For some strange reason, when I first arrive in a big city, I am always slightly taken aback by the dirt, grit and fumes. Maybe it is the fact that I am not used to living in the city, or maybe it is my inner romantic expecting only beautiful views and impressive sights! Either way, my first impression always seems to be a re-grounding one and in this sense, Paris was no different.
I really had no need to worry though; throughout my trip there was no doubt that Paris would elevate, fulfilling its reputation in my mind, becoming more tangible.
When we first arrived, the sun was hot and after walking to our hostel, we had a quick change and headed straight back out again. The hostel that we stayed at, Le Village Hostel, was a five minute walk to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Everything about the Sacré-Cœur is visually dramatic. Mounted upon a multitude of steps, rising up out of a regular Parisian street, it almost feels like it has simply been dropped in the middle of Paris. This juxtaposition only emphasises its scale and grandeur.
Almost at the top, we stopped to admire the surrounding views, before eventually making our way through the enormous open doors. Inside, the atmosphere was hushed and sombre. The only sounds were of religious music and people singing and we were strictly instructed, by the staff and several signs, to remain silent. I always feel slightly uncomfortable in religious settings such as these, but there is no denying the beauty of some of the architecture, decoration and artwork.
We took a wander along the cobbled streets which lay beyond the Sacré-Cœur and relaxed with a drink outside a small café. This area is one of the more quirky and quaint parts of Paris and I definitely need to explore this further when I next return. The sky started to cloud over and we decided to head back, just as we felt the first few drops of light rain.
On the way back down, I heard an unidentifiable hum of noise. As we got closer, I realised it was a large group of men, who had gathered down by the side of the entrance to the Sacré-Cœur. Concealed from apparent view, they seemed to be having their own private celebration, but the sounds of their singing and chanting were so startling and refreshing; the air was full of energy and electricity. Within a second the rain was coming down in torrents and we ran for cover into a nearby restaurant.
The next day we decided to visit one of Paris’ many galleries. Curious about its exterior and opting for contemporary art, we decided to head to the Centre Pompidou. The structure of the building is completely on display and the most unusual part of this, is the tubular staircase, which runs alongside the front of the framework.
I loved this gallery; the exhibitions were diverse and comprehensive and I found myself completely immersed. Everyone around me was taking photographs but unusually for me, I felt compelled not to and although I now wish I had some more photos to share, I actually think this helped me to fully appreciate my surroundings. The only downside was that I needed more time!
It was on the third day into our trip, that we met Fei and Patrick; two American guys who were taking a short tour around Europe. Fei and Patrick were so friendly and down to earth – I’m happy to say that they totally dashed any negative stereotypes that might have been suggested to me. We decided to join them on a random trip to a graffiti art exhibition and also stopped to visit the famous Cimetière du Père Lachaise.
As we wandered along the rows of unique and ornate tombs, a feeling of extreme peacefulness and wonder settled over me. The cemetery covers an expanse of land and documented history and its monuments and sculptures are set amidst a green, abundant garden. Le Cimetière du Père Lachaise is truly awe-inspiring.
Whilst we had managed to escape with just a few light drops at Père-Lachaise, by the time we had made it to the location of the exhibition, the sky was absolutely tipping it down. We hid in a nearby pizza place and watched as our gigantic mozzarella pancake was formed.
The rain showed no signs of stopping, although it had eased off a little, so we had no choice but to face it with one umbrella. Taking the job of ‘umbrella holder’, meant that once again, I did not manage to get any photos! Fail. For the purposes of this blog though, I have managed to borrow some :).
The next day came around too quickly; we were fast approaching the end of our trip. First we visited the extravagant department store, Galeries Lafayette, where I enjoyed the views and tasted what I believe to be the richest hot chocolate ever. Next we made our way to the Eiffel Tower and I witnessed up close, why this colossal structure has become so iconic. We finished the day with delicious Japanese food on rue Saint-Anne and then it was time to catch the Eurostar back home.
During our four days, we experienced just a few of the highlights that Paris has to offer. We tried some delicious food and drink, stayed in basic yet friendly accommodation – I loved the fact that it included free breakfast – and met some cool new people in the process. I still managed to go home with some spending money left over, so even though people kept warning me about how expensive Paris would be, I still believe it is possible to enjoy a city break on a budget!
My resounding memory of Paris is of its intensity: although at times brooding and melancholy, it is strikingly full of beauty, contrast, inspiration and soul. So despite the frequent rain and the smell of urine inside the Metro, before I’d even left, I was already promising myself I’d return.