Monday, 5 December 2011

From fine art to stone gargoyles: a weekend in Paris

After an intense period of work, a weekend lay blissfully free in our diary. No obligations or plans, and no urgent work that needed doing. In other words, a weekend that was crying out for a short city break away... After meeting a lovely French couple in the summer, F and I had recently laughed about the fact that we'd been to some of the furthest reaches of the planet, but had never hopped across the water to Paris. We've both spent times in other areas of France in the past, and had even driven around the capital, but had never ventured inside.

A quick look on the eurostar website and one cheap hotel deal later, and we were set to go. It never fails to astound me that I can spend a weekend abroad for less money than a comparable stay in a nearby B&B would cost. Friday arrived, and after a pleasant couple of hours on the very efficient eurostar we were in the centre of Paris ready for a weekend of relaxing and exploring.

After finding the metro easy and quick to navigate, we located our hotel and had a full night's sleep. The following morning, up early, we set off for the Louvre. Although it was the first weekend of the month, and entrance would be free the following day, we'd heard stories of huge queues winding around the pyramid, and decided to pay the 10 euro to save time and our sanity.

Of course, we couldn't visit the Louvre without saying hello to the immortal first lady of France, so made a beeline straight up the Mona Lisa before too many people arrived. Although I can see why the painting is so loved, it isn't really my sort of art, and the imposing thick glass and cordoned area remove most of the atmosphere. After a brief stop, we moved on, staggered by some of the incredibly huge paintings and thoroughly enjoying wandering through the sculptures. The winged victory, overlooking a central staircase, was particularly magnificent, as were the cold yet expressive pale marbles of the Greek statues. Naturally, the solemn and serious expressions we'd assumed while scrutinising the art turned to immature giggles once we set eyes on our new friend below, who looked as if he was holding an iphone up to take a self-portrait. We could just imagine the facebook/twitter status update: 'Me vanquishing a massive beastie. LOL.'

As the visitor numbers grew, we took our leave of the Louvre, and went outside to wander around the impressive pyramid and surrounding buildings with their rich, delicate detail. If anything, the relentless rain which had been a fixture since the previous evening made the colours come alive, and didn't dampen our spirits (no pun intended...).

We walked along the river to Notre Dame, fronted by a huge Christmas tree. After exploring the interior, we joined the queue for the tower, and spent a cold and damp hour waiting to ascend. Once we finally made it to the front of the line, we were becoming a little impatient, and dashed for the stairs. Around 100 steps up the narrow winding tower, and we were beginning to regret the quick pace we'd set. As is probably obvious by now, myself and steps do not get on, so I'm not sure what I though I was hoping to achieve by attempting to run up them. 300 stairs in, and we were both feeling dizzy, and despite people behind us having slowed down, we still felt guilty in case we were holding anyone up. By the time we finally emerged into the open air, I needed a sit down.

After a short recovery (and lamenting the large dinner of the previous night and the morning's snacks...), we set off gargoyle hunting. As much as I heard of the little stone figures in the past, or seen pictures, I was incredibly impressed. Each with it's own personality, watching over the city eternally, they were beautiful, creepy and majestic all in equal parts. After unsuccessfully attempting to imitate their poses/faces for photos and nipping inside to see the great bell, we made our way up yet more stairs to the very top of the cathedral for a sweeping view across the city before descending once more.

Feeling like we had earned our lunch by then, we found a gorgeous little French restaurant on a side street and hunkered down out of the cold and rain for some thick and cheesy onion soup, creamy mussels, steak and cheese tart, washed down with some nice red wine. An utterly delicious way to build up our energy for the afternoon.

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