If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram or saw my photoset last week, you might know I went to Paris recently.
I didn’t mean to but work colleagues were trying to plan travel to a supplier presentation in north-central France the week before. Paris being the only international hub within three hours, calls of “there’s a flight for this much but it’s at that time” and “the train goes at that time – how long would it take to get across Paris?” echoed around our open-plan office. And you know. You start to want to go as well, especially when there are flights at a good price from a regional airport. Which were at a great time for me, if not for them.
I’ve been to Paris before. When I was younger, we used to drive to Austria or Italy and we always broke the three day drive home somewhere in northern France. Usually it was literally an overnight stop but sometimes we’d take a day and go into Paris. Paris is not at its best – for me – in high summer. Too hot, too crowded. Too rushed, by the time we’ve got in and then made it at home to the caravan at an hour that pleased my mother, who doesn’t like to be out past 5pm if at all possible.
I’ve been on three school trips to Paris too. These are mostly strictly regulated when it comes to schedule and supervision and when we stayed with French families – well, they don’t live in Tourism Central and nor do they go there in their free time. We went swimming and shopping in whatever suburb they lived in.
The sixth form trips were a bit different. We had free time in the centre. I remember Mr Moore deciding that sixteen-year-old me was enough of an expert on the metro to take charge of my particular group of friends. I have photographic evidence that we went to the Arc de Triomphe and had waffles at Trocadero. The rest is lost to a world pre-digital photography.
So this weekend in January 2018 was the first time I’d been alone with as much time as I wanted to do what I wanted. No rushing unless I wanted to. No curfew. No one else’s wants.
I spent the best part of three days whizzing around the main tourist sights, exactly like I always have done. But never have I ever sat on a wall with my feet dangling over the Fountains of Warsaw, staring at the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower in the dark for an hour. Never have I ever seen that the queue to go up the Arc de Triomphe is abnormally short and been able to decide on impulse to go up there. Never have I ever been to the end of the RER A line for the novelty of riding on an underground double decker train. Never have I ever sat in an anonymous suburban park eating lunch and watching wild green parakeets.
Freedom and independence and the fact that January is both cold and low on tourists make all the difference in whether you feel warm towards a city or not. I had not learned to particularly like Paris when I booked my weekend away. In fact, after visiting for a very quick day with my sister last May, I was actually feeling quite unfriendly towards it.
London is busy and dirty and dangerous. That’s the point of London and I love it and have never felt unsafe there. Paris is also busy and dirty and dangerous but the things I liked about London were what I disliked about Paris. Paris wasn’t mine. Well, it feels a lot more mine now I’ve spent some time with it. I still don’t see anything romantic about it. I probably never will. But I probably will take another short budget minibreak there in the next couple of years.