We touched down in Paris after a week in Helsinki, where despite it being summer and the sun shining all day and most of the night I never took off my angora sweater or jacket. So you can imagine it was a bit of a shock to step into what is actually featured on Wikipedia as the 2006 European Heat Wave. What is it with me and not packing appropriately for completely unexpected weather? I knew it would be summer, and being South African I am used to heat, but that 37 degrees Celsius was a bit of a kill-joy. I learned an important lesson. Book some kind of airport transfer. Do not attempt to drag numerous large suitcases through the Paris Metro. There are turnstiles and lots of flights of stairs. And it turned out our hotel was situated at the top of a very long hill.
We stayed very near the Moulin Rouge which sounded romantic but in actual fact is in the red light district as far as I could make out. It was fun to get some photos of it up close through. I loved the Baz Luhrman movie! Our hotel was very quaint and old-fashionably French, but didn’t have air conditioning and our room was literally too small to fit our suitcases into. They took up every inch of floor space, so we had to sit on the bed at all times, and climb over the suitcases to get to the microscopic bathroom. All part of the experience, but not fantastic when the heat is suffocating you half to death.
I went to Paris having just read The Da Vinci Code, so I was on a mission to follow the Rose Line and find Mary Magdalene. I’m fanciful in that way. My husband wasn’t having any nonsense when it came to trekking across town on a fairytale quest, but the highlight for me was definitely our visit to The Louvre. You just can’t miss it. It is a beautiful building in itself, but the treasures inside are awe-inspiring. Of course I headed for the Mona Lisa first, and ended my tour with a visit to the inverted pyramid because The Da Vinci Code had my fiction/reality lines a bit blurred and I half believed Mary Magdalene was down there.
I never even made it up the Eiffel Tower, but I did stand at the base at night and stare up at it in all its lit-up glory. I visited Notre Dame Cathedral, which was just amazing because I love ancient buildings and impressive architecture, especially churches. One of my favourite day trips was by train out into the countryside to visit Versailles. What a truly spectacular palace! My father dismisses it as ‘disgusting opulence’ but that is what I loved about it. You can stand in Marie Antoinette’s room and imagine being there, wearing a huge, ultra-luxurious dress and eating macaroons. It’s a bit of fantasy perfectly preserved. These days we’re too worried about the petrol price to splash out on covering every square inch of our ceilings with gold.
We also did a day trip to Disneyland Paris. This makes Paris a good destination if you’re travelling with kids. You can soak up the art and culture and the Disneyland experience will provide your kids with lots of enjoyment and good memories. The queues were quite long and tiring but it was mid-season, and I enjoyed it despite the heat and queues. Lots of fun was had. I absolutely have to visit Paris again because there was so much that I didn’t manage to see. And yes, this time I would happily bring my child along with me to share the culture and the chocolate croissants!