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French and Russian undergraduate student, trying my hand at the real world.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

48 Hours in the City of Light

Hello chaps,

So I have just celebrated my 21st birthday in one of my all time favourite places in the world - Paris. Since finding out that I would be seeing in my birthday in France, I had been fantasising about being in Paris. Where better, frankly? Perhaps it is something of a cliche to have a deep abiding love for the city, but it is nevertheless one to which I am happy to conform.

I shall therefore dedicate this post to my experiences - past and present - to the City of Light.

I first visited Paris when I was aged fourteen. It was October half term, 2006. I had just begun my GCSEs and it was part of an initiative my parents thought up in order to improve my French, which, at the time, was a comparatively basic level. You'd have to ask them for certain where we stayed, but it was towards the outskirts - I think near the Marais. We were keen to not be in the centre in order to have the fullest experience of the city - not the poshed up, prettied up inner arrondisements, but the slightly more raw edged outer areas where there is a bit more room to breathe. As far as that privilege extends in such an overcrowded city! Being my first time in Paris, we did all the typical touristy things, I think everyone knows what they are - Eiffel tower, Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Tour de Montparnasse... and so on and so forth. Those parts, while memorable, are not so important to me as the other experiences. I think possibly my favourite one, for nostalgic purposes, was the meal we had as a family on our final night. It was late evening, and most of the restaurants around us had shut, as it must have been around 2200. There was only one bistrot that was still open, and the waiter, a kindly North African called Rashid, took pity on us and served us all that he had left - some marinated herring, salad and cold potatoes. A simple meal, but a delicious one and memorable for the kindness of the waiter. I do not consider myself experienced enough in these matters to call it a "truly Paris experience", if we are to draw into account the simplicity of the food, the rather awkward language barrier, the lack of fussiness and the slightly dilapidated bistrot in which it was served - so perhaps it is enough to say it was a moment of pure humanity that should be the aspiration of everyone in the hospitality industry. Feeding hungry customers, regardless of the hour.

My second trip to Paris was about a year later, when I participated in my secondary school's French exchange. We all stayed with host families, which provided us with a taste of French family life and a taste of French food. It was on this occasion that I learned how French families serve dinner (each constituent part by itself - rather than all on one plate like the English), as well as revisiting the same sights as before. If anyone is ever in any doubt about going on a French exchange, my sole answer would be to stop doubting and just to go for it - I have a strong sense of nostalgia for mine.

I went to Paris for a week last summer for a post-exam break. I went in peak tourist season, which was certainly not ideal for the purposes of practising my French - at the slightest hint of an English accent on my part, any member of staff would immediately revert into English. This is one of my only gripes about studying abroad - it has been the case in both countries! We stayed in Saint Germain des Pres, which is one of the more upmarket areas of Paris and perfect for popping into little shops and cafes. It would be an amazing place to have a flat, if not to live. My favourite moments of this trip included olive oil shopping at the food festival that was running on the banks of the Seine, eating macaroons for breakfast and walking along the Seine with a baguette and ripe camembert in hand for spontaneous picnicking purposes. Perfect.

My most recent trip, this weekend, has definitely been my favourite. We ate breakfast every day on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, as we were staying in Montmartre. I think Montmartre is my favourite part of Paris, as I liken it to Hampstead in London - a little out of the way, with a civilised feel and spectacular views. We could see the Eiffel tower from our window and also managed to get a 3 course dinner on a Friday night for only 24 euros each. Not bad, when you consider that our mains were lamb shanks and there was foie gras involved!

I was not that surprised, based on previous experiences, by the number of English people I came across. I think I have given up on being the only English person in a French town - especially one as cosmopolitan as Paris. We must also remember that London has more French people in it than Bordeaux! I think I'll allow the English this one. If anything, it suggests we have spectacular taste.

Just don't ask me to speak English.

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