Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sacre-Coeur and Champs Elysees: Paris Part I :)

Loads of family and friends seem to be traveling abroad these days. That and the sudden realization that the travel section in my blog is sadly lacking has inspired me to post about my second favourite city in the whole wide world: Paris!

I went there in February last year and while the middle of winter might not be the best time to visit the place, the city still won't disappoint you. Excited and ready to take Paris by storm, it took me just a couple of minutes to be gobsmacked. The one thing about Paris that grabs hold of you and slaps you across the face is how well dressed everyone in this city is (especially if you are a bumbling circular mass desperately trying to fight the cold). Fashionable coats, killer shoes perfectly groomed hair and that's just the men. While New York is a teeming sea of humanity ready to take anyone in, Paris only accepts the impeccably groomed. (Imagine my disappointment when clothes which seemed the height of fashion in Bangalore suddenly felt like they had been picked up from a salvation store. I was just glad that for once I had defied my mother's wishes and left the beloved monkey cap at home. Phew!).

But once you get past this little detail, there is tons that the city has to offer. One of my absolute favourite places in the city is Sacre Coeur (Basilique du Sacre-Couer). An incredible white basilica set on a little hill, surrounded by innumerable lanes filled with beautiful paintings, postcards, trinkets and a whole lot of knick knacks. I recommend that you set aside some time just to browse through these shops and soak in the atmosphere. The church itself is gorgeous and I prefer it to the much visited Notre Dame. You should also visit this place in the night. While the religious and upstanding citizens of Paris attend the midnight mass at church, a motley collection of young people sit on the steps dancing, singing and indulging in questionable activities. We bought the cheapest wine that Paris had to offer and watched them and the pretty lights of Paris twinkling below. It's an incredible experience and if you are not travelling with family, you simply must visit this place at night.

If you feel like a lazy walk then stroll through Champs-Elysees. The buildings are historic, beautiful and well preserved. I can quite imagine kings and queens strategizing, backstabbing and conducting torrid affairs in eras gone by. Trees line the avenue on either side, as do a plethora of ridiculously expensive shops which house some incredibly pretty things. I spent so much time staring at a ring in the Cartier shop that the staff began to give me suspicious and slightly fearful looks. Be prepared to be awed by the huge shops and their bright lights (I often walk in, see the wares and watch as the filthy rich spend unspeakable amounts of money on hideous things that often qualify as high fashion. I watched a well endowed, middle aged woman buy a hideous dress in fluorescent orange in a size that was too sizes too small for her.).

What sets Champs-Elysees apart from Fifth Avenue is the number of adorable cafes along the way. It's quite a pleasure to sit there and watch the world go by. And you never know, you might turn out to be a roadside artisan's muse for the afternoon :) On this avenue, I discovered a chocolatier who serves the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. There are a few cinema places here and if you are lucky you may be able to spot European celebrities attending a move premiere.

At one end of this wonderful avenue is the Arc de Triumphe, a majestic monument that honours those who fought the Napoleonic Wars. The monument distinctly reminds me of India Gate. Climb up and you can see an incredible view of the streets and roads radiating below. It's a gorgeous view and I spent much time awed by it.

Some mundane details: Use the Metro in Paris. All the places are well connected by Metro and it is unlikely that your destination is a few blocks away from the nearest Metro Station. They have an Orange Card which is valid for a week and allows you unlimited travel for 10-12 euros. This is totally worth the money. The metro is fairly simple and prominent maps are displayed at each station. Of course, if like me, you still manage to lose your way (and with alarming regularity, might I add) ask the people around you. Unlike the stereotype, the locals are incredibly helpful and some will go out of their way to ensure you enjoy the city :) The last train runs at two but if you miss it, don't worry they have a night bus service. While the night buses are not as frequent as the Metro, you shouldn't have to wait more than half an hour.

While my time there was incredibly safe, I have heard that robbery is a fairly commona and tourists must at all points be cautious. As you can probably surmise, I have a lot to say about this city and I haven't even skimmed the surface. This is just Part I and I hope to post many more Parts in the days to come. If anyone reading this (yes, those of you who I shamelessly pimp my blog to) are going to Paris before the posts go up and have any questions, please feel free to ask.


Manoj Sharma said...

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Ashi said...
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Shruti said...

thanks :)
I've been to many other places (West and East) with friends. Irrespective of who I went with, they are my two fav places :)

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