I have decided that I shall add to this blog whatever I end up writing every once in a while. What follows is an adaptation of what I wrote to a friend who asked for pointers on travelling France in December. Since I was in fact in Paris last December, I allowed myself to re-live the moment...
Paris in December. The clichéd city of romance obviously earned its reputation all year through - but it was hardened in gold in the month of December. The gentle chill in the air, the playful sun, the fantastic lights and the enthralling beauty of the city conspire to make you want to fall in love. Ah! I forgot the Wine!! It puts a song in your heart and a spring in your step. You cant but help reach out and hold someone tight against you. And believe me, at that moment you never want to let go...So be careful whom you travel with!
Stay near the Montmarte - some very cheap and interesting accomodation there, overlooked by the majestic Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. This is my favourite part of Paris. I was there with a dear friend and we both wanted to stay in this lovely part of Paris. So we reached there as the sun was setting, armed with our lonely planet. We tried a number of cheap hostels and found them surprisingly full. Paris is busy all year through, we were to discover... The charm of backpacking is to land up in a city with no place to go. No reservations, no plans. Just a whim - we have to stay in Montmarte! Finally, after a lot of cheerful but negative encounters with hostel clerks we found ourselves in Hotel Saint Pierre, very close to Metro Anvers. A very old man was at the desk of a very old looking hotel. Family run, said the Lonely Planet. My friend spoke excellent french, which took the suspicious old man completely by surprise - especially since I had 'outsider' written all over me! He had no chance - the shock combined with the charm attack that my friend subjected him to, had him completely infatuated. Not only did we get a room but we got it for cheaper than all the cheap hostels we had visited earlier! We dumped our bags and rushed to climb the mount of Sacré-Cœur. At night, you miss the crowds and also get a spectacular view of the city lights. Remember to be there at the start of the hour - because at every hour the Eiffel Tower starts shimmering, as if being hit by a meteor shower of sparkling diamonds. Amazing!
Explore the various streets around Sacré-Cœur- have breakfast at a classic cafe run by a Daliesque eccentric gentleman whose one morning was ruined by me spilling water all over his clean floor. You can buy croissants from a nearby boulangerie and get into this cafe and order a heavenly cup of coffee and spend time admiring the various funny curios on his walls and shelfs. Regulars will stream in, nodding a good morning, and activating a talking fish curio on the window sill! Later as we were exploring the streets, we found ourselves besides the same cafe, and on it's wall was a list of celebrities that have patronised the place. It was also a place where some movie was shot...I forget which.
Dont forget to visit a small vineyard behind the Sacré-Cœur - the only vineyard in the heart of Paris!! Much later I actually met a woman who had tried the wine - she knew a family that owned just two bushes in the yard and they get a complimentary bottle or two every year- and she says it is pretty good. :)
Walk the Latin Quarters - the initial streets you encounter are the tourist trap - go beyond that - and you are in another magical part of Paris. Spend a late afternoon in one of the small squares, sitting on the terrace- sipping wine- allowing it to get dark. Then you shall see the christmas lights emerge like stars - lovely! Pretend to be a wine connoisseur and strike a conversation with one of the ladies in the many wine shops. Tell her how bored of Bordeaux you are - and see her light up- and revel in her accent as she lets her passion flow...
Well - that's Paris, just a little off the main touristy track, but I feel the first time visitor has to do all the touristy things too - which are not to be missed - make no mistake!