Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Christmas market, Parisian style

I almost hate to admit it (because it leaves me disappointed that I left visiting for so long, when it was always very much in reach), but Paris really impressed me. Completely different in atmosphere from the others areas of France we'd been to before - more cosmopolitan, faster-paced, yet still retaining a 'local' feel - it boasted great architecture, even-better-in-real-life sights and a warmth of feeling. Sure, people replied in English when we were trying very hard with our French (and both speak a reasonable amount), and yes, I did feel rather out of place next to the designer coats/boots/scarves, but overall we met with nothing but friendly faces, an easy to navigate environment and a place we both agreed we need to see more of.

Anyway, we still had pretty much a full day left, and had heard from the lovely family at the Eiffel tower about the Christmas market along the Champs Elysees, so the following morning we wrapped up warmly and set out, hoping to kill a couple of birds with one stone.

Christmas market or not, we had always intended to head in that direction to visit another of the infamous Parisian sights - the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon's victory gate is a dominant feature of the landscape, seven major roads branching off like a fan in every direction. The Arc sits on an island in the middle, traffic rushing underneath, the pale stone simultaneously graceful and solid. We found our way through the subway to the centre, first staring upwards at the sweeping curve of the Arc and it's carved facades, and then down to our feet to read the bronze inscriptions charting the periods of French history it commemorates and remembers.

After we'd finished at the Arc, we crossed via the subway once more, and started down the Champs Elysees, half of the famous shopping street temporarily given over to the Christmas market. There was the typical mulled wine and German sausage stalls, crafts and toys, but also the Parisian touch with cashmere scarves and jumpers and lots of fur and chic bags. We were tempted by chocolate fancies, and eventually settled for waffles covered with rich chocolate sauce and smothered in strawberries. A few Christmas presents and a couple of cups of mulled wine later, and we managed to tear ourselves away.

With a short time left until our train, we walked to the Madeleine church not far from the market; a beautiful Parthenon-style building mounted on steps and looming over the surrounding streets. There was a small christening taking place, so we sat down quietly for a short while as small boys dressed in cute suits in the christening party offered sweets to all the visitors wandering around the church. A kind gesture that summarised our experience of Paris in the shape of a small cellophane wrapper. Coming out, we took a final walk down some of the side streets before making out way to the Gard du Nord and our waiting train home.

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