By the time I returned to my hotel, I had walked holes into both my shoes. I have never been to Paris in the spring before, and the day kept beckoning me to explore. The buildings shimmered in the light, and the city was in bloom.
The first time I saw Paris was in the depths of winter. Just turned 10, I came straight from an Australian summer, and I just didn’t get it. The city was cold, and dark, and damp, and dirty. Notre Dame was just a large building that was way too dark on the inside. In vain did my father wax lyrical about the invention of the flying buttress, and how they brought light into the building. What light was there late on a rainy afternoon? The streets were dirty, people seemed gruff, and the food we ate was pretty average.
Now I stood in the Place Vendôme, the sun blazing down on me streets filled with people taking their promenade. Over the years the city had worked her charm. It was not so much that I could speak a little of her language; I had grown up enough to see beyond my own feet, embrace her warts while being enthralled by her beauty. I was beginning to understand her nuances. The tales of Paris have woven through so much of what I have read that her streets now came alive beneath me as I walked.
For Paris is a city for walking. I strolled along a boulevard, only to be enticed down a side street which suddenly becomes an alley. Without a map, yet I knew where I was, layers of her history unfolding around me as I walked.
In the centre of the Place Vendôme is a large column, reputedly made by canon captured by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. From atop he stares over the square below, filled with tourists and locals alike. With little traffic, it is perfect for gazing at the colonnades where the shops and hotels and restaurants offer delights well beyond my reach, but perfect for window shopping.
I continued down towards the Tuileries. At their far end stands the Place de la Concorde, the largest and perhaps the most graciously designed square in Paris. In her centre stands a 3000 year-old obelisk; on a beautiful spring day such as this it was easy to forget that the square (the renamed Place de la Revolution) was also home to Madame Guillotine, under whose blade so many met their death. Interestingly, the Pont de la Concorde was built with stones from the Bastille.
I turned instead into the Tuileries. Last time I had seen them in the dog days of autumn, the trees bare and a chill air hovering over the ponds. Now the gardens and lawns were a sea of green, the bushes in flower. Squeals of delight came from the playgrounds, and the lawns were covered with people feasting, strolling, even having a picnic. Others sat under the trees, reading, gossiping, or simply watching the world go by.
A crowd of people filled the square outside the Louvre. Many were queueing to go in – the queue outside the museum is always ridiculously long – but just as many were like myself, simply out walking. Despite all the threats of our modern world, the place felt alive and full of simple joy in the delights of the day. Birdsong surrounded me.
The Palais des Tuileries were built for Catherine de Medici in 1564 (the year of Shakespeare’s birth), and later gardens were designed by Le Nôtre, gardener to Louis XIV and designer of the grounds of Versailles. The Palais was home to both Louis XVI and Napoleon, but was burnt to the ground in 1871 and never rebuilt. During the Revolution, Les Jardins des Tuileries were open to the public, and have been popular ever since. Seeing them in bloom, it is not hard to understand why.
I walked along the quasi beside the Seine. I planned just a short stroll, but I kept walking and walking. The towers of Notre Dame beckoned. It was lovely being in the sunshine. The roofline of grey and gold sparkled against the blue sky. Hawkers offered the usual tourist fare, boats passed by along the Seine, couples sat under the bridges. Gusts of wind blew the petals from the chestnut trees, so as times it seemed to be snowing.
Crossing to the Île de la Cité via the Pont Notre Dame, I passed through the Marché aux Fleurs, which was a simple riot of colours. Outside Notre Dame, the roses outnumbered the tourists. I have never seen Paris filled with flowers before. Birds were everywhere.
Later I would return and do a river cruise late in the evening, watching the sun set over Paris and the lights of the Eiffel Tower turns the icon golden. Seeing the line stretching outside Notre Dame, however, I decided to return home – wandering, naturally, down unexpected turns. And so I came across the Basilica Madeline with her flower covered steps, and a small market set up in a square not far from my hotel. All over Paris are hidden squares ready to be found, local markets to whet the appetite, restaurants to tantalise the taste buds.
For the moment, however, I was content to throw my shoes in the bin, stand at my balcony and, with glass of champagne in hand, watch the night finally fall over the city.
Inspired to travel – please click link
The Literary Traveller
Set in Paris and the French countryside, Fantômas is a fast paced crime / detective thriller. Written in 1911, and translated from the French in 1915, it has a very modern feel, and its influences can be seen in the likes of writers such as Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
For my review, click here.