Arriving at the ever busy Gare du Nord made us realize how foreign we are. Everything is in French! We got our Carnet and headed for our Hotel.
At the moment we stepped into the Metro subway, we noticed the mass of people, from all backgrounds, all classes. Unlike what is normally portrayed in advertisements, Paris is not as romantic as the public think. There are beggars, street people, gangsters and lots of dodgy-looking people – certainly didn’t paint a very good picture for Paris
Unlike what is said by friends (“Nowadays all French speak English!” They assured me before I went), most of the people we encountered, except for the well-known tourists attraction sites, speak French and no English. There were some unpleasant encounters where some people are very unfriendly knowing we do not speak French, but overall, the people are still ok.
The traffic/ driving in Paris certainly terrified me. I mean, having got used to the polite driving in UK, where pedestrians rank first, I am quite amazed seeing cars zooming past us while the pedestrians’ light is green; or cars cornering and nearly hit down a bunch of people by roadside, then hooted as loud as they could; or cars bumping other cars many times before parking into a parking bay (Now I knew why it’s called a car BUMPER!)… Priceless experience.
The streets are not clean either, except, again, for the main tourists attraction sites. But looking on the bright side, it’s much better than our own country. Our spirits died a little after looking at the dirty streets/ crazy traffic/ suspicious-looking people/ etc… but we reminded ourselves that French cars are one of the upper range cars in the world market. Dad likes French cars a lot…
Off we went to our first stop – Sacre Coeur, a neo-Byzantine Basilica famous with the beautifully adorned dome. It represents the national reconciliation of and hope after the defeat of France in 1870 War against Prussia. The basilica took 45 years to build, and its interior is decorated painstakingly with a myriad of mosaics. Inside Sacre Coeur, religious believers were praying silently, while the painting of Jesus on the ceiling glowed in soft golden light. We took our time to savour the beauty and calm our minds.
A path by the side of Sacre-Coeur brought us to the Montmarte area. We arrived at the place Emile-Gourdeau, the authentic art square flocked by artists.
No, we didn’t manage to get our portraits done, but we did have some French crepe for tea, and got “robbed” for ordering a €3.00 500ml mineral water! One thing that fascinated me a lot is the culture of Parisian to sit by the sidewalk, under the sunshine and watch the world goes by. Reminds me so much of our “mamak stall” culture. But more interesting in a sense that they all faced to only one direction – OUTWARDS – looking into the streets. We followed their gaze to see what they are looking at, only to find another stretch of cafés opposite, full with people gazing towards this direction!
We found Moulin-Rouge later after getting lost in the small winding streets in Montmarte. The time as well as the price of the cabaret shows put us off, since our hotel is at a more quiet (and far) part of Paris, and dad has seen cabaret show in L.A. before anyway.
We got to Concorde to admire the impressive square with its obelisk and two fountains, which are gifts from Egypt in 1836. Jardin de Tuileries is lovely, but we were a bit surprised to find walking path covered in sand (quite messy to walk in). Only later we found out that ALL the pavements in the parks in Paris are covered in sand. How interesting. I guessed I have got too used to the tar/cement walkway in London parks. Reading the signboard enlightened me that Jardin de Tuileries is in fact one of the UNESCO World Heritage List for its cultural/ natural value.
We walked along Les Champs-Elysees, which as usual, was full of crowd, and lots of cafés, banks, cinemas, car showrooms, branded stores, etc. Apparently this street is the favourite hangout place for Parisians, but I lost interest after a few minutes. Just like any other shopping streets in the world – crowd, shops, sales, sales, sales. I quickened my pace to reach the end of the walk.
(One of the few things that managed to catch my attention while walking along Les Champs Elysees - the little girl admiring herself in the mirror in some branded shop... I forgot which)
At last, we got to the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the street. We passed through an underground tunnel to get there – it stinks so badly of urine! Commissioned by Napolean, the monument was dedicated to the memory of an unknown soldier who died in WW1. The Arc is certainly magnificent, though I am still haunted by the fragrance in the tunnel.
(Dad and I! Tadaa!)
(Some antics we saw at Arc de Triomphe)
So far, our meals have been mostly baguettes, baguettes and more baguettes… I wonder how people bite into the rock-hard bread and still manage to keep their teeth. I would prefer to soak them in hot soup and have it soggy. ;-P
At night, we fell asleep exhaustedly, accompanied by the cacophony of noise outside our hotel, by construction work, by lorry passing by, by people shouting, by baby wailing…
(Our window view - houses with traditional french windows, plus lots of unwelcomed activities at night)