Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The weekend of... Paris and my birthday {part 2}

DAY 2: SUNDAY aka. The big tourist day

Feel free to skip along and look at the pictures (LOTS of them), I know I wrote A LOT, but there’s so much more to our experience than the pictures, these pictures don’t speak loud enough to me.


We started the day with breakfast in bed – no, the hotel didn't have room service, but I’d packed muesli and milk and it worked just fine! After getting ready, and making sure that we had a bottle of water (we’d left it in the hotel on Saturday), we were set to take on Paris.

I know that many, many people have been to Paris, and that in some ways it may have lost its special-ness, but I was really excited to see the icons of the city, and just enjoy wandering around.

We walked through the wet streets (they clean them with water at night), with the sun low in the sky. Passing little cafes with people having their petit déjeuné, and the colourful street vendors setting up for the day, it felt like we were in Paris. 

We stopped at a fruit market and bought a snack (we needed nutrients, the muesli was more chocolate. Oops?) and Malcolm got an apple all the way from South Africa.

The streets were confusing and the names of them are printed on the sides of buildings, not always easy to see. Fortunately, we had a map and there are some maps at the metro and bus-stops, but it was frustrating how they didn’t have notices to point us in the direction of the major attractions... no wonder we get taught how to ask directions in French A1. After passing through another market, selling all sorts of things including pigeon pie and rabbit, I put that teaching into practice and we got directed to the Louvre. 

We were delighted to finally find the Louvre and, after nearly getting scammed at the entrance, we walked into the first courtyard. We were blown away – there were probably a maximum of 12 people in the enormous courtyard and it was just so majestic. Despite the fact that the famous glass pyramids were right through the arch-way, we soaked up the feeling of solitude in the magnificent courtyard, watching people slowly trickle in.

From there we wandered out and found the Pont des Arts, mentioned so often in literature, and enjoyed the beautiful view over the seine... I saw the Pont Royal, the bridge from which the lady falls in Camus’ book La Chute, which I despised reading. The bridge is covered in love-locks, and it was just wonderful soaking up the being-in-love-in-the-city-of-love feeling.

After crossing the bridge, we went back to the Louvre, where we went through the arch-way and saw the large glass pyramids. It was amusing watching people from afar, counting how many had one hand up in the air, getting that photo of them with their finger on top of the pyramid. We lingered there, sat by the fountain, enjoying the sun, until we decided to move on. Seeing the size of the Louvre, I'm really glad we decided against going inside, I don't think we would have been able to enjoy it in a rush!

We saw a large arc and passed into the Jardin Tuileries. It was beautiful! The statues were interesting to see, and the flowers so bright and colourful – it was a tragedy that one isn’t allowed to sit on the incredibly green grass. I guess that’s why it’s so green. 

But what I loved most was walking down the avenue of trees, with their leaves turning brown. The avenue was deserted, besides a jogger or somebody walking their down now and again.

We continued our stroll through the trees, until we got to the Place de la Concorde. There we saw the beautiful fountains and the obelisque, but what struck me most is the history of the square. Standing looking at the buildings that were once the headquarters of the Germans when they occupied the city in WW2, standing in the historical spot, the Place de la revolution, where the Guillatine was erected and where the French royalty and nobility were executed. 1300 people lost their heads in that area. 

Our next destination was the Paris Opera. It was a pleasant enough walk to get there; the streets really are beautiful in the area and we passed by the Pantheon. 

It was wonderful, coming around the corner and spotting the Opera house for the first time. The Opera house that is the back-drop to the Phantom of the Opera, the place where so many great ballerinas and ballet dancers worked every day. 

We sat on the steps, eating bread and cheese and watched the pigeons. A man was singing Hallelujah (I’m not sure which version, though he sounded like the one used in Shrek), and it was magical. I cannot describe the feeling I had, sitting on the steps walked by so many people, next to Malcolm, watching the pigeons, watching a couple embracing for what seemed like hours at a sign post, watching people deciphering their maps... and just reminded that “Hallelujah”... “praise God” for so many things. It was kind of surreal. 

We went inside the building next. As we entered, I was dumbfounded. I think Malcolm might have got tired of the question “isn’t it beautiful?”. 

So much detail, so much thought put into every part. The most amazing chandeliers. The light and the shadows it creates. The high ceilings. There were so few people there, and in various rooms we found ourselves alone, as though we’d found some kind of treasure. 

We walked along the corridors and saw the pictures of dancers who once danced for the Paris Opera... it was poignant, seeing their still images, a moment captured in time. Walking the corridors that so many ‘greats’ walked, where so many dancers realised their dreams. 

Standing in an upper stall and looking into the theatre (it was open briefly because there was a rehearsal in progress), we got a chance to admire the great chandelier and see the stage where the famous Emma Livry once danced before her tragic death...
She was so ethereal, and diaphanous, an intangible artist imperative, an artist with ballon.... Mlle. Livry had a ballon which has never been equalled – she bounds and leaps as no one else could do. She skims over the ground, the water and the flowers, apparently without touching them. Shims like feather and falls like a snowflake.

In the hall, one quiet and deserted, I danced – after months of no training, I feel rusty and creaky, but breaking out into temps levés and balancés and just spinning... endorphins and joy. Enough said.

We went out onto the balcony and enjoyed the view, seeing a pigeon on the ledge – a fortunate creature who gets to call this home when so many of us can only enjoy it for such a brief time.

 Back inside, we sat on the steps inside for what seemed like a long time, talking quietly. We were reluctant to leave, because who knows if we’ll ever be there again? 

We walked back and found the famous Champs Elysees. The autumn trees were beautiful, the streets were fairly busy, and the constant yet slight uphill slowly tired us. Nevertheless, we skipped a little and can say we skipped along the Champs Elysees – isn’t that what lovers in Paris do?

We felt quite accomplished to reach the Arc de Triomphe. Built for Napoleons victorious army to march through on their return to Paris, our triumph at reaching it felt insignificant, but slightly justified. 

We decided to go up and were pleasantly surprised that I could get in for free as a European citizen, and because Malcolm has a long term visa and student card, he got in for free too. We climbed all two-hundred and something winding steps (they were better than Cologne Cathedral, and there was nearly no graffiti here) to the top, and were rewarded with a spectacular view.

Again, we left reluctantly and wound our way down, stopping at the souvenir shop where you can buy just about anything; Christmas baubles, books, mini-arc-de-triomphes, Paris-pasta...

We used the money we saved from free entrance to buy icecream from a very authentic ice-cream cart... If we were going to be ripped off for the icecream, it should at least come from a cart where the man wears a waistcoat, right?

 We were quite close to the Eiffel Tower, but I really wanted to see the Pont Alexandre III, the most beautiful bridge in Paris. It was a significant detour, but Malcolm obliged and we strolled along the Seine and enjoyed the sun sinking slowly and the sight of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. 

We passed the tunnel where Princess Diana’s car crashed, and it was strange to think that this pretty street is where she was being pursued.

 We found a statue that had been sculpted by a Bartlett, which got Malcolm’s approval... 

...and then reached the bridge. It was very beautiful, and it’s a pity the Seine is quite narrow and the bridge is crossed so quickly.

We walked along the other side of the Seine, and watched people enjoy roller-blading, playing games and fishing... the atmosphere was so calm despite the amount of people.

Finally, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower. I’ve never had a longing to see it, and because it was built for such a comparatively insignificant reason, I have never really felt like it deserves the attention it receives. Reaching it, after walking all day, did feel like an accomplishment though, and only when we stood right there, did I truly appreciate the size. I was also surprised that it’s brown... it never looks brown, does it? 

 We bought a chocolate muffin (so that I could have cake at midnight for my birthday) and headed to see the tower from underneath. We took some photos in front of it, and then headed to the queue to walk up to the second storey. We thought it would be worth it, and again, who knows if and when we’ll be back there. 

The line wasn’t too long, but it moved slowly. As we were nearly at the front though, we realised that they had metal detectors and a box with a picture of a pocket knife and a sign saying that things put in the box would be destroyed. And we realised we both had pocket knives on us – Malcolm’s a present from me, and mine (ours) and wedding present. Caught between a rock and a hard place, we didn’t want to pay and then not be able to go up, and we didn’t want to lose objects that are both useful and special, and we were pretty sure security would pick them up. We didn’t know anybody we could trust to keep them for us. The thought of going up individually crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to do it alone. So, we left the line and went and sat on the grass and enjoyed just looking at the tower. Fortunately we’d already seen pretty great views from the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur and the Arc de Triomphe, so we didn’t feel too disappointed, though it would have been nice.

We were getting hungry, but our food-budget had gone up with the money saved from the Eiffel Tower entrance being re-allocated. So, we walked a little way and found a quiet little restaurant a little off the beaten-track. Sure, it wasn’t frogs legs and escargot, but falafel is these days just as French, and pizza was a safe option. The portions were huge, and we were stuffed. I loved that the waitress spoke English but when we spoke to her she said ‘is that English’ no matter how clearly we enunciated our words. So I spoke French with her, which is kind of one of the points of visiting France.

It was getting really cold by now, and we were not prepared, so we walked to warm up. We found a little park/garden, and then came to a church. It was Sunday and there was a service happening, so we went into the packed church, partially just for warmth. It was encouraging to see the church so full, and mesmerising to hear mass in French and worship God in the ‘most romantic language’. We lingered there a little after the service ended, and then went back to the Eiffel Tower to see it as the sky darkened. 

It was beautiful to see the surrounding buildings as well as the tower slowly light up, and we found ourselves a spot on the grass (one without too many cigarette stumps and bottle-caps... I recommend a blanket to sit on and a warm jacket) and huddled to keep warm. Hollywood is right, the Eiffel Tower lit up at night is very romantic, and when it started twinkling even Malcolm showed signs of delight. Once it was quite dark, we walked closer to see it from beneath, and shared one last Eiffel-Tower kiss underneath it before heading to a bus stop. 

At the bus stop, I asked a lady if we were in the right place to get to the Gare du Nord, and she redirected us to the other bus-stop across the road, where we waited for line 42. For 4euros, we got a tour of Paris-sights at night. It was amazing... the bus followed the route we'd walked and we saw the sights from earlier, the Eiffel tower, the Obelisque, the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, the Opera House, all lit up and looking beautiful. It was fun and such an unexpected treat to see the places whizz by after we thought we wouldn’t see them again, and certainly not at night.

We arrived back at our hotel, exhausted but SO happy. When I trace our path on Google maps, we walked about 20km, and had seen everything we wanted to and even more. We felt spoiled, expecting to see these monuments and icons of Paris, but getting to see the intricacies of places, details we didn’t expect, feelings we didn't expect, treated to quiet moments alone with a ‘wonder’ all to ourselves, and thrilled at the a simple late-night bus ride through the lit up streets of Paris. It was indescribable, really. 


  1. i love that you sat around on the bridge and watched people walk around -- made a game of who had their hand in the air. i love doing stuff like that (while eating ice cream) way more than looking at art (and i have an art history degree) -- people watching is the best :)

    1. I agree... though we did want to see the well-known sites, we didn't want to just rush through ticking the places off and seeing them for the sake of it.
      And I love watching people take photos... but I'm always so aware that I'm in the background of other peoples' photos too, so I try not to look too weird - even though I know I'm crawling-around-on-knees-setting-self-timer-on-her-camera-girl in some peoples' pictures ;)

  2. Ahh these posts have made me want to visit Paris so badly! I just missed out on the Eurostar sale which I was so annoyed about :( Did you guys add a padlock to the Lover's Bridge?

    Kam x | A Married Couple & Their Travels

    1. Ah what a pity! We got our tickets on a special with Thalys a while back, and I see it advertised again as we arrived back - so tempting ;)
      We considered it, but they get cut off so soon, and we didn't think it would be all that romantic, so we're waiting for our 6month anniversary then we'll put one on Cologne's love-lock bridge :)

  3. I love Parisian farmers markets! What a lovely bunch of photos!

  4. Erica, what a lovely recap of your Paris trip! I'm so glad you got to go inside Opera Garnier. It has such a beautiful interior. You are making me want to board a plane to Paris right this instant!

    1. Thanks! The Opera was probably my favourite place in Paris, it was so grand and... significant. Go ahead and board that plane! :D

  5. what an amazing trip! You two (who are insanely cute, btw) fit so much in! I especially love that you skipped down Champs Elysees :)

    1. Ah thanks! It was pretty amazing, and although we walked so far and saw so much, it actually was still quite relaxed and didn't need to rush at all which was great :) We didn't skip very far - it's surprisingly tiring uphill and after walking so long, but it was fun :)

  6. Wow! Looked like an amazing trip! Gotta love Paris! And you guys look so sweet together!
    xx Norma

    1. Aw thanks! It was really amazing :)

  7. What a fun time and lovely photos to remember your trip!!

    1. Thank you! It's a pity lots of the photos are blurred or a little grainy, but the memories are there :)

  8. This looks like SO much fun! My brother lived in Paris for 2 years and cannot wait to go back with him. So amazing!

    1. It was! I'm sure you'll have a great time - especially with your brother who is, in my eyes, an experienced tour-guide if he's been there for 2 years!

  9. Ah!!! The Paris Opera House?! I spent a week in Paris in 2004 and loved every second of it. Although I saw the Opera House, I didn't go inside and I am insanely jealous!!! What a wonderful birthday. :)

    1. The Opera House is amazing, just so inspiring to be there! You'll have to go back, though then you're definitely going to want to dance, so be prepared ;) :D

  10. Wow, great trip, especcially for your Birthday!
    You didn't miss anything by not going on the Eiffel Tower - I've been twice and I still think that the view from the Arc de Triomphe is so much prettier than the view from either of the Eiffel Tower platforms! :)
    You really did a lot of stuff during your stay there!
    (If you ever go again - as a student you also can visit the Louvre for free, it's just the same as the Arc de Triomphe!)

  11. It was a great trip!
    I do wish we had got the chance to go up it, but I agree that the view from the Arc de Triomphe is amazing, especially since then the Eiffel Tower is in the view so it's distinctively Parisian. And yes, we crammed SO much into one day -- it was exhausting but so much fun :) And the Louvre would also be for free? Amazing! Thanks for letting me know :)

  12. Yes, it's possible with a lot of places in France and in the EU! There is an Article (but in German about France:

    We experienced it for the first time while visiting Bruges. I was able to visit a lot of places for free. :) (which is by the way a really gorgeous and romantic city)

    So if you plan to visit a lot of places in the EU, do it while still under 26 :)

  13. I better get moving then, so much to see! Thanks for the link!