Paris. There is probably no destination in the world that people desire to visit more so than this outstanding city. Although I suppose Mecca surmounts a formidable challenge to that assertion, or even Goofy’s now that I have spread the word of that phenomenal establishment to the far corners of the globe. Essendon, prepare for an inundation of foreign tourist on pilgrimage to discover the Holy Grail of ultra-greasy pizzas. I have been informed though that the quintessentially Essendonian custom of “renovation” has beholden even Goofy’s. But alas I digress as always; I suppose I cannot expect to command your attention for long if I’m shilly-shallying on about a take-away joint near you (I am always staggered by the bizarre terms that Microsoft Word manages to conjure up for synonyms).Paris would probably be a more interesting topic of conversation. Certainly more so than hearing about the butcher that Nick’s grandmother buys “amazing meat” from (he randomly decided that was vital information I needed to know about as I stressfully tried to work out how to reach our train to Vienna. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident of insufferable dribble I was condemned to listen to!). Goodness, what is happening to my attention? To be honest, I am unable to fathom why people would bother reading this entry about Paris. I cannot make any flabbergasting revelations about this universally admired city; the beauty of Paris is utterly dumbfounding, the architecture is mesmerising, the food is delectable and the culture is oh-so sophisticated. Yawn fest; everyone knows all that. I can at least express my surprise of what the Parisians are like. Europeans seem to collectively scorn the French and depict them as arrogant and rude, but personally I found the Parisians to be some of the most hospitable people I have encountered all year. This paradoxical experience was similar to when I remarked to Londoners that custom service seemed to be excellent in their city, to which they all responded, “Customer service does not exist in the United Kingdom”.
Nick and I spent one week in Paris and enjoyed spectacular sunny weather and temperatures hovering in the high twenties for the duration of our stay. This was a substantial contrast to the dreariness of London. We changed accommodation four times (so five different rooms), hopping between cheap hotels and Hyatts.
Paris is a city which has virtually achieved aesthetical perfection. Whenever I walked through the streets of Paris, I was always astonished by how flawless the city appeared and the precision of details. This is not a quaint village hidden in the mountains where heritage and tradition can easily be preserved, but one of the greatest cities in the world at the centre of a metropolitan area home to twelve million people. Paris is renowned for its collection of extraordinary art museums, but the vast central area of the city is itself a gallery of architectural brilliance; with each style of European history evident in stunning examples. Everything that visually confronts the visitor outside is in immaculate condition (although exuberant façades can hide internal deterioration as we discovered at one of the four hotels we stayed in Paris). On many of Paris’ monumental boulevards or unassuming alleys, literally all the buildings are photographic delights. I particularly admire how all buildings are attractive to look upon regardless of their purposes; the only permutation might be the differences in embellishment. Parisian parks are rigidly formal with symmetrical gardens, manicured lawns and shallow circular railings that define the areas in even the most mundane of parks. Trees that ornament streets or public spaces are specifically trimmed so their canopies feature identical heights and formations. The banks of the Seine have been completely tamed and beautified with artificial walls and decks created for leisure; the unpredictability of nature is not permitted in this strictly planned metropolis. Attention to even the most basic accessories of a modern city, such as balconies, benches, street lamps and the entranceway to subway stations, is evident as they are often prettily designed in the Art Nouveau style. There is a conspicuous absence of modern buildings in central Paris, with the exception of architectural icons such as the pyramid at the Louvre and Centre Pompidou. From my perspective, this situation is advantageous as it secures the aesthetical integrity of central Paris, but disadvantageous as it makes the city appear as though it is stuck in a perpetual pendulum of preserving the past. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that Paris is among the most beautiful cities in the world and is therefore a must-see destination.
Similar to other cities in Europe, Paris is defined particularly by its magnificent river the Seine. The Seine meanders through the city and exquisitely reflects the parade of monumental buildings on its banks. These include the masterpiece of French Gothic architecture the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the medieval Royal residence of the Conciergerie, the sprawling palace of the Louvre, the spectacular Beaux Arts building that houses the Museu d’Orsay, the imposing Hotel de Invalides that was established for injured military personnel and obviously the Eiffel Tower. Visitors are thus forced compelled to pass the Seine regularly since many of Paris’ attractions are located in its vicinity; though that hardly becomes a burden. Nick and I boarded a vessel for an open-deck cruise along the Seine at sunset, though we were unfortunately joined by hundreds of those grotesque beings, the tourists. While they endeavoured to ruin all my photographs, they were unable to completely spoil the occasion.
Improvements to the urban landscape of Paris in the nineteenth century were intended to beautify the city and to exude the imperial importance of the French capital. Consequently, spacious and symmetrical boulevards were implemented throughout the urban fabric, which has made Paris remarkably easy to navigate considering its size. Many of these boulevards cross the Seine on splendid bridges that are marked by golden statues on either bank. They also intersect or terminate at glorious squares that often feature monuments such as obelisks or equestrian statues to demonstrate the military achievements of the nation. The most iconic example of this is obviously the Champs Elysees leading to the Arc de Triomphe, which was larger than what I expected. The Arc was commissioned by Napoleon I (although it was completed after his downfall) to venerate the imperial status of Paris and the conquests of France. However, there are no such monuments to France’s numerous military capitulations.
Paris is strewn with a litany of magnificent churches that exhibit a variety of architectural styles. The Cathedral of Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle are outstanding representations of French Gothic architecture. Both structures are located on an island in the Seine where Paris was originally founded. Notre Dame has been the symbol of the French capital for nearly a thousand years and all geographical locations in the modern metropolis are measured relative to this building. It was tremendous to see the iconic exterior of Notre Dame, though I was somewhat underwhelmed by the interior. I thought the cavernous space was surprisingly dark considering the existence of stained-glass windows and it seriously lacked in impressive ornamentation. Perhaps I’ve visited a few too many churches this year and have become as painfully critical as Nick. However, I was flabbergasted by Sainte Chapelle, which features what is surely one of the finest displays of stained glass windows in Christendom. The building appears to be rather insignificant from the outside, but the visitor is treated to an opulent spectacle of light once in the constituent chapel. The high walls of the chapel are almost completely composed of stained glass windows that light the space up intensely in a myriad of colours. The windows showcase Christian or royal depictions in incredible detail. Sacre Couer is probably the next most recognisable church in Paris. It occupies a hilltop in the Montmartre district, which therefore allows the building to be sighted throughout Paris while providing spectacular views of the city also. The highly symmetrical design of Sacre Couer emphasises verticality in its relative slenderness and is dominated by a central dome that is flanked by domes on either side. The building is entirely white and surrounded by vividly coloured gardens. I also visited the Romanesque church Eglise St. Germain des Pres, the oldest surviving church in Paris, and Eglise St. Sulpice, an opulent and monumental Italianate building.
The most visited payed-attraction in the world is the Eiffel Tower, but Nick and I chose not to be a part of that statistic. Fear not readers though, for one is not required to dispense of euros to glance at this marvellous structure; so obligatory photographs of the tower and the beard were indeed taken. Similar to my reasoning for not climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I figured that I was in Paris specifically to see the tower and not to pay an exorbitant fare to be on it. For our week in Paris, Nick and I enjoyed spectacular weather with blue skies constantly, which thus contributed to the quality of my especially original shots of the Eiffel Tower. We visited the tower in the daylight and I was awed by the sight of this incredible and internationally famous structure. We saw the tower on the cruise and I was bedazzled by the vivid orange-brown colour it exuded at sunset. We returned to the tower for the evening spectacle when it shimmers in sparkling lights at 11:00pm and this was when I thought the tower was at its aesthetical best. This was also the evening when Nick managed to barter for a bottle of Champagne for three euros. It was utterly putrid.
Can it be possible to visit Paris without ever seeing the Mona Lisa? Well I was not prepared to prove whether that was possible. The Lonely Planet guide for Western Europe claims that it would take nine months to see everything in the Louvre, but we opted to attempt to cover the enter museum in a day. Despite being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the palace (which is far more impressive than Buckingham), six hours was sufficient to explore the entire institution thoroughly (well, “rapidly” would be a more apt descriptive term). I refuse to be someone that laments that the Mona Lisa is “smaller than you expect”, because the dimensions appeared to be exactly what I had read they were. I devoted most of my time to viewing the huge collection of paintings as I have very limited interest in sculpture. I also visited the Museu d’Orsay, which is on the opposite side of the Seine from the Louvre. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the vast collection of Monet works but was wholly uninspired by the rest. Surprisingly the Museum of the Army at the Hotel National des Invalides was my favourite in Paris and one of the best I have ever visited. The Hotel National des Invalides was established by the Sun King Louis XIV in 1670 as an initiative to support injured soldiers. The most distinguishing feature of this sprawling complex is the Baroque dome which dominates the local skyline. Nick and I thought we were paying an extortionate price to view specifically the tomb for Napoleon I, but such concerns were quenched by the marvellously detailed exhibitions that particularly focused on the Napoleonic Wars, diplomacy in the eighteenth century and the World Wars. Napoleon’s body rests in a colossal coffin that is situated in a monumental circular space below the constituent dome.
The Palace of Versailles is regarded as the grandest palatial complex in all of Europe. It was constructed by Louis XIV in the seventeenth century to serve as the new seat of governance and to consolidate his absolutist rule over France. It initially served as a royal hunting lodge and it is thus located on the outer suburbs of Paris. We idiotically chose to visit Versailles on a Tuesday, when the primary museums in Paris are closed and tourists flock to the palace. Consequently, we were queuing for three hours before we were able to enter the sprawling buildings of the palace. The symmetrical Baroque architecture of the palace is evocative of the French ruler’s absolutist power. Visitors tour through a selection of sumptuously decorated rooms, which include several vast halls. Surrounding the palace are the Baroque gardens with rigidly symmetrical designs, two artificial canals that perpendicularly intersect and “woods” which have been artificially tamed and bordered. The grounds of the palace seem to extend endlessly as the colossal palace gradually becomes a small blip on the horizon.
I also visited Paris’ spectacular Beaux Arts Palais Garnier (the Opera House), but I cannot be bothered writing about it so please proceed to the photos!
The first dish I ate in Paris gave me inflated expectations for (affordable) French cuisine in the capital, such was its delectability. After selecting a dish randomly from the French language menu, I was rewarded with slices of succulent duck that was served with apple puree and astonishing thinly sliced and sautéed potatoes. Subsequent meals in Paris failed to match that impeccably high standard (one of the best dishes of the year), although that was probably because everywhere else we ate at also had English menus. We were blessed with superb weather all week in Paris, so on our first full day we joined the hordes of locals enjoying picnics in their stylish parks. We bought baguettes, rich brie (the best I’ve ever eaten), aubergine and caviar dip, salami and green olives from the vendors in the trendy Latin Quarter. At a café in Bastille, I successfully employed the random selection strategy once more and enjoyed scallops with green leaf salad and pea puree for entrée and a lamb casserole with vegetables for main. Alert Peter Stevens: Look away NOW! One of my favourite dishes I had in France was Beef tartar, which is raw minced meat (not like the package variety from Coles!) usually served with condiments mixed through (i.e. capers, pesto etc.). From this I discovered that I prefer beef to be completely raw. So please cut my slices off the roast before you put it in the oven, Mum! I ordered entrecote steak because I was intrigued by the name, but it was just a sinewy cut of meat. I had confit duck which was decent and with the same delicious sautéed potatoes. I love how Dijon mustard (much tangier in France) is placed on every table in French eateries. I love how a basket of bread accompanies every dish. And I love the ubiquitous crepe stands in the Parisians streets that sell mouth-watering crepes with butter and sugar for two dollars. But when it comes to the crunch, dare I say I enjoyed food more in London than Paris?
I always expected Paris would be the serious threat to Rome for the coveted first place in Liam’s favourite cities in Europe ranking system. It was ultimately unsuccessful. However, Paris is too beautiful and too glorious to be ranked any lower than second, a position the French have become accustomed to across history anyway. It should be remembered that this ranking system is purely from a touristic perspective. While Paris is a visually stimulating city, I did not find it all that enticing to live in. I asked a Parisian in London why she did not want to return to the City of Light and she responded that Paris is “stuck in time”, while London is constantly changing and evolving. Now that I have visited both, I can certainly appreciate that assertion. The problem with Paris is that its too perfect.
I have just discovered that gobbledygook is a legitimate word, according to Microsoft anyway. So I shall now endeavour to incorporate gobbledygook into every subsequent entry! I’ll probably (and conveniently) forget though.