Many people more famous and respected than I have great things to say about our next destination. Here are just a few:
Oscar Wilde: When good Americans die, they go to Paris.
Audrey Hepburn: Paris is always a good idea.
Friedrich Nietzsche: An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.
Why so popular? We had less than 24 hours to find out.
I have been to Paris before, though not since I was a boy of 6 or 7. Since that time, Paris has hosted a World Cup, had openly gay and female mayors, unsuccessfully bid for the 2012 Olympics and been the location of innumerable strikes and other demonstrations.
Many of the reasons for visiting, however, have stayed the same. Monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame cathedral…
The Eiffel tower…
…and many others. But you already know about these places; you’re aware that they are worth seeing, and will be surrounded by tourists. What else does Paris have to offer which makes people swoon over it so lovingly?
Paris may host a full platter of monuments, but it is also a foodie’s feast. We spent a while ambling aimlessly around Rue Mouffetard, stomachs churning with the variety and quality of food on offer. I was particularly enamoured with the fromagerie; the owner cheerfully informed me that they stock over 160 varieties of cheese. If only we had access to a fridge, I would have left this place with fewer Euros and a large, cheesy grin. I instead opted for a more than adequate replacement in the form of a coffee éclair, which was exquisitely wrapped. It was almost a shame to rip the packaging apart to savour the thick coffee cream inside.
We ate this in a garden which was swarming with locals on this scorchingly hot day: Jardin du Luxembourg. Interestingly, it was one of the few places we went to where the predominant language seemed to be French. Irrespective of the incredible number of foreign tourists, the notion of French people refusing to speak English seems to be a misguided stereotype.
Another common stereotype is that Parisians aren’t the warmest and most hospitable of hosts; again, I found this idea to be flawed after our journey home. Whilst waiting for our Eurostar train to return us to London, a smiling official from the company approached us. Do you like football, he asked. Are you aware of the World Cup, he continued. Finally, he got to the aim of his conversation. Would you like to enter a keepy-uppy competition?
If you’re into life lessons, I’ll offer you one right now: always say yes. There’s a film about that. I said ‘oui’ and, with partner in crime, was soon involved in a competition of keeping a football off the floor in the entrance to the Eurostar platform in Paris’ main train station. Though comprehensively outdone by Hannah (she got 16, I got 6: I had bad shoes), we still outscored our Italian opposition. Our prize? A football.
We’ll put it to good use. However Hassane, the gentleman who had a boyish enthusiasm for fun and football, informed us that ‘we were all winners’…and had all been promoted to first class for our journey to London. Lovely. Cannot complain at all! They also possibly were taking pity on my attempt at being French by not shaving: not necessarily an inappropriate stereotype, but I agree that I looked unkempt and pretty awful.
Brazilian culture has been a recurring theme throughout our French escapade. From delaying the take-off of our flight to Paris to watch a Brazilian penalty shoot-out to witnessing a capoeira session under the Eiffel tower, Brazil’s main passions have been on show in Paris. Football fever has certainly been evident. The upgrade to first-class from playing in a keepy-uppy tournament in Gare du Nord is the cherry on top of a very enjoyable slice of French pie.
Love you all