Paris – Travel Review
By Robert Palin and Grace Barnott
It is a typical dreary mid-December day in London. We have just got off one train and are sat waiting for another. After engulfing another sandwich, we sit in departures at the St. Pancras Eurostar terminal waiting for our 13.31 train to France. We are quite unable to contain our excitement.
Sitting there we remind ourselves of the French we have been taught at school and grin at the thought of soon eating freshly baked baguettes from some chic Parisian patisserie, instead of another triangular railway station shop-bought sarnie. Finally our train number is called and the journey begins.
On arrival in Paris 150 minutes later, it is not difficult to find our delicately placed hostel just a couple of streets from the Oberkampf metro station, right in the heart of the arty and bustling area of The Marais. This is an extraordinary part of the city. It boasts all things Parisian, not just for shoppers but for lovers of art and the unusual alike. We are surrounded by wonderful patisseries, inviting restaurants, quirky shops and classic cafés. The people are friendly and the atmosphere is enchanting.
“Small inviting shops entice us inside”
Even though it is dusk when we arrive we still have the time to become evening flaneurs. We explore the winding and curious city streets. We soon find ourselves at the famous Bastille, icon of the French revolution. An essential part of the classic, enigmatic Paris that we know today. Surrounded by magnificent smelling food and authentic French wine, we can not help but find ourselves sinking our teeth into deliciously soft pain au chocolats and indulging ourselves on the sweetest of wines. It is at this moment that a Parisian local has noticed our weak spot for food and shouts “bon appetit”. Surely the phrase any English person would love to hear on a first evening in Paris. We reply with a muffled “merci” and gave a very British thumbs up.
On our first full day in Paris we decide to take a walk to the Pompidou Centre. It’s a walk made all the more interesting by the fascinating street art that decorates the many walls along the way. Cartoon ostriches, space creatures and giant faces describe just a few. It is also hard to ignore the small inviting shops that entice us inside. They showcase various cultures of modern day Paris.
A trip to the city is not complete without making an obligatory stop at one of the many traditional markets that the guidebooks are constantly recommending. Conveniently for us, we happen to pass a few on the way to the centre. One cannot be blamed for being lured in by the spectrum of colourful vegetables, the aroma of coffee and the special pungency of traditional French cheeses. And, of course, the cheap prices – perfect for gifts or if you simply want to immerse yourself in French culture.
“Craftsmanship and striking religious iconography”
The Pompidou is instantly recognisable because of its famous ‘inside-out’ architecture. Due to our age and nationality entry is free. We are able to see the permanent collections. Not only is there the excitement of being able to see an array of incredible and unique artwork from across the years, but also we are fortunate enough to witness the glorious and vast view of Paris from the top of this prestigious art establishment.
After leaving the Pompidou we decide to embrace the Gothic wonders of Notre Dame cathedral. Despite not witnessing any gargoyles or hunchbacks we are in awe of the sheer craftsmanship and striking religious iconography. We are drawn to a large group of people gathered around something. Not wanting to miss out, we manage to peer through and see the most magical model village with miniature streams of water, glistening lights and realistic figurines.
Striving to cram as much as possible into a brief encounter of the city we have always longed to go to, we decide to take to a trip to the unmissable Louvre. Our first stop in this huge museum is to follow the signs to the renowned Mona Lisa. Once the sea of cameras part a small but instantly recognisable frame appears and we automatically realise why this painting is as famous as it is. We could stare at it all day.
But we quickly realise that we still had a vast amount of art, culture and history to cover at the Louvre. After just walking down one wing of this huge museum the soles of our feet are already starting to burn. Although this building is a marvel on both the inside and the out, it is definitely either a whole day or a two half days activity.
“The whole of Paris can be seen”
Our next day in France is more of a relaxed one. Whilst leisurely strolling to see the Eiffel tower, we soak up as much Parisian culture along the way as possible. Stopping at cafés and gorging ourselves on as much pastry as we can handle. After choosing to follow the point of the tower we finally reach our destination.
Cue massive amounts of tourists with their cameras constantly flashing away. Surrounded by picturesque scenery next to the Seine, the tower stands tall, proud and iconic. When visiting the Eiffel Tower it is worth paying the small sum to climb to the second floor. Although climbing the clunky metal stairs may require an element of fearlessness on a wet and windy winter’s day, the view is one to remember. The whole of Paris can be seen.
As dusk approached and we were back on safe ground we wondered why everybody was staring up at the tower as if waiting for something magical to happen. A chorus of gasps filled the air as, to the crowd’s delight, the tower suddenly lit up with like a giant bronze Christmas tree. Magical.
“Its pure elegance is breathtaking”
Feeling slightly jaded from climbing the tower, we decide to wander back through the busy city. We pass through the bright lights and crowds of people. We have been told that there is a fairytale-like bridge near the Eiffel Tower and that we will know it when we come across it. In the near distance we can see one bridge that seems to be a lot more popular than the rest. Picking up our pace we soon see a mixture of old and new padlocks neatly attached to the bridge where everybody is standing. The romantic side of Paris becomes apparent here with messages of love and friendships etched into each one of the locks. Symbols of affection that can never be moved or taken away.
Our last day in Paris is here. Trying to fill time before our train home we think that we will not have the opportunity to do much. But how wrong we are! Setting off towards Montmartre, we have The Moulin Rouge in our sights. This establishment, although not so glamorous on the outside, stands out with its famous windmill. Once again, numerous amounts of people are determined to capture it on camera.
The area is provocative but amusing due to the novelty of some of the shops and red-faced tourists. Controversially the religious structure of the Sacre Coeur is placed just up the road from the Moulin Rouge. This emphasises the versatile and liberal nature of Paris. Similar to the Notre Dame, the Sacre Coeur is definitely worth a look. Not only is it a reminder of France’s religious past, but its pure elegance is breathtaking.
“Not difficult to find yourself in awe”
The climb to the top of the steps again brings great views of Paris. It is worth the aching calf muscles. We are delighted to be entertained on the way up by happy-go-lucky street performers playing popular hits for cheering crowds. Whilst in the area, having been put under the spell of Paris’s Gothic aura, we take a visit to the Montmartre Cemetery. In this alluring and fascinating place it is not difficult to find yourself in awe of the huge and beautifully crafted tombs and gravestones. It’s a great way to show respect to the lives that previously had wandered the streets we ourselves have recently explored.
After leaving this area to head back towards the Eurostar our Paris story is on he verge of ending. Of course, our time in the city would not be complete without stopping for a café noir somewhere along the line.
Sitting there sipping we reflect on the eventful few days we have just experienced. With our bags cram full of as much wine and cassis as we can get away with and finally getting to eat those freshly backed baguettes we had been dreaming of just a couple of days before, we find ourselves a few hours later shuffling onto the return train back to England.
Full of great memories and pain au chocolat, we arrive back home. We are comforted by the fact that our short trip to Paris was all that we expected and more. The Eurostar to Paris and back is a great choice for a short break and a journey worth taking. Au revoir Paris. See you again soon.
All images © Robert Palin and Grace Barnott