Bonjour mon petit pois!! Just after Christmas my brother and I headed away on a joint Christmas/birthday treat together to Paris. My brother had never been and I only visited once aged 9 but some memories are still incredibly vivid and others came flooding back during our three day trip. We essentially wandered around Paris for two days taking advantage of the EU members under 26 free entrance and spent another compulsory day in the Louvre.
Other than our occasional family holidays to Germany/Austria, my brother had never been abroad and also had no experience of long-distance coach journeys. His introduction to my second home – the departures area of London’s Victoria coach station – was not auspicious. We had chosen to travel on the busiest day of the year – the evening of the last Christmas holiday when sardines would have complained about the conditions, people spilling outside into the coach bays to not be suffocated by the sheer mass of travellers. After eight hours of bus and ferry travel later we arrived with a Parisian morning still enveloped in darkness.
Deciding to start exploring in this characterful area of Paris we headed towards the only purveyor of breakfast open at 8 in the morning. Having picked some relatively cheap but unusual pastries and ordering some necessary caffeine, I nearly had to be scraped off the floor, learning the lesson that whilst the patisserie may be cheap, apparently it is standard in Paris to charge €5 for a small mediocre coffee! But the pastries were just the sugar kick we needed before heading to our next destination..
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Seeing as it was so early, Paris hadn’t come alive yet we decided to visit the dead. It would have been perfectly possible to wonder around this cemetery for hours with each corner having unusual tombs stones and the rising sun added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately though we were still encumbered by our joint suitcase and as Pere Lachaise is rather hilly, we eventually decided to cut our aimless wondering short to drop it off in a station locker before heading for the islands.
Walking alone the Seine toward the Ile de la Cite in the crisp winter morning air was pretty scenic and arriving at the myriad of statues and buttresses and all-round Gothic architectural beauty was undoubtedly a highlight of the trip even if the exterior has been etched in my mind for over a decade. We both really wanted to visit the gargoyles but with a two hour queue and so much of Paris to visit we headed off to possibly the greatest piece of architecture on earth.
Waiting in the hour long entrance queue that is the norm for any attraction in Paris and eating a balanced lunch of crisps and macaroons cobbled together from the bottom of our rucksacks, my brother asked whether the queue was really worth it .Little did he know. 20 minutes later and we were inside a place that (cliché warning) photos cannot possible do justice to. Saint-King Louis IX’s reliquary chapel for the “Crown of Thorns” is a place where I would happily just lie on the floor and stare at the windows and their amazing overall effect for hours. In fact one day when I care less about social propriety I probably will!
Sorbonne Quarter and the Pantheon
Continuing our highlights of medieval Paris we visited the Musée de Cluny which focuses on medieval arts and crafts, the exterior of which, unusually for a museum, is equally as interesting as the interior contexts – being situated inside the original 15th century townhouse of a Parisian abbot. A personal highlight here was a special exhibition of Merovingian artefacts – contemporary with the early-middle Anglo-Saxon period in England objects paralleling our very own Sutton Hoo. My brother preferred the famed Lady and the Unicorn tapestries with their floating rabbits and mysterious message – although each one is probably an analogy to the five senses.
Just down the road I insisted we paid a quick visit to the Pantheon to visit one of my favourite authors – Alexandre Dumas who lies in a bland coffin alongside two other greats of French literature; Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. Comparing the atmospheric surroundings of Pere Lachaise with this soulless sarchophagi, the funereal arrangements here made the “greatest” individuals of French history lose their individuality in death. The overzealous security guard also failed to recognise my brothers typical camera case and started questioning and patting my brother down to his absolute confusion whilst I was physically manhandled through the doors and prevented from translating what they were saying. Frankly visiting the Pantheon wasn’t worth the unnecessary unpleasantness.
Finally exhausted from travelling around all day we headed for dinner in a nearby creperie that I visited during my first time in Paris and that hadn’t changed a bit – the idea that a pancake could be savoury blew my 9 year old mind!! I would post a picture of its cheesy goodness but we were too busy wolfing them down. Instead of heading direct to our hostel we carried on wandering for another hour or two along the Seine and up towards the Garnier Opera House before making our last stop at a Parisian department store – Galeries Lafayette. Unsurprisingly we weren’t however to join the insane hoards scouring the sales for designer handbags bur instead came to admire the Art Nouveau ceiling.
Having appreciated it for long enough and my allergy to any form of shopping centre, however aesthetically pleasant, getting the better of me we finally picked up our suitcase and headed to our hostel ready for a well needed nights sleep before more adventures tomorrow. We even arrived to be told our room had been upgraded and so happily exchanged the usual hostel bed for a private room only to find we had a visitor in the shape of a cockroach-infested shower. Having been told housekeeping would sort it out tomorrow but in need of a shower, insect-herding unfortunately became our last order of the day and the poor creature remained trapped in a glass for the duration of our stay. From Paris however we swiftly travelled to the land of Nod before further adventures the next day. To be continued…