Paris is supposed to be the city of love and romance. It’s on the list of the top ten places in the world to propose. Personally I find it anything but romantic. My ex husband proposed at the end of Bognor Pier, a ramshackle Victorian structure stretching out to sea with seagulls squawking and splatting on the wooden planking and where the annual Birdman rally is held. He didn’t have to take me far. We lived a few hundred yards from the pier, in that dreadful rundown town on the south coast, Bognor Regis. Even George V famously said “Bugger Bognor.” But to me Bognor Pier was romantic rather than being crammed into a lift and catapulted high into the sky in a metal monster, the Eiffel Tower.
We went on our honeymoon to Paris but it was so expensive that any hint of romance was dampened down every time it came to paying the bill. A beer along the Champs Elysee – admittedly the hot tourist trap of Paris – cost us £8 and that was 24 years ago. We returned to Paris with friends several years later when I was pregnant with our second child and walking for miles across this big city carrying my weighty load, up and down stairs and steps, was a painful experience and with not a toilet in sight.
Years later I went to Paris with a new partner and yet again the ambience of Paris was anything but romantic. It was 2011, the year that Prince William married Kate Middleton and we wanted to escape the royal wedding fever that engulfed Britain. The weather was very hot in England and as the Eurostar sped through the Kent countryside under a deep blue sky we had regrets about going. A simple day on a British beach with a Whippy ice cream if the weather is beautiful, cloudless and warm is the preferred choice, than trudging the long streets of Paris and battling the Metro. We did the art galleries, the Montmartre and the Notre Dame. We did the Louvre and joined a vast huddle of visitors peering at the Mona Lisa to the exclusion of all the other paintings. I can’t understand the appeal of that painting. An enigmatic smile they tell you..
And when it came to going home we missed the Eurostar and ended up paying £500 to get the next train back and I had to ring my ex husband to ask him to keep the kids an extra night which he didn’t like and gave me a blasting down the phone line.
I took my teenagers to Paris this Summer. We were staying near Disney and I wanted them to see Paris. Several years older and my impression of the city hadn’t changed. I simply find it too big and sprawling. I love the impressive architecture and parks though. You can sit on deckchairs in the park around the Eiffel Tower without getting charged and it’s very relaxing until you fancy a cup of tea and pay £5 for the privilege. Never mind I thought, I have a stash of tea bags in my handbag for such emergency situations but the kiosks in the park refused to give me a humble cup of just boiling water without my buying something.
Of course everybody flocks to the wrought iron lattice tower, the famous icon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, when they visit Paris. It’s a must. It’s one of the most recognizable structures in the world and the tallest building in Paris. Built as a centre piece for an exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution it was designed by Gustave Eiffel. Critics at the time called it ‘the giant smokestack of Paris,’ ‘a hateful shadow of a hateful column of bolted sheet metal.’
Visitors flock to the Eiffel Tower and take lots of pictures. But you can’t actually wander underneath the tower like you could 24 years ago. There are ugly portacabins selling tickets and queues and queues of people waiting to buy tickets to ascend the tower and large metal fences to stop you getting too close without a ticket. Shame really. It had all become a bit too money grabbing for my liking. As non ticket paying visitors we were allowed to wander around the outer perimeter of the tower in the park area; where the grass was so worn with too many feet constantly trampling it and covered in beer bottles with no sight of an attendant picking up the rubbish. Ravens pecked at the dropped food and crisp packets and black men wove over to every visitor jangling chains of miniature souvenir Eiffel towers that nobody actually wanted. They were all too distracted with their selfie sticks and their laughter as they aligned themselves for a distant shot of the tower.
If you like travelling writing with a wry cynical edge you may like to try my book ‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish’ – a relationship saga covering Ireland, Venice, Florence, New York and Dubai.