Thursday, March 3, 2011

Strolling along the Champs Elysees

Starting the day, determined to act like a tourist, we leave our humble digs in Ménilmontant and head for the heart of Paris: the Seine. Daily, we've strolled along it, sat beside it, sat above it, watched the boats float by. Today, it is our guide to the Paris we've avoided: The Tourist Core.

We board the Metro at Père Lachaise. There is a lady deep in the tunnel singing loudly. It is bouncing off of ever tile, only interrupted by the occasional train. Although it's early in the day, the stagnant air in the Metro is stiffling and ripe; it's unpleasant, but it's the most memorable scent in all of Paris. We ride the rails until Réaumur - Sébastopol where we exit and stroll through the strange vestibule-labyrinth that is Les Halles. We make it out of the shrubbery and metalwork and exit into a sliver of neighborhood whose sole purpose, I believe, is to provide amazing croissants to those heading to the Louvre.

Seemingly, the street we've escaped to is all flats and art dealers...except for one cafe. Being Americans who naturally (or unnaturally but out of habit) wake up early, we are some of the first customers. The stools are still upside down on the bar. The pain au chocolat and pain au raisin are just being put out. In stark contrast to the Metro, the only smell in the air is now beurre...butter. The cafetier looks at us with the "Non-French speaking tourists..." look. "Bonjour, Je voudrais deux espressos, un pain au chocolat et un pain au raisin, s'il vous plaît." The odd look quickly turns to a smile and we are granted the best breakfast-on-the-go experience that Paris has to offer.

As we approach Rue de Rivoli, the bustling sounds of the day make their way down the alley. Tourist busses, taxis, stout little cars, velos, people on foot: they are all making their way. The busses are heading to the Louve, the taxis to the Bourse, the cars to their random, miniature parking spots and the bicycles, taking their riders to work all around the city. We join the crowd on foot and follow the flow. Some break off and head into the Louvre, some cross the Pont des Arts and we head down in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Walking through the Tuileries is like walking in another world. There is art; perfectly manicured gardens; people quietly strolling, both Parisians and tourists alike. There are sparrows everywhere, singing like Edith Piaf: it's the music of France. The birds are the singers, the boats are percussion and la Tour Eiffel is the conductor.

At the end of the Tuileries lies Place de la Concorde: a whirlwind of golden statues, cars, tourists, L'Obélisque and amazement. The Seine beside us, the Tower looming close by, the Champs Elysees takes us away. We stroll amidst the trees. There are cars on the Champs, but you don't hear them. Unknowingly, we veer onto Voie Georges Pompidou, a picturesque pathway above the river. Park benches every few meters, a stone wall to guide you, statues watching over you: it is an epic walk.

We enjoy a sit watching the boats float down the Seine. The houses across the water seem imaginary: "Who in the world would get to live there? Impossible." After giving our feet a rest, we continue on until we get to Pont de l'Alma. We cross the river; the sound of tourists growing; la Tour Eiffel has disappeared. We continue walking towards where the tower must be, wondering "How can it just disappear like this?" Just a few blocks further we arrive. The base is enormous. Thousands of people are standing, all with their heads back, fighting to see the top. More languages than I could imagine were whirling about.

I played tourist myself. I am now the proud owner of a photograph of me...with my finger touching the top of the Eiffel Tower.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent writing. Brings back memories of a European trip. To explore and paint these wonderful sights... pure happiness. Looking forward to reading about more of your adventures. :D