From the Hotel de Ville, past a merry-go-round, ducking and dodging between tour buses, hurried traffic and far too many tourists, I headed back towards Sainte-Chapelle (which is on the same island as the Notre Dame), glimpsing the flower market (Marche Aux Fleurs) along the way. Had there been more time, I may have decided at this point to stop and visit these incredible places properly but with only one day, I pressed on.
Across the river, again, I found myself in the St Michel area and for the rest of the day had “Where do you go to my lovely” playing softly in my mind. A bookshop nearly lured me in. A cafe seemed too full to contemplate. Families and pigeons sat on the square across the road. I should probably, at this point, have taken the Metro the rest of the way to my destination but it was so pretty and the sun was shining and I didn’t want to miss anything. The walk along the river was a long one. By the time I found myself opposite the Musée d’Orsay, I was tired, but there didn’t seem to be anything to do but to go on. And, to be fair, there were magical things along the way that I would have missed, had I taken the Metro.
Like the book-sellers. Imagine living in a city where all along the river are people selling second-hand books. And not silly tawdry romances, but real books: poetry and philosophy and beautiful novels. Some of them were also selling paintings and sketches of Paris. A few stood with their Easels. Stop to wonder at the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of love-locks affixed to the bridge at Pont des Arts . Enjoy, disproportionately, the picture of Parisians picnicking along the Seine with cheese and bread and wine. Marvel at the Pont Alexandre III bridge, with its cherubs and nymphs and winged horses and its gilt-bronze shining in the sunshine.
By this stage, I was fairly exhausted but not long after I spotted the Eiffel Tower in the distance. The Eiffel Tower really is quite spectacular. Of course, crowded, with so many tourists taking pictures and queuing for tickets to go up the tower or buying curios. I wandered beneath the tower and into the gardens beyond, past a group of French teenagers surreptitiously drinking beer and settled on the grass to enjoy the view.
After resting for a while, with pictures of the great Eiffel Tower, I decided to head back. I was planning to find the first Metro station and catch it back or to take a boat, but I got distracted – too much to see. I crossed the river and walked back instead. Enjoying so much the avenues of spring-green trees and the incredible buildings.
Paris was still being ridiculously beautiful in spring when I turned into Jardin des Tuileries. The Gardens are persons some of my favourite highlights of this day in Paris. Comfortable-looking metal armchairs and decorative benches ranged around lawns decorated with statues. A boy sat hunched over listening to music. Another read a plain-coloured old-looking book with red-edged pages. A man sat sketching what he saw. I walked past and along the main walk. Around every pond and fountain and lawn were gathered Parisians enjoying the sun and reading or drawing or chatting on a random Monday afternoon. I had a moment of wondering if no-one in this city every works but truly it was a picture of a city committed to enjoying and appreciating the beautiful, the artistic and the springtime. Everything was spring-green leaves and flowers and blossoms and birds.
Beyond the statues and lawns and a small maze, I came to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel built by Napoleon. This is not the main Arc de Triomphe but still manages to be fairly impressive with its pink marble columns, its facade and figures, its gilt statues on top and the bas-reliefs.
Beyond the arch, is the Louvre, with the Grand Pyramide outside. The Louvre is definitely not at the top of my list to see (sorry art people – not my kind of attraction), although I may have visited it had I had more time in Paris. Instead, I finally found a Metro station (with ticket bought from a newsstand outside) and headed back to my hotel.
That evening, I headed out to find dinner. I know plenty of people who, especially when travelling for work, will not spend money dining out. I take the opposite view – when will I get the chance to go out to dinner in Paris again, after all? Bastille, where I was staying, is packed with fascinating little restaurants from French and Italian to Japanese, Laos/Thai, South Korean and Irish. I wandered around for a while, just taking it all in. Then I headed across the intersection where there were even more places to eat. I was most attracted by French Bistro-type restaurants. I passed one that seemed to focus on mussels and, helpfully, had English descriptions. A little more walking and I was ready to eat. I went back to the place with the mussels. It’s called Leon de Bruxelles. I ordered the mussels in mushrooms and cream. The waiter brought me a really nice glass of good, dry rose and I sat sipping it while I waited. In no time at all, the owner brought out a good-sized, steaming potjie pot of the best mussels of my life. Perfectly cooked in a delightfully flavoursome and delicate sauce, with firm mushrooms and a touch of freshness added by fresh celery. Magical.
I headed by to my hotel, exhausted after the long flight and the long day of exploring and having fallen just a little bit in love with Paris.