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  • Writer's pictureTupur Chakrabarty

We didn't like Paris until we left the city!

Time visited: July 2018

Time spent: Four nights


That's probably not what anyone wants to read when they're planning a trip there, but our first impression of the city was far from positive!

Flying to Paris from Vienna was easy. Getting to our Airbnb from Charles de Gaulle wasn't.


We needed to take RER B from Charles du Gaulle to Gare du Nord, and then the metro to Montmartre, where we'd booked an Airbnb. We needed a travel pass that would cover that particular journey as well as our four-day stay in Paris. We found out from an information kiosk that we needed Navigo tickets. When we got to Charles de Gaulle

Station, we saw a long line leading to the ticket machines. A customer service staff told us we could buy our tickets from the machine. When we got to the ticket machine after a 25-minute wait, we realised that it only topped up existing passes and we actually needed to buy the passes from one of the counters. Another 20 minutes' wait in another line, and we finally got our Navigo passes and were off to Montmartre.


Even though our Navigo pass was a weekly ticket, it was a lot cheaper than buying single journey or even day tickets, so if you are in Paris even for less than a week and relying on public transport, buy a Navigo card, FROM A STAFFED COUNTER, where they would also put the credit on your card to cover all modes of public transportation.


Our Airbnb was on the sixth floor of a typical Parisian building with no lifts. We knew that. What we didn't know was that the flat was on the top floor - it was almost like an attic - with no air conditioning, and that Paris would be unprecedentedly hot! I cannot say our stay was pleasant. The only redemption was the view of the Eiffel Tower from the window of the flat.

Our four-day itinerary of Paris was rather touristy, but for a first-ever visit to a city, I think that's forgivable!


Day 1

Montmartre

A few hundred metres from our Airbnb, and we were walking up Rue Tholozé to get to the busy and bustling Place du Tertre, where numerous painters, portraitists, caricaturists and silhouette artists had their stalls set up. We weaved our way through the crowd of tourists, soaking in the creative vibes. It brought back memories of my annual visits to the Calcutta Book Fair with my uncle and sister. 'Montmartre' was the name given to the art village on the fair grounds, a section dedicated to aspiring young and new artists.

We were actually quite amused by the fact that Dalí Paris was only one and a half kilometres from our Airbnb and Sacré-Cœur another 300-400 metres. We made the most of this locational luck by visiting both landmarks on the same afternoon we arrived in Paris.

Rakesh is fascinated by the deep and dreamlike works of Dalí and he hoped ShNaajh would like them too. She did! Her favourite was the Space Elephant because she liked the contrast of the bright yellow obelisk on the shiny black and how the elephant could exist in one's imagination! She was also quite impressed by the Dalinian watch, which gave Rakesh all the motivation he needed to explain to her the meaning of the 'melting clocks'. We also liked - was actually astonished by - the Surrealist Newton, 'a mere name in science, completely stripped of his personality and individuality'.

Stepping inside Sacré-Cœur and seeing the breathtaking mosaic of Christ in Glory has to be the biggest highlight of our visit, followed closely by the climb to the dome and the stunning view of Paris. We almost forgot all about our troubles on that day!


Day 2

We'd arrived too early. Realising that Arc de Triomph wouldn't open for another hour, we walked around, literally around, Arc de Triomph, for a bit. Our heads were spinning from the flow of traffic at the 12-point crossing! Then we took a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Most of the shops were closed too. Not that we would've gone on a shopping spree had they been open, but I suppose seeing shops closed at that time on a weekday isn't something Melburnians are used to.


We returned to Arc de Triomph a little before 10:00 and walked through the underpass to queue up for tickets. The queue was long and progressed very slowly, even after 10! We finally bought our tickets and climbed the stairs to the roof. The view was stunning! We spotted the Eiffel Tower, of course, and the Champs-Élysées, but I liked looking up at Arc de Triomphe more than looking down at Paris!

From Arc du Triomph we walked to the Eiffel Tower. The sun was beating down on us and the queue was long. ShNaajh didn't mind one bit! She was in Paris to see the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower and she would brave anything for that! She said:

"The sun sure was hot, but it still created a beautiful sight. The leaves were that nice translucent green and the Tower had a unique amber glow all the way to the top!"

But, as fate would have it, the lift was closed due to a staff strike and no one knew when the strike would end. ShNaajh wandered on the grounds but no matter how many times she tried to defy gravity, the star jumps didn't transport her to the top!


To recover from the heartbreak, we headed straight to the Seine for a cruise. As the boat started moving, we felt cooler and happier.

Looking up at Notre-Dame from the boat, we knew we'd need to see the cathedral from up close. The soft sandstone colour of the towering building was almost glowing under the sun, and the intricate design of the arched entrance was captivating. The gateway is probably called the Portal of the Last Judgement: we were mesmerised by the amount of detail on this arch.

Day 3

I don't remember how long it took us to get to Versailles Chantiers by train, but the memory of a stifling ride in a non-air-conditioned carriage is too vivid! Château de Versailles is about 1.5 kilometres from the station. We started power-walking because that's what everyone else was doing! The reason became clear as we approached the palace, or the entrance to the palace. We waited 45 minutes to get in! The whole process was chaotic, to say the least! I hope the system has now improved with online tickets and timed entry.

Once we were inside the palace, the long wait seemed worthwhile. We were blown away by every single item in every single room! Everything was impressive albeit so extravagant that they seemed almost like an anomaly in a normal world!

We were left spellbound in the Hall of Mirrors. Mirrors were very, very expensive in the 17th century, so 17 arches, each containing 21 mirrors for a total of 357 mirrors, speak volumes about the wealth and power of Versailles.

We left the palace to explore the garden. Despite the heat, the garden was lush green. It's easy to get lost though. We wandered somewhat aimlessly for a while in the 800-hectare garden and admired some of the fountains. The heat was becoming unbearable. We still walked to the Grand Trianon, then the Petit Trianon and finally the Grand Canal.

I think it was at the Petit Trianon that we spotted a sign for the Little Train! If you visit Versailles, after you've seen the palace and come out to explore the garden, spare yourself the walk to the other three attractions. Turn right and go to the Palace stop. The Little Train departs from the palace and travels to the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon and the Grand Canal before returning to the palace. An even better way to travel would be to hire an electric vehicle with an audio guide. Then you would be in control.

By the time we returned to Montmartre, not one iota of energy had been left in our bodies!





But then something exciting happened! We spotted the subway grate opposite Moulin Rouge. A small crowd had gathered there for their Marilyn Monroe moment! We joined in! Our exhaustion was gone! We were jumping up and down while keeping our t-shirts sufficiently pulled, but our hair was out of control!





Day 4

Yes, we saved the best for last!

The thought of visiting the Louvre was overwhelming! Where would we even begin? Rakesh had the answer! He stayed up the night before, scrolling through the list of exhibits and making a list of the must-sees along with the rooms they were in - for example, the Mona Lisa, Room 711. ShNaajh and I were fast asleep by then, tired from the trip to Versailles, so without this strategic planning of Rakesh's, we would've spent a very different day at the Louvre, wondering what we were missing.


After waiting in the queue for about half an hour, we got our tickets and a copy of the map. My job, while we were coffeeing up, was to circle the rooms on the map so we could plan the route. It was a great system and we'd highly recommend it!

We spent five and a half hours at the Louvre, and there were still numerous artefacts, paintings and sculptures that we only managed to skim through! We probably stayed the longest in the rooms of Egyptian antiquities, especially the mummies, and those rooms were fairly crowded.


But they were nothing compared to the 'escargotesque' crowd that had gathered to see the Mona Lisa.

There was pushing and shoving and standing on tippy toes and lifting, becasue the Mona List was small and the Mona Lisa was far.


Even though at that very moment, it seemed nothing more than a 'been-there-done-that' sort of box-ticking exercise, we do look back on it fondly; we do feel we shared a moment with everyone else in that room.


We must admit that all the exhibits were extraordinary and awe-inspiring.

But if there was one sculpture that moved us, it was Christ Detached from the Cross, known as 'Courajod Christ'. This was so sad and beautiful. "The curve of Christ's body and the position of his arms indicate that the figure was part of a Descent from the Cross".

And then we came upon the Inverted Pyramid, which marked the end of our visit to the Louvre.

With just one more afternoon left in the city, we decided to do the touristiest thing there is to do: a Hop-on Hop-off City Sightseeing Tour! It was fun although the Eiffel Tower was a constant reminder to ShNaajh that she would have to come back to this city one day. City Sightseeing probably no longer operate in Paris, but you could try the Big Bus.

So why didn't we like a city so immersed in history and culture while we were there? We felt Paris, despite all its tourist attractions, was a tourist-unfriendly city! Often instructions, advice and signage were absent or unclear, staff at tourist attractions were curt, there was a general lack of care for tourists, and public transport was unsuitable for the hot summer they had in 2018. AND, the Eiffel Tower was closed due to a staff strike. To ShNaajh at least, that was the last straw!


We were happy to be leaving the city!


...


Little did we know that Paris had already sparkled its way into our hearts and that we'd start reminiscing about our rendezvous from the moment we departed the city.

We would go back to Paris in a heartbeat!

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1 Comment


Payel Chakraborty
Payel Chakraborty
Aug 25, 2023

Loved this! This piece has "Tupur" written all over it. Such a vivid, practical,informative and artsy description of the entire tour!!


It also reemphasizes the fact that "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it".Glad that Paris had such a sweet aftertaste even with a bit of a bitter experience 😊

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