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Elle takes France

Subways and stars

FRANCE | Tuesday, 13 May 2014 | Views [89] | Scholarship Entry

There is nothing like the unique terror of a subway in a foreign country. Signs scream at you in primary colours and print too small to read. The reek of metal and dirt under fluorescent lights can be dizzying when desperately trying to count stops. A gaggle of Chinese schoolgirls buzz a few metres away from me. They don’t seem affected by the metro at all. Commuters cast glances on their way home from work. Paris, the city of black clothes and effortless chic, doesn’t take well to such enthusiasm.
I board the train without realising that in the excitement I’ve lost my companions. In the crowded, sticky enclosure the uniformed tourists have come between us. I try to shout over them but I can’t be seen let alone heard. “Where are you going?” thickly accented English asks. “l’Arc de Triomphe” I respond, following the first rule of French travel, always attempt French. His eyes light up at he begins to speak about stars and hearts and the beauty of this Parisian icon. His tweed cap and matching jacket hallmarks of a man who has told these stories many times before. The glitter in his eyes far younger than the grey around his temples would suggest.
At his instruction I disembark at the right time, luckily followed by my friends. We walk until we climb. Up and up and up a seemingly endless staircase with no light above or below until we stumble in to the metropolitan night. It is a clear evening in late April and the whole city is spread out before us. There are many magnificent views to be found in Paris, but I think it would be hard to rival this one. “The stop you need is Etoile, it means star do you know why?” I did now. The Arc de Triomphe stands at the centre of all the glistening streets of Paris. The purple sky seems to stretch on forever, only interrupted by the placement of the Eiffel tower.
The chill of standing awestruck in the wind finally becomes too much and we retreat back down the dusky staircase. The flame of the unknown solider burns copper as it warms the names of those inscribed on the pillars. The bouquets surrounding it show that the Arc still very much remains in the hands of the French people, rather than the camera clicking by-passers.
We are soon back in the gleaming metal tube which has always made me so uneasy. We hurl in to the dark on our last night in the city. Yet I feel like I’ve had my first real connection with a town that is constantly aloof. I just had to open my eyes wide enough to see the stars.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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