After being inspired by Richard Ayoade’s Travel Man a friend of mine asked me if I’d like to go away for August Bank Holiday Weekend. Paris surprised us by being cheaper than Berlin or Barcelona. We took the Eurostar and stayed in a cute little AirBnB flat and had a brilliant time exploring Paris during the August heat-wave.
The travelling I’ve done this year has been mostly backpacking, and as I’m preparing for Australia this is the style of travelling that I’m becoming accustomed to. So staying in an AirBnB rather than a hostel felt a bit strange, which for me can only be a good sign! The flat we stayed in was tiny, located in the Latin Quarter, with a rooftop garden. The location was convenient, 5 minutes away from the nearest Metro station and the street was lined with cafés, bakeries, fromageries and butchers. It had a sofa bed, which Andrew slept in, and halfway up the stairs was a tiny nook that was the perfect size for me!
My travel companion was a bucket-list traveller and so we visited the main sites in Paris. Starting with the Louvre on the evening we arrived, it was great to walk around and look at all the classical art as we’re both Classics grads. The collections are stunning, and though there was a queue to get in, it wasn’t too crowded once we were walking around the museum. Of course there were crowds around the Venus De Milo, and the Mona Lisa, which made me wonder who decides which pieces of art become the most famous and sought after in the world? When I visited the Louvre 9 years ago, you weren’t allowed to photograph the Mona Lisa, and now there’s a barrier in place where swarms of people can photograph the painting on their mobiles. I don’t know if this just makes me a kill-joy but I just don’t get the hype, I appreciated the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo, but I also made a point of looking at other pieces, wondering whether tourists had pored over them.
The next day we visited the House of Versailles, this was by far the highlight of my trip. It’s pretty awesome that Paris allows EU citizens who are under the age of 25 free access to the Louvre and the House of Versailles, so if you’re young and going to France definitely make the most of it before Brexit, and also get the audio-guide! I love history, and it’s funny that after studying Ancient History for three years that I forget how much I love visiting museums and learning about a new area of history. The Palace of Versailles is set out in such a way that it is accessible to tourists and history enthusiasts, the first three rooms have informative presentations explaining the history and development of the House of Versailles from its beginning as the king’s hunting lodge to a museum and parliamentary building. Then you are free to move on through the House looking at the King’s Quarters, the Hall of Mirrors and the Battle Gallery.
Halfway through the house is Angelina’s Tea Room and Restaurant, mutual friends of ours had told Andrew that we should visit it and get a Mont Blanc, so we did and it was delicious. It’s the richest dessert I’ve ever tried, and gave me a sugar rush. After this we walked through the Hall of Mirrors which was stunning, and then onto the Battle Gallery. At the end of the gallery is an exhibition about France’s role in the American revolution, before the trip I had no idea that this had happened, I enjoyed looking at the art that had been generated as a result, and the display boards summarised the history in digestible portions. The variety of mediums used to make the history of Versailles accessible to tourists is incredible, and I came away from the museum having learned something new and with a new appreciation of French history. That evening we sat in the deckchairs in the rooftop garden and ate cheese and drank wine whilst putting the world to rights. We could see the Eiffel Tower from our flat and its circling light-beams almost reached our flat in the night sky.
For our final day in Paris we visited the Moulin Rouge and had a Parisian lunch of a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame in the Lux Bar. It was a tiny café and the French owners were lovely and didn’t seem to mind that we had stumbled upon their establishment.
In the afternoon we visited the Madeleine, which was another highlight for me. I had no idea what it was, but it’s a church built in the style of a Graeco-Roman temple, and from the outside it looks exactly like a classical temple (aside from being decorated with Christian saints). Inside is a vast Christian church, decorated with amazing stained glass and statues. When we went inside an organ recital had just started, which was funny because when I visited Budapest a few people had gone to an organ recital at the Fisherman’s Bastion, but I’d missed it. I’d never heard an organ being played live before, and the music literally filled the entire church, so much so that it felt as though you were floating in it. If you get the chance to visit the Madeleine and a recital is happening I’d definitely recommend staying for it, it’s mesmerising. I got to stay for a couple of numbers before my friend became eager to visit the Notre Dame.
That night we visited the Eiffel Tower, and went straight to the top. Every time I’ve gone on a trip with someone, they always take me to visit the highest monument or point of the city we’re in, it’s happened so many times now that it feels like a funny tradition that has formed. Looking out over Paris at night was magical and was a perfect end to our trip.
Of all the places I’ve visited I can’t say Paris is my favourite, I didn’t fall for the romance of the city, and definitely prefer Krakow or Budapest. I really enjoyed the opportunity to explore Paris though, and watching my friend fall in love with the city was really special. If you’re looking to go to Paris, I’d say definitely check it out, but I think the cities of Eastern Europe have a lot more to offer. All in all I enjoyed escaping England for the weekend, and now my feet are itching to get to Australia!