After two full days in Paris, I thought I would jot down some thoughts. The problem is really, where to begin... I will admit, that when I arrived into Paris on the Thalys from Brussels, I hit a bit of culture shock. I had emerged from the train having left a culture that spoke pretty good English on the whole and well Brugge was a smallish place. Paris, is anything but small and certainly not an English speaking city.
I wandered around the station a bit for a while just trying to work out what the hell to do. Finally, I found an information booth, resolved I needed a taxi, and decided to sit down, have some food and catch my breath.
Now if I needed some reinforcement that I was in Paris, this was a great reminder. I sat down and waited, and waited, and waited... Wait staff passing by not paying me any notice. Finally I reached across to another table and grabbed a menu from it and decided what I wanted to eat and drink. I waited... and waited.... excusez-moi I said loudly and one of the staff immediately acknowledged my presence. I indicated I would have the Cheese Burger (the place outside indicated they did good burgers) and was immediately told they were not doing burgers before the waiter gestured at another part of the menu and walked off. I was flummoxed, I will admit. I pulled myself together and decided on the Croque Monsieur and and Orangina. I of course waited and he never came back, I ended up calling out excusez-moi and getting my food. It was actually nice and well a good reminder that I was in Paris. "You gotta be bold boy"
The culture shock did not stop for me there either. The line for the taxi was enormous, it was raining, but the line was covered, the taxi driver spoke basically no English and the traffic was horrid. However, I had some good moments. Like when he talked to me in French about how the person he had just been talking to out the window was his brother-in-law and I actually understood him. They had pulled up beside each other at the lights. Coincidence I said, "Oui, coincidence" he replied.
The story gets better however, he drops me off and I realise the B and B I am staying in is in an apartment block, with 3 towers. But which one do I go into and how? I rummaged through my papers and found the sheet from the booking. Tower 1, Gonse. I found that name pushed the bell, something inaudible came through the intercom and I heard the door unlock. I knew I was headed for the 4th floor, so I hoped into the strangest old lift ever and up I went. An old lady greeted me at the door and indicated immediately that she spoke no English. Hmmmm.... However, we got by, she showed me the place, indicated this and that and proceeded to give me some instructions on how to get to this and that. All done in French at a million miles an hour mind you. I did however get the gist and well save to say I have been functioning in Paris ever since. In truth after my initial internal panic, I am loving living with an old French couple for 5 days. I have had the best view into life in an apartment in Paris.
With all that said and done, I am here. What about Paris? What about Paris indeed. What a city. It's big and its busy. It's steeped in its' history and its' history is all around you. You cannot help but be wowed by the history in those palaces and grand buildings which are just everywhere. I have never been to or seen a place quite like this. A drive through central Paris (and why anyone would by choice drive through central Paris is beyond me) leaves you with your mouth open. So much opulence, so much gold, so big, so much history.
I also get the feeling that while the average Parisian is rather blasé about the history around them, Paris itself does not take this stuff for granted. It's history is part of the blood that flows through the veins of Paris and I suspect keeps it alive. Remove the history from Paris and you would be left with a large, dirty and a bit unfriendly town. However, instead you have a magnificent testimony to imperial France and the many centuries of opulence and struggle it has experienced.
The Eiffel Tower deserves a paragraph to itself. This really is a stunning thing. By day, the size and intricacy of the metal work are beautiful and astounding. By night, it shines beautifully like a beacon. A symbol of Paris and of France, over what they do so rightly call, the city of lights. I did fall in love when I saw it lit up at night. Part of that is it is so famous and a symbol, but it also is just so beautiful. I'm in Paris was all I could think.
So, while I definitely had some culture shock on arrival, I can confidently say I am loving Paris. It's a lovely city with little surprises around every corner. On my way to Shakespeare and Company (the quaint long lasting English language bookstore at Paris's heart) I stumbled upon a medieval church which just left me humbled. Grand, but not like Notre Dame, ancient, with so much devotion and peace within its' walls. I could have passed it by, but instead I walked in and was immediately touched by it.
The Louvre is enormous. Truly enormous and really too much to take in in one go. I spent around 4 hours there and had gallery burnout. I saw the "big" stuff like the Venus de Milo, the Raft of the Medusa and of course the Mona Lisa. What strikes me as such a shame about the Mona Lisa, is that it is a famous piece and so protected that I think its magic is lost. You cannot get close enough to it to really understand its significance, the atmosphere is not conducive to it anyway. Also, do people ever understand why it is so important. I would suspect not.
The Metro is fun and I don't find it confusing. The carriages on the #6 line to The Arc de Triomphe are quaint and feel like they have been the same since the 70's. Maybe they have. I always admire a city with a good mass transport system and Paris has it. But you need people for that and population density. Hint, hint Auckland.
Lastly for now, I have been having such fun in restaurants in the evening. Just going on, ordering some food, and watching Parisians. Last night I found myself sitting beside two French women who were having a conversation about boyfriend troubles. I was listening in, fighting the urge to give advice, when I realised I could understand them. I could understand them because they were speaking in English with beautiful French accents. The accents had made me miss the fact that they were not speaking French. Gotta love the French.
I could go on, but really I will just be saying the same thing in different ways. Two days in and with two days to go, Paris is an amazing, interesting and captivating city which is steeped in its history and that is what makes it such an amazing place to visit.