Tuesday, 4 October 2011

We'll meet again: Paris Take Three

Well, we had to have one photo of the good old Eiffel Tower!

And so the final day of my Parisian trip arrived, and as if to mark the occasion and send me on my way with a positive impression I was treated to a good dose of sunshine. I still had several tickets remaining from my carnet of metro tickets (€12 for 10 as opposed to €1.70 each), so I was keen to squeeze in a couple more areas of the city before my departure. Emerging at Hôtel de Ville we were greeted by numerous hunky, ridiculously tall men in equally ridiculously baggy shorts and vest tops shooting hoops in a temporary basketball arena that had been set up for what appeared to be some kind of NBA promotional event. Rumour has it Tony Parker was in town, but sadly we had to make do with a lanky ‘cool dude’ being dragged from the audience in order to (very reluctantly) tear his street cred to shreds by twirling 15 times around a basketball with finger touching nose and elbow touching said basketball.Very amusing!

We wandered across to the other side of the Seine, pausing briefly to gaze admirably at Notre Dame, and again for a quick photo op. with the river as a backdrop. A river meandering through the centre really does do wonders for a capital city; aside from the revenue generated by ever-popular boat tours, there is something about this mass of water boldly slicing through its urban surroundings that brings a sense of reassurance that the natural elements will always prevail in the struggle against their mortal enemy, Urban Development.

Our intended destination over here in Saint-Germain was La Fourmi Ailée (The flying ant), a quirky high-ceilinged café-restaurant housed in an old feminist library. Shelves of books still adorn the walls, groups of customers with a distinct air of French intellect chatter around the tables; this is exactly the kind of atmosphere we were looking for to enjoy a good cup of coffee and attempt to blend in with the modern Parisian literary scene... until our bad-timing threw a spanner in the works. In a lot of eateries in the capital there are designated hours where customers can only have a table if they wish to eat. Our request to sip slowly at a hot beverage during the déjeuner rush (a time so sacred to the French people) was swiftly denied by the waiter, and soon we were on the street again, our French intellectual guise in tatters.

Inside Le Panthéon
No big deal, we said, we shall restore our highly cultured image with a visit to the Panthéon. This monument, located in the Latin Quarter, was actually the basis of my (incredibly difficult) final French aural exam at university, so I was both intrigued to see it for the first time and dreading being faced with a physical confirmation of my relative failure to interpret the recorded reportage. The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the place – it’s enormous! After wandering between the pillars and statues and various carved slogans of patriotic sentiment we were directed down some steps to the crypt. As bizarre as I find it that what is essentially a large burial ground should be such a popular tourist attraction, I must say that the simplistic design, soft lighting and calm atmosphere of the mausoleum allow you to overcome the reality of being in a subterranean corridor bordered by corpses and concentrate instead on learning a thing or two about the national heroes buried here, from writers to architects to military leaders.

A quick pick-me-up at the small street-side café La Pause Détente came in the form of a Nespresso – ‘Le café de George Clooney!’ as the waitress excitedly reminded us. She also shared a well-guarded secret with us: croissants are typically French. HOLD THE FRONT PAGE! We smiled politely, declined her offer of this little-known French delicacy, and went on our way.

Before we crossed back over the river we decided to have a nose around the market that was in full swing down on the left bank, selling products from the south-west of France. Resisting the urge to impulse-buy delicious looking wine, cheese and chocolate from every smiley stall-owner, we sampled and purchased a gorgeous Armagnac and a simple but tasty pain d’épices. After being serenaded by at least three groups of contrasting musicians on the fairly small Pont Saint Louis, we stopped off briefly on Île Saint Louis. This little island in the middle of the Seine has a calm vibe about it, and it is a nice to feel simultaneously at the heart of the city and yet entirely removed from it. Apparently some of the best ice-cream to be had in Paris can be found here at the Glacier Berthillon, but, not wanting to spoil our appetite, we remained strong and walked on by this time (it is definitely on my list for the next visit). 

That's one big falafel for a little Parisienne!
We found ourselves back in Le Marais with only one thing on our minds: falafel. After seeing so many people devouring the stuffed pita breads two days before we had made a promise to return and see what all the fuss was about. On one road alone – Rue des Rosiers – there are at least six falafel vendors, all offering variations on the traditional Middle Eastern food. Perhaps the most well known establishment is L’as du fallafel, its green shop front usually obscured by the hoards of people queuing at both service hatches, exchanging their tickets (bought previously from boisterous wandering touts) for an enormous pita pocket bursting with shredded cabbage, carrot, courgette, cucumber, tomato, falafel and lashings of creamy tahini sauce. The standard spéciale pita costs €5 and is a delicious, satisfying lunch.
I could not leave without introducing K to the choco-pistache pastry from Miss Manon (an excellent excuse to have another one myself...), which we munched on slowly as I searched for some suitably strong and stinky cheese to bring back for my boyfriend. I went for a small, hard goats cheese, which, incidentally, he ate in one bite.

Just like that the weekend was over and I was on my way to Porte de la Chapelle to meet the person who would be driving me back to Cologne. I felt that we had packed a lot into the weekend, and I had certainly packed a lot into my stomach! What I had enjoyed most of all was having avoided the ‘typical’ Paris experience. We had struck a balance between visiting certain touristy spots and plenty of lesser-known ones, between sticking to an itinerary and simply wandering around a new area. I felt less like a tourist in a capital city and more like a visitor in a friend’s new neighbourhood, always pleased to experience the well-established charms of Paris and even more so to see the city from a new perspective.

Paris, it’s been lovely - à la prochaine!

TG xx

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