I know it’s been a while since my last post but I was finally able to sit down and complete the first installment of ‘An Affair with Europe’
After landing at Charles de Gaulle airport on the evening of 8th August, I had to take a train to the heart of the city. The train ride was about an hour long but with the singing busker and his accordion time flew. I felt like I was in one of those movies set in France with beautiful French music playing in the background. I was so engrossed in his performance that I forgot to capture it.
After finding my way to the hostel and doing a quick check-in, I grabbed some dinner at a nearby pizzeria and headed back. The effects of multiple flights and long layovers had caught up to me. Time to sleep.
Since I hadn’t planned what to see, I approached the front desk at the hostel for suggestions. I came to know that the Eiffel Tower was only a 30 minute walk away. Armed with a map I set out for the day. Of course it didn’t strike me to ask where I was on the map. I walked up to an elderly lady with a ‘Bonjour’ and asked her for directions. Although she didn’t speak English, I was able to get a general idea as to the direction in which I had to proceed. After walking down four or five blocks, I caught a glimpse of the Tower and things got easier from there.
I approached from Champ-de-Mars, a park like area sandwiched between Ecole Militaire (Military Academy) and the Eiffel Tower. Standing tall at 324 meters, it’s no wonder that the Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. As I made my way through the lawns I became certain that I was one of the very few people to come there alone. Majority of the visitors were couples, young and old. It is the city of love after all. I would have loved to climb up but the queues were so long that it would have taken me a couple of hours to get to the front of the line. Hours I did not have considering I’d be in Paris only for 2 full days.
My next destination was the Arc de Triomphe. Not really paying too much attention to the map, What should have been a 10 minute walk took a lot longer. I took turns trusting my ‘inner compass’. I eventually found myself on a really fancy road with several luxury stores and cafes, trees on either side. I pulled out my camera to film the road as I walked, for the folks back home. Only later did I realize that I was walking down the famous Avenue des Champs–Élysées. The Arc stands in the center of the l’Étoile roundabout, a junction where 12 different roads meet. Navigating your way through without crashing is worth some praise. The Arc was erected to honor the people who had died in Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars. Although I did not personally go to the top, I hear that you get a pretty great view of the city. Below the Arc lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which has an eternal flame that burns in memory of those who died fighting in the world wars and were not identified.
I traced my path back to the Eiffel Tower in order to try my hand at the Shell game played by the tricksters on the Pont d’Iéna bridge. I’ll save the details for another post.
Having set myself a strict backpacker’s budget, I stopped at a nearby cafe and had a fairly priced but filling meal.
I resumed my walk and eventually found myself in front of a large building with a huge dome in gold, Musée de l’Armée. When I went into buy a ticket, I was warned that most of the display areas had already closed. I decided to restrict myself to the external areas which were free. I took out my map to find out if there were any other places worth seeing. I noticed the cathedral Notre Dame and it reminded me of a story from my childhood, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I remember the gargoyles perched at the top. I knew I had to see it.
I was told that the cathedral was a sight to behold and that one should make the climb to the top. I followed the directions in the map and found myself at the Palais du Luxembourg and the attached gardens. The palace currently houses the French Senate and is not open to the public.
The gardens, however, are accessible. It was the perfect place to spend evenings reading a book or go for a stroll. I spent an hour there enjoying the peace and quiet.
I continued my search for the cathedral, but found myself on the same bunch of streets repeatedly. After a while, I knew these roads like the back of my hand. By then it was already late and I was exhausted from all the walking. With the help of a ‘Good Samaritan‘, I was able to get back to my hostel at the other end of the city.
Thank you. Stay tuned for the next chapter of my journey 🙂