Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Paris yet again

It was as lovely as I remembered and surprisingly less dirty. It was again booked only a week in advance just like my last trip to Paris. But this one was mostly because K needed to get a new passport because he travelled too much and I needed to renew my UK visa and then both of us needed to get new Schengen visas.
We flew in this time. Because Eurostar is way too expensive if you don't book ahead and we were getting flights through some points. The flight is so short that the trolley selling food barely made it through the length of the plane; (the flight to Amsterdam was even shorter with a 45min flying time).
It was a beautiful hotel we stayed in. Very pretty with decorative walls and traditional French interiors. They had a little room where the entire wall was used as a canvas for a pretty elaborate painting. Our room also had a little balcony and it was in a good location at a walking distance from arc de triumph and tour Eiffel but it's a little less close to the places we wanted to go. So we should have given it a little more thought before deciding where to stay. Next time.
On Friday we woke up late and lazy with no real plan till 6pm so we only left the hotel at lunch time and reached the canal on St Martin's. It was an incredibly hot day but there was some shade along the canal where we could sit. There is this cute little pizza place on one the parallel streets near by, where when you order you get a pink helium balloon with pink flamingo written on it. You take it with you and sit anywhere along the canal. A while later a guy comes on a cycle with your food and spots you with the help of the pink balloon. I think it's a brilliant idea and would be very successful anywhere, parks, canals, etc. And then when you want to let go your balloon, it flies away and eventually lands somewhere else creating more publicity for them too. It's sort of romantic if you were in college but is still a cute idea. So that's what we had for lunch.
And it was too hot to roam around anywhere so we came back to the hotel very soon.
At 6pm we reached Montmartre to go on a walking tour of the area by Sandemans. It was oh so tiring going up the hill of Montmartre on a hot sultry summer day with a guide who was very knowledgeable but with very poor English that she searched for words for every single sentence and tried to crack jokes but they were just lost. But it was a good tour and she knew her stuff so I did learn a lot of things and I'm so thoroughly impressed by an artist I had not heard of before, Suzanne Valadon.
After the tour we were walking around the great Montmartre. We had three hours before we went for a show at Moulin Rouge. We also needed to grab some grub. But since it's Montmartre where all the fancy restaurants are supposed to be, we thought we could fine dine. We walked and we walked along a street famous for its restaurants, yet we could not find any that we liked. We were tired after the walking tour and in the heat we walked until we were really tired and could walk no more or contain hunger. So we sat in a little restaurant like any other: tiny place with most of the seating on the street, clammy interiors with just one fan, which might have been comfortable on a pleasant day and cosy on a winter's night.
Before any one shoots off on a tangent about how I'm not allowed to crib about weather in Paris when I come from India, it was 37 degrees. In India we have fans everywhere and by default all fine dining places have air conditioning and we most certainly do not go on walking tours around hilly places at say 2-3 in the afternoon (that's the same as 6 in Paris because sun sets at 9). Also I'm from Visakhapatnam, I didn't know hot or child days, only sweaty summers and sweatery winters but all at reasonably pleasant temperatures.
So then after that terrible meal, actually I really don't remember what I ate, we made our way to Moulin Rouge. Now we were planning to get there 30 mins before the show. We got there 40 mins before to find an impossibly long queue of some 500 people! So we queued up too and we made friends with this really friendly couple from New Zealand, Mr and Mrs Smith. It's true! And now we also have a standing invitation to visit a farm house where they live and work in, if we can find them on Facebook. The queue was let inside at what I thought was when the show should start. It was however a wonderful show. I would recommend it highly but you also have to pay up highly for it.
The next day we woke up, hurried through breakfast and were ready to go on a street art tour of Paris, mostly Belleville. The tour guide was super excited to see two Indians on his tour, the last came 1.5 years ago. His excitement was slightly dampened to find out we live in London and were there because we did a London tour earlier, but we promised him we will tell all our Indian friends to go for it. He was extremely knowledgeable and a photographer himself, he conducts street art workshops as well.

While London Street art is more street and illegal, Paris street art was mostly commissioned but by famous street artists. So the quality was incredible and the locations were decent. London had more fun stories though, of people who had to paint quickly in the night. There were some interesting stories about famous people, like an anecdote of Shepard Fairey in Paris as well. And Space Invader pretty much invaded Paris everywhere. The tour was well worth it and a definite recommendation, especially for all my Indian friends. We had lunch after that at KFC, because it had air conditioning.
In the evening we strolled to Arc De Triumph and had a coffee on Champs Elysees doing nothing but people watching. And soon made our way to Montparnasse tower. The tallest building and the second tallest structure in Paris, after Eiffel. We dined on the 56th floor with beautiful views of Paris and an outstanding view of the Eiffel that twinkles for 5 mins on the dot of every hour. I was told to keep my expectations about the food low. Not knowing much about French cuisine and definitely not liking any fish, especially salmon, I enjoyed a salmon mini-starter which was amazing and had fish for main course as well. It probably wasn't as spectacular as the view, but definitely some good food. A special place for a special occasion.
We had one more day left in Paris but we decided to get out anyway. We went to the Palace of Versailles. It took us a few good hours just to see the palace and every single room open for viewing and we didn't even see the gardens. Walls and walls and rooms and rooms were used as canvases for massive large scale paintings that I previously thought only happened in chapels in Rome during renaissance when the greatest artists were asked to immortalise their work. While these artists are probably not that famous, the paintings were elaborate and depicted either stories from mythology or their king Louie XIV who is almost mythical in the glorification. It sort of makes sense why the French Revolution happened. There were smaller influences of others who came after that king, especially of Napoleon but none as grandeur. The star attraction was supposedly the hall of mirrors which was a let down; Salar Jung museum's chandelier room certainly beats it. I truly liked his daughters rooms. All so alike yet slightly different. My favourite was this long corridor with the busts and statutes of all the famous people I grew up learning from, L'Hospital (and I immediately thought of my high school math teacher), Voltaire and Laplace. It was a nice day out.

And then we came back to Paris only to pick up luggage from Gare due Nord left-luggage, which is so very useful but only if you had 9.50 Euros in coins in exact change. Finally, we jumped on a Eurostar that makes the distance fly by and Paris seem like a neighbouring city in England.

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