There will always be cities that every man and his dog will rave about, but when you visit, you find yourself overwhelmingly underwhelmed. For me, those cities include Barcelona and London.
There will always be cities that people advise you not to visit, because they are dull or boring or some other negative adjective, but when you visit, you find yourself falling head over heels in love with them. For me, a classic example of this is the Spanish capital, Madrid.
Finally, there will always be the cities that every single damn person loves, and when you arrive, you totally get it.
Enter Paris, France.
The first time I visited Paris, I was there for a mere day and night, and only there to see a musician play a tiny gig; and other than the outside of the Moulin Rouge, I didn’t see any of Paris. So despite technically being a return visitor, I entered with fresh eyes that were just waiting to be delighted and enchanted.
It rained almost non stop the entire time I was there, but instead of dampening the experience (no pun intended), the rain made the city glisten at night. The rain thinned out the throngs of people at the museums. The rain made me seek refuge in tiny restaurants that I might never have entered otherwise, and in these restaurants I ate some of the most incredible food of my life. It was bitterly cold, and I remember feeling the icy wind unrelentingly biting into my toes despite my thick boots and the three pairs of socks I wore each day. I loved every single moment.
Instead of starting at France’s most famous of towers, I started at the gorgeous Arc de Triomphe. A few things that surprised me about the Arc? Firstly, it is a whole heck of a lot bigger in real life, and so much more lavish and grandiose. Secondly, despite this beauty, you will never be able to take more than a quasi decent photo of it. Too much traffic in the surrounding roundabout, and a perpetually massive crowd of tourists combine to prevent its real beauty from photographic capture. Thirdly, trying to actually cross the street to get to the Arc will more than likely cause serious injury at the hands of a speeding vehicle. If you enter from the Champs Elysees, on the right hand side (facing the Arc), there will be a little underpass – a flight of stairs descending into the ground. This underpass will get you to the Arc much more safely.
The Arc itself is stunning, but the views from the top are what make it so truly wonderful.
After climbing back down from the top of Triomphe, I took a far from leisurely stroll down the Champs Elysees. The only words I can muster that even come close to describing the most famous street in Paris a mere week before Christmas: chaotic, hectic and utterly mental. By the time one has walked as far as the Luxor Obelisk, the density of human beings does decrease to a more manageable level. But this reprieve is short lived, because not far from the Obelisk is the architectural marvel, The Louvre.
As much as I did enjoy The Louvre, I did not stay longer than a few hours. I had heard about the Catacombs in Paris, and about how infamously unreliable their opening hours are. I was only a few Metro stops away and decided to try my luck. I arrived at 2.30pm. The last admission was at 4pm. I was in the last group to enter. This is possibly the only thing I truly dislike about Paris; getting in anywhere without queuing for more than 30 minutes is like winning the lottery. It was however, worth the wait. Tens of thousands of bones stacked to the ceilings, artfully arranged in some areas, and in utter disarray in others. It is a chilling experience, though it is cheapened slightly by the numerous areas of signage informing people that it is illegal to steal the bones. Seriously! What would possess people to take the bones of a human being home as a souvenir?
I finished my first day in Paris after exiting the Catacombs and finding that the rain had for a few moments, ceased; and that the sun was setting, and I had never seen anything more perfect.