France. Paris, specifically. It’s the city of love, the city of fine wine, baguette breakfasts and endless daylight until the break of 10PM. It isn’t hard to fall in love with the French capital and its artesian streets, intricate buildings and historical underpinnings. Coming from Adelaide, it takes a little to settle into how Parisians do life, a culture more relaxed than Australians that centres around romance, celebrating excellent food and the interpolation of past influences on the present. Its cliché but it all amounts to the Paris we know, and the theory of La Vie est Belle.
Our French adventure began, coincidentally, on the French national day of celebration: Bastille Day. A big thank you can be awarded to President Trump for causing chaos at Charles du Gaulle airport as we arrived but, when you’re the president, I suppose anything goes. The French were oozing with pride, President Macron giddy when watching a marching band perform a Daft Punk medley during the celebrations along the Champs-Élysées and an indescribable feeling emanated through the streets.
We stayed in the artistic district of Montmartre, home of Amelie and the Sacré-Cœu church- we either walked or drove past it every day on our commutes into Paris, quite a surreal building to become accustomed to. Initially set on simply exploring the streets surrounding out hotel on Rue Ordener, the calling of the basilica was too strong and we ventured to its steps and somebody-pinch-me-I-fear-I-am-dreaming views that sweep across Paris. The Eiffel tower even poked its head above the trees to make for a dream landscape. Severely jetlagged and parched from the 26 hours spent in transit (10 at T3Changi airport alone), the Tour de France broadcast became a mere blur and a French sunset came too late to be viewed.
The first full day brought with it all Paris had to offer. A day of thorough exploration of historic sites, luxury retailers and simply soaking up the sun that we’d been neglected of due to the Adelaide winter. Paris is a city to be walked for as long as possible until your loafers give in and it’s time to swallow your pride and hop on a dorky tourist bus that conquers every site. Channel your inner Selena Gomez in Monte Carlo, suck it up, and don’t be the ugly Australian again (I say again because I regret to admit I unleashed the travelling Australian stereotype whilst in Italy, ironically, to an impatient French woman). By walking as much of the city as possible, you notice the little things like cornices on a pushed-back building and flowers growing in obscure locations. Yet, bus is best when headed for the large attractions, like Notre Dame along the river seine.
It is hard to express in words the sensation you experience when visiting sites you have seen hundreds of times before, yet never in person. Notre Dame is flooded with tourists though you feel an intimate connection with the detailing and size of the building. It is surrounded by gardens to the right and the rear of the church, with the Seine lining one boarder and a restaurant filled street the other. Along the Seine you’ll find local Parisians selling retro posters, books, souvenirs and clothing that you won’t find in stores. I picked up two retro Tour de France posters for the house I don’t own simply because of their minimalism and charm. You’re set off on these clouds of being awestricken and euphoric that you can forget you’re in a country that’s experienced times of tragedy in the last 18 months, but 13 gendarmerie vans flying down the road at high speed, sirens blaring, will bring you back down to earth. The French aren’t concerned every day, it’s easy to forget but the concern is still there and worth mentioning.
Our next stop was the Champs-Élysées and it was here I had my “wow, I’m I France” moment I had been waiting for. It was as we rounded the corner into the Place de la Concorde, sandwiched between scaffolding left from Bastille Day and the Garden of Tuileries where the Arc de Triomphe was just visible for a smidge of as second. The scene we all know from films, pictures, cartoons and perhaps your dreams. The avenue is lined by French flags, lush greenery and flowers, historical statues and luxury stores. It’s busy. Ridiculously busy, like a constant moshpit in some sections of the avenue. The security is fierce, comforting, but fierce and every store has a bag checker and metal detector upon entering. Even Sephora…SEPHORA!
From here, the journey to the Eiffel Tower was only a short distance. A walk to the Seine banks and across a bridge, through some side streets there in full view, swamped by tourists, police and souvenir venders, it stands. I’m not sure how the Eiffel Tower looked, say, back in 2014 but it was surrounded by fencing and decaying grass that distracted fromthe structure itself. It was a surreal experience to be standing under the tower but something felt restrictive. Yes, it’s a major tourist attraction in a populous city so I completely understand why, yet, there was a factor missing to the hype.
The next exploration was that of the Gardens of Luxembourg. I myself love a good stroll through a garden or two and this is definitely a must do for horticulturalists and gardening enthusiasts alike. The entry allows for an immersion into greenery and bedded flowers, surrounding a statue that encourages a walk down the path leading to the centre of the garden and the palace focal point. A little out of the way to venture to, the surrounding areas offer fantastic eateries and viewpoints that make the bus trip worth it. A visit to Père Lachaise cemetery was also paid, to visit Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. The 35-degree heat made the visit mildly uncomfortable yet didn’t detract from the symbolism.
Our evenings were spent between twilight walks and dining along one of the many eateries on our street. We found ourselves at La Piazza many nights of the week, an Italian restaurant that accommodated to vegetarians. Commonly, we ended up at a bakery for breakfast and dinner, completely oblivious to the fact that such an act would be considered abnormal at home, and headed back to the hotel to relax and eat by the views from our balcony. The television was on in the background but interpreting the images was the extent of my understanding- except when the cycling was on, that was always crystal clear.
Towards the end of our mentionable Paris days, we visited the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to see the Dior exhibition that was showing at the time. The exhibit curated the works of Christian Dior and beyond as the house celebrated style and history in one event. I have always fancied myself as more of a Dior girl than a Chanel girl so the event was one not to be missed by me and I was certainly not deterred by the lengthy cue we had to endure. You enter the exhibition in chronological order with an homage to Christian Dior himself and the art gallery he owned prior to the fashion house. It trails through a colour coordinated walkway of assorted Dior creations and winds through to a wall of every magazine cover Dior has ever covered, before arriving at the gallery of RTW dresses and garments. Every designers work is there, from Yves Saint Laurent to Raf Simmons to Maria Grazia Chiuri. You enter the Dior garden, a majestical, feminine showroom of pastel hues and the quintessentially girly Dior magic many are familiar with. A commute to the opposing side of the display brings with it the breathtaking factor. I wept. Sobbed like a baby when I stood looking at Raf Simmons creations. My absolute favourite designer who produced magical things at Dior in his short time and, in my opinion, the king of effective minimalism. This section of the exhibit is raw, beautiful Dior Haute Couture and a look into each creative director’s legacy on the label. One of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced.
I could waffle on for hours about the Louvre. It is incredibly vast, dense and leaves you speechless when you think of the content it houses. We only visited one wing of the whole museum due to time constraints but were lucky enough to see the staples: Venus, Mona, the Roman and Greek Classical antiques and jewels reminiscent of Versailles and the era of Louis X. Opposite the Louvre you find the Garden of Tuileries once again that carry on until you turn left for the Seine, right for the Rue de Rivoli or forward to the Champs-Élysées.
Our weekend became enthralled in the Tour de France, something I had been excited to explore for years as we caught an express cross-country train to Marseille for the penultimate ITT of the 2017 race. Arriving at the race, roadside, in the same time zone was surreal and overwhelming. I teared up under my sunglasses and had Goosebumps over my arms. Being at the biggest cycle race in the world for the first time, experiencing every euphoric emotion under the sun was the happiest moment I had held in a very long time. The best riders in the world rolling past in warm up laps, the promotional cavalcade parading through and the embracing French crowds made the day a dream come true. Nothing could prepare me for the Champs-Élysées a day later but a little part of my cycling-loving heart flourished in Marseille and grew even stringer in my love for the sport.
As expected, stage 21 of the Tour de France descended into Paris on a humid Sunday afternoon along the Champs-Élysées. Like any cycle race, streets are blocked off and traffic diverted around the area. However, the security surrounding the Tour de France was like nothing I had ever expected. Streets were blocked up to almost a kilometre from the real course and the underground ceasing to run under the road, forming a barricade around the entire avenue. Bags were checked and no one was to gain any access to the Champs Elysees unless checked by police. Even those who live on the avenue were checked as they left their apartment blocks, hotels and businesses. It was an effort that left you feeling incredible secure yet still weary of where you stood.
The Arc de Triomphe stood void of tourists atop and below it with fencing securing a ring of cycling fans around the structure waiting for the race to snake its way up the road. The atmosphere was palatable, excitement filling the streets from young to old. The French love cycling and it was one of the most enjoyable moments of my life to line the Champs-Élysées for the final stage of the Tour de France. I cannot put into words the range of emotions I felt as I stood roadside seeing the race before my eyes. I have overused the word happy in this piece but I can only feel it most appropriate. Complete and utter happiness, a euphoric sense of content and glee. I never wished for this day to end.