Thursday, 11 September 2008

Ooh La La!

Delighted once again to find a trip to Paris on my roster, I wondered what I'd do there.

We landed and I decided to go skip bludging around watching the Olympics at the hotel and head straight into town. After the obligatory trip to the airport, lining up for my 18 EURO day train pass (total mega rip off!!) and finally getting into town, I knew I'd made the right choice.

There wasn't anyone at the concierge desk on my way out, so I grabbed a map at the airport. Unfortunately this map only showed train stops, not landmarks. I made this discovery only when I was sitting on the train and knew I was in for a crazy tour of Paris that afternoon.

I wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe, followed by a shopping stroll down the Champs-Elysees and figured the train stop that was "Grand Arch" would have to be it. Not so. I came out of the station, eager to see the great arch looming above me and indeed saw an arch - just not the one I'd imagined.

My experience with French people is rather limited. Each time I've ever tried to ask one for directions I'm usually met with a frosty stare and some vague finger pointing in the direction I'm assuming is where I asked to go. I'm certain there are lovely, warm, wonderfully eager to help French people out there but I've just not found one yet. So, I decided I'd find the real Arc on my own. I caught a glimpse of it off in the distance and suddenly wished I'd worn some more comfy shoes! Turns out it was only 1 train stop away from the one I got off at, but it took me almost two hours to walk there.

It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, so I set off armed with my camera and discovered that the French LOVE fountains. They were everywhere! My favourite was a huge pool-like fountain with stripes of all the colours of the rainbow. There were a few teenage girls splashing on one edge, thoroughly enjoying the afternoon sun.

The walk to the Arc was so lovely that I started to get nostalgic for home. Not that my home town looks ANYTHING like super-chic Paris, but it was something about the fresh air, the bicycle-riding & dog walking crowds and the breeze whooshing through the trees that made me long for where I came from. Prior to this job, I led quite an active, outdoorsy life - numerous pilates classes a week, trips to the nearby beach for picnics and playing with my now overweight dog Rusty in the park on the other side of our fence - and all the French fresh air made me wish I lived there. My apartment in Dubai doens't have opening windows or a balcony and it's a pretty small space for three adult women.

On my way to the real Arc, I stopped in at a lovely little cafe called Paul (we have one here in Dubai) and pretty much inhaled a chocolate eclair and bottle of water. These eclairs are outrageously sinful and oh so delicious! They're a huge bargain at 10 dirhams and are just loaded with the yummiest chocolate my tastebuds have ever encountered. Feeling somewhat refueled, I recommenced my walk, bought a cute top on the way and finally found myself staring up at the magnificant Arc de Triopmhe. For some reason I expected it to be bigger, but at 49.5 metres tall, it was a pretty big heap of stone! Parked on its very own round-a-bout which is apparently the most accident-prone intersection in the world, I wondered how to access this monument. There were families with children over there - surely they hadn't braved the multiple lanes of hooning traffic to get there? "LAUREN YOU MORON" said my inner voice, "you go under the road!"

I negotiated the underpass, bought a cheap ticket (thanks to being 25!) to climb up to the top of the Arc and then sat underneath it and stared at all the names of the fallen French soldiers. The Arc is home to the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War 1. I sat there for a little while and then braved the climb to the top. There were something like 285 never-ending steps that made up the teeny tiny, oh-so-narrow internal spiral staircase. I had to stop once to catch my breath in one of the tiny alcoves that many people were gasping for breath in. At the top, the views were so incredible I stayed and stared for hours. The Arc offers 360 degree views of Paris - the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur at Montmarte (highest point in the city) and a very stunning view of just how far I'd walked from the Grand Arch.

I sat there until it was nearly dark and then it was time to head back to the hotel for a much needed sleep. My lovely little sandals had rubbed parts of my feet almost raw, so I limped my way to the nearest tube station, made my way back to the airport, caught my connecting bus to the hotel and passed out. I never did make it for the stroll down the Champs-Elysees.....perhaps next time!

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