Day 9: you look French
Worth a mention:
- A small Coke at the Moulin Rouge is €8 / AUD $10.90
Yet another early start, walking from an apartment in West Amsterdam where we spent the night with Matt’s friend Martinus and his girlfriend, however I was asleep for most of the drinking – Amsterdam had caught up with me. A short walk and tram to Amsterdam Central station and we were on our train bound for Paris, departing at 7:16am. Did I mention another early start?
We experienced Belgium life for less than an hour. From the seat of our train. While eating croissants. Far from a genuine taste of the country but at least we can say we were there. I’m counting it as a country I’ve visited, without having set foot on its ground.
Our hostel was a last minute, and honestly desperate, bid for accommodation in Paris – both of us procrastinating booking anything and then spending our last hours late at The Bulldog using the free Wi-Fi searching for anywhere remotely close to the city with a vacancy Saturday night in Paris. We stayed in Clichy and our room had a nice view of the local supermarket from the seventh floor. Yes, the supermarket and its proximity to the hostel was all this place had going for it.
Tonight we went to the Moulin Rouge, a far cry from Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic vision in terms of the show’s content but not in terms of its grandeur. Honestly, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Still, I have no idea how the colours, lights, Shetland ponies, water pythons and costumes relate to each other. From Pirates of the Caribbean then shades of Indiana Jones with Aladdin, clowns at a circus rounding out with the can-can. Perhaps Baz got it right when he showed just how much of a man’s world it is through the front doors under the windmill; men greeted us at the door, men allocated our seats and took our tickets, men ushered us to our table and the wait staff were men – all wearing one or a combination of top hats, tails, waistcoats, shirts and bowties.
Visiting the gift shop on the way out, my favourite purchase was the windmill-shaped paperclips – about as far from an authentic souvenir of this spectacular venue as I could possibly get. Not even a shitty hostel could spoil tonight.
Day 10: must be a sale
Worth a mention:
- A visitor watching the long queue outside Louis Vitton: “There must be a sale”
- ‘Very Bad Trip 2’ – the title of ‘The Hangover: Part 2’ in France
Having relocated hostels from what was possibly one of the worst in Paris, today I went to the Louvre. Solo. Matt spent his day updating his blog recounting his Russian musings.
Navigating the Metro is surprisingly easy, colour coded and numbered – idiot proof. I arrive at the Palais Royal Musee de Louvre and spend half an hour just absorbing the atmosphere that bounces from the glass pyramid and echoes around the older buildings of the Louvre on three sides.
Almost no one bothers to view the Venus de Milo from the side, let alone from behind. The work is less refined from behind – the audio tour thinks it was intended to sit against a wall. This famous statue was thought to have been crafted between 130-150BC yet no one knows for certain, and the craftsmen is unknown. The Victory of Samothrace is an impressive statue of a winged woman atop a ship and its imposing entirety looks both down and up the central staircase linking Sully and Denon wings of the museum.
The Louvre is home to the world’s largest collection of Léonard de Vinci in one place, the most famous of these, obviously, is La Joconde or the Mona Lisa. It’s famous for a reason. The artwork was stolen in 1911 by an Italian workman, causing a media sensation, and was recovered some two years later when the Italian government returned the work to the Louvre. In the 1950s a visitor threw a stone at the artwork.
A breakdown in communication with either Matt or my phone meant I couldn’t connect my calls to Matt, and he having no credit, left us chasing each other’s tail throughout Paris. Several text messages, one €8 pay phone call, and an hour and a half later the two of us regroup, very shitty, at the Arc de Triomph. We unwind as we walk from the big roundabout down along the Champs-Élysées, enjoying the sights, expensive cars and global retail brands with their elaborate fit-outs. As in New York, Ambercrombi and Finch enjoys a ridiculously long line of locals and tourists ready to spend. Louis Vitton also enjoys a queue of cashed-up ladies and men keen to impress, one passer-by unable to understand the fuss other than to ponder, “There must be a sale.” We end our adventures with a romantic picnic on the lawn beneath Le Tour de Eiffel: baguettes, ham, tomatoes, brie and what I think is a form of French prosciutto.
Day 11: fare evasion 101
Worth a mention:
- Pharmacies are marked with a green plus symbol
- Surprisingly, there appear to be less smokers in Paris than I saw in Saint Petersburg
My one and only year of French language studies in year seven are coming back to me, slowly. Yet today I found myself saying “please” when I meant “thank you” and give up persevering by asking “parlez vous anglis?”
Today is a public holiday in Paris. You wouldn’t notice. The streets are still filled with tourists. With such good weather, we give the Metro a miss and walk to Notre Dame de Paris, spending almost 30 minutes just sitting in front of this impressive cathedral.
Matt insists we visit the church on the hill – Sacré–Coeur Basilica. When we arrive in Montmartre, and scale at least three long flights of stairs towards Sacré–Coeur in this steep area of Paris, we find a weekend-long local produce market and, being budget conscious, we enjoyed many of the tastes available: duck liver pate, figs filled with pate and fresh strawberries pressed into a smoothie. In front of for the Sacré–Coeur, buskers attract large crowds and people use the steps overlooking Paris as a makeshift amphitheatre, enjoying the free entertainment while eating the produce from nearby.
Sacré–Coeur itself is a grand cathedral and its silence inside demands your attention, given the sheer number of people walking inside along its walls while others pray in the middle. It’s artwork is vastly different to the religious structures of Saint Petersburg, focusing on stained-glass windows and lots of gold leaf rather than the more colourful art and mosaics of Russia.
Having only picnicked below Le Tour de Eiffel, we take our last night in Paris to scale this iconic French structure. Lift access to level 3? €13.40. Stair access to just level 2? €3.70. Sneaking in the lifts to level 3 without being noticed? A saving of €9.70. And totally worth it. We spend over an hour in the Tower, only knowing this as we see it shimmer in light on the hour as we look out to Paris from every direction, and every level.
Day 12: une maison sans pain est une maison sans joie
Worth a mention:
- A house without bread is a house with no joy
Catacombes de Paris are home to the remains of over 6 million bodies. The French thought it was unhygienic to have bodies buried in cemeteries above ground, deciding to exhume the bodies from all cemeteries at the time and reconstruct their remains with meticulous respect and precision underground; a maze guided only by the immaculately arranged remains of Parisians. Rows of skulls run through the masses of long bones.