Paris took me somewhat by surprise. Arriving via the excellent and outstanding value for money Eurostar, that essentially provides all the enjoyment of travel without the stress of checking in and being high up in the sky during turbulence, I had preconceived ideas about what it would be like. My previous experiences had been brief, a stopover or two here and there, and a taxi journey to Gare du Nord pretty much making up the sub total of my Parisian knowledge. My preconceptions that Parisians were rude and difficult was primarily based on serving them when working in the Alps. Similarly I was influenced somewhat by French Cop shows Braquo and Spiral that imply it is a hot bed of crime, drugs and violence in the infamous “projèts”. My admittedly only three and a half days there changed my generalised ideas definintively.
It most certainly helped staying centrally in the main tourist area, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower and walking distance to the Arc de Triomple, Champs-Élysées and Louvre.
Stating the obvious somewhat, the Eiffel Tower is really really high (so much as the queues are long), to the extent that I was a little taken aback with vertigo when nearing the summit in the lift, but it is well worth it for the stunning 360 panoramic views. My “tour guide” kindly informed me that the river looks so clean partly because of the colour of the buildings. Clearly a well designed city.
The Louvre Museum is an absolute monster, one could spend a day or even two in there and not see everything but it is truly excellent with something for everyone in terms of paintings, sculptures and artefacts from the four corners of the globe. The crowds around the famed “Mona Lisa” were numerous, I sensed she was watching me probably via the placebo effect.
It is most certainly worth straying a little of the beaten track and exploring the canal area around “Republique” for a slightly grittier view of the city. Contrarily the charming cobbled streets and artistic atmosphere on the walk to the architecturally jaw dropping Sacre Coeur take one back to the impressionist era.
In the light of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks I was interested to find out if there was a knock on effect evident as to how Muslims are percevied. A chance conversation with a local radio DJ in a bar confirmed that the general feeling that it is “difficult to be a Muslim in France.” Unfortunately he left without a chance for further elaboration. It was indeed difficult to avoid this issue that was prevalent in any newspaper one cared to pick up. One thing I would say is that given the sweeping multiculturalism, racial tension, compared to American cities I have visited such as Washington seemed minimal to none.
I would also mention that Paris is far more relaxed and chilled out than I anticipated, the people are friendly and everyone seemed to speak English, which as a French speaker keen to show off did irritate me somewhat, but hey they were only being polite.