I wasn’t at home anymore.
“Fuck it! I’m on holiday… I’ll pay double for an Evian. Viva la France!”
~ Mr Carl when he’s got his swag on full-tilt and is feeling particularly frivolous
The train system was simple, cheap and efficient, taking approximately an hour and a bit to reach the Champs Elysees. There were several immigrant beggars on the train who, strangely, asked for money in English and also left weeping ‘help me’ business cards that were also written in English. I instantly felt right at home. We alighted the train at Charles de Gaule Etoile to the magnificent sight of the Arc de Triomphe…
This is when we finally felt like we were in France. Our beautiful Hotel Ekta was a mere ten minutes walk away from the metro stop, which was actually half the time it took us to navigate our way out of the complex underground station. We decamped before running off to begin our Audrey Hepburn Walking Tour. If you didn’t stop by to read Planning Paris, I had organised a self-guided walking tour taking in several sights from the starlet’s movie career, personal life and favourite couture hot spots. Audrey is my wife’s fashion idol so this was part of the birthday/Paris tie-in. I’d printed the whole spiel, maps and several photos of Audrey’s life as well as a few of shots from the film sets in the various locations we visited.
Throughout our time in Paris the weather was against us. It was generally grey skies or worse. Thankfully when we did the walking tour the rain held out but as soon as we would finish it the heavens would open up. We split our walking tour into two parts; this was partly due to us having pre-booked arrangements and partly due to police shutting us down… very aggressively. With guns. I’ll leave that story for a Travel Fail post another time…
Tour Eiffel & Beyond
Before our Parisian adventure began we decided to combine a few sights/excursions with dinner. This helped us spread the cost of our trip a little by pre-booking experiences and taking less spending money. Our first night we were booked into 58 Tour Eiffel, with Saturday night seeing us enjoy a dinner cruise. We did this for money saving (we’d be doing the tower, the boat and two dinners anyways…), convenience (no searching tripadvisor and fussing over restaurants) but also to make the most of both experiences.
Arriving at the Tower was breathtaking. The thing is gigantic. It sounds obvious, right? But yet somehow it was just soo much more than I was expecting. Its so damn photogenic, so damn alluring and so damn… French. Oui, Oui. The food, service and views were fantastic, if not better. The experience was only dented by a restrictive 2-hour time slot. We would have loved to have stayed and enjoyed some cocktails (even at a price) but we were simply not allowed to; for love nor money. To top that, all of the dinner guests then had to queue in their suits and sparkly dresses to cram cheek-to-cheek into a crappy, air-less elevator with sweaty Joe Public- a bit of a come down from the elegance of the restaurant we had just visited.
“What are you doing?!?? Go Away!!!!! This is MY wife!! Go and get your own!! Leave mine alone!!!”
~ Mr Carl, jesting with the looky-looky man who tried to hand Mrs Carl a rose. They never bothered us again. We win.
“Why are you trying to sell me an umbrella? I am holding a damn umbrella! Look….!!! Plus its bigger and better than the one you’re holding… you’re wet!! Leave me alone!!”
~ Mrs Carl jesting with the looky-looky man who tried to hand Mr Carl an umbrella. I tell you, we’re made for each other… haha… We win (again).
We finished the night with cocktails elsewhere before turning to bed, in love with the beautiful city that we found before us. It was wonderful to be in a capital city that is so proud of its national identity. Every second or third shop was advertising something delightfully French – French bread, French cars, French food – so proud. The city’s government has done a very noteworthy job of promoting trade, industry and relations with internationally renowned brands.
In comparison, in London you will struggle to find a British person working in the service industry; in fact you can actually struggle to find a British person at all on your average touristy-type day. Plus, every business is trying to save money by cutting stores and jobs whilst at the same time decreasing pay and lowering working conditions. In London, the only ‘patriotic’ British shops you can find are the touristy-tat outlets that’s are all, ironically, foreign-owned, decrepit in nature and house all manner of crap made in international sweatshops. Perfect if you want a red telephone box paperweight, some I Heart LDN panties or a rubber ducky with the Queen’s face on it. London has developed a horrible habit of chipping away at the general population’s morale… and whilst I’m in no fit state to comment on the Parisian’s perspective of life in the city, from the outside it certainly looks pretty rosey…
From day one, Paris had been a delight. The people had been ever so very friendly, the air was not full of pomposity but togetherness and the prices were only somewhere between ‘normal’ and ‘fair’ – knocking down all of the stereotypes we had been told to expect.
Mind = blown.
I knew we should have come here sooner….
What were you first impressions of Paris? Did it smash any of your preconceptions? What surprised you the most about Paris? What’s better: Evian or M&S’s Scottish Water? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below…