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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

C'est la vie à Paris!

FRANCE | Wednesday, 26 November 2008 | Views [975]

Up on street level, a whole bunch of kids were loving the huge gusts of warm air that were coming out of this grille from the underground Metro, deep, deep below the ground. They were putting their caps on the grille and watching them fly into the air when a train passed. Cool.

Up on street level, a whole bunch of kids were loving the huge gusts of warm air that were coming out of this grille from the underground Metro, deep, deep below the ground. They were putting their caps on the grille and watching them fly into the air when a train passed. Cool.

With the global economy doing what it is, we jumped on a cheapy SkyEurope flight to Paris to see what mischief we could get up to before budget airlines start packing it in.

Of course that meant being at the airport for a 05:45am check-in followed by an extortionate onboard hot-choccy but no matter because we were strolling through the Orly Sud arrival terminal at a time that most Parisiens were thinking about arriving at their offices - what a way to spend a Friday!

Dumping our bags at the St Martin apartments near gare de l'est (got a great deal: 60 EUR per night for 1-bed apartment for three nights. Wouldn't pay more though!), then saunted down Magenta Blvd in search of another overpriced cafe o-lait (4.20 EURO each!!!) before deciding that our budget limited us to baguette-n-cheese, grocery store style, for the rest of the day. No matter again - we're in f#$%ing Paris and it's quintessentially Parisian all around us: French terraces all of the same height; boulevards with patisseries, boulangeries and of course bistrots every other shopfront with their daily specials and menus on chalkboards out the front, all written with the same French hand it seems. And the people! from every corner of the globe and of every skin colour, but more French than you and I will ever be... One thriving metropolis that just buzzes, day in day out.

The only way to experience the real Paris (we reckon anyway - given our extensive *ahem* experience over 4 days!) is to buy a metro ticket for a little over a euro and just ride the different metro lines. Each of the many hundreds of stations has its own local colour - with vibrant billboards for upcoming local acts, rabbit-warren access tunnels that you walk seemingly miles through to get to connecting lines and platforms, and a new set of people queuing up for the regular trains every couple of minutes, briefcases or shopping bags in hand after a day of toil or retail therapy - everyone going somewhere or about to see someone or moving about the city with regular stresses, hopes and fears, expectations and imaginings. Not everyone in Paris is queuing up for the Eiffel Tower or waiting patiently in line to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre...

So we loved what we saw and heard and smelled (ok maybe not the last bit) in this ever-pumping underground artery system that keeps the real grit of Paris going every day.

And walk and walk we did! Our tip: never buy a 24-hour or 3-day travel pass when you visit a new place (and that includes museum passes!) because you never get the full value out of it. Even though we were on and off metros and buses all day, we still only used the equivalent of half the value of a 24-hour pass - and by the time we spent 4 hours at the fantastic Pompidou centre (museum of contemporary arts) we knew we'd had enough museum hopping for the weekend. Time to chill!

And chill we also did in equal measure. Gathering up a picnic hamper-worthy selection of hams, cheeses and wine from the local weekend markets we headed home for an arvo indulgence in the comfort and heating of our own apartment (why pay x amount per night for accommodation if you never enjoy it!). And all-French television of course. The only country we've visited so far that doesn't have even one foreign station (usually BBC or CNN is our friend!). So we quickly became addicted to America's Most Smartest Model (yep, apparently the double superlative title is INTENDED to be ironic, but something tells us the irony would be lost on the high IQ viewers).

Paris is a city that will open itself up to you in many ways:

  • you'll never have the same experience twice (we've both been there separately before, and it could have been a completely different city)
  • you'll never ever ever see it all in a weekend or a week, or more, so you've just gotta pick a few sights (museum, historic, popular) and just go with the flow
  • each quarter - or arrondissement - has its own history, minorities and local flavour and therefore has its own town feel to it. So choose wisely and go with an open mind - outside the city centre you'll find that it's real life and not glossed over with a heavy tourist brush.
  • Contrary to the stereotype of the arrogant Frenchman who pretends not to speak your language, you may actually find people who are embarrassed that they don't speak English or another language, and that they genuinely want to communicate with you but feel limited. Very humbling experience, whatever the country you're in.
  • Go to the supermarkets: buy that 4 euro bottle of red; indulge in that block of cheese and grab that stick of baguette and ask the deli for 100g or so of prosciutto... all the ingredients of a simple but cheap and delicious meal - whatever the time of day!
  • walk up that quiet alley away from the landmark, go a few more blocks right or left and open the door to that quiet cafe or noisy wine bar. You'll have the best coffee, friendliest encounters and thud in your stomach that you'll never want to leave!
  • Try anything on the menu that you've never tried or heard of before. After an exhausting day of walking and new sights we were trudging back to our hotel and not in the mood to talk to each other (Maria: ahem...). At 10pm we still hadn't eaten so we walked into the first bistrot we could find (near the gare de l'est station, so our expectations weren't high!) and found THE MOST DEPRESSING SCENE ever. We're talking dreary muzak that'd bring you to blood-infused tears, a downstairs bathroom that hadn't seen the light of day or disinfectant for centuries (and the kitchen keyhole was right next door!) and our sole waiter and fellow diners were like extras out of a road-to-nowhere-roadside diner where no-one's going anywhere and have no lives to go home to. Get the picture?? Well... the 7 euro beef bourguignon was the most delectable thing we'd ever tasted. So French yet SO WELL DONE and tender and full of flavour... and so NOT expected from a place like the one we found ourselves destined to die in. It instantly transformed our mood and made us look into each other's eyes and confess eternal undying love for each other... blah !!!

... but only if you go there with the right balance of wanting to experience something different through a foreigner's eyes with the limited time at your fingertips. Cos you don't want to spend your whole time above ground yet if you're another lemming in the metro underground every day then you're probably not interested in what's sitting metres above you day by day.

Our flight home was late on Monday night but at least we had the novelty of trying to disguise the pungent smelling cheese we'd bought and hid in our carry-ons. We've perfected the art of the "it's not us, what are you looking at us for?" look.

** Check out our sen-bloody-sational photos here: http://journals.worldnomads.com/maria_brett/gallery/14356.aspx


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