Paris: between treasure and disdain
Eighteen years ago, I went on a field trip with my school to Brasov. I remember mom making me two sandwiches and giving me 5000 old lei to buy lunch. I finished my food in the bus on the way there, and making plans to buy some pizza after visiting the Peles Castle. But, as we were heading to the restaurant, some ambulant merchants on the side of the road, caught my attention. They were selling amulets, wooden figurines, toys and such. Buried under a pile of boring things, I saw the most beautiful statuette in the world: a white six inches Venus of Milo with the most sincere smile. I noticed her hands were missing and thought this added humbleness to her character and made me love her in an instant. So, at eleven years old, I felt in love with Venus of Milo and it was just obvious she should have been mine. It cost every penny I had that day, but I remember feeling a happiness I couldn’t describe while my colleagues were devouring their lunch. I had something that would’ve lasted forever.
Years have gone by and I found out the real Venus of Milo was in Paris. Along with Mona Lisa and Eiffel Tower. Naturally, I dreamed to visit this magical city I’ve heard so much about. Finally, after deciding with my friend Cleo, who wanted to spend her birthday here, and my husband, I began planning our trip. We arrived in Paris on the last day of spring, a beautiful sunny day.
The reality struck us hard the moment we stepped foot on the French territory. The metro, to be more precise. I remember thinking French people were laid back, artistry, bohemian, happy and beautiful character all over. But, sadly, my opinion changed in a heart beat. Probably, up in their clouds, they forgot to act as adults. The metro was dirty, smelly, beggars and drunk people at each corner, people yelling. We carried two medium size baggages and people were so rude, wouldn’t spare a tiny space to fit in and the whole general attitude was Je m’en fiche-stic.
I simply couldn’t believe my eyes! I felt like dropping in a third world’s ghetto. You must think those causing problems were Gypsies, but let me stop you there: the most filthiest people I’ve seen in my life were French! Yes, I’ve seen the worst people in Romania moved to Paris, I was so ashamed of my nationality, but I’m not talking about them. I had great expectations from French people, who think they are better then the rest of the population, but, sadly, they are not leading by example what so ever.
[button url=”#” new_tab=”false” size=”medium” style=”solid” color=”false” light=”false”]Location[/button] We were staying at the Ibis hotel Port D’Italie. It is a very lovely hotel, clean, friendly staff, located in a quiet, civilized area, but a bit far from the center town, so next time, if the French start learning manners, we’ll be choosing a closer one.
[button url=”#” new_tab=”false” size=”medium” style=”solid” color=”false” light=”false”]Tip[/button] Choose a hotel in walking range of all the interest points on your map, so you will avoid traveling with the metro, escaping all the stress and bad taste Paris leaves. Take the taxi if you really want to visit something, or be prepared to man up in the metro.
The Eiffel Tower is probably Europe’s best known landmark and Paris’ most famous symbol. We couldn’t possibly visit Paris without seeing this emblematic monument so we made it a priority. The tower rises 300 meters tall and it was completed at the end of the 19th century. For the whole history and technical data, just check the web, there’s plenty of information. I’ll just provide my take on it.
When I first saw it, getting out of the metro, I had this pleasant jaw-dropping reaction. A massive steel construction but so beautiful, majestic and fragile at the same time. All my life I thought it was gray, but it turned out to have this amazing goldish color, adding more statement to it’s character. I only regret not seeing it by night…
Our struggle to actually get inside it, started with facing an enormous crowd of people with the same agenda as ours. I was appalled at the Gypsies and Romanian hillbillies on the side of the narrow road, playing shell games, yelling at targets, pushing into tourists or asking for a change. They were hassling everyone, I felt so ashamed and wished I could turn back home. Luckily, we managed to get in front of the crowed and finally get into a line to buy tickets.
We chose the smallest one, which was taking the stairs. For the lift, we should have waited more than 45 minutes in the line, then another long queue to actually take the lift. It didn’t matter we were already tired and I was wearing a dress and new flats, I was ready to conquer 700 stairs. We were pretty surprised how short this walk was, even if breathless by the end of the first floor. The view was spectacular, although the weather was a bit foggy and windy, but still amazing scenery of beautiful Seine, quiet bridges in perfect harmony with fussy tourists and noisy traffic.
This whole Eiffel Tower experience took about half an hour so we had plenty of time to walk across the river to Trocadero, an open space in Paris where the main feature, called the Fountain of Warsaw, is very popular among visitors. It has also the best view of the Eiffel Tower.
We headed to the Champs-Elysees that begins with Arc de Triomphe, one of the most famous monuments in Paris. it is located in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle and honors those who died for France in the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars. Having one in Bucharest, didn’t really impress me, it was crowded, so we admired it from a distance.
When I was in primary school, I used to love French because our teacher was the most beautiful and smart person in the world. Or so I thought. She used to sing us all the popular French songs, among which “Oh, Champs-Elysees” became my favorite and I promised myself one day I would see this beautiful street. No wonder they say is la plus belle avenue du monde, everyone glows with happiness here. All the disappointment washed away the moment I saw the beautiful restaurants, exclusive shops, extravagant displays, street animations and newly weds.
But the moment I enhanced in my visiting plan and was really looking forward to, was the Laduree shop on Champs-Elysees. It looked so vintage but luxurious at the same time. Obviously, it was a long queue outside and inside but we had to sacrifice our time for the precious macaroons they famously bake. The interior is amazing, brilliant displays of pastries, cakes and sweets more beautiful than I can describe. We paid a small fortune for a small bag of macaroons and a fruit tart, that were not as tasty as they looked. In my opinion (and trust me, I know my macaroons) Laduree in London is way better. And I am not biased.
We continued our journey crossing the beautiful Seine, admiring from afar the L’Hotel National des Invalides, house for the military history of France and the burial site for Napoleon.
We woke up to a delicious breakfast and got ready to visit Louvre Museum. Let me first tell you that, if you decide on buying the tickets online, you won’t be able to print them yourself, but collect them from various places. They actually give you a 7 pages long list of addresses in alphabetical order. What’s the point on doing that, if you are a tourist and have no idea where to look for those addresses? I mean, if you want to torment yourself, you might look for each address and see if any of it is near you. But this is a titanic, stupid work. We ended up spotting an address in Charles de Gaule. We went there, an hour long trip with the metro (and you know already my opinion on that), just to find out that this street was in a small town near Paris. Like, what’s wrong with these people? Can’t they come down from the clouds and let us print the tickets? Or give us a map with some red dots where we could find them? How hard can it be to collect them from the Museum itself?
Ok, lets cool down. We decided to go to the museum and ask for directions. When I first saw the glass pyramid, all the disappointment went away. It was so beautiful and perfect. All I wanted was to make a tent and live there. But, we met again the French I-hate-tourists-though-they-increase-our-GDP attitude, when asking a guard for directions in French, because speaking in English with tourists wasn’t a must in his job description. He told us to go to Defense, 20 minutes away by metro to pick up the tickets. By then, I was literally bleeding because my new flats were hurting me like there was no tomorrow. In the end, Gabi went to collect the tickets and I waited there with Cleo. I couldn’t believe I was so close of Venus of Milo and couldn’t see her. If you decide to visit this beautiful museum just buy the tickets on site, the queue is longer, but you won’t loose more time and nerves over this.
After an hour we finally went in. The crowd was overwhelming, with more than 8 millions visitors per year, Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. It is unquestionably one of the finest art galleries in the world. Home to thousands of classic and modern masterpieces, the Louvre is the jewel in the crown of French culture, a towering testament to European civilization and history.
I couldn’t wait to see Venus of Milo. This was the core of the entire trip. And finally, there she was. All majestic, powerful, but at the same time, fragile, feminine and perfect. I admit, my eyes filled with tears of happiness, only shadowed by all the pushy people that maybe felt like me, or were just curious. I wanted to stop the time, send everybody home and be just me with her. A thought of a possible heist occurred in my mind… we had to move forward to other beautiful paintings and statues but she will always remain in my heart.
Of course we had to see Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world. She was covered by tens of people and I had to make my way to the front. I always thought this painting was small, like an A4, but I was pleasantly surprised it was an acceptable dimension and Mona Lisa was more beautiful in reality. She is no Kate Moss, but there’s something about the air she breaths, the cheeky smile and the stiff posture that have created an image of perfection.
We spent another hour rushing through every room, feeling sad we didn’t have time to admire everything and pay our respect to wonderful talent and masterpieces. [icon]icon-info4[/icon] When in Paris, buy a two days ticket just to watch everything inside Louvre.
We traveled by foot all day long, making me wish I could fly, because my new flats were killing me! [icon]icon-info4[/icon] Make sure you have comfortable shoes, they will become a blessing, trust me. We crossed the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge on the river Seine. It shines beautifully from afar, because of all the love padlocks couples attach on it. Of course I had to buy one myself, write our names and become a part of the local history.
The city was buzzing with tourists. I thought I was used to them, as I live in London, but no Sir, these were the bad kind of tourists: rude, pushy, with no manners whatsoever. Paris is also under a lot of traffic and pollution, noise and crowds all over. So be prepared to swim into a sea of bad behavior and all sort of smells. It still worth a while, as it is a superb city, but probably I need to work more on my insensitive side.
We wanted to visit Notre Dame, one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and among the largest and most known church buildings in the world. The queue was impressive and they were about to close in half an hour, so I will be updating my to-see-in-the-future list in Paris.
We’ve headed towards the Luxembourg Gardens that houses the French Senate. It is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen and we arrived just at the end of the most beautiful orchestra I’ve heard in my life. Do you ever get that feeling when hearing a song that you are actually living in a movie? Well, that’s how I felt as I rushed to see them, just to give them a big round of applause. We spent some time there, on massive iron chairs, admiring the ducks, kissed by the sun and the summer breeze.
We ended the evening with a French dinner. It was Cleo’s birthday, my friend, so we had to try something new. It’s kind of our tradition. We had escargots and frog legs as entrees. I must admit, I felt a bit sick watching them, which influenced my culinary decision, but they were OK. I have to try them in a different place though. As a main I had one of the best duck in my life, tender, juicy, sweet and delicious. I can’t remember what we had for dessert, so probably wasn’t that great.
I believe this post is way too long, so I have to keep it short as I reach the end of my story. Today was the last day. I can’t say I was sad, even though I still wanted to visit more, but there is a time for that, I hope. Having to take a train to Versailles, we waited for 10 minutes on the platform just to wait another one, because it was all packed. Talk about a big breakfast… Anyway, I was so sweaty, nervous and thirsty, I couldn’t wait to see the most beautiful garden in the world.
We arrived to the longest queue in my life. Knowing I had bought tickets in advance, just so I can avoid the big line, I headed straight in front of it, with confidence. Then I met the cherry on the top of rudeness. The worst guard ever, that didn’t care we had bought tickets already online, we should have waited in the queue like everybody else. Please try to imagine a queue you can’t see an end to it. Then triple it. We had return tickets that day so we were in a bit of a rush. I just couldn’t believe it. As much as I wanted to remember the good in Paris, I couldn’t. There were always people in the way.
We finally got in, just to be pushed from room to room by tourists, with the speed of light. The chateau is beautiful, looks a lot like Peles Castle in Romania. You need to go see them both:) luxurious, richness, amazing details, everything was impressive. But because we got out so fast, we wanted to go back in. Of course we weren’t allowed, even though the ticket was available the whole day. The rude guard told us in a bad English we had to wait in line again. I was on the verge of exploding with anger.
We decided to check the gardens. I bought the tickets that included them, so I just handed them to another security person. They told us we had to buy an additional ticket of 8 euros/person, because it was Sunday and there were singing fountains on the premises. I didn’t want any of that, I just wanted to stick to my ticket that was already expensive. We weren’t allowed to see the gardens we already paid for, because of their special program we were obliged to buy. I have to tell you, I started crying. I couldn’t help it anymore. All felt like a bad dream, or a bad joke. Like they were mocking not just us, but everybody else behind me in the same situation. I mean, how difficult it is to tell stupid people that buy online like me, that if the ticket is for Sunday you HAVE to buy an additional program?
I decided not to let all this day be ruined completely and bought the tickets. The gardens were amazing. All symmetry (have I mentioned I love maths?), the most beautiful green trees, wonderful design and displays that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, beautiful fountains that unfortunately for us, didn’t sing! They started their program after 3 p.m. and we had to leave by then to catch our flights. Now you understand why my vacation was ruined? Why I hate Parisians? Don’t understand me wrong, I love Paris and it’s surroundings but without the people. They brought a bad taste to my mouth that nothing can wash it away.
I used to hate London. But I believe all things work for the greater good. After this trip, I couldn’t wait to pay my respects to my fellow Londoners. I remember being in the tube going home and smiling to all the people as they were saying “excuse me”, moving out of the way, even if I was the one carrying a big bag and was messing the balance.
Paris is beautiful and I love it. But I must be broken when I hate it at the same time. Maybe it was just a bad 3 days experience and I wish to go again and have a completely different one. What can I say, except C’est la vie?!