Paris - Day 3
14.04.2013 - 14.04.2013 22 °C
Last night I understood why Paris is known as the City of Lights. Our day was in two parts yesterday - one in bright sunshine and one which was almost as bright but with an illumination that was man made. Throughout the day and evening we saw so much evidence of the Parisienne love of the outdoors and the way that they come together in parks and public areas like the banks of the Seine - something that we, from our big block of land, suburban life do not fully comprehend.
As it was a Sunday, we started slowly yesterday. I use Sunday as an excuse but in addition once again there was a football match I wanted to follow on the other side of the world. Sadly yesterday's result wasn't the happy experience I'd enjoyed in other weeks and really wasn't worth staying home for but at least I had a sunny Parisienne sky to console me.
We made our way to the Pont Neuf - that ironically named bridge which is actually the oldest bridge in the city. The river was thriving with life both on and beside it and it was again slightly surreal to walk amongst the crowds and touts and view so many familiar and beautiful sights. We paid homage to Henri IV at his statue and then wandered onto the Ile de Citie and explored the river banks there. In the most unlikely spot in a a narrow street on the edge of the isle, we found a plant nursery - ah la Bunnings - which was on the edge of the bird and plant market. I was wondering who would be buying plants there - clearly not tourists - but Hugh reminded me that people live there and have to get them somewhere!
Coming up the other side of the isle, we spotted a queue and then we saw Notre Dame. The queue was somewhat off putting so we confined ourselves at this time to taking photos from the outside. There is a massie viewing stand in front of the cathedral which somewhat restricts the chance of the grand photo and makes the whole area feel a bit nasty. It's still a magnificent building but it's possible that we didn't see the best of it. Also off-putting were the sight of local security forces armed with machine guns - wasn't going to argue with them.
Back on the Left Bank, I dropped into the famous Shakespeare and Company - the legendary English language bookshop that opened in the middle of the Lost Generation in the 1920s and which still celebrates literary life in an area that would be unrecognisable to Hemingway and co. I love a bookshop at the best of times and could have spent ages in there but there were only so many phone calls that Hugh could make to kill time and so many books that we can carry in our luggage.
From there it was a light lunch in a streetside cafe and then a walk through the Latin Quarter. There isn't really a sense of what the area was like in its literary heyday. It's really a mass of souveneir shops and cafes in the main but when we got off the main drag and wandered down some side alleys, the world was kind of different and rather nice. Hugh and I really aren't ones for tourist sites in the main. We like to look and explore and discover our own things rather than following the beaten track and queueing! It might be a little cafe where we just prop and have a drink rather than the chaos which is Le Deux Maggots or a small church which is 500 years old and in which you can just wander and wonder rather than queuing for Notre Dame. We don't expect everyone to understand but then it's our holiday isn't it.
We ended up walking home through Saint Germain and into our own Arrondissment. It had been a heft walk and we were a little weary so relaxed and slept a little before going out again. In the evening we took the dinner city lights boat tour from outside the Tour Eiffel. We went on board a bit before 8 o'clock and came home a little after 11. In that time we saw the city via the Seine from one end to another seeing old and wonderful Paris and new and vibrant Paris. We also saw the Parisiennes enjoying the warm April evening in groups along the river - having picnics or sharing a bottle of wine wherever there was space to do so - fabulous energy and involvement. We've always been a little wary about doing something like the cruise because either the food is very bad or the commentary is cheesy and off putting or the boat is really crowded and you're packed in like sardines. I shouldn't have worried. This is Paris so the food and wine were delicious. The "commentary" consisted of our waiter popping up and telling us when we were passing important milestones and there was lots of space. It was fantastic! I know I've said that I feel we are living the cliche and this was the case last night again - it was magical and surreal and unmissable!