Reading about the Philippines being ranked last in the global list of rude hosts gave me something to smile about. Curious enough, I dug even further to figure which country got the topmost rank. Et voila, I couldn’t disagree more. As a matter of fact, it even inspired me to blog about my first-time visit to Paris.
It took me half a year, I tell you, because the experience wasn’t been great. Maybe I had high expectations, but who would not? Paris is a traveler’s postcard that’s worth to keep, they say. Paris is the place which all great personalities of then and now have high regards over. Paris is the centerpiece of culture and the arts. Paris is the city of love and lights.
Yet then again, I might sound unfair. We just stayed overnight, so the time spent wasn’t been enough to really enjoy the beauty of this city. Yet then again too, first impressions last and unfortunately, most Parisians who supposed to play a huge role in making our stay as turistas (tourists) a memorable one show why they deserve to be the most rude hosts in the planet. Their wrong attitude towards city-visitors is not hearsay. I witnessed two ladies loudly quarreling against the other lady at the metro counter; one lady-server disrespecting an old male customer; two sales ladies just standing there, complaining and whining about whatever they could think of; youngsters jumping over the ticket machine at the metro, not minding who they’d casually bump into; a restaurant owner showing an ill-fitting gesture towards complaining clients, like us. There were almost no smiles on their faces, no warm, friendly gestures. Snotty. Rude. Parisians are apparently known for being so.
Paris could have been a lovely city. No, the loveliest place I could have ever seen! The bad experience I had for a single day could be considered a nightmare for a first-time visitor, but before I left the next day, thanks to Louvre and Orsay, Paris opened my heart, as if like, it is begging for a second chance.
GARE DE LYON. Train travel from Gare Cornavin in Geneva to Gare de Lyon in Paris is approximately 5 hours. Gare de Lyon, which is named after one of France’s equally known cities, is one of the six large railway terminals in Paris, serving regional and long-distance trains coming to and from south of France.
Gare de Lyon is a busy but pretty station. No wonder Mr Bean took his train here for a crazy holiday.
THE PARIS METRO. From Gare de Lyon, we started commuting by taking the Parisian metro. Also known as Le Métropolitain, this metro has become a symbol of Paris and is known for its uniform architecture influenced by Art Nouveau. This metro has around 300 stations/stops and 16 train lines.
From smooth, sophisticated ones at Amsterdam and Lausanne to rowdy ones like in Madrid and Manila, and despite the hustle and bustle of it, I find inner joy from taking MRTs most of the time. The commute at the Paris metro is unfortunately, no fun for me. Most of the metro trains we took were dirty and noxious, filled with disconcerting vandalism and unfavorable smell; and unpleasant passengers along the way. It shouldn’t come as a shock supposedly. This metro is one of the densest, busiest metro networks in the world, and I came to actually experience it. My travel buddy even claimed that the Paris metro is even better. She said New York’s dirtier and London’s more complicated. That, I have to see.
There’s still a light at the end of the (Paris) tunnel though. I found Franklin D. Roosevelt station the prettiest, most modern, most tourist-friendly of them all. It’s been renovated a few years ago, that explains.
At any rate, I look forward to seeing much better-looking, efficient metros in the future. Did I just hear Asia?
BASILIQUE DU SACRE-COEUR. This Roman Catholic church situated at the Montmartre summit, the highest point in the city where you can get also a good view of Paris, is a popular political and cultural monument that represent “a national penance for the supposed excesses of the Second Empire and socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ” (wikipedia.org).
I find this basilica interestingly very white and its architecture aesthetically radical. Basically it is because the overall structure displays a Romano-Byzantine freestyle features; while the cathedral is built of travertine stones from Chateau Landon. This stone, when it gets rained, reacts to water and secretes calcite, which has a bleaching effect.
As you start going along the streets heading to this landmark, you’ll soon find street peddlers pestering you, tourists competing for perfect shots, and much more annoying vandalism along the way (obviously my pet peeve).
MONTMARTRE. I was already feeling enthusiastic not only because I can see Paris skyline from this place, but also because for the fact that Montmartre is historically known as a mecca of modern art, having the likes of Dali, Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh working around this community long time ago. Imagine that?
Presently, the street artists can be found at Place du Tertre. Before you even set foot on this square, you’d already find several sketch artists walking around. As I had been forewarned, a few of them might offer you to have your portrait sketched without your consent, only to find out that you have to pay for it. There were even fraud artists abound. True enough, these sketch artists began to approach us, asking persistently to let them draw. My two travel buddies and I were willing victims anyway. Since we found them too pricey, we haggled. I think I paid around 30euros (2 000php, we saved 20euros) for a sketchwork, which turned out to be not worth the money I paid for because in the end, the portrait doesn’t look like me. I look too Chinese on that portrait! With my eyes squinting that time then, who am I to judge?
We did find the chosen few at Place du Tetre and most of them are really skillful, but their artworks and services come with a hefty price tag. I’ve felt fine with a portrait of my self from Montmartre, for the time being.
GALERIES LAFAYETTE. It’s a dreamscape for shopaholics who adore the luxuries and high-end fashion, and a freak house for thrift shoppers who want to go for shock value. Lafayette’s structure was magnificently huge and its architectural details and design in stunning Art Nouveau, thus exuding the splendor a shopper would experience while visiting and shopping at this store. There were more tourists than locals going around and a noticeable number of Asians – Chineses in particular – were the most eager customers, as they casually pick the items they like, go straight to the counter and pay up. Not looking at the price tag, as I’d expect, a true breed of the new rich as they are.
At times I find window shopping quite boring, so I felt lucky that we came to visit Galeries Lafayette, with a purpose. We confidently marched towards a Louis Vuitton store and accompanied our travel buddy to purchase a classically designed Louis Vuitton bag. I felt terribly tempted to buy one for myself, which I could if only I let my impulsive shopaholic side rule over. I was almost convinced with my inner argument to take the chance to buy it in Paris, since this could be the cheapest LV bag I’d ever find, which is true, as I did compare the prices with the ones in Switzerland. I assumed too that LV bags won’t come cheap in the Philippines as well, unless I buy a hand-me-down (and that’s gonna be a different case). Then I asked myself with a million dollar question, and that made me change my mind completely – Do I need it, really? Besides, my Longchamp bags are still a good company, so off I let go of the fancy LV bag and asked the gang in a scurry, “On y va?” (Let’s go?) before my mind goes on a full turn again.
TOUR EIFFEL. It does stand prominently at the heart of Paris. I got fascinated when I saw it, because it is much bigger than I first imagined it. It’s just like revering to a sacred place, a milestone perhaps for any tourists in Paris. As a first-time visitor, of course, I took photos of it. Neither we decided to stay further and see the tower at night, nor go up to the top, because this was just a short trip in the first place. Nonetheless we were lucky we had a bright, sunny day. This tall iron lattice tower is quite a charm.
CHAMPS-ELYSEES & ARC DU TRIOMPHE. La plus belle avenue du monde. The most beautiful avenue in the world, Avenue des Champs-Elysees is a 2-kilometer Parisian cobblestone street that connects Place de la Concorde with Obelisk of Luxor from the east and Place Charles de Gaulle, location of Arc de Triomphe, from the west. Champs-Elysees is also one of the most famous places for upscale shopping where you can find the top popular brands lounging along this area.
It was late afternoon when we made it to Champs-Elysees, and I was feeling too tired to walk, so I didn’t take notice of the possibly interesting establishments along the way. The avenue was already getting way too crowded and busier at the same time so we decided to stop by in a restaurant to have some drinks. It was also getting dark so the trip to Arc du Triomphe was called off and I ended up taking a picture of it from afar in the middle of the avenue.
A (BAD) PARIS RESTAURANT. We brought our own breakfast basket and ate it as we traveled to Paris; and ironically we ordered Chinese and Japanese meals at LaFayette for lunch. The refreshing panaché beer we had in the afternoon at one of the brasseries along Champs-Elysees was a really good start, but my first French dinner in Paris didn’t turn out very well. Food and service were undeniably terrible.
MUSEE DU LOUVRE. The sunny Paris suddenly changed into wet, cold and rainy the next day. So I quickly concluded that my first visit to Paris is doomed to become the worst vacation I’d never forget. But well oh well, after my visit to Louvre and Orsay for the first time, Paris finally proved me wrong.
I am overwhelmed but truly amazed with this vast art collection of the world.
I was channeling Sophie Neveu of the Da Vinci Code as we entered towards the Richelieu wing; and lo and behold in front of me I saw the attention-seeking, modern pyramids in the middle of the grand Louvre palace. I got ecstatic, so of course, I click click click.
Apart from the fact that we also arrived early, the rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the museum was not too crowded. No doubt that this is the biggest museum I’ve ever been. I was supposed to make lots of curtsies on most of the artworks, which I just used to see in pictures. Sadly we didn’t have much time again; definitely it wasn’t a leisure walk in the park. I felt being robbed of another opportunity to gently relish the stay at the lovely Louvre.
MUSEE D’ORSAY. A train station turned into a museum, the Orsay museum is one of Paris’ most popular museums that is known for housing 19th and 20th century art. The museum has the works of impressionist painters like Degas, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, among others.
I enjoyed the visit to Orsay museum more than in Louvre simply because I was able to see the paintings of one of my most favorite artists, Monsieur Vincent Van Gogh. Not only it is a huge sigh of relief, after not being able to visit Van Gogh museum while I was in Amsterdam many months back, it’s euphoria. Van Gogh paintings gave me a lot of goosies!
A GOOD PARIS BRASSERIE. After a decent, warm, delicious lunch in a brasserie and a more convenient travel back to the Gare de Lyon, I eventually came to realize to give Paris a second chance.
Count me in as one of those fleeting visitors, I admit. I even attempted to stay in Paris just for one day. It could be feasible but it’s no fun. There are still other beautiful places I missed . Montmartre for one, is amongst the vibrant, colorful place where you can discover the other side of Paris. The popular cabarets in Paris – the Moulin Rouge, Lapin Agile and Le Chat noir – can also be found in Montmartre, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to pass by. We just followed in the horde of usual, clueless tourists. If it’s only a slow, leisurely travel, it would have been better.
Paris needs a revisit. I should spend more days, take the leisure time, hop on and off at the bus tour, stay in a fanciful hotel and dine in good restaurants, appreciate the city lights at night, and do all of them together with the one you love. It would make a difference, wouldn’t it?