A Few Days in Paris
As per my usual annual travel habits I go to new European city for a few days, this year I decided on Paris, which for many Londoners at my age is not a new experience, but for myself it was. For those who don’t know there is a train service run by Eurostar that goes directly from London’s St Pancras station to Paris’ Gare de Nord, and is a worthwhile option if wanting to travel between the two cities.
Our hotel was situated in the Latin Quarter within the 5th arrondissement, which is a decent location for a mid-priced centrally located hotel. But if you’re on a budget it’s worth searching around. The first stop was Notre Dame, as I’ve mentioned in my previous posts when writing about my travels in Catholic countries, I’m not the biggest fan of gothic cathedrals, so unfortunately there’s not much for me to say. From there we made our way along the Seine to the Tuileries Garden situated in front of the Louvre, a nice location to relax if the weather is good. From there we walked along the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs Elysee, despite its reputation, I found to be quite bland, in that it’s very similar to London’s Knightsbridge, superficiality and sensationalism in full effect, with plenty of Gulf Arabs for good measure. It was pretty accurately described by one of the BBC’s journalists in Paris who wrote about the famous avenue before I left. I imagine the American clothing store the writer mentions is the infamous Abercrombie and Fitch, which I for myself saw the long queue to get in for. At the time of writing a fire has burnt down some of the store, which I can only imagine as being divine providence. (If you haven’t already check out #FitchTheHomeless). On the way we stopped at Ladurée, but I didn’t have the macaroons, I think that was a mistake. To get into the Arc de Triomphe is paid entry, as it is essentially a luxuriant roundabout to compliment the Champs Elysee I didn’t really see the point. From there we took le Metro to the Eiffel Tower. A word of advice, if you want to go up the tower, book your tickets well in advance, as I missed out, and I didn’t want to queue for hours to get tickets. The Tower, despite being considered a cliché by some is actually quite impressive when you see it for real, the one downside of my trip was probably not going up to the top.
The second day started off with a trip to Shakespeare & Company, arguably the most famous bookshop in the world, and it deserves its reputation. Layers upon layers of English books fill every nook and cranny, a truly magical place for an avid book lover like me, and for anyone with a few hours to spare it’s a great place to idle away the time to read. Unfortunately my other geeky obsession of museums was beckoning in form of the Louvre, the world’s largest museum, our main destination for the day. One piece of advice is don’t bother with the main pyramid entrance, from the main pyramid facing the museum, go left to the road there, take another left and go into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping centre from which you can also go into the museum, and the security queue is much shorter. The Louvre recently opened a new Islamic wing, which in comparison to the V&A’s isn’t that amazing but it’s still worth a visit. The interactive sessions were avidly viewed by many of the French tourists and it serves a great purpose in educating the French about our tradition. The Mona Lisa is the Pièce de résistance of the museum, but unfortunately I still don’t get the hubbub (call me a cynic). The main contender to that title is Venus de Milo, again still didn’t get it, I have the feeling if it still had its arms it would have not achieved the fame it had, but what do I know. On exploring other areas of the museum it became very apparent that a lot of what was on display was being used to fill space given the size of the palace. Eventually we reached a point where the objects on display were nothing compared to the sheer magnitude and detail in certain areas of the buildings themselves. For myself as a Londoner and a member, the British Museum is what I would want to compare it to, and despite the latter’s smaller size, a lot of what is on display are much larger pieces which attract more interest. I suppose as I said due to the Louvre’s much larger size they would want to fill it with as many artifacts as possible, whereas the British Museum most likely keeps many items in storage given its limited space.
From the museum we went to Angelina’s, another one of the famous tea rooms of the city. Their signature drink is l’Africain, an extra thick hot chocolate, which on first taste does have a very good kick, but eventually becomes quite sickly. Their signature dish is the Mont Blanc, most of which is taken up by it’s very dry topping, but the bottom level cream with meringue is worth the effort, just don’t do what I did and go with someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth and gives you their dessert to finish, and you end up having way too much rich food in one sitting. In the evening we visited the main mosque of the city located not far from our hotel in the Latin Quarter, the building is exquisitely built in a Moroccan/Andalusian style. When I visited the cafe and restaurant were closed, but apparently it’s quite popular with Parisians looking for Moroccan cuisine/mint tea. On visiting for the sunset prayer there were a number of French families looking to have an evening meal. I felt this was an excellent way to open a masjid to visitors and have them feel welcome and find out about a culture they may not know much about. Apparently there’s a hammam too which is also meant to be quite good, but I don’t know if that’s taking a bit too far…
Our next day started with a visit to the Institute of the Arab World (Institut de Monde Arab), which is worth visiting. Despite my dislike of modern architecture, this one fits its purpose quite well. The museum is one part of the building, while the rest is dedicated to research, not so much Islamic but more cultural. From there we went to Musée d’Orsay, which contains an interesting Orientalist section, as well as numerous paintings by Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh. From there we went to Musée du quai Branly, but first stopped at Michele Chaudun, regarded by many as the best chocolatier in Paris, and his Paves, despite their high price tag certainly give credence to the accolade. The Musée du quai Branly is definitely worth checking out, it’s a weird and wonderful place designed to help explore the cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. The evening was spent visiting a cousin in Saint Maur-des-Fosses which gave me a chance to have a brief glimpse at the suburbs.
And thus our trip concluded. Unlike many of the other European cities I’ve visited and talked about on this blog, Paris is one that actually didn’t leave me underwhelmed, I suppose it’s the fact that it rivals London so closely. There were still a few things I didn’t manage to do which I would like to cover the next time round (God willing), such as the Eiffel Tower (as I already mentioned), Versailles, Sacré Cœur, and Berthillon ice cream on Île Saint-Louis (which is meant to be the best in the world). But all in all, I enjoyed my journey, and encourage anyone looking to visit Europe to definitely book Paris in for a few days.