Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 37-38: Paris, is it really the city of love?

The first time around I stopped by at Paris back in 2007 and the impression of the city was not great. It was a sunny day in October, it was warm, trees had a beautiful color to their leafage and yet it didn’t work for me. It was too dirty and too much-ado-about-nothing. This trip, however, was on a cold winter weekend and the trees weren’t colorful, it was only partially sunny and yet I had a fantastic time and I believe I was able to get the city’s vibe. Because this time I involuntarily was able to get over the fact that it’s “Paris, the city of love” and just discover it for myself without looking back at this stereotype. In other words, the weather/season doesn't matter much in the end, plus winter has less tourists flocking to typically touristic places.

Also, I must say I like this two-days-per-city thing that I had going on, I was 4 days in Barcelona and it was somehow too long for me, to be honest. While during 2 days I do extensive sightseeing and walking around and I can freely cover everything I want without going somewhere where I feel I don’t have to go, but do because I’m staying longer than necessary.

I took a flight from Oslo where the night before I’d met my friend with whom I couchsurfed in Stockholm which resulted in me having exactly one hour of sleep at night and leaving for the airport bus at 4.40am. The good thing was that the flight wasn’t full and I had a chance to lie down and take a series of short naps.

Upon arriving to Paris from the Beauvais airport, I met my couchsurfing host who turned out to be one of the kindest and trustful people I have ever met in my life. After maybe a half an hour of conversation, he gave me keys to his apartment and I could stay the weekend there by myself because he had to leave the city to go see his parents. I mean, I don’t think it goes further than that, does it? He had all of his possessions there and he didn’t really know me and although I believe I make a good impression, he was very brave to give the keys to pretty much a total stranger. But that’s couchsurfing for you, you come across the most incredible people.

My host also took care of my entertainment program, he hooked me up with a good friend of his and we hung out most of the first day together and then the entire evening of the second night. The guy showed me around, we had coffee just off Champs-Élysées, walked around Montmartre as twilight was setting in and discussed all things languages, relationships and Paris.

I think Paris as a destination is interesting to listen to. I had no wish whatsoever to listen to my player, because I suppose the city has a specific sound to it: the language spoken mixed together with transport and other street sounds, it makes for an impressive melody of its own.

On my second day I had a very good itinerary: I started off with Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre again, going of into Boulevard de Clichy, then taking the subway to Notre-Dame de Paris, going off to Le Sorbonne, Jardins du Luxembourg, walking rounds in that area, then going back to the river to pass by Esplanade des Invalides to finally reach La Tour Eiffel. All on foot and I think it was at least 12km that I did that day, quite possibly more.

In the morning, I was startled by a homeless guy just off Montmatre. I was standing in the middle of an empty street taking a sip of my tea and the only thing in the vicinity was a long pile of garbage bags. I mean they looked a lot like garbage bags… then they started moving and I thought maybe it was a cat or dog coming from underneath, until I saw a homeless man’s face appear out of there. Turns out, the guy camped out there for the night and the blue plastic was not garbage but his cover / shield from the wind. It was a bit scary at first, it felt almost UFO-like, his appearance, but then it just felt special and quite Paris-like. That day I passed by several homeless people camping out like that.

No more than 3 minutes later an old transvestite offered herself to me in what I guess was supposed to me a sultry voice. I must admit it was kind of freaky and yet there was something that was almost turned me on about it.

All in all, Paris has a vibe that eventually saw me leave the city with a happy smile on my face, it’s certainly a great place to visit. I still do not get the fascination with the Eiffel Tower because it looks too clumsy for my taste and not as graceful as it appears on all those millions of pictures and in movies that you see, but nevertheless the city itself is a must-see destination. Apart from the famous sights, I found the general architecture of the city to be captivating, it has its own style that I believe can be recognized by anyone who's visited here. Originally, I only wanted to stop by because it was cheaper to fly Oslo-Paris-Barcelona than Oslo-Barcelona, so I had very low expectations for the place, however I’m glad I re-visited it as it certainly brought me a lot of joy and fun memories. It was the biggest surprise of the trip.


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