Category Archives: France

Memoirs from Paris.

Souvenirs of my Parisian trip
My itinerary in brief
Day 1
Place Leon Blum (Bought my first metro ticket from Gare du Nord to Voltaire, walked to New Hotel Candide, deposited luggage, took off)
Tuileries, Jardin de Tuileries (Bought another ticket to Tuileries, learnt to change trains, collected my five-day visite card at the agency)
Tour Montparnasse (tallest observatory in the city)
Pigalle (red-light area)
Place des Abbesses, Montmartre  (artists’ quarter)
Basilique du Sacré Coeur (most beautiful church I ever saw, known for its Ancient Roman and Byzantine architecture)
Day 2
Musée du Louvre (reached as soon as it opened, intending to make it for a city tour at 12 noon but got swept away completely and missed the tour)
Palais Royal (Jardin and the gallérie)
Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysées
A walk along the River Seine (also went to a bridge where I offered to click a girl after seeing her struggle with selfies for fifteen minutes)
Eiffel Tower (went to the very top – the sommet, after availing a lovely below 25 years of age discount on the ticket)
In the night, bar hopping in Montmartre with friends
And then, clubbing in Pigalle (was out till an unknown hour)
Day 3
Shakespeare and book Company (Got off at St Michel and thereafter, walked nearly everywhere on foot, instructed by my friend who lives in Paris)
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (followed by a beautiful walk along a quiet stretch of the Seine)
Latin Quartier, La Sorbonne
Luxembourg (Jardin and Palais)
The Pantheon (a sort of mausoleum-museum built in a Neoclassic style and originally a church)
Institut du Monde Arabe
In the night, a cruise along the Seine
View of the Eiffel from Jardins du Trocadéro
Day 4
Centre Georges Pompidou (visited the Bibliothèque publique d’information and the lovely Musée National d’Art Moderne)
Musée d’Orsay
Spent the evening at a café near my hotel and then made my way to Charles de Gaulle airport to bid goodbye to the city of love.
View from the Eiffel Tower.
(Words from the time I was in Paris are in Italics and words from now are not. Entries are approximately in chronological order)
Aboard the Eurostar.
I can’t entirely make out what the announcer is saying – feels like he’s speaking French even when he’s speaking English! Enter the international terminal at St Pancreas and it feels like you’ve entered Paris already. Translations in French greet you everywhere.
I can’t believe I’m about to enter France. My heart feels like it will explode. Tears arrive, unbidden. Could this really be happening? I’ve never before felt like I was living a dream. The only blot on my horizon? Dratted aisle seat.
Not to be ungrateful for London or anything but I feel like NOW is when the trip has actually begun. I know Paris loves me too because guess what – I just landed myself a window seat! (Mental jig)
Dainty mumblings in French reach my ears – it’s like being part of a world I’d been longing for ever since I encountered the language.
From 10:25, my cell phone time miraculously changes to 11:25 and I know we’ve entered France – in merely an hour.
Somehow, the fear that assailed me in London is missing here. Maybe because I’m not used to finding my way alone or maybe, I really have been here in a previous lifetime.
I spent three days in London from 28th to 30th July and on the morning of 31stJuly, I boarded the Eurostar train to Paris from St Pancreas station. I could barely believe I’d be crossing countries in that comfy little train!
The garden beside Place des Abbesses metro (so named after the abbesses that used to live there). Afternoon or early evening.
‘If peace had a home, this would be it’ – those were to be my opening words on Place des Abbesses but that’s when the music ceased and the baby began to bawl. Ah well, at least the weather is enchantingly cool and the air smells of olden Paris. 
I Google Abbesses to get the spelling right and I’m assailed by images, memories, facts about that place I loved and spent an evening at. That place where the cool serenity enveloped me completely and stilled the whirr of my thoughts. My throat tightens when I look at the familiar entrance to the metro station and that wall with a hundred scribbles on it and I can barely believe I was there. I don’t understand why my eyes have to moisten. Why can’t it be my lips that react instead – with a smile?
Fact: Abbesses is the deepest station of Paris métro, at 36 metres (118 feet) below the ground. The station opened on 31 October 1912.
I discovered Abbesses by accident. I only used the metro station to reach Montmartre but this locality beneath the butte (hill) was also really lovely. I bought Camembert from a fromagerie which unfortunately got spoilt because the refrigerator in my room did not work.
Musée du Louvre. Morning.
This is not a museum – it is an homage; a temple to the past – and one ought to tread with reverence for who knows, there might still be some divinity left in those statues of forsaken Pagan Gods
I look at these painstakingly painted vases and jugs and pots and I hope we’ve come up with sufficient original artwork in our age. Have we created anything as evocative as these Greco-Roman relics? Or are we only about TV shows, films and music videos?
There was so much of religion and portraiture and also strangely sadistic scenes of tragedy that it was a pleasure to find a landscape or two.
I imagined the emotions concealed behind some of the more enigmatic visages. And I was certain that the artist could somehow see it all.

Fact: The Louvre is built around an inverted pyramid and is divided into three main sections – the Sully wing, the Denon wing and the Richlieu wing, each containing different artworks, antiquities and sculptures across the ages.  

Champs Elysées. Mid-morning. Wandering around aimlessly after gazing at the Arc de Triomphe, a tribute to French martyrs.
Only when I reach Champs Elysees do I finally recall the song I’d learnt years ago in college – ‘Aux Champs Elysees’. Or at least I recalled the tune. I wish I recalled the lyrics – they might have given me a clue where to go! 

The refrain of the song by Joe Dassin goes like this:

Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées
Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit
Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées
Fact: The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is a boulevard that runs from the Place de la Concorde in the east to the Place Charles de Gaulle (the metro station I used) in the west, location of the Arc de Triomphe.
On the Arc de Triomphe were inscribed the names of all the French generals who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. And I could imagine searching for a surname I recognised, if I were French.
Eiffel Tower and Jardins du Trocadéro. Night.
The moments passed but I found myself unable to say goodbye. It’ll be a while before I can look at Eiffel without feeling my heart ache.
‘Pictures don’t do justice’ was just another cliché to me until I witnessed the un-capturable beauty of Eiffel Tower in the night. As my cruise snaked along the river Seine at 9:30pm, the sun finally began descending into the Parisian horizon. And suddenly to our left, we spotted the Eiffel Tower, basking in all its golden glory and sparkling as though studded with a million stars. That I was actually there in Paris, the city I had loved without even knowing and that I was actually beneath that architectural marvel in that breathtakingly beautiful night – it was more than I could bear. And it was hardly the kind of thing I could experience without feeling as though I were in a dream that could end any second.
Fact: The Eiffel Tower was build as a suitable centrepiece for the proposed 1889 Exposition Universelle, a World’s Fair which would celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. The tower’s engineer Gustave Eiffel lived on top of the tower in the 18th century and a room has still been preserved, with lifelike figures of Gustave and his guests.
Musée d’Orsay. Afternoon.
Such a sumptuous feast of art – but I can sample only a little. The crowds hinder introspection but I manage. 
This is Centre Pompidou
Musee D’Orsay had everything that the Louvre didn’t. Surreal landscapes, impressionist portraits and names like Van Gogh and Rodin – it was a welcome break from the otherwise dominating theme of Nativity. I caught a mesmerising glimpse of its façade from the outside during my cruise along the Seine. From the inside, the museum was a little too crowded but I did manage to find a couple of pieces that I could observe, unhindered.
Fact: The museum is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900.
Café in front of Metro Voltaire (Place Léon Blum).
In my last few hours in Paris, after much dilly-dallying, I finally taste the famed escargots en coquille. And how divinely delicious they are! Soaked in mustard and olive oil, the snails are succulent and bursting with flavour. It would have been tragic (and stupid) if I had left without experiencing this.
There has to be a term for this idle café-side observation that the French indulge in – seated in their bamboo chairs, gazing upon the world, the trees or perhaps an inner place that is better visible on the outside. 

Fact: I stayed at the lovely little New Hotel Candide, a five minute walk from Metro Voltaire and located in Place Leon Blum, named after the French Prime Minister.

 
A word about Parisian cuisine before I end. I sampled the best of cheeses (my favourite Camembert), croissants, pains au chocolat, brioches, baguettes, nectarines, apricots, melons, wine and French press coffee. And I must say – the food was as soulful as the city itself. 
(All pictures courtesy: Ankita Shreeram)
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