19 OCT 2017: Or five weeks, from late August to the end of September, to be more accurate. Who would complain? Whether one has visited or not, we are all aware of Paris’s charms and treasures, its parks and gardens, its galleries and museums, its incomparable architecture, its loving couples, its food and music and its unique atmosphere. All this and more can still fill the visitor, whether first time or frequent, with wonderment. And so it was with us as we spent those five weeks - in glorious weather - in France’s capital that, in spite of some negatives, remains magical.  

19 OCT 2017: Or five weeks, from late August to the end of September, to be more accurate. Who would complain? Whether one has visited or not, we are all aware of Paris’s charms and treasures, its parks and gardens, its galleries and museums, its incomparable architecture, its loving couples, its food and music and its unique atmosphere. All this and more can still fill the visitor, whether first time or frequent, with wonderment. And so it was with us as we spent those five weeks - in glorious weather - in France’s capital that, in spite of some negatives, remains magical.

The guidebooks to the city, along with the histories, novels and movies based there would fill a library, so I will not attempt to act as a comprehensive guide in this short space. Instead I will relate some of the things we did and give a few tips that we think worthwhile.

First of all, cycling. As I think I’ve mentioned in these columns before, I didn’t really cycle at all until I had retired. If anyone had told me, prior, that one day I would happily cycle around Paris I would have thought them delusional! But that, in fact, is how we mainly got around. We have our own folding bikes on board, but there are city bikes available all over the city. There is no charge for the first half-hour, so if you wish to save a few pennies you can switch whenever you see another bike ‘station’. I was surprised to find the city well designed for bikes, with bike lanes on all major routes and vehicle drivers generally courteous. (We asked in vain at a couple of the city’s Tourist Offices for a bike route map; publication of one would, we feel, be a good idea.)

Obviously, the metro is another efficient way to get around although, as in any city, the buses are slower but provide their own city tours. Metro routes vary from old and dismal to very fine, one even with museum replicas.

Nobody needs to be told this is a city for food lovers. From markets to take-aways, from bistros to ‘temples of haute cuisine’, it’s all here in Paris. Parisians love to eat out and the restaurants offering well-priced lunchtime set menus are a good choice over dinners that can become very expensive. The modern Pompidou Center is not wearing well, but we enjoyed lunch and the view from its elegant restaurant and several times we treated ourselves to a meal in one of the bistros in the trendy Marais district. But more often than not we enjoyed home-cooked dinners on board after shopping in a nearby deli or the bustling street market in Bastille.

We also love to pack a picnic, and the Paris stores selling pre-prepared food as well as their usual pates and cheeses make this a special joy. We had quite a few picnics because, in order to avoid museum fatigue, we set out to visit most of Paris’s famous parks between cultural excursions. Each has its special charm from the vast Bois de Boulogne to the formal charms of the Jardin des Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg. If people-watching is your thing, small Parc Monceau is a treat … there’s obviously a primary school for well-heeled children nearby and at lunchtime it seems an impromptu fashion show for kiddies (and their parents) is underway.

The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is Paris’s most prestigious. Here lie the famous and infamous: Proust, Chopin, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and so many more, including moving war memorials. The large hillside site, the ancient trees and heavy vegetation, the rambling paths past statues and temples all provide a fascinating, nostalgic walk. It’s a far cry from the usual formal cemetery. Give yourself time here, it’s hard to drag oneself away.

By the way, picnics may be welcome in the parks of Paris, but bike riding is not always permitted.

A visit to Notre Dame is on everyone’s list. Entry to the cathedral is free after joining the line-up (for security) on Place du Parvis Notre Dame. The long line-up on the road running north of the building is for the paid tickets to climb atop one of the towers. And speaking of line-ups, those for the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay can be dauntingly long. Whatever your destination, check beforehand to see if advance tickets are available.

As is well known, when it comes to entertainment Paris caters to every taste imaginable. On a couple of visits many years ago when we were young we enjoyed its nightlife … smoky bars offering jazz or moody singers. Now we search out the opera or ballet and again Paris delivers. The Opera National de Paris Garnier is the city’s famous old opera house (home of the Phantom!). Guided tours are available daily, or you can join the line-up before 10 a.m. for €10 ($14.80) tickets for that night’s performance. We bought glasses of bubbly before the performance and had no problem accessing the balcony overlooking the busy Place de l’Opera.

It was magical, standing there on a warm late summer night looking down on the Paris crowds, but when we attempted to do the same during the interval we were told the balcony was out of bounds. Opera and ballet are also available at the vast and modern Opera National de Paris Bastille. Again ‘rush’ tickets were available to us, but the modus operandi for these seems to vary from genre to genre, so it’s best to enquire when visiting the Bastille area.

Before arriving in Paris we had not only reserved a place for our boat for the above weeks but had also placed our name on a waiting list, hoping to spend the whole winter there. But the latter was not to be, the harbourmaster informed us. We had a back-up plan - Antwerp. And although we had had a wonderful time in Paris (and there was plenty more to see and do) we were quite happy to make plans to leave at the beginning of October. The Port de Plaisance de l’Arsenal, the main Paris marina for pleasure boats, was far shabbier than we’d been led to believe. Paris is worthy of better.

As with so many of the world’s cities, Paris is not without problems. But it remains an eternal, magical city that continues to attract tourists from all over the world to its many wonders. We had had a most wonderful five-weeks stay and considered ourselves so fortunate to have been able to do so. It was with regret - but with so many happy memories - that we negotiated the lock out onto the Seine on a golden early-October day and turned north-east towards Belgium. The next stage of our trip was about to begin.

 

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Ann Wallace

Ann Wallace is living a writer's dream currently writing of her adventures as she and her husband sail their boat around Europe.

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