My calves ache. 3 days of wondering Paris I imagine would do that to anyone… this is a long one but we covered a lot.
The journey was as expected, the usual last minute panic with closed motorways, a few farewell phone calls and that strange almost eerie lack of movement when you sit quietly waiting to board the flight awash with pointless thoughts along the lines of ‘Have I forgotten…?’ & ‘Should I have of…?’. It’s too late to change anything, so we simply stare out the window at our plane, look at the splattering rain and wait before boarding.
Anyone who has done the flight from Australia will fill you in on the details. Ours was no different. To sum it up; restless toddlers, plenty of movies, more than one failed attempt at sleeping, very impressed with Singapore airport and surprised by the 13hr Europe leg being better than it’s 8hr counterpart from Australia (especially sans toddlers).
Arriving in Paris is no different from any arriving anywhere and I’m reminded of the chorus of a Paul Kelly song (you can guess which). We catch a cab out to our Air BnB as both Sandi and I are too travel weary to hazard the train, though 55 euros later and in glorious retrospect, it may have been a wiser choice. Our apartment is great, small, comfortable out of the way and a short (2min) walk to the Metro. We’re greeted by our host’s caretaker, given the run down and more or less left to our own devices, which at this stage boils down to get some sleep or make a day of it. We opt for the latter and head to the Notre Dame.
Day 1 – Notre Dame, Luxembourg Gardens, Ears are pierced and the glorious Metro.
The metro is easy, even in a jet-lagged stupor of dumbfoundedness. I’m slightly paranoid of pickpockets and looking overly like a tourist but paranoia proves unfounded. We take the route from Nation to Chatelet, take a mental check of our surroundings and when we surface, start the walk to Notre Dame.
The line at Notre Dame is long but moves quickly, there’s also a strong military and police presence, Sandi is reassured but I can’t help to question what circumstances have arisen that warrant such a fierce and imposing presence… (I figure this out eventually over the coming days and likewise become grateful).
The Notre Dame is heavy, obviously, but I mean the atmosphere. The feeling is dense, like being covered in a thick blanket. The building’s greatness coupled with its religious purpose and active worshippers are almost stifling.
You can feel the weight of centuries bear down and almost crush you with their enormity and sentiment. It becomes sharply apparent that Paris was largely built when religion reigned supreme and the majesty of the Notre Dame is a testament to this. I’m almost relieved when we head for the exit.
Luxembourg Garden’s is in many ways the opposite of the Notre Dame. Whilst one is living the other seems a tomb. We leave the noise of the street behind and start our wayward meandering along the paths and gardens. Paris reveals a new face, perfectly manicured and largely flawless. The military presence remains strong but I consider the gardens to be a highlight of Paris.
We take our fill of the gardens, we walk the busy streets and roads of Paris, do our best to navigate the crossings always looking at the wrong side of the road, grab something to eat and decide to return.
We pass a ‘girlie shop’ I know this isn’t a great description, but I can’t imagine a better name for it. Willow is attracted to it like a magnet, all pink and soft edges, glaring jewellery and glitter designed to overwhelm and intoxicate. It is the bane of any indulgent father. Sandi and I secretly agreed that Willow can get her ears pierced when in Paris, we figure it would make a great memory. She must have known, we are dragged in and the decision is made in a whir.
We stop at a supermarket grab dinner and retreat to the silence of our accommodation by 7:30 pm and despite the hours of daylight remaining, we fall blissfully asleep.
Day 2 – Sacred Heart, Eifel Tower, the Louvre.
We feel like Metro pros now, we even try multiple lines to get around – hey look at us go ;). Sacré-Cœur Basilica is an easy leg and very tourist friendly, despite this I find myself piqued and aware. Starting our ascent we are approached by three large Afrikaans, my hand is grabbed by one of them and he hastily attempts to tie a piece of string around my wrist. Sandi, in all her bluster, comes to the fore and snatches my hand back. One the men come over and tell her to be happy. She’s fuming and I feel almost childlike that I’m in this situation and my wife is coming to my rescue… I’m also grateful. I find out later that it’s a scam. They tie the string on your wrist and demand to be paid. Similar to the Gypsies that ask you to sign their pieces of paper – Sandi has done her research and lets fall these pearls of wisdom. Despite the view from the Sacred Heart, the situation puts a blemish on the morning. As we descend I note that the men have moved on, replaced by three armed policemen their automatic weapons lying like sleeping devils strapped to their chests. I understand the necessity of their presence despite the mildness of my encounter.
We ordered the tickets to the Eifel Tower beforehand – I’d recommend this to anyone who doesn’t like queues, however, we need to print these tickets. Our walk from the Metro to the Eifel Towers passes within spitting distance of the Australian Embassy, we ask if we can print our tickets there… the words ‘Sure, No Worries,’ wash over me and I feel a small pang of homesickness… ‘Sure, no worries’ – it just rolls off the Australian tongue and I feel incredibly patriotic.
We walk around the entire Eifel tower, we politely refuse every souvenir and we take it in. Willow has wanted to do a cartwheel in front of the Eifel Tower since she heard that we were going.
It’s slightly cooler this day so when we do make ourselves inside and up the tower, the wind is biting. We make a gift of Willow’s birthday present, take in the view, take our photos and decide to head down the stairs. More walking…
We leave the Eifel Tower by Pont d’lena, and start our long walk to… well, anywhere. Preferably something to eat.
After lunch and another stumbling order (I’ve opted for the simple point and hope method – which sometimes results in food that otherwise I may not have eaten), we head to the Louvre… mostly on foot. My legs are sore at this point, I comfortably run 5km a day at home, despite this I’m footsore and wishing for a bike, an Uber, a pair of wings or even rollerblades – Willow astounds me with her efforts. We never intended on visiting the Louvre, but I’m so glad we found our way there. Friday afternoon we start … it doesn’t shut until 10 pm, we think we can do it all in one afternoon. We can’t not by a long mile, but we give it a good nudge. We start at Egyptian antiques, we cover Islamic Art, we wander underneath and marvel at the original foundations, we end up near decorative arts after near Eastern antiquities. We meet a nice man whose knowledge of the Louvre and history astounds me. He talks to us in near perfect English, telling us his love for all this knowledge stems from his retirement and that in history we find stillness, that we can observe at our leisure. He tells us to remember to sit down often when wandering the Louvre, let the blood flow and take it in.
Willow is fidgety and restless, her little legs have walked two steps to our one all day, we use one of the ‘strollers’ provided by the Louvre but we ourselves have only another two hours left before we admit defeat and head for home. We sleep, deeply, peacefully and wake up sore.
Day 3 – Paris’ marred beauty and more Lourve.
Sandi has her heart set on a visiting a market Paris’s largest flea market. She advises it’s in a poorer area… it is. Paris reveals a marred face, the poverty is obvious, the smell overpowering and we realise that this part of Paris and others like it but far more dangerous are the parts you read about and see on the news. Overall we manage just fine, but Sandi is disappointed we leave to Les Halles and back to the Louvre.
Today we take in Sculptures Grecian and Roman, we spend hours in Renaissance art and we see ‘her’ – the Mona Lisa. At this point I accept that I know nothing about art, I’m okay with this… my legs hurt. We leave the Louvre and get lost in Saint Paul. Willow picks the direction at every crossing and we wander all the way to Republique. We go home, make a small dinner the first decent amount of vegetables in days, pack a little and sleep…
Tomorrow we leave Paris and we discover the joys of driving in Europe… but hey I’m still here :).