Saturday, July 25, 2009

Eurotrip Diaries - Paris

Day 4.

9.30 am. Under the English Channel, over in a flash. I estimated then that around 9.30 am we would be under the Channel. And so it happened – one minute we were in England, the next minute it’s all dark around me – and then it’s bright again and my phone informs me I am now ‘roaming’ in France.
French Countryside

10.30 am/11.30 am. We are in Paris. Only to find out it’s an hour ahead of London and it’s 11.30 am here.

There are gypsies everywhere. One lady comes up to me, wearing a scarf. “Speak English?” She asks me. I nod yes. Bad mistake. She thrusts a paper in my hand, with a pity letter claiming she is a Bosnian refugee. I wave her away. We see a gang of them harassing some other passenger, who then screams Police before they run away.

My wife keeps a firm hand on the luggage.

The line for information is dreadfully long. We stood in line for more than 30 minutes before we got to the counter. I know my route, but we have to buy a transport pass for the three nights we are in Paris. I also want to verify my route and information. All the time I notice this Algerian guy trying to sell metro tickets in black. I wonder who printed a bunch for him.

The guy at the counter says “very little” when I ask “parle anglais” (Speak English?). Why are you at the Tourist Info booth then if you don’t know English? Then he proceeds to instruct me very clearly in what was very good English.

A lady in burkha begs in a corner. All these shady characters appear Muslim. Or Arab. London appears to be so safe now. We saw a cop or official at every entrance at every tube station. Here it’s mayhem. London felt like home. Paris is already a culture shock.

1 pm. We finally reach our hotel.
Paris Street
A typical Paris street, the stuff of poems, with small white buildings lining up neat streets, lined with trees, and balconies with flowers hanging.

Too tired. Saw a black dude jump the turnstile and enter the metro without paying. Paris is dirty. The traffic is crazy. “Just like Bangladesh,” remarks the wife, and I have to agree.
Paris Street
Paris streets are small, and cars are parked very dangerously close to each other.

It seems if you want to cross the road and there are no lights, just step onto the road. The cars will then stop (hopefully). Otherwise they continue on.

4 pm. Lunch is McDonalds. Filet-o-fish. Can’t find a halal place nearby. Everything else is so pricey. Decide it’s not a bad time to visit the Eiffel tower. Our hotel is right next to it – in fact we can see it from our window.
Eiffel Tower
View of Eiffel Tower from our hotel street

6 pm. Done the Eiffel tower.
Eiffel Tower
At the Palais de Chaillot, which magnificently crowns the Chaillot hill in Paris, overlooking the Eiffel Tower across the Seine river.

It is truly amazing.
Eiffel Tower
Walking past the majestic fountains in the beautiful gardens of Palais de Chaillot, on our way to the Eiffel tower.

It’s also huge – doesn’t seem like it’s so huge when you think about it, but it is.
Eiffel Tower

The lift right up to the very top is one of the scariest I have been on. Everything is open to view and the ride is so SLOW! The CN tower takes you up in a flash, here you have time to absorb the fact that nothing stands between you and a 400m drop to the bottom.
Eiffel Tower

Yup, looking up the Eiffel tower feels like you are looking up a girl’s skirt. No way around that feeling. Wife somehow agrees while still blaming ME for being dirty minded.
Eiffel Tower

7 pm. Go for a walk. Damn I am tired. Travelling and sightseeing on same day is tiring. I wonder how I will stick to my schedule. Decide to go back to hotel and rest and wake up early the next day. Discover French taught in Canadian schools will only take you so far in France (especially if you cheated).

Day 5.

8.30 am. Happy Canada Day, but we are in Paris, France. First up is Louvre, the museum. Neither the wife nor I are big art fans – we are just heading there for Mona Lisa, and for seeing the pieces involved in the Da Vinci Code. Breakfast is some cereal bars and water as we are running late.

10 am. Wow, there is a line to buy the tickets to stand in the line to enter the museum to stand in a line to view the Mona Lisa.
The Winged Victory

Even the ceiling of the Louvre was a work of art.

Madonna of the Rocks. For fans of Da Vinci Code, this is what "So dark the con of Man" resolved to - underneath this painting there was the key.

10.30 am. Mona Lisa! Wow. Too many people, a huge glass window in front, and a big barrier separating every one. Still, desi instincts taking over meant pushing people out of the way for a good picture and getting close to the master piece. I was setting myself up for disappointment but somehow I wasn’t. We would later go back and see it several times.
Mona Lisa

11 am. Done the Louvre. Nothing much to see beyond our Da Vinci Code list – it got boring after sometime. Same statue, same naked painting, different room, different artist. Magnificent ceilings though! Snap a few pictures of more nude paintings when the wife is somewhere else. For art!

12 pm. Mandatory pictures with the Louvre pyramids later, we are on our way to the Notre Dame. Man it’s hot in Paris too! 37 degrees this time. Am I in Dubai?

12.30 pm. Seems the only answer to “parle anglais” is “very little”. And they lie every time. To quote Abu Sinan, "France would be nice place if not for the French".

1 pm. The Notre Dame’s a beautiful church.
Notre Dame

I can’t understand how one can pray inside though – with thousands of tourists streaming in all around you, walking around, snapping pictures. Somehow, the sanctity of the place of prayer feels – violated. There’s lot of noise too, with people snapping pictures, yelling at friends or family to move right or left or to say ‘cheese’, and flashes.

2 pm. Paris streets are beautiful. The short buildings and flowers on balconies makes for a nice touch. And there’s trees everywhere, and the streets seem so well planned.

Lunch is a tuna sub. Still no sign of halal food. We see plenty of Muslims all around though. Most appear shady, some are allied to these gypsies and begging on streets, other appear on steps of tourist places selling everything from fake brand bags to Eiffel tower souvenirs. No wonder the French are mad at Muslims. These ‘Arabs’ are spoiling the image of this city.

Cheap souvenirs though. We buy some Eiffel towers that we bargained for 4 euros each that sell officially for 15 euros.

5 pm. Man, the Concorde and Luxor plaza is being renovated! That sucks.
Notre Dame

Plywood and barriers everywhere. Why do they have to do this when we are there? Can’t take good pictures. The fountain’s full of sculptures of naked women.

7 pm. If you want Halal food follow the rich Arabs when they shop. We go to Champ de Elysees and sure enough, there’s a shawarma shop AND a shisha bar AND a halal Indian restaurant. We take a shawarma as a snack. The Indian food will be dinner.

10 pm. Somehow have spent a whole three hours on this street.
Walking to the Arc de Triomphe

People watching, walking to the Arc de Triomphe, climbing it, watching the Eiffel tower light show at sunset. Hard to believe Maghreb is at 10 pm and Fajr is at 2!
Underneath the Arc

Climbing the Arc

A View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc - it puts on a light show at 10!

A view of the streets leading to the Arc (this is the Champs de Elysees).

The street is quite busy at night.

11 pm. Have dinner at La Rose du Kashmir. Most expensive biryani ever. 25 euros a plate! God bless Toronto and our Gerrard street. Truly, we have halal everything, and they deliver too!

Day 6.

8.30 am. Our last day in Paris. We wake up early and decide to skip the Chateau de Versailles. Neither of us were that keen on palaces or ornate walls. We decide to take it easy and head to Montmartre instead. Breakfast is Egg McMuffin. Mmmm, I am loving it.
The small street leading to the Sacre Coeur.

10:40 am. At the base of Sacre Coeur.
Sacre Coeur

That is one beautiful church.
Sacre Coeur

From far off it looks like Taj Mahal. It really looks more like a temple than a church. There’s many people (immigrants from Africa) selling their wares at the bottom of the hill.

11.00 am. We take the Funiculaire to the top of hill. Not only can one see Montmartre from here, you can see pretty much all of Paris. It’s a different view to the Eiffel Tower and from the Arc De Triomphe.

11.30 am. The church is as beautiful inside as it was from outside. Photography was not allowed inside the church and we noticed the difference from Notre Dame immediately. There was silence, and tourists just milled about, observing, and then leaving.

Spent some time walking around Montmartre and observing all the artists at work here. It’s still Paris, but a different flair to it.

12.07 pm. Moulin Rouge!
Moulin Rouge

Made famous by the movie, the night club gets its name from a red mill at the club, which translated into French means Moulin Rouge. At night this is one busy area. It’s mostly cabaret and somewhat adult themed (which to the French means PG-13). Even if I could convince the wife to come I wouldn’t have – the ticket prices for a show were a whopping 130 euros. Per ticket. And those were the cheap ones.

3 pm. After taking the subway and then walking for what seemed like miles but was closer to in fact fifteen minutes of walking, we reach the Paris Statue of Liberty.
Statue of Liberty

I know the French gave the Americans their statue, so I don’t know which one is original, but now I have seen both.

We have pretty much covered our Paris list, so now we are in a relaxed mode. We decide to head back to Champ de Elysees for lunch.

It’s great weather now, and our stop is near the Arc de Triomphe, so we get some great pictures of the Arch in day light. After dinner it’s back to the hotel for some rest.

9.30 pm. Anyone who visits Paris has to see the Eiffel Tower at night.
Eiffel Tower at Night

We walked from our hotel to the top of the Palais de Chaillot, and it was a great vantage point to see the Eiffel Tower lit up, first with shimmering lights and then the multi colored light show they put up.
Eiffel Tower at Night

One can spend a couple of hours here easily (we did!) – it’s very romantic and they have music, dance and food.


sobia said...

"London felt like home. Paris is already a culture shock"

Foe me it was the other way around. London feels same old same old, dirty and very busy. Not me at all. Paris was peaceful, and so beautiful. Maybe it was because we went in the winter that it wasn't so busy?

25 Euros for biryani? Whew!

Solace In Islam said...

I am loving your travel blogs;-( Paris and London are the two cities I would really like to visit.

Anonymous said...

Wow, seems like Paris was nice to you but you didn't see much of French Cuisine, eh!

I would've eaten bread from random places instead of fillet-o-fish ;-)

The pictures... c'est magnifique!! You seem to have had a really great time sight seeing! :-)

Suroor said...

Very interesting!

mezba said...

Boba: yup, 25 euros. And it wasn't good or plentiful either!

Paris definitely wasn't peaceful for us. It was a busy thriving city but with a murky underbelly! (ok I feel writerish now).

Solace: thanks for the comment. Definitely London is a must see. Paris, well, it has the Eiffel tower, and nothing much else. Definitely an overhyped city.

Miss Specs: well as long as it was veg or seafood we tried it but most of Parisian food was meat (they have something called tar tar that is raw meat!) and SNAILS!

Suroor: :-)

'liya said...

Mezba, I can't believe you went all the way to Paris and ate at McDonalds!!!!

My view of Paris was a little different. I saw it clean and beautiful, not dirty at all. I could spend hours walking around the Louvre and outside, the architecture is so romantic, the whole feeling in the air there is romantic! For us London was more of a culture shock. I want to go back (to both) :(

Which did you guys like better, London or Paris?

mezba said...

Liya: the prices were super high! I saw a dish with some snails and tar tar and it was 35 euros!

Plus we would see the restaurants and the entrees would be 17 euros, not to mention the main dish.

Anyways we didn't ALWAYS eat at McDonalds.. just breakfast as that wasn't included in our Paris hotel. That also, for one day. Lunch was usually something small veggie/seafood that found nearby, until we found the halal place. Forgot what we had for dinner on our first day.

I wasn't too impressed with French cuisine, to be honest. I was very, very disappointed with France as a whole. Other than the Eiffel tower and Louvre, I wouldn't see any reason to visit Paris. Now Switzerland and Italy, not to mention London - they were something else!

Anonymous said...

Man I loved Paris too! I had a very different experience though. People I talked to were quite friendly and helpful. I thought it was very clean and I felt quite safe everywhere I went. And French food and restaurants are my favourite!

mezba said...

Geeki: Looks like EVERY one loved Paris bus us!

Honestly it wasn't so bad, except that I had expected ... MORE. I don't know.. everyone hypes up Paris so much and I found it just like any other city ... only found the French very arrogant.

In fairness, the BBC's European correspondent did once call Paris "Europe's most over rated capital" ... then again, they are the British.

nadia said...

The architecture and location of your hotel is great :)

PS: I'll freeze and pack some biryani with me whenever I plan to visit Paris.

mezba said...

Nadia: Our hotel was great location wise - right next to a subway station and close ride to everything else.

Now when I think back to it, Paris wasn't that bad - it's just a culture shock from London and other Western cities - but then again it's just ok. Many people hype it up and of course everyone has their own opinion of it. I didn't think it was anything great, to be honest.