Sunday, November 7, 2010

Alone in Paris

Back from Paris, and contrary to our fears EVERYTHING was working as per normal. In fact so efficiently, that on arrival at the Gare du Nord, we made our way to the metro just as a train arrived, boarded it, made our way to an interim station, changed lines and arrived on the platform just as a train arrived again. Consequently we got to our hotel, in the east of the city, less than thirty minutes after arriving in the capital. The hotel, a Novotel, was functionally fine (although it appeared that the interior designer had previously worked on the set of the Austin Powers movies) and the self-service continental breakfasts were epically satisfying and a good start to the sight-seeing day. The weather was extremely kind to us, save for a torrentially wet start to Saturday that cleared by lunchtime, and walking through the falling leaves of the Tuileries was a delight, as were the chocolats chauds that we availed ourselves of in the various cafes we frequented. I won't bother to detail the itinerary, except to say that the highlights - for me at least - was the lovely autumnal light, the bustling market next to the Montparnasse cemetery, the cemetery itself, the view from the top of the Montparnasse Tower, onion soup near Montmartre, the brilliant white dome of the Sacre Coeur against the azure sky, the Eiffel Tower sparkling on the hour and a (very) quick visit to Shakespeare and Co. bookshop on Rue Bucherie. I could have spent a lot longer looking around this last, but as the Husband and two children were waiting outside, I made it a brief visit.
Too brief, and yet again I feel like I'd been sidelined. Nor did we visit Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore (which I'd wanted to do last time we were in Paris, godammit!). Fair enough, I suppose, the guidebook did contain a warning about the prices charged for a cup of coffee in those places. But still - there's a limit to the amount of times I actually want to see the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe.
Once is quite enough for me - likewise the rather bland civic architecture of places like the Madeleine, or the Pantheon or Les Invalides. Impressive in scale, yes, but not what makes up the real essence of a city. Paris is just SO big that macro-scale sightseeing just doesn't work for me. Everything is so far apart that you either have to metro it across the city, popping up like surprised moles at an adjacent station, or (as we did this time) sit for an inordinate amount of time on the open-topped tour bus and it contended with the Parisian traffic, which takes an age. I'd hoped that we would indulge in a little micro-scale tourism, taking an area and patiently exploring it street by street and getting to know some of the city's character. I'd picked the area near the Luxembourg Gardens, pinpointed a few destinations and interesting novelties, but alas it fell by the wayside. The only thing remaining of that itinerary was Shakespeare and Co. and a curious little Melkite Catholic church (which in truth was rather a let-down) St Julien le Pauvre.

I'd also managed to choose completely the wrong footwear. Having bought a pair of 'proper' walking boots to replace the ones I'd got last year (that never, ever got any comfier despite the saleswoman's assurances), and I thought I'd broken them in sufficiently to take abroad, having walked into town in them a number of times. They certainly didn't rub at all, and we weren't -on account of the open-top bus - doing an unfeasibly large amount of foot-slogging, but by mid afternoon the left boot was feeling agonisingly tight across the top of my foot, and causing it to go into spasms of cramp. I can't understand it, other than reason that the left boot has been made somewhat smaller than the right. The Husband thought it was something to do with the peculiar anatomy of my foot, but as I pointed to him, I've never had this particular problem before - not even with last year's boots which were patently a size smaller than they pretended to be!
The lasting legacy has been a numb side to my left big toe, and I find that my knees, which became increasingly stiff in Paris, have almost now almost entirely seized up, especially the right one.
It's incredibly hard to stand up at the moment - I don't think it's the joint itself, rather the ligament arrangement around it. Support doesn't seem to help and I'm a bit worried about restricting the blood flow. Coupled with a diagnosis a couple of days after we returned (during a routine appointment and on my birthday of all days!) of rather high blood-pressure (probably hereditary) I feel that I am getting old, creeky and about to fall apart at the seams.

Having been delighted about visiting Shakespeare and Co., I was eager to tell of my experiences, but realised there was actually no-one to tell. No-one I know has heard of it, and if you have to tell someone what it is before going into raptures, it kind of removes the pleasure of relating your story. What I really wanted was someone to say 'Oh wow! What was it like?' But no.
Once again I find I am the only person living in my world.

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