Sunday, 18 May 2014


From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural masterpieces while Haussmann's wide squares and boulevards influenced late 19th- and 20th-century town planning the world over
The Seine at sunset
Romance is probably the first word that pops to mind when you hear 'Paris', but did you know it's also a UNESCO site? Of course, that was only part of the reason why we decided to visit - it also happened to have a convenient airport to fly into from Auckland via Air NZ, given James had to get to Karlsruhe, Germany for work.

After over 30 hours of flying and being in transit, we were both ready to pass out from exhaustion. Unfortunately (?), we had arrived on the day of my 30th birthday, and I had already booked a celebration dinner at a restaurant with a great view of the Eiffel Tower. To be honest, going out was the last thing we felt like doing, but we soldiered on and were rewarded with this:
The food was okay but not mindblowing, however I doubt it would have mattered anyway as we were both struggling not to doze off during the entire thing. We did mention it was my birthday in the booking though so they delivered a candle with dessert, which was a nice touch.
I would never have thought of putting a candle in sorbet!
Afterwards we stumbled back to our hotel for some much needed rest. The next day, we headed out to tick off the main sights, starting with Notre Dame.
If you've ever read photography advice articles, particularly for travel, you'll know that great shots are easiest during the 'golden hour', i.e. just before sunset, as opposed to, say, noon, when the sun casts harsh shadows and colours tend to be more washed out. Turns out it also pays to take note of what direction the thing you're trying to shoot is facing, too. Because in the morning, Notre Dame turned out to be fairly backlit by the rising sun.
The amazingly detailed carvings on the facade
It still made for some interesting shots, but not ideal for capturing the detail of the impressive facade. We vowed to return closer to sunset, but in the meantime wandered in to check out the interior.
By now, the queues for climbing the tower were substantially long enough to put us off, so we decided to leave that for our return trip to the famous cathedral. Next up, three other Paris must-visits - the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower.
Given I'd already been both inside the Louvre and up the Eiffel tower on my previous visit to Paris about 14 years ago, James was happy to avoid the discouragingly long queues for entering both, opting to do more external sightseeing instead. Once at the far end of the park next to the tower, we were excited to check out UNESCO's actual global headquarters, which was only a block away. Disappointingly, they were closed and there were no UNESCO logos visible whatsoever, so we had to make do with this fairly sorry looking sign.
Soon it was time to head back to the Notre Dame for some better-lit photos of its front, and we were duly rewarded with these shots, showing the building bathed in the golden glow of sunset.
However, this turned out to be far from our last trip to the cathedral, as we ended up back here after dinner for yet more different shots, and managed to catch the awesome ending of a fire dancing busker's performance.
I love subway/metro systems for their speed, convenience and relative economy, so I always relish using them when travelling overseas, given how deprived we are of such reliable public transport back in Auckland. I understand that my hometown's relative newness and lack of density makes it a bit unfair to directly compare it to a city like Paris, but it's still annoying to think that Auckland's Western Line (my local) is still encumbered with slow, loud, diesel-powered trains, while Paris managed to get their first metro line running all the way back in 1900.
One thing the Paris metro could really do with though is a liberal application of air freshener. Almost every time we descended to or ascended from any station, we would catch the awful and unmistakable reek of urine. In fact, I don't remember being in any other city where I'd caught whiffs of horrible odours on such a regular basis - not even in Italy or Spain. It certainly detracts from the romantic image, but you could also argue that it's part of the city's more 'gritty' charm?

The next morning, we started the day by grabbing a typical Parisian breakfast of a croissant and coffee from a nearby boulangerie for only a couple of Euros - definitely recommended over the much more expensive hotel alternative.
Then, it was off to the Sacre Coeur - when we spotted the funicular, of course we couldn't resist taking a ride!
When we got to the top, we were immediately hit with two things - the beautiful sight of the Catholic basilica in the morning light, and the most horrific odour we'd encountered so far in the French capital.
It was as if a horde of hobos had had a party there a few weeks ago, and all the decomposing remnants had slowly ripened like some sort of super-strong brie. Looking around, it soon became clear that there had been some kind of party at the site not long ago, and now rubbish trucks and cleaners were doing their best to clear the mess.
Despite the smell, the Sacre Coeur turned out to be one of our favourite sites, mainly due to the fact we hardly saw any other tourists there - a vast contrast to the day before. Plus, the hill provided a great view of the city.
After that, it was back to the Notre Dame (again) to finally make the climb up the tower, given it was too late to do so when capturing our sunset photos the previous day. On the way, we stopped off at the gothic chapel of Sainte-Chapelle to check out its impressive stained glass windows.
Despite the fact that we arrived at the entry to the Notre Dame bell tower climb about half an hour before it opened, there was already a sizeable queue and we had to wait a while to get into the tower itself. Still, a lot more appealing than waiting the two to three hours to get into the Louvre or Eiffel Tower!
After this, we couldn't resist swinging by Paris' version of the Pantheon, given the original was one of James' favourite buildings ever. Unfortunately this one required paid admittance and was also not nearly as impressive as the Roman one, but we still got some cool pics.
Nearby were the beautifully kept Luxembourg Gardens, which was full of families and tourists enjoying the outdoors. The sun was blisteringly hot though, and we soon had to seek respite under some shade ourselves.
Originally a palace created by Marie de Medici in 1612, the little sailboats floating around the pool in front of the grand building made it all very picturesque indeed.
While some may scoff at the way the French like to cling to tradition, it's been nothing but positive in terms of maintaining the historic integrity of Paris' architecture - one of the things we appreciated most about the city.
Our last dinner in the city was spent at a fairly touristy spot, Trocadero - despite the fact that 90% of the diners were other tourists, it was still an enjoyable dinner, and was a handy walk across the road to watch the Eiffel Tower at sunset and dusk. The firedancer buskers we encountered at Notre Dame the previous evening were even on hand to once again ply their (no doubt lucrative) trade, and we captured some great shots of them in front of Paris' most famous symbol.
[Flickr set here]