Paris

Arriving in Paris on the 5th of July I had to readjust to ‘normal’ prices of things again. Spain and Portugal had been so cheap that everything looked far too expensive in Paris, although I admit it wasn’t nearly as pricey as I expected. The bus from the airport to the main train station cost nearly $9, and then I had to buy a train ticket. I got to the house of my couch surfing host, Remy, at about 9pm at night, and after the usual introductions we walked the five minutes from his house to see the Eiffel Tower. Wow. I love all things that sparkle, (yes, that’s the feminine side in me), and the Eiffel Tower was stunning. Lit up like a huge kind of Christmas tree, it was even more impressive in person than in photos. We timed our arrival just right too, because every hour, on the hour, until about 1am the light twinkle for ten minutes or so. I was in awe, and felt every bit the happy, impressed, excited tourist that I was. I can’t believe that people live so close to this tower, and can see it everyday. That still amazes me. Remy pointed out that we have the Opera House, but I countered saying it doesn’t sparkle like the tower, nor does it seem comparable in size or beauty. Maybe that’s just how you feel about your own countries sights, I don’t know. Admittedly, the tower wasn’t as jaw-dropping during the day without the lights on, however it was still a memorable sight.

Having heard all the stories about people in Paris being rude and unfriendly if you don’t speak French, I was curious to test the truthfulness of this in the morning. I went first to a nearby market, and was delighted to find every French person I spoke to either spoke English or tried to. I saw a dress I liked and was looking at them trying to figure out what size I’d be – a three, four or five… The stall holder approached and spoke to me in French. After establishing that I only spoke English, he asked where from – England or America? “Neither”, I said, “I’m from Australia”. “Ahh, Australia”, he crooned, “Sydney?” I laughed as I told him I was from Melbourne and he looked a little disappointed that he hadn’t guessed correctly. He turned on his sales pitch, and in English pronounced “Beautiful dress for beautiful girl” and beamed widely.

I was going to buy the dress anyway, for €5 it was a bargain, but I let him do his thing. He decided to choose the size for me, and after looking at a few labels he started to frantically sift through the remaining dresses while loudly repeating “Oh my god, oh my god”. I figured he didn’t have one in my size, and was correct, for he emphatically stated “Stay here” while he ran off to find another dress somewhere else. I waited, feigning interest in the other clothes available, until he triumphantly returned with a size three dress. I tried it on over the clothes I was wearing, and he announced it was perfect. Not having a mirror was a slight hassle, as I couldn’t tell if it was perfect, so he ran off again and returned soon after with a mirror borrowed from another stall. The dress did look good – as much as I could tell with my other clothes underneath – so, still laughing, I paid him the €5 and asked for a photo with him to remember my very funny introduction to people in Paris. I bought another dress, a t-shirt and a pair of shoes at the market for a total of €16 – so I no longer believe that Paris is completely expensive!

I returned to the Eiffel Tower, only to find the lines to buy tickets to get to the top of the tower snaking endlessly out of sight. I wasn’t going to waste half my day standing underneath the tower waiting in line, so continued on my exploration. There were huge buildings everywhere, and I even saw a woman walking three huge dogs – I have no idea what sort of dogs they were, but they stood as tall as her waist. Paris therefore seemed to epitomise all things large.

Walking along Avenue des Champs-Élysées I saw all the boutique shops that Paris is known for, including Givenchy, Bvlgari, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and even recognised the Crazy Horse Bar/Theatre. There were jets flying in formation above the Avenue, practising for their National Day, Bastille Day, on the 14th of July. Along with the huge buildings – apartment blocks, museums, shops and monuments – there was a lot of gold everywhere. I imagine it was gold leaf, however it really stood out and made you pay attention. There were gold statues atop of towers, gold domes on buildings, gold decorations on fountains and even gold features on the lamp posts at the entrance to the Jardin des Tuileries.

That park/garden was particularly nice with heaps of chairs and seats amongst the gardens and lawns, that overlooked the statues and large ponds with water features. At the end of the large gardens was the Musée du Louvre (Louvre Museum), which I didn’t visit but heard you could wait in line for up to three hours just to get in. I crossed over the Seine River and walked to the Musée d’Orsay (Orsay Museum) but arrived just as it was closing. After six hours I was nearing the end of my self guided walking tour of Paris, and just had another hour or so to walk back to the house where I was staying. I stopped at a tourist shop along the way, and was chatted up by the male store attendant, so tried my luck and got €5 off my total purchases.

I stuck my head in a few pastry shops, and was impressed with what I saw. Large slabs of all kinds of chocolate, cheese and fruit cakes and slices were on display, along with mouth watering tarts, eclairs and fruit flans all neatly laid out to entice those passing by. When purchased, the item was individually wrapped and presented to the customer as one would a gift, to be treasured and consumed with uttermost care and contentment. Prices were reasonable, and I’m just lucky I wasn’t hungry or I could have easily filled up on all kinds of sugary goodness.

Close to my destination I came across the UNESCO building, and forgetting my tired and aching legs I was impressed to discover a picture from country imaginable lining the fence surrounding the building. The picture for Australia was of the Great Barrier Reef, or as written in French ‘La Granda Barriѐre, Australie’. If I wasn’t so tired I’d have circled the whole block to see every photo, but my legs wouldn’t permit it. I saw the first lot of overflowing rubbish bins in Paris that night, amusingly on Avenue de Suffren, although there was a bright multi-coloured plastic sheet amongst the rubbish so it didn’t look as miserly as it could have.

That night I was treated to a work dinner of my CS host, at a fancy French restaurant with a glass of wine to accompany each of the seven courses. The colleagues of my host included a Spanish woman, Miriam, as well as (all men) an American, a Belgian, an English, a German and another French. They all spoke English, although with the various accents it reminded me of living in the jail house in Bondi when I worked on the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. It was a good night with excellent food and wine, however I was well and truly ready for bed by the time dinner finished at 1am.

My host got free phone calls to Australian land lines as part of his phone and internet plan, so I utilised this and called my mum, my grandparents and one friend who I knew had land lines. It was nice to speak to them without having to think about the cost of the call, and the welcome reception when they discovered who was calling is always a nice feeling.

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