Europe, Part I: Paris

When Ivy and I were deciding on where we should travel to, I was leaning towards an American road trip and she was eager to explore Europe and its historic architecture. While we both had our individual preferences we were keen to explore both Europe and America at some stage.

So, we thought, why not visit both?

Which now brings us to Paris, the first stop on our European adventure.

The City

On our first day in Paris, rather than catch the metro, we decided to explore the city on foot, to better experience the local sights and get a feel for its culture. 32,000 steps later, we decided to purchase a metro pass for the remainder of our trip.

The on foot journey gave us a good appreciation of Paris and allowed us to better experience it than solely visiting one major attraction after another. We woke early that day and quickly learned that the cliché of Parisians carrying baguettes through the cobbled streets was entirely true. We tried our fair share of local patisseries (chocolate chip brioche was my personal favourite) that the walking aided in offsetting.

I found the coffee an improvement on America, but only when made by a barista and not a pod-based machine. I saw many a café serve espresso style coffee through an automated machine, which in and of itself doesn’t guarantee a bad cup, but it certainly doesn’t lend itself to an exceptional one either. Nonetheless, we stumbled on a few cafes that did make their own coffee and my personal favourite was called Ob-La-Di. A 20 minute walk from our apartment, the small, boutique café did produce an exceptional cup and introduced us to the quirky sounds of Skip&Die.

Paris’s metro system was another highlight. Well, after that one time Ivy got stuck behind a closing carriage door while I waved goodbye from the departing train (luckily she remained at the platform and I caught the next train back where we both had a good nervous laugh). We bought an unlimited travel pass that worked well, and with new trains arriving every 6 minutes, allowed us to seamlessly travel around the city.

The People

In general, the local Parisians were generous with their time and were able to accommodate our (very) broken French. I left most of the talking to Ivy after I mistakenly said “Bonjour” to a waitress after she handed me the bill for our meal.

The suburb we were staying in (Chateau d'Eau) seemed to be a young, vibrant part of town, full of bakeries, cafes and restaurants. Even if a little rough around the edges at times. Whether it be the older generation drinking their morning coffee by the street, or the younger generation eating late and socialising at the bar, the area bustled with life.

That’s another thing. Smoke. Smoke everywhere. You couldn’t walk down a street without passing a lit cigarette. Perhaps it’s still seen as the trendy thing do or it’s ingrained as part of the French culture. Regardless, it’s inescapable in the city. And while smoking is far from extinct in Australia, it’s far less prevalent – likely due to the multitude of laws relegating its legality to a select few locations.

We also came across an abundance of artists in Paris. Be it painters set up shop along the river Seine or portrait artists awaiting a commission at the major tourists attractions, they were in high supply and contributed towards the cultural DNA of Paris.

Another group that were in abundance were the peddlers. They (who appeared to largely consist of African migrants) would crowd around public hotspots pushing their wares upon passing tourists. Sounds of “selfie, SELFIE!” as they paraded their selfie sticks or jangled their chain of miniature Eiffel Towers filled the crowded areas. Regularly there were a dozen or more within a 20m radius, all selling the exact same items. And while partly distracting from the experience of enjoying the local sights, it should be considered that this is how they make their living and the best way that they currently know how.

The Streets

During our stay in Paris we booked an Airbnb apartment (our first use of the service) in close proximity to the city centre (a 15 minute train ride north of the river Seine). We were staying on the top floor of an apartment block, and so upon arrival opened the shutters to inspect the view.

Our first impression was, “Wow, aren’t we lucky to have this classic Parisian view?!”. Our window overlooked the bustling streets below and across rooftops into the distance. It opened to another apartment block opposite, complete with planter boxes, classic French window shutters and wrought iron balconies.

And then when we explored the city on foot the next day, I soon learnt that our view was not an anomaly, it wasn’t special. Almost all Parisian streets were as classic as that. Rows and rows of beautifully designed apartments (all about 6 stories high), complete with planter boxes, classic French window shutters and wrought iron balconies.

As a photographer, one of the best things about Paris was the abundance of hidden alleyways. It seemed as if with every main street we walked down, two more side lanes beckon to be explored.

My favourite was the colourful Rue Cremiéux, found off Rue de Lyon. We actually made our way there on our first day in Paris, however there was a parked car just outside the yellow building. And so we returned again to find the alley clear which allowed me to get this shot looking down the cobbled street.

The Architecture

One of the main reasons behind our visit to Paris was the city’s architecture. Its precision, ornateness and rich history are well known (making it the world’s most visited city) and beckoned us to appreciate it first hand.

As previously mentioned, almost every street and lane in the city is flanked by classic Parisian apartment buildings. Rather than what could be considered bland in modern residential estates where each property resembles one another (“cookie-cutter houses”), here the similarities in apartments brings about a sense of harmony across the city. They are iconic of Paris herself.

Scattered amongst the apartment blocks are the city’s grand icons, including the Arc de Triumph, Notre Damn, and The Louvre to mention only a few. They serve as an ode to Paris’s rich past, both literally and figuratively. The iconically beautiful structures are the drawcards for many like-minded tourists. Acting as focal points across the city, they draw passing tourists in to appreciate their individual magnificence before releasing the tourists from their allure and allowing them to wander nearby streets where more adventures await.

Of all the icons we visited, my highlight was Sainte-Chapelle. Built over 700 years ago by King Louis IX, the chapel was designed to house his collection sacred relics belonging to Jesus Christ. The stained glass interior is literally breathtaking. Dimly lit inside, the lavishly decorated windows bath the chapel in a blanket of glorious colour. It’s one of those unforgettable scenes that forces you to put down your camera, recapture that breath of yours and marvel in the beauty before you.


The Tower

How could I write a post about Paris without mentioning the Iron Lady?

The icon of Paris, and France for that matter, the Eiffel Tower watches over her city and can be seen from a multitude of angles. Constructed in 1889 as the entrance to the same year's World Fair, the tower is still as every bit impressive and draws a wave of tourists towards her.

Although strikingly picturesque throughout the day, she’s something else at night. As the sun sets on dusk, the lights are switched on, illuminating her in a vivid orange glow. Be sure to hang around, as a little while after the main lights are turned on, hundreds of smaller white lights twinkle against the night sky, making a constellation of their own.

Next stop, Switzerland!