Friday, 24 February 2017

Paris is still beautiful - February 2017

A couple of weeks ago, shortly before Valentine's Day I was in Paris. The city of love. The city of croissants and canals and the Eiffel Tower. The city of beautiful architecture and expensive coffee. The city that inspired countless literary greats (whose ranks I yearn to join). The city of windowboxes and balconies and picturesque squares. One of my favourite cities in the world.

I have been to Paris before. A few times. But it has always been in the summer and I was a little apprehensive of being there in the winter. In my head, the sun is always shining in Paris, the flowers and trees are always in full bloom and you can always walk around in floaty skirts and brogues. Paris wasn't the city where it rained or the wind whistled under your coat as you tried to enjoy a stroll along the Seine. Was it? Apparently, puddles do exist there. And occasionally you do have to duck into a coffee shop to avoid the horrendous weather rather than simply sit out on the pavement watching the world go by. Who knew? It didn't diminish it at all though. It gave it a new dimension. A reality that I hadn't really seen before. And of course, it was still beautiful. It was Paris.

As you can see from the last time I was in Paris in 2014, I have already been to many of the large sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame. Yet we did visit these iconic places again as I was with my sister who had never been before. I couldn't exactly stop her from getting her view of Paris from the top of that unexpectedly romantic big piece of steel could I? But (proving that sisters can compromise with each other now and then) to make sure I was kept entertained, we also visited some of the more quirky sights and wandered districts such as the Latin Quarter, Montmartre and the streets of Le Marais. They were still very much in the tourist zone but we were giving over time to simply walking and looking and therefore breathing in all of Paris. Everyday Paris. The Paris that was still beautiful despite the cloudily dull sky.

Occasionally I did go out of my way to ignore the tourist attraction that was right in front of my face. In particular, to the Notre Dame, the poor thing. I didn't mean to ignore its grandeur so fully but when I was there, I found myself looking at the ground instead. Everybody else was gazing at the sky while I accidentally walked into the back of selfies, trying to find a tiny golden plaque on the floor. The plaque that marked the centre of Paris.

And then I ignored it again, instead turning away, crossing the bridge and heading to the almost-as-famous Shakespeare and Company. Trust me to find a bookshop. while I was abroad. I was in good company with this one - Ernest Hemingway and Lawrence Durrell were just two of its many famous visitors and while I was having coffee, I spied Clemence Posey of Harry Potter fame which was quite cool. Not as cool as the bookshop itself though. This place can only be described as a haven for the book lover. Stuffed full of books old and new, it is perfectly equipped for every reader and traveller's needs. Their upstairs is beyond incredible, and rather than describe it, I think I will leave it for you to go and find out for yourself exactly how wonderful it is to be surrounded by books and book lovers alike. I haven't felt that utterly content in a very long time. I really felt like I was a part of something when I was there. It felt like home.

Sticking with the literary theme, I couldn't resist a slightly macabre visit to Pere Lachaise cemetery. I have to admit, I kind of love graveyards. I realise that this is a slightly weird confession to make. But I just find them to be so peaceful and pretty, full of beautiful structures and flowers. I like wandering around reading the names of the people buried there and trying to imagine the life that they would have led. Plus, I find them to be so full of love. People focus too much on the death side of it. But it is rarely the dead person who chooses the gravestone or the inscription or any of it. It is those who are left behind who have to organise all that and pay for it too. They are the ones who want to remember the individual in the best possible way. That's why graveyards always make me kind of emotional. This particular one was the resting place of the wonderful Oscar Wilde, one of my literary heroes. So of course, I wasn't going to miss the chance of being in his presence, and hopefully soaking up some of his leftover creative vibes. It was huge and we had a very calming walk amongst the graves and mausoleums, some of which were probably bigger than any future house that I would be able to afford. Once we were in the centre of it, it was unbelievably quiet and the cemetery was all you could see in any direction. It was beautiful.

When you think of beauty within Paris, you probably wouldn't automatically think of a graveyard. Or an abandoned train line for that matter. But that too was one of my favourite walks which we took. La Petite Ceinture it was called. Originally this train line used to run around the entire city but it closed down yonks ago. It is still there and nature is slowly but surely claiming its territory back. We only walked a small part of it: one of the little sections that has been opened up to the public and you are actually allowed to walk. The majority of it is out of bounds technically (although this hasn't stopped plenty of explorers and wouldn't have stopped me had the weather been slightly better!) but I enjoyed the little taster we had in the shape of the section within the Promenade Plantee.

I imagine that instead of the cemetery or the trainline, you would think of the highly manicured Tuileries or Luxembourg Gardens. Which are lovely in their own right. But it is worth the effort to travel a little further out where you can find the absolutely stunning Parc des Buttes Chaumont. We walked along the Saint Martin Canal to reach it, another lovely area, on our final morning and it was a perfect way to end the trip. A place of peaceful delight and divine views - which is basically what I have come to expect of Paris. And you need not anticipate anything less, you can be rest assured it always lives up to expectations.

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