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   Les Halles 1898 by Leon Lhermitte                Petit Palais, Fine Art Museum
                                                                                                    

  
  The First Time I Saw Paris

I first went to Paris more years ago than I care to remember at a time when Liverpool airport destinations were confined to Ireland, the Isle of Man or Jersey.  However, there were any number of coach trips advertised so I signed up to a reputable firm and a few days later stepped aboard to the cheerful strains of "Where Do You Go to My Lovely" by Peter Sarstedt which was a nice way of welcoming slightly nervous passengers.  So off we went at some unearthly hour of the morning and were soon bowling down to Dover where I was looking forward to the ferry crossing the Channel which was for me the highlight of the trip.  By the time we reached Dover the novelty of sitting on the coach had begun to wear off and the incessant replays of Peter Sarstedt's vocals were becoming tiresome, so it came as a welcome relief to get off the coach for the journey across the Channel.  I had never been on a ferry across the Channel before and for some unfathomable reasoning of my own making I imagined the ferry to be a sophisticated, up-market method of travel where the passengers took genteel lunches or promenaded on the deck and lounged around in smoking - jackets á la Noel Coward.  It was therefore quite a shock to find every deck covered with students and teenagers spread out into every conceivable corner and surrounded by backpacks which would have tested an Olympic weight--lifter to the limit.  Tip-toeing through this army of rag-tag travellers was no easy task but it was hardly worth the bother when the numerous bars were seen to be overflowing with holiday - makers dressed in shorts and white - vests throwing pints of lager back in the early morning mist as a sort of warm-up to the holiday proper.  Nobody seemed to know or care that we were crossing one of the busiest sea-lanes in the world, where Armadas had come to ruin, a British army had been transported back back from the beaches of Dunkirk and we were sailing over the last resting places of German bombers, Messerschmits and Spitfires.
I have to admit that I felt quite deflated by the whole experience, the excitement of going to Paris had all but vanished and it was with a feeling of gloom that I boarded the coach again to the strains of " You walk like Marlene Dietrich and you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire ..... " which I now knew by heart and had worked out from the lyrics was based on Sophia Loren. 

The final leg of the journey was a little less tedious and excitement mounted as we came nearer to Paris but once again I was doomed to disappointment as the coach pulled up at a hotel which seemed nice enough but was situated a long way outside the city on the wrong side of the peripherique near to La Villette.  It was about that time that I began to realize why the all-inclusive trip was so cheap.  For anyone who has never encountered the peripherique it is an impossibly wide, multi-lane highway which surrounds Paris - attempting to cross on foot is out of the question as a never-ending stream of traffic moves both ways day and night.  The peripherique is the place where a jet-lagged Harrison Ford and his wife break down in their taxi in Roman Polanski's Frantic.  That evening saw us all confined to the hotel - frustrated and weary, we all agreed it was a long way to come to sit in a hotel bar.  But hope springs eternal and the following day was bright and clear as we waited impatiently for the coach which was to take us into Paris.  The driver was in no hurry and it was late morning before we set off for our first sight of the famous City of Light.  Driving from La Villette our first stop was L'Opéra, then onto the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe and all the other well-known sights, but it was all seen through the windows of the coach as it slowly weaved its way through the dense traffic and that's how I first saw Paris.  The following day we had the morning to ourselves which was spent strolling around the hotel and the same afternoon we boarded the coach once again for the tedious journey home.

The amount of time travelling for such a fleeting glimpse of Paris was ludicrous to say the least and there were more than a few passengers who vowed "Never again!" but as far as I was concerned the snapshots of Paris through the coach windows had only served to whet my appetite and in the following years I returned again and again and have continued to do so - but never by coach.  I know now that Paris is a city eminently suited for walking; Parisians have always known it and even have a name for those who promenade the city streets -they are called "flâneurs" and are respected for observing street-life and art - and that's what I did from then on. 

Over the years I have also learned that there's nothing wrong with drinking in the iconic sights of Paris but every street and every site is redolent with historical events which, if you know even a smattering, adds to the experience.  Therefore, in common with Paris itself you can just look at the pictures if you wish but I believe the history of Paris has gone to make the city what it is today and you are missing out by ignoring it altogether - it is in fact difficult to ignore Parisian history as it is everywhere.  The following pages are not meant as a travelogue but are just places I like for various reasons.




                                                    About 25 years before I visited Paris the city was host to another tourist.
                                                    He was one of the very few unwelcome visitors to Paris
                                                    His name was Adolph Hitler - his visit is described on the next page.