“We’ll Always Have Paris”

February 26, 2007 at 7:09 pm Leave a comment

Well, the image thing is sorted out. You know what that means, of course. Tales of the utter glory that is Paris.

Paris: It’s Better than You

As you’ll recall, we left Brussels around two o’clock by bus; we got into Paris at 10 PM. Now, what could a bunch of university students do in the City of Lights on a Tuesday night?

Go pubbing, of course.

After wandering the streets of Paris for awhile to get a feel for the city (i.e. we were lost), before finding a little hole-in-the-wall place with barely enough room to stand. This is where we got our first real experience with the people of Paris, wherein we confirmed Stereotype #1: French Men are Horny.

Seriously, one of the girls in our group was hit on by no less than two French guys. Of course, being the utter assholes we are, we were sure to shout advice like “take this one all the way!”. Of course, considering the guy spoke English, it was very awkward for both of them. Later on, he gave her his phone number, e-mail address, and home address. He also said that he had plenty of free time if she wanted to come by, since he was ‘just waiting to get fired’. Basically, he was really creepy.

After that, there was nothing left except to go back and sleep. In the morning, we left with the rest of the school to go to the Louvre, which is the most insane art museum on the face of the Earth. I tell you, if Napoleon had one thing going for him, it’s that he knew how to loot; taking the treasures of Europe home to stick in the former palace of the king was easily one of the high points of his career. We splintered into smaller groups while we were there, and thankfully we had our classmate Nick, an art student who explained the artistic and historical significance of most of the pieces. His presence was invaluable.

The Louvre. It is also Better than You.

The highlights were, of course, the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, but the incredible amount of great works besides those were astonishing. I saw pieces by three of the four Ninja Turtles (Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello), countless Greek statues, and the physical embodiment of law in the Code of Hammurabi. The best named thing, though? “The Right Hand of Victory”. Basically, the place is incredibly awesome.

After we left, the first thing we ran into was a crazy-expensive antique shop, where even things just lying around cost over 1000 Euros (I’d love to see what they thought was valuable enough to lock up). We amused ourselves by pretending to be wealthy antiquity collectors, which no doubt sounds incredibly lame to anyone who isn’t us.

Later on, we went on a cruise of the Seine river, followed by a late-night jaunt up the Eiffel Tower. Proving Paris as the city of love, a marriage proposal took place while we were up there, to the joy and merriment of all. Another cool thing at the top? The apartment used by the guy who built the place. How would you like to be able to say “I have this little place; the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps you’ve heard of it”. Until we build colonies on the moon, this will remain the coolest place man has ever lived.*

*No, Antarctica is not as cool.

And there you have my first night and day (followed by another night) in Paris.

Because this post is getting lengthy, I’m just going to skip to a photo-format. Get ready for a whirlwind tour of my time in the city.

The Arc de Triomphe, a huge arch commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate how badass he was. God, I love that little man. I climbed to the top, which is how I got that photo of the Eiffel Tower and Paris streets at the start of the post. At the bottom is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and going out of it in all directions are the great streets of Paris, including the Grand Avenue (which leads directly to the Louvre).

Notre Dame, where the Hunchback lives. It’s located on a tiny island in the middle of the Seine River, the birthplace of the city of Paris. It’s still a functioning church, but the inside is ridiculously commercialized; they ask for money for everything, and even have a souvenir booth in there.

A little bookstore from which we started our “Literary Walking Tour of Paris”. Highlights include the spot Oscar Wilde died, the infamous “dueling coffee houses”, and a generally startling representation of the decadence of the French literary establishment of the 1920’s. I’m pretty much the only person in the school who finds this interesting.

My delicious Parisian dinner of bread, cheese, fruits and wine purchased at local markets. Not pictured here is the chocolate eclair I had for dessert.

The River Seine, which runs through the heart of Paris. God lord, is it ever brown. Set up along the riverbanks are a bunch of booksellers operating out of little booths, a tradition going back to the French Revolution. They sell everything from the works of Voltaire to French Pornography. I imagine the latter tends to be a better seller.

Other highlights of the trip:
-Dropping 13 Euros on hot chocolate and a pastry at what I was told was the best hot chocolate place on the face of the Earth. The hot chocolate in question turned out to be, for all intents and purpose, a thick cup of melted chocolate. Incredibly rich and hard to get down.
-Visit to the Shoah Museum (the term used in much of Europe for what we call the Holocaust), which ended with a meeting with a Jewish woman talking about her experiences as a child during WWII. It was incredibly interesting, and she had a stunning sense of humour about her even when confronting hard topics. The whole thing is really deserving of a blog post of it’s own.
-Going solo in the city, which included wandering the streets and markets, walking the Grand Avenue, and riding the Metro. I noticed beggars tend to harass you more when your alone.
-The incredible inventiveness of people trying to get your money. At every major landmark there were people walking around selling cheap trinkets, but there were also more subtle schemes. Some people would weave you a bracelet while you watched, and then once it was tied to your wrist explain you had to pay a ridiculous amount for it. Others would approach you with a city map, as if they were going to ask for directions, only to open it to reveal a message explaining how hard-off they were and that you should give them money.
-Helping a Japanese couple figure out how to work a Pay Toilet set up in the street. Seriously, those things were everywhere.

Finally, the big question: “Are French people really that rude?”. Having experienced the city firsthand, I can honestly say that no, they are not. For example, at one point I got lost in a non-tourist part of the city. While I was looking at my map, a guy on a smoke break from work came over and asked if I needed help. When he couldn’t figure out where it was I needed to be, he found someone who did, and then proceeded to translate while they gave directions. It was incredibly thoughtful.

Everywhere I went, the people of Paris were no less polite than people anywhere else. So why has it built up this reputation? My theory is the language barrier; at the Metro, while asking for directions, I was asked to repeat myself five or six times because they were having trouble understanding me. Now, as anyone who knows me knows, I’m used to people having no idea what the fuck I’m talking about. However, I imagine an average person in such a situation would get rather irritable, and when the French person trying to help them gets irritable in response, who do you suppose is blamed?

All over, there were incidents of tourists being dicks and the Parisians being forced to take actions to stop them. At the Mona Lisa, one man kept trying to take pictures despite being asked not to four times (as we all know, flash photography destroys art). When he still refused, the guards were forced to take him to the side and put his camera back in his bag. I fully expect that right now he’s telling his family and friends stories of being manhandled by the “rude” French.

The lesson here? Most of the time it’s your fault, not the people of Paris.

And that excessively long post covers most of my trip. I still haven’t talked about the stops on the way back to the English Channel, or the Ferry Ride back, or about a million of the things I did in the city, but there’s a limit to how much I can expect you all to read. Needless to say, the city was fabulous, and I regret having to leave so soon. If I could, I’d still be there right now.

Au Revoir, Paris. I hope to see you again soon.

Editor’s Note: Paris is pretty much the classiest city in the world. I had a fantastic time there. My greatest regret, though? I failed to visit the Catacombs, an awesome place filled with skulls. One day!


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