Last weekend, myself and the other interns dragged ourselves out of bed at some ungodly hour to catch the Eurostar to the City of Love. And what a memorable weekend we had!
Our first stop in Paris was Montmartre, which is the highest point in Paris, and I can certainly vouch for that after the 300 stair climb to the top of the hill. As you’re getting towards the top you can feel the breath catching in your lungs and a leg muscle you were unaware of until now is twinging painfully and you really regret that extra croissant that you had with breakfast and then… You reach the top. And that view. That’s what takes your breath away. And then you turn around to see the Sacré-Cœur Basilica towering over you, demanding your attention.
Just a short walk from the butte Montmartre is the famous artist gathering. Once this was where artists like Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Gen Paul worked and drew inspiration from. Now, the area is little more than a tourist trap full of paintings of the Eiffel Tower and haggling salesmen, but it’s still a beautiful area.
Down the hill from Montmartre is the district known as Pigalle, famous for the Moulin Rouge. It’s a fascinating area – the blazing neon signs of sex shops flash next to understated French restaurants advertising their ‘plat du jour’. We ate lunch at one of the latter, and I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the best meal I’ve had in Europe so far. I ate a duck confit served with herbed potatoes and mushrooms, followed by apple clafoutis, along with a carafe of house red wine. Apparently this kind of meal is traditionally French, even midweek – doesn’t quite compare to the toasted sandwich at my desk that I’m used to at home!
After lunch we made our way over to the Notre Dame. Standing on a little island in the middle of the River Sein, the cathedral is truly a sight to behold. From a distance it appears to be decoratively worked, with two tall spires, but nothing too fancy. From up close, however, you can see that the entire front is covered in sculptures of people, and each is completely different to the next. You feel like they are almost real, with names and personalities. Without knowing the history of the building, they very well could be. We spent around an hour exploring the cathedral, which was stunning (as expected).
Our first day in Paris was completed with a visit to a crêperie in Bastille. I do not have the words to express how good my dessert crêpe was – baked apples and vanilla ice cream covered in a salted caramel sauce. If this is how the French eat, I cannot understand how they are still so slim!
A trip to Paris just wouldn’t be right without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately the top floor was closed due to renovations, but we could still get up to the second floor, which, believe me, was plenty high enough. Although the view was pretty great, the best part by far was taking jumping photos in front of scowling tourists on ground level. I pretty much filled up my camera’s memory card in the one spot, and we came out with maybe two half decent photos!
We spent a rainy Sunday afternoon being cultural at the Louvre. After almost four hours, I’d only seen a fraction of the incredible artworks and historic artefacts. My favourite displays were the Italian and French painters (hi Mona), the ancient Greek sculptures and the ancient Egyptian sarcophagi. The building was an artwork in itself, with stunning frescos, vaulted archways and gilded doorways. It felt like you could wander in the museum for weeks and never get bored, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
After the Louvre we caught the Metro over to the Arc de Triomphe, which marks the start of the famous Champs-Élysées. After taking some more tourist shots, the weather took a turn for the worse and we spent the next half an hour running in the rain, ducking under awnings, trying to find a decently priced restaurant for dinner. We ended up at an Italian restaurant (oops). After dinner the sky cleared, and we spent the evening wandering along the avenue, nibbling on crêpes and absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the busiest street in Europe.
Our last morning in Paris was free, and we only had two things left on our ‘must do’ list. The first was to visit the love lock bridge, officially known as the Pont des Arts. The bridge was completely unremarkable, except for the fact that every square millimetre of the railings were covered in chunky metal padlocks, inscribed with the names of thousands of lovebirds. Even the tops of the lampposts weren’t spared, although I’m a little confused as to how couples got their locks up there without toppling into the river! Unfortunately it was a bitterly cold and windy morning, so we couldn’t stay on the bridge for longer than a couple of quick snaps.
Then it was off to tick off the second item on the list – eating snails. We went to a traditional French restaurant in the Odeon district for the occasion. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but we were all regretting the decision when they bought out the tray! Six slimy little snails stared up at us, daring us to take a bite. So we did it. To be honest, I was quite surprised with how much I didn’t mind them. The texture was a little chewy, but they tasted like butter, herbs and garlic. They ended up being much nicer than the foie gras (duck liver paté), which we also tried. And sent back with the waiter after three tiny nibbles.
After lunch it was time to face the fact that our whirlwind trip to Paris was coming to a close. Back on the Eurostar, back to London, and back to work. As short as our trip was, it was so incredibly sweet, and I will definitely be back soon.
Highlights of the visit included a trip up the Eiffel Tower, watching the painters at Montmartre, eating crêpes with butter and sugar from the street carts, wandering aimlessly along the Champs-Élysées, absorbing the incredible beauty at the Louvre, bravely trying escargot and foie gras, celebrating a memorable Australia Day at the hostel bar, and generally eating and drinking far too much.
She had an amazing time in The City of Love, but was most disappointed that she didn’t find herself serenaded by any cute French boys. C’est la vie, maybe next time.