Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Lost in Paris ~ Part 2

On a walk along the famous Pont des Arts bridge, I stumbled across a tour party and listened with interest to the guide's stories about the famous 'Love Padlocks' (pictured above). Apparently the Love Locks started to appear in 2008 as a result of the famous scene in the last episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie and Big kiss on this bridge. Romantics from all over the world came to share a kiss on the bridge, leaving a mark of their eternal love by writing their names on a padlock and fastening it to the bridge, then throwing away the key into the Seine. The guide joked that if you look close enough you'll see three names on some padlocks, as the French are fond of the Menage a trois. He also said that local boys tend to buy combination padlocks if their love is insincere.
The trend has become so popular that Pont des Arts is now overflowing with padlocks, and the trend has extended to other bridges across the city.

Locals have started a protest to get them removed, and the government is taking steps towards this (the day I was on the bridge a panel had already been taken away). They believe the padlocks are ruining beautiful historical structures as the weight of the padlocks is damaging the bridge, as well as altering it visually. Environmentalists have also been leading protests, as the keys being thrown into the Seine are polluting the water. I like the quirky trend, but I can understand why the locals want to preserve the beauty of their city. I love the fact some couples have now resorted to clipping their padlocks onto the lamp posts...

I love walking around the St Germaine part of Paris - this is where a lot of famous artists and literary types used to hang out back in the day, and I think it has a really magical atmosphere. As soon as I stepped inside Jardin de Luxembourg I felt the same sense of calm I experienced on my last visit. I enjoyed watching children sailing old fashioned boats on the pond - there's a sense of stepping back in time in this park and this image only added to that. The photo I captured of the boats is one of my favourites from this trip.

One of my favourite discoveries on this trip was the Stravinksy Fountain, which is outside the Pompidou Centre. The whole surrounding area is like a Surrealist exhibition, with interesting grafitti on the walls and steps, and the bizarre sculptures in the fountain itself look like something from a Tim Burton film set. I spent a lot of time walking around the fountain, taking photos of the sculptures from different angles. The more I looked at it, the more bizarre it became!

What added to the whole scene was when a gang of young men arrived, and sat at the edge of the fountain, dressed in black and purple studded clothes, with spiked or dreadlock hair. They looked like futuristic rebels from a dystopian film and had quite an intimidating air about them. They kept laughing amongst themselves as if they knew a secret about the fountain none of us ignorant tourists had any clue about. I was too scared to take a photograph of them! Wish I hadn't been such a chicken now.

A peaceful moment was sitting in Park Jean XIII, which overlooks the back section of Notre Dame. You can see so much gothic detail on the building from this angle, that it's a nice place to sit. A local Parisian man sat down beside me and chatted for a while, telling me that the Illes St Louis part of Paris has become so expensive only rich Americans and Italians can afford to buy apartments there. He told me that the leaves of the trees in this park are magic, and that if you leave them in water for 6 months and then pour it into your plants they bloom within days.

What made this trip, was the quirky hotel I stayed in, Hotel Notre Dame.  My friend Rebecca had blogged about it after her stay there last year and I loved the unique/arty style of the rooms. The real selling point was the prospect of having a room overlooking Notre Dame and the Seine, which I got. Nothing quite beats the sound of the bells of Notre Dame ringing in the early morning.

Paris, I look forward to a part 3 sometime.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lost in Paris ~ Part 1

A couple of weeks ago I returned to Paris for a short visit, retracing some old steps from a trip I made two years ago, but also venturing further afield and braving the Metro system (which was actually really straight forward after studying maps and tips on how it worked).

My biggest fear when travelling alone is that I'll get spectacularly lost in a strange city and attract unwanted attention. I had a brief taste of this my first evening when I managed to walk round in a circle for around an hour and a half because I couldn't figure out if the Seine was in front of me or behind me. And when I sat down to look at a map a Japanese French man tried to persuade me to be his 'amie' and accompany him around Paris. Needless to say I declined his offer, legged it, and got even more lost...

I finally did find my way back to my hotel (with the help of some locals). Taking the more complicated route back also meant I came across a Carousel I otherwise wouldn't have seen. I've got a thing for Carousels and have been dying to get a photograph of an old fashioned one for ages, so I was delighted to come across not just one, but three on this trip, photos of which are below:

Sacre Coeur Carousel
Carousel at Eiffel Tower

Carousel at Hotel De Ville

I had a big sense of 'being in the right place, at the right time', on this trip. When I went on the Batobus after dinner one evening, the boat arrrived at the Eiffel Tower stop just before the first light show of the evening. The lights only sparkle for five minutes on the hour, and we were right underneath the Tower when it lit up. It was quite something being on a boat on the Seine, just as the skies were darkening, and witnessing what looked like a thousand stars explode inside the tower.

My hotel was just a few minutes away from the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop and I made a couple of visits here, enjoying browsing around the books and exploring the nooks and crannies. There's a space dowstairs, like a hole in the wall, where you can sit at an old typewriter. Hundreds of notes from visitors were pinned up on the walls around the typewriter and I left my own note in amongst them. On my previous visit to this bookshop I had hidden a note inside a Shakespeare book (which one, I don't even remember). It was never found, or if it was, the recipient didn't bother to send me an email!

I was lucky enough to be there on an evening where the staff were celebrating the birthday and 450 years of Shakespeare. I joined a crowd outside (as hundreds were already packed inside), listening to the staff perform poetry and songs through the large speakers set up. I could see some staff members standing at the upstairs open window, dressed in Shakespearean costumes, sipping on wine. It must be an amazing bookshop to work in. From the second hand book stand outside, I bought a copy of Morvern Callar (I saw the film years ago and have always wanted to read the book). Not very French, as it's by a Scottish author, but I loved the fact it had cherry blossom petals from the trees pressed into the pages and the girl serving me also stamped it with a Shakespeare and Co. logo.

Upstairs in the bookshop there's a room called 'The Cave' with wall to wall shelves of books, a make-shift bed where some writers have slept when doing talks at the shop, and a piano which the public are welcome to play. I sat in here with some others listening to a teenage girl play a very French sounding waltz. Her friend took over for a while, and played another beautiful melody. That was definitely one of those moments where I felt I was in the right place at the right time, as it just added to the atmosphere of the visit.

Another highlight of the trip was visiting Montmartre, as I wanted to photograph an image of the famous steps with the old fashioned lampposts. It took a few attempts as there was so many people walking around, but I was quite happy with the result (below). The walk up to Sacre Coeur was also a favourite moment, seeing such a beautiful dazzling white building come into view, under a pale blue sky, with a spinning carousel underneath.

I was going to attempt to capture everything I wanted to write in one blog post, but it's never much fun reading really long posts, so I'll leave part 2 till another time...