Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Paris, days 1 and 2

On December 27th, 2010, I embarked on a 4-day journey to Paris, the first European city visited outside of Bordeaux. Paris was actually not my first choice, but considering that I still haven’t received my residence permit, I settled for Paris in order to avoid any potential issues regarding re-entrance into France.

Paris, the city of lights, is supposedly the most romantic city in the world.

It was overrated.

Okay, I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble or sound pessimistic, but if I were to sum up my trip in one sentence, it would be exactly that. That is not to say I did not enjoy my trip, nevertheless. I will never say a trip “sucked” because I think any travel to a new city is worth the experience, regardless of whether it met your expectations or not. If the city turns out to be completely different than what you imagined it to be, that is all the more reason to be fascinated, because you are breaking out of your limited bubble and truly seeing the world for yourself. That is why I love travelling.

Some general observations:

  • The trains are very old.
  • Candy was right, Paris smells. And it was dirty.
  • City of Light is not an overstatement though. The lights at night were indeed impressive.

Now, prepare for some photo-spam. Mouseover each photo for a brief description and click on it for a larger version. Ready, set, go.

Notre-Dame de Paris

 
This was the first thing I saw as I wandered out of the metro for the first time. I was actually supposed to be looking for my hotel near Les Invalides, but I decided to be a little adventurous and head out at the St-Michel – Notre-Dame RER station. I didn’t expect the cathedral to be staring right at my face as I exited, but alas, it was there.

Notre-Dame wasn’t one of the buildings that I intended to go into, so I stayed outside and observed the line of people as it moved along into the cathedral. Its grandeur, viewed from the outside, was quite impressive, and I especially liked how it was situated right along the Seine. Right next to Notre-Dame is Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris.

Pigeon-Watching

Here came an unexpectedly amusing part of the visit to Notre-Dame, namely pigeon-watching. I noticed a giant crowd of pigeons chilling in the open area by the cathedral, and stopped to just watch their behaviour for awhile. It was truly an unusual experience, and unconventional, to say the least.

Just a note, or rather, an inquiry: Are pigeons in Paris more leisurely and as a result more “enriched” than pigeons in other cities? There was one pigeon that refused to fly no matter how much I chased it. At one point, if I took one more step forward, I would have literally stepped on it, but it was still not willing to take flight. Maybe the pigeons were on strike that day too.

Tour Eiffel

This set is what I call the official I’ve-been-to-Paris-and-here-is-proof photos. What marks Paris better than our dear Tour Eiffel? (I can’t call it the Eiffel Tower anymore; the switch to the French name is irreversible.)

My first impression of Tour Eiffel: it’s not nearly as tall as I had imagined it to be. The Tour Eiffel area was ridiculously crowded with tourists and as a result, street vendors. You see people selling little Tour Eiffel toys every three steps you take, but it is best to ignore and walk on.

The suggested place from which to view Ms. Eiffel (she’s a girl because “tour” in French is feminine) is Trocadéro, where I visited at night. In my opinion, everything looks more splendid at night, so a stop at Trocadéro was absolutely indispensable. In fact, I went back on day 3 just for another peek at this supposed symbol of romance. Nightly at 9pm, Ms. Tour is lit with glittering lights that continue to glow for approximately 5 minutes, a rather spectacular eye candy to be savoured.

Les Champs-Élysées

In the City of Light, the Tour Eiffel is a symbol of romance, but the French also boasts the Avenue des Champs-Élysées as the most beautiful street in the world (though Yonge Street is still the longest, take that, France). Held at one end by the famous Arc de Triomphe and the other by Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Élysées may very well be considered the life of the city of Paris.

I was extremely fortunate to be in Paris right in the midst of the winter holidays, just in time for the end of the Marché de Noël over there. Compared to our little Christmas market in Bordeaux, the one on the Champs-Élysées was much larger in size and much more diverse in variety. I had a good ol’ time just strolling up the avenue on one side and coming back down on the other side. Of course, there was food and again, vin chaud. This time, however, I tried the “vin blanc chaud”, or “hot white wine”, since I had already tried regular hot red wine in Bordeaux. I gotta say, the white is still better than the red, whether hot or not.

And indeed the avenue was glazed in colours during the night, a sight that satisfied my craving to see a city illuminated brightly in the dark. The best is yet to come, though, as I mounted the Arc de Triomphe to see the Champs-Élysées from an unbelievable perspective. That will be elaborated in just a bit.

Montmartre

When I asked my friends for suggestions of places to go to in Paris, the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre is the most recommended site, mainly because it is situated at the highest point of the city. I was looking forward to this part of the trip very much, but was a little disappointed by the fog that decided to pay a visit on the same day as me. As such, the fog ate away some of the visibility, and I wasn’t able to see as far into the skyline of Paris as I had wished. It was nevertheless a worthy visit, especially since my 3-day metro pass included the fee of using the funicular up to Sacré-Coeur.

Aside from the street performers scattered in front of the basilica that I found interesting, going into the Sacré-Coeur was definitely a good move for me. My intention was to follow the line, go in, go around the interior, and exit. For some reason, a muse told me to sit down on the bench and just enjoy some peaceful time in the sacred place. Rest for a bit, relax, and reflect. I sat idly for a good half an hour or so, watching people go by and thinking about my year and all that has happened in 2010. It was a refreshing break from my wanderings.

Street Performers

You’ll find an assortment of street performers in Paris, from accordion players on trains to women dressed up as Egyptian pharaohs on the Champs-Élysées to men in unique costumes in front of the Sacré-Coeur. I’m almost tempted to say it’s European cosplay. Here are a few street performers that I managed to capture, each with his or her own unique act (if you call “sitting there” an act).

On the Arc de Triomphe

This is absolutely my favourite part of the entire trip – seeing the Champs-Élysées atop the Arc de Triomphe. I was determined to mount ONE thing in Paris, whether it be the Tour Eiffel or the Arc de Triomphe or the Tour Montparnasse or…whatever else there is to mount. After seeing the Champs-Élysées from the ground, I thought that there was no way I’m not catching a sight of it from up and above. So Arc de Triomphe it was.

What made it infinitely better? Free admission. See, I even took out the 5.50 Euros, ready to pay the student price, but when the ticket vendor saw my school ID, she probably assumed that I was a EU resident (and I am, just without a residence permit at that point). Admission for EU citizens and legal residents is free for ages 18 to 25, so she handed me my cash back with a ticket. Excellent.

And wow? It was all I could say. The view was phenomenal, much better than I had anticipated. Perhaps it was because I went during the night, there was no line-up and there was sufficient space at the top for all the visitors to get a clear view of Place Charles de Gaulle, where the Arc de Triomphe is located. On one side was Champs-Élysées, proudly showing off its glamour. I loved how there just happens to be a striking white Ferris Wheel at the other end at Place de la Concorde, perfectly positioned in the center as if spinning out the light. On the other side was the Tour Eiffel, surrounded this night by a thin layer of fog that was enough to hide its head. All in all, a fascinating visual experience for sure!


Well this concludes part 1 of the Paris recount. Days 3 and 4 will be uploaded soon enough, though maybe not as soon as I’d like now that I’m back to work. Hope you’ve all had a pleasant start of the year 2011!

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7 responses to “Paris, days 1 and 2

  1. Rajesh Kumar January 3, 2011 at 17:21

    Dubai has wayy more lights than Paris, and they don’t even call themselves the city of lights.

    I find that Paris feels overrated only if you grow up in North America. North Americans tend to have this idea that Europe is extremely far away and Paris is this utopian city with tons of fancy lights and amazing views. Having grown up in Asia myself, Paris is just considered a beautiful city, nothing more. So it wasn’t as overrated for me.

    On the contrary, Switzerland and New York are extremely hyped up in Asia. Switzerland lived up to its hype. I haven’t been to New York yet so I can’t comment. But something tells me I’d find New York overrated especially after having lived in San Francisco for 1.2 years.

    If Paris wasn’t your 1st choice, which city was? Something in Spain I hope =)

    Truly awesome pics and observations btw. You may have a backup career at Lonely Planet awaiting you 😉

    Like

    • Annie Bananie January 3, 2011 at 18:49

      Thanks for the insights and compliments! I’m surprised you haven’t been to New York yet – it seems like it’s one of those places that you would have visited ages ago.

      First choice would be a tie between Rome and Barcelona. I’ll get to them next year, hopefully 😛

      Like

  2. Joshua January 4, 2011 at 04:52

    I actually thought the same of Hong Kong – that it was overrated, but not of Taipei. I think it might be a result of the fact that HK is so “Westernized.” Interesting post – I’ll keep this in mind if/when I ever visit.

    Like

    • Joshua January 4, 2011 at 04:53

      Also: I’m forever biased because I used to work in NYC. I doubt I could compare/visit any Western city without that on my mind.

      Like

      • Annie Bananie January 4, 2011 at 10:31

        I’ve always been biased negatively against Hong Kong before I visited for a week last year. I found that I liked the city more than I had anticipated. As for Taipei, I never spent enough time there to fully experience it. It was always short trips of 1 or 2 days and that didn’t give me the full picture of the city. I’d love to go back sometime though.

        In terms of NYC, there were a few chances to visit within the past couple of years, but those opportunities sort of just brushed by. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get there eventually, seeing how close it is to Toronto relatively.

        Thanks for your comment!

        Like

  3. Joey January 6, 2011 at 00:46

    Surprisingly, a lot of my friends, too were dissapointed when they visited Paris. I, on the other hand, love it! Haha…however, this time round, I did notice (and agree with you) that it was rather dirty and some metro stations were Really smelly (probably built near the sewage?).

    Wow! The queue to the Notre Dame in your pic looks so long. During our visit, we just sauntered right in. Must have been lucky 🙂 Btw, love your pics!

    The vendors were so annoying at the Trocadero. I had to say No to about 10 of them selling the exact same things! Also, they hogged up SO much space that it was hard to get a nice shot without them being in it. tsk

    It’s so exciting to think that we’re two random people in the blogosphere, but could very well have crossed paths in Paris 🙂
    Happy 2011 and keep blogging!

    Like

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