“It's official. I am in love; head-over-heels, knee-bending, ‘I've-never-felt-like-this-before’ kind of love. Everything I could have hoped for and more; sophistication, wealth, attraction, intelligence, culture, energy and utterly unpredictable. I have had a whirlwind romance with…”
And then I pressed the ‘send’ button prematurely to about a hundred people in my email contact list. Never before, on my travels, had I received so many replies from friends and family back home. They were to be disappointed as I was only writing about a city. Not any ordinary city. It was Paris; the city of pavement cafes and waiters in tuxedos, the city where everyone looks and dresses like a fashion model, the city of the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe, the city where proposals are made before the Eiffel Tower and where people are humbled by the beauty of Sacre Coeur Basilica.
I was, as always, travelling on a budget. A friend - who was also living in London - and I set off to Paris one weekend. Hold on, I make it sound so easy. As a South African passport holder, it is not possible to just up and cross a border whenever you feel like it. We needed to have all transport and accommodation booked in order to even apply for a Schengen visa. We managed to do it all (within our budget, of course) and were on our way. Our accommodation, advertised as a hotel, happened to be located next door to a taxidermist which was a wonderful treat when we groggily left the building in the morning only to be greeted by teeth and alarmingly real-looking rodents of every species in the shop window. A word of warning, here. Do be careful in Paris. Like any big city in the world, there are lots of pretty bad areas. Do your research well. Because if you do, you’ll be able to truly enjoy one of the best tourist cities in the world.
Our whirlwind two-day tour of Paris was full of coffee on cane chairs at little pavement cafés. It is the only time I (kind of) wished I was a smoker. Only in Paris, at a little corner coffee shop does a person look wonderfully sophisticated, cigarette in hand. We could have spent hours watching the world go by, if the actual ‘café’ wasn’t so expensive. But we also saw the best of what central Paris has to offer and the reason tourists flock to this city; Place de la Concorde and the Louvre museum (the African section is absolutely mesmerizing and the Mona Lisa much smaller than expected), Jardin des Tuileries (these well-kept and beautifully designed gardens are the most visited in Paris thanks to their proximity to the Louvre), the Eiffel Tower (cue romance and postcard photo ops) and Notre-Dame Cathedral (the historic, Gothic architecture is breathtaking).
If you have time in Paris, give Moulin Rouge a visit and delve back into the era of decadence, glamour and lights. And certainly not to be missed is a stroll down the wide pavements of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, one of the world’s most famous streets. These days, cinemas, cafés and luxury brand stores line this avenue but it is not hard to remember its heyday when politicians and socialites, intellectuals and high-end businessmen used to meet here. We didn't quite fit in at Louis Vuitton with our backpacks and walking shoes but we perused the store nonetheless much to the clerk’s obvious amusement. The avenue runs for nearly two kilometres with the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre in the east and the towering Arc de Triomphe in the west. This impressive monument was commissioned by Napolean and is most attractive at night when lit from below by spotlight.
My favourite area in Paris was, without doubt, Montmartre, a hill in the north of Paris. These days, it is well-known for its night life and for La Basilisque du Sacre Coeur, a magnificent Roman Catholic church perched on top of the hill. Irony at its best, no? When standing on the steps of the Basilica, however, it is easy to imagine the days when Montmartre was a tranquil village of vines and windmills. And you can still get lost in the cobbled streets of Montmartre and stop for a crepe at a little side street stall; just remember to take a map with you.
So, don’t let the stereotype of unfriendly Parisians or hotels next to taxidermist shops put you off. Visit Paris and take in all the coffee aromas and garlic butter snail gourmet treats. Watch a cabaret and feel like Marilyn Monroe while your skirt blows up walking over a subway grate in Moulin Rouge. Window shop (or really shop) on the Champs-Élysées and laugh at the chaos that is the Arc de Triomphe traffic intersection. Be inspired by the artwork in the Louvre and the love at the Eiffel Tower. Have a whirlwind romance with…Paris.