What's the big deal?
23.12.2012 - 27.12.2012 12 °C
I'm going to blog about our stay in Paris in one go because to be quite frank I don't have a lot to say. If you are a lover of Paris you may want to tune out now because in short my reaction is "I'm not impressed". Not that we particularly disliked it but it just didn't have that feel or sense of attraction for us that makes us want to stay (like we get with places in Portugal).
I thought that before I provide an overview of what we have done and seen I would try to encapsulate what I think it is about the city that gets some people so excited and yet many others are underwhelmed. So. Leaving behind my estimate of around 30% of people who say they love Paris just for the aura of sophistication they think it gives them (wankers)...
...Firstly let me just say that the architecture here is incredible so if you like that then I can imagine you would love Paris. Lovers of art, fashion and other cultural pursuits may also find an affinity with the city. But the people and buzz here isn't any different to other cities. There isn't a special energy or anything that I can feel. The layout and functioning of the city doesn't seem special.
So I guess what I am suggesting is that it is not Paris itself that stirs people but that it brings out a richness to passions they already have. Too deep?? Anyway, at this point in my life I have only a passing interest in some of these things and others no interest at all so I think I am missing that scaffolding from which to build a love of what the city offers. For me Paris is a historic city where the best of everything is in the past and has been replaced with tourists and the inevitable rubbish, spruikers and expense they attract.
In future I could see myself taking a greater interest in French history. It is a subject that fascinates me (particularly the precursors to the French Revolution and the parallels with the excesses of our society today) but not enough to have come to front of mind just yet. If I do decide to study I think it is quite possible that I could return here and fall in love with the streets as I walk through the places where so many momentous events have taken place but for now....meh!
But what about the food? why do people get so obsessed with French food? Well I did a little research on this and it turns out, quite logically in fact, that there is no such thing as French food. There are different specialities for each of the regions based on what produce they have, just like there are in Portugal and other countries. What makes France special is that they developed most of the cooking techniques and dishes that form the base of our own cooking cultures so if you love cooking or food France may well hold a place in your heart but note this too is a historical thing. They may own the basics but that doesn't mean what they do with it is better than anywhere else. Still, coming to Paris for cooking classes could be pretty special if you were into that sort of thing. Oh, and there is a new movement in Paris called Le Fooding which feels that French cooking has become stale because they are restricted by the 'rules' of French cooking and even the Avant Guard just exchanged old rules for new rules. The Le Fooding group are setting up reviews etc. in opposition to Michelin, etc with a focus on promoting French eateries which push the boundaries and produce experiences like what you find in other countries. So there....even some French think their food is stodgy and boring and they want to be more like us.
So what did we actually get up to in Paris? Well we found an apartment in the general Montmarte area but to the East of the more touristy bit which is around the Sacre Coeur church. Using this apartment as a base we explored Montmarte and the main tourist areas of the city. With a 3-day metro pass we were also able to travel far and wide throughout the city, popping our heads up to take a look around. The only place we found that really appealed to us was the 7th Arrondissement. We walked from the Louvre, through the Jardins des Tuilleries, across to Les Invalides and behind the museums and church of Les Invalides (Napoleon's resting place) there is a little Quartier centred on the Av. De Breteuil which has the beautiful, unspoilt turn-of-the-century buildings but seemed devoid of the tourist hoardes. We found a few very reasonably priced and authentic French brasseries here (in particular a little place called Aux Ministeres just off Av. de Segur and Cafe des Officiers on Pl. Joffre by the Military College were very nice) and walking through the streets and boulevardes with the Eiffel Tower in the background was very pleasant. If ever we come back we will try to centre our stay on this little area to make the stay more relaxing and will also make the Louvre and the historic palaces more accessible.
We decided that with our short stay and wanting to get a feel for the city we didn't actually fight the crowds to take a look through the Louvre (I was a bit torn about whether we should or not but in the end we didn't. I know some will be horrified by that but really the Louvre could take days on its own and this trip is not to be bogged down with that sort of thing-tough choice though).
So with 3 days of exploration we really had quite an uneventful visit to the City of Love/Light. Nothing really stood out for me as being terribly interesting and whilst the city is quite nice I don't think we will be in too great a hurry to return *ticks box*.
I should make a point of saying that (against expectations and in defense of Paris) I have not seen a single dog poo on the footpaths, Parisiens are no more or less rude than citizens of any other large city I have been to (in fact given the number of people who come here and speak very LOUDLY and S.L.O.W.L.Y to them in English I think they do very well to be as polite as they are) and the metro system, while a bit expensive, is absolutely worth it with very clean, frequent services to get you all over the city, day and night. That's about all the positive things I have to say.
Oh, one more very important thing is the Ice Creamery Berthillon at Rue Saint Louis en Ille on the Ile Saint Louis (one of the Islands in the Seine, but not the one with Notre Dame on it). These guys do a salted caramel icecream which is YUMMY! Their dark chocolate and vanilla was pretty good too but the caramel, yum.