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Rooftops

I had a final stop in Paris before going home.

Originally I was hoping to spend time meeting up with the teachers from BTL for drinks, getting a last chocolat chaud with Mr Frog, and maybe a drink with Manuela.

But when I sent out texts, I discovered that neither Mr Frog nor Manuela would be in Paris. And of the seven teachers that I considered to be the core of our group at BTL, two had already left Paris, two were flying to Toulouse on Friday, and I didn’t have one’s number.

D was going back to London after Rome and I panicked – how could I spend four days alone with nothing planned?

Eating out has always been a social activity for me, so it was off the list. After two and a half months of being a tourist, I didn’t want to see museums and monuments. Especially not ones I’d already seen.

I didn’t want to spend the next four days agitated, especially with one of the world’s longest flights ahead of me!

So I changed my flight home and breathed a sigh of relief. I would only be in Paris for two days now (or one and a half, if you subtract airport time).

Then I reached my hostel, on a beautiful street in the 18th at the top of a tree-lined staircase, neighboured by a brasserie and an up-market boulangerie, with a chocolaterie, a couple of bars, and several fruit shops down the road. Out the window of my dorm room was a vista of lead roofs, brown chimneys and dark windows.

I felt that familiar thrill.

Oh why had I worried?

My one and a half days ended up being plenty of time, and it was probably better that I spent them alone, as I was deep in thought and my emotions rocked in waves.

When I reached the buoyant crest, I felt that Paris had revitalised me. I had a real croissant for breakfast instead of the horrible packaged equivalents from the hostels in Italy. The round tables of brasseries spilled onto the streets, with patrons lighting cigarettes over coffee in the morning, to be replaced by wine in the
afternoon. As I walked I could smell the perfumes of pungent cheese and dark chocolate when I passed open shop doors. The market produce shined brightly, colours ripening in the sun. It all seemed so familiar to me.

Whenever the breeze rose, I felt as though I was swept into a lover’s arms and waltzed down the street. I could travel for another month. Even two! There was so much more I wanted to see!

At Place des Vosges I ate a light and sweet strawberry mille-feuille and one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in Paris (courtesy of Boulangerie St. Antoine) – no need to toasting here, as with many of Italy’s day-old paninis – the bread was crunchy and the ham, gruyere and salad so fresh that no dressing was necessary. I returned the phone that a former student, Marie Maud, had lent me when mine broke in February, and learned that she was engaged and planning to move to London. When I closed my bank account, the ease of the process made me so jubilant that I did a little dance on Boulevard Haussmann once I’d surrendered my carte-bleue.

Then my mood would start to descend. When I came upon Rue du Pot de Fer and wandered down it for the first time, I wondered how many more streets like this the city was hiding, just waiting for me to discover. I turned down Rue Moufftard and decided that I liked it even better than Rue Montorgueil, my previous market-street favourite.

Paris beckoned me. She had seduced me time and time again, and now it was my turn. She smiled coyly, flashing a bit of calf as she crossed her legs, leaving her skirts below her knee. Stay a little longer – give me a look, a smile, a touch. Pause a moment, and I’ll tell you my secrets. The leaves whispered as they rustled in the wind, and I debated whether I was leaving too soon. After nearly nine months in Paris I was still an outsider – was I walking away from my chance to get in? My chance to sample a French life?

Then I would sink into the troughs, tormented by worries about going home, and haunted by ‘what ifs’. As the afternoon crawled in, I started to feel as though I was losing a loved one and at some moments the grief was so acute that I ached to curl up and lick my wounds.

And then I would be happy again, soaring on the crest of another wave.

That day I walked around Montmartre, down to the Parc Monceau then Boulevard Haussmann, past Madeleine and Place de Concorde to the 5th and 6th arrondissements, then to Bibliothèque François Mitterrand and Parc de Bercy before heading back through Bastille, Le Marais, Les Halles and up Rue Montorgeuil and Rue Montmartre. In the evening I left for another walk around Montmartre.

That night I collapsed into bed exhausted. And I worried about my return to Australia.

When I returned from London in 2009, it took me some time to find work, and then I’d only done it with help from my mum and her contacts. I’d never imagined that I’d have trouble finding a job – it shattered my confidence, and this affected several areas of my life.

I was determined that this wouldn’t happen again, and formed a plan of attack as I fell to sleep.

The next morning I woke, feeling at peace. In the few hours before my flight I strolled. Yes, Paris was still alluring, but I didn’t feel as I’d felt the previous day. I was no longer torn.

Paris and I had had a brief and beautiful affair. But it was over.

And I was ready to go home.

Banking in Paris – more drama

For some reason, BTL pays our final month and holiday pay by cheque.

This means that, if you are leaving the country the next day, you need to organise a bordereau de remise de cheque, which allows someone else to deposit the cheque for you. I organised this before I left (it’s basically a book of deposit slips that needs to be completed with the number of cheques being deposited and their value) and asked Imogen to deposit it. Both BNP and Renée at BTL told me that I needed to sign the back of the bordereau de remise de cheque, so signed about four in case there was a problem.

Because I hadn’t heard from Imogen, I assumed everything went through last week. Until today – I checked my bank balance (-€159.73) and the my phone, and I had a message from her:

I’m afraid your bank has refused the cheque because it’s not signed. . .

This makes no sense to me – the reason I needed someone else to deposit the cheque was because I wouldn’t be there at the time I received it, so how was I supposed to sign it?! Luckily I’m going back to Paris in April, so if I can’t organise anything now at least I know I can do it then. But what if I’d gone back to Australia immediately after I finished working? Wouldn’t I have been paid?

Unfortunately, I was expecting this money to come in last week, which means I’ve been spending the money that I had. So my bank balance is in the negatives, and I’m not sure how long BNP is going to allow me to continue to withdraw funds.

It might be time to give the ‘mummy and daddy bank’ a call.

 

Update:

BTL said they could post the cheque to me, and I could sign it and post it back to them. However, my hotel in Dahab, Egypt (my next destination) said that the cheque might not arrive before I left, so it looks like I’ll have to wait until April 5, when I’m back in Paris.

Le meilleur chocolat chaud à Paris? part quatre

Laduree - Rue Bonaparte

On Monday, Mr Frog and I sampled the last of his recommended hot chocolates – Ladurée.

The salon on Rue Bonaparte is not what you’d expect from a Parisian salon de thé – the ground floor is decorated in a Chinoiserie style with leafy bamboo and flowers painted on the wall, echoing Ladurée’s pastel pinks and greens. In contrast, the top floor is very dark and intimate. It is all blue, with dark carpet and thick, tasselled curtains and plush little armchairs printed in blue and gold. Warm and cosy, it is a perfect hide-out for a rainy winter day.

So would the chocolat chaud measure up?

The waiter came with the traditional two glasses of water, two china cups on saucers and two metal jugs of hot chocolate, and poured each of us a cup from our respective jugs. I smiled in anticipation as the liquid seeped thickly from the spout of the jug and pooled in the bottom of my cup, the volume rising steadily. It was reminiscent of Les Deux Magots – molten milk chocolate.

Then I took my first sip . . . nothing. I took another one, trying to savour the texture in my mouth, but it left me unmoved. At Café de la Paix and Les Deux Magots I hadn’t been able to keep the smile off my face, and even though Angelina could not match, it was worlds above Ladurée, and I still enjoyed my chocolate’s silky texture and taste.

The Ladurée hot chocolate had somehow managed to have all of the texture and none of the flavour of the first two. It tasted dusty and stale in comparison to the others. Little spots of fat glistened on top of the liquid, like in a soup that has used butter or oil, and I found it harder to drink as I continued.

It was like Cadbury chocolate in comparison to Lindt. As a child I liked Cadbury but, as an adult hooked on dark chocolate, Cadbury now tastes like wax to me. However, Lindt milk chocolate takes my breath away– like velvety cream as it melts on my tongue. I pause and savour Lindt, whereas I eat Cadbury very quickly to try and capture the same rapture.

The Ladurée hot chocolate was like this – although it was thick, I found myself taking bigger and bigger gulps as I chased the memory of more intense flavours at other cafés. If it weren’t for the texture, I would have found it very difficult to rank this chocolate above those that standard cafés sell for €2.50 – €4.00.

So I wouldn’t recommend this €6.50 hot chocolate – spend another €0.50 and go to Les Deux Magots, or if you would prefer something thinner and satiny, spend an extra €0.40 and go to Angelina.

That being said, Ladurée is still worth a visit – the salons de thé are a Paris institution. Although the salon at Rue Bonaparte isn’t very French, the salons on the Champs-Elyseés and Rue Royale have chic patisseries and comfortably elegant salons like Angelina, with dim lighting, moulded walls and carpeted floors. And the beautifully presented pastries and macaroons are easily a good enough reason to enjoy the ambiance.

But, if I was going out for a chocolat chaud, I’d go elsewhere.

Rankings so far:

  1. Les Deux Magots
  2. Café de la Paix (second because the price is higher, though the quality is just as good as the first and the taste is more intense)
  3. Angelina
  4. Ladurée

Salon International de l’Agriculture

The International Agriculture Show is a yearly event that takes place in Paris in late February or early March. In 2011 it is taking place between February 19 and 27, and theme is ‘Farming and Food: the French Model’.

So over 1000 exhibitors and 3500 animals from 34 countries will be on site, focussing on France’s regions, technologies and traditions, with about 600,000 visitors expected to come and see their wares.

It is also where many politicians, hoping to snatch the rural vote, make an appearance to shake influential hands. Nicolas Sarkozy went on the Saturday morning (apparently after a faux-pas at the show in 2008, he prefers to keep a lower profile).

I went on Saturday, fortunately missing any Sarkozy brouhaha, and started with Pavilion 1, where the livestock was on display. When I walked into the enormous Pavilion, the perfume of hay wafted over me and, cut off from all natural light in the cavernous space, I felt as though I’d departed from Paris entirely.

This was completely different to being in some sanitised museum – I was looking at living exhibits, with famers and producers who were only too ready to talk to me and let me touch and taste their produce.

I was shocked by the size of some of the cows. Being a born and bred city girl, I’d always though cows were about the size of horses, but a bit bulkier – these were like buses in comparison! And the pigs – the sleeping giants at the Salon de l’Agriculture were four times the size of Babe.

In contrast, the chicks were scraps of feathers, smaller and softer than anything from a Kleenex ad.

And when I reached the cages of birds and rabbits, I felt like I was in a giant pet store. Excluding Bénédicte’s incredibly skittish cat, the only pet that was ever in my family was my sister’s goldfish, which I think died after a month (neat freak that my mother is, I think she changed the water too often). So my sister and would always press our faces up against pet-store windows to look at the puppies and kittens tumbling over each other, and the long-eared bunnies dozing peacefully. Here I stared at the rabbits – small balls with little, pointy ears, Angoras which were just ears sticking out of their fluffy coats, and the long-eared rabbits with their ears tucked against their bodies. I ached to run my index finger and thumb down one of those ears to see if it felt as velvety as it looked.

And then I moved on to the food. Pavilion 1 had an area devoted to cheese and dairy products, and Pavilion 7 exhibited produce from the different regions of France. I tasted sample after sample, one chocolate and hazelnut biscuit good enough to make my cheeks flush . . . but I’d already spent my money on caramelised and chocolate coated nuts by that stage, so had to slink away. One day I’m going to have enough money to go to one of these shows and buy everything I want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was even lucky enough to see some demonstrations.

One was of a girl making a soft white cheese – large disks of cheese rested in cylindrical casts with holes for the whey to seep out. All of the cheese casts sat on a wooden table with a groove cut out towards the edges, down which the whey slid into a bucket at one end of the table. As a man was explaining that the cheese needs to be left until the mould can form a rind, the girl quickly flipped each disk of cheese onto her palm and deposited it back into the plastic cast upside down to keep the shape and texture uniform.

I also saw a man preparing a Millet aux pommes du Perche. First he whipped up crème anglaise, whisking it until it seemed artificially bright. He sautéed some thinly sliced apples in butter, then coated them in honey and flambéed them with local alcohol. Next he spread a canary-yellow layer of custard into a casserole dish, topped it with the apples, and then added another layer of custard. After garnishing the dessert with chopped nuts, he put a green bowl of butter over the stove to soften the butter for a glaze. He lifted the bowl . . . and left a ring of green plastic on the stove.

Yes I did get to taste it, and it was lovely – the butter and apples melted together perfectly.

The next pavilion also focussed on food, but international food this time, where 34 countries each had stalls presenting their specialties (Australia wasn’t one of them, though I’m not sure what we’d show).

After visiting one of my students, who was working at the show that day and had told me about it, I took a brief tour of the crops and plant section and made my way home.

Montmartre

Relais de la Butte

Rue Poulbot

Although I’ve visited the Sacre Coeur several times, as well as a few other cafés in Montmartre, I’ve realised that I barely know the area at all.

Today I set out to remedy this. Instead of getting off the metro at Anvers, I left at Pigalle and snaked my way up the hill of cobble-stoned streets. Although Montmartre became a part of Paris in 1860, the village retained its character despite Haussman’s renovations.

Chez Marie

From the 1880s artists gravitated to the area, giving it the bohemian atmosphere for which it is still known.

Though, on a Sunday, everything was very calm. People sat under leafless trees on park benches, in tiny parks squeezed into street corners. They posed for photos under iron lamp posts on flight after flight of stone stairs, and they slowly perused café and restaurant menus before choosing whether or not to sit down for a drink. The streets were filled with boutiques, bars and bakeries, many of the glass-front shops dark and empty.

Street performer. He has goldfish on his head!

However, the energy changed as my path wound closer to the Sacre Coeur. The crowds increased and soon the shops were all dedicated to souvenirs. Suddenly the quartier was alive with street artists – not the usual hip-hop dancers you see around Anvers, but a swing band, a cellist and a tap-dancing, balloon-animal maker. The latter was the most impressive – he would select a child in the crowd and make him or her a balloon animal while tapping away, balancing a vase filled with water on his head. And there were three live goldfish in the case.

Place du Tertre

He was performing on the corner of Place du Tertre, a square bordered by restaurants and filled with artists selling their wares. One half of the square had painters with easels displaying images of Paris for sale, and the other half of the square had portraitists who were sketching greyscale images of tourists – there must have been twenty or thirty of them.

Place du Tertre

I continued to the Sacre Coeur, where more artists were standing with sketch paper on clipboards, drawing people while standing.

I considered going to the hill in front of the Sacre Coeur to see what entertainment was there (past examples have included hip-hop dancers, jugglers and a man walking down the hill on his hands), but walked behind it instead.

I was shocked to discover a completely different world. The crowds ceased abruptly, and I was in a residential area. It was still Montmartre, with its stairs, lanterns, cobble-stones, park benches and architecture, but it was quiet. I strolled down Rue Saint Vincent and only saw two couples and an old woman walking a white poodle wearing a red vest.

Villa Leandre

I from here I walked to the mansion and tree-lined Avenue Junot and turned down Villa Léandre. Villa Léandre is reputedly one of the most expensive streets in Paris, with colourful houses and gardens lining the street.

The man in the wall

As I left Villa Léandre I saw a sign pointing to Place du Tertre and a small group of tourists coming my way, and realised that I was heading back to the beaten track.

I followed the sign, passing a sculpture of a man coming through a wall. This sculpture is of the protagonist of French writer Marcel Aymé’s short story Le Passe Murielle – at 42, the character Dutilleul discovers that he can “pass through walls with perfect ease”. This talent drives Dutilleul to sinister pursuits until he is trapped in a wall on Rue Norvins in Montmartre, where we can see him today.

I returned to Place du Tertre, and window-shopped my way along the beaten track back to the metro.

After an hour of walking, I still don’t know Montmartre very well, but I think we’re becoming better acquainted.

Sacre Coeur from back

French châteaux

Chateau de Fontainebleau

Interior

Interior

Library

I’ve had a weekend of châteaux! Yesterday I went 40mins south of Paris to the Château de Fontainebleau with Imogen, Andrew, Julia and Jess (an English teacher from another school), and today I visited the Château de Vincennes.

Despite being annoyed that they made me buy a ticket (if you’re under 25 you’re supposed to get in for free, but it turns out that because I’m not a European I needed to bring my visa to prove that I live in France to get free entry), the Château de Fontainebleau was incredible. It’s so lavish that it’s astounding – sitting room after sitting room of antique chairs, chambers with royal beds framed by curtains thickly woven with gold thread, and countless chandeliers, statues and murals.

The castle was a sovereign residence for eight centuries, the first reference of it being in a royal charter in 1137. Although the castle fell into disrepair after the French Revolution, Napoleon later transformed it into a symbol of his grandeur.

As an alternative to the former royal Palace of Versailles, Fontainebleau is where renaissance architecture and the Italian Mannerist style of interior decoration were first introduced to France. Consequently, the French Mannerist style is known as the “Fontainebleau style”.

Like Versailles, Fontainebleau’s walls are sumptuously decorated with gold-leaf, large murals, heavy tapestries and elaborately carved exposed wood, stained in different shades. I loved the smell of the wooden rooms – some of them were dry, like sawdust, and the others were musty and warm, like empty wine barrels. I kept leaning into the walls with my eyes closed to try to taste the scent.

Gallery Francis I

Chapel of the Trinity

I gasped when I entered several of the rooms – the wood-panelled and frescoed Francis I Gallery, the Ballroom looking onto the castle’s lake and gardens, and the Chapel of the Trinity being cases in point. We first saw the Chapel from a second-floor balcony, and it was like looking out over the theatre from the grand circle. When we made our way to the ground-floor later it was like we’d made a great discovery by finding it again.

Chateau de Vincennes - model

And today I saw the Château de Vincennes (being the first Sunday of the month, this was actually free), at the opposite end of metro line 1 to me. When I hopped of the metro I was stunned by the size of it – the walls of the castle are over a kilometre in length. Oh how I wished the weather was better so I could get some decent photos! The weather is the only criticism I have about this weekend out – it’s nearly impossible to enjoy royal parks and gardens when the sky is grey and you’re being battered by foggy winds.

Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes

First I went to the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes. When I entered, I passed a man handing out small leaflets

Mademoiselle!” he called out, “avez-vous un billet?

Non,” I replied, reaching for my wallet. Wasn’t it supposed to be free?

He handed me a ticket, “c’est gratuit aujourd’hui.”

Chatelet and Donjon

If it was free, why did I need a ticket? I don’t think I’ll ever understand the French.

Found in 1379, the Sainte-Chapelle has a single nave with soaring ceilings and large windows down each side. With sand-coloured stones and the natural light streaming in, I think it may be the most open and airy church I’ve ever seen. It was calming in its simplicity.

The end of the church is decorated with six stained-glass windows depicting scenes of the apocalypse, created and put up in 1555-1556. After admiring them I turned to leave, catching the eye of the man with the tickets. I don’t like it when staff are standing guard at small places like this – I always feel like I haven’t shown enough appreciation.

Déjà?” he asked.

Oui, déjà,” I said with a smile then skipped out and crossed the lawn to the Donjon and Châtelet.

Built in the fourteenth century, the Châtelet was originally a residence for the royal family and is the last medieval Royal residence remaining in France. As the rest of the modern castle was constructed around it, the original fortress became a dungeon. And, at 52m high, the Donjon is the tallest medieval structure in Europe.

One prisoner was the Marquis de Sade who was notorious for his libertine lifestyle, as well as the pornographic passages in his works supported by philosophical justifications. He was imprisoned at Vincennes twice – once for fifteen days for ‘outrageous’ behaviour in a brothel, and in 1977 he received a life sentence after poisoning a prostitute. He stayed at Vincennes for seven years before being transferred to the Bastille in 1784 (he gained his freedom in 1790).

Prisoners' graffiti 1

Prisoners' graffiti 2

Prisoners' graffiti 3

As I continued through the rooms, I found the Treasury where Charles V kept his gold and silver. Apparently the Treasury lead to Charles’s private rooms and, when he was away, the rooms were locked and the doors sealed shut with wax. When he left Vincennes, he took with him the only key.

So I was curious to see what was so important. I walked through the door into . . . the latrine. Fair enough, though I might have taken the wrong door.

On the way out of the latrine I saw a second sign on the opposite wall to the one that identified the room as the latrine, this one identifying it to be the study. Look at that – a man who can multi-task!

Unlike Château de Fontainebleau, the Châtelet and Donjon at Château de Vincennes are raw, with naked stone, cracked tiles, pillars decorated with faded dye and empty fireplaces large enough to stand in. A true medieval fortress.

I loved seeing both the renaissance luxury and medieval relics together – you get a real sense of how people in different time periods lived. And it’s such a relief to get out of Paris and its congestion, even for a day.

Shopping online in France

€59 for this?! It's a folding chair!

So Bénédicte was in my room again. When I was in the UK over Christmas, she discovered that I had broken my chair.

After a long lecture upon my return, we put the subject to rest until the weekend before last. She had found the chair on the Maison Facile website, but it was out of stock when she visited the store. So she asked me if I could find one.

At €59, I was hoping to find it cheaper, but eventually just decided to order that one online. Last Wednesday the €65 transaction, including postage, went through without a hitch. On Thursday I received an email, titled Urgent! Your order No. TFQY708 (this was a little odd, considering that my order number was WHXA188).

It turned out the website was out of the chairs as well (you would think that this would be mentioned somewhere on the website, or that a notice would have popped up when I tried to buy it), and the email invited me to look at their other chairs.

This would not do. I emailed back, saying I don’t want another chair; I would simply like a refund of the €65. Please inform me of when this is possible.

As I hadn’t heard back the next day, I tried giving them a call. But it turns out that Maison Facile’s call centre has a 90 minute lunch break, so I’d have to wait.

Today, Monday, I still hadn’t received a reply, so I tried calling again.

Maison Facile,” a woman answered the phone.

Bonjour,” I answered, “I ordered an armchair last week and received an email saying that it was out of stock, so I would like to organise a refund.”

“Okay, do you have your order number?”

I gave her the one in the email I received, “TFQY708.”

After three tries (I usually avoid the phone – my French still leaves much to be desired), she found the order. “Ahh, you are Madame Martin?”

“. . . no.” I repeated the order number.

She tried again, “you are not Claude Martin? Because that is the name with this order.”

C’est bizarre,” I said, “because that is the number that was emailed to me.”

She searched again under my name, and found the order (the number was WHXA188 – clearly they’d been copying the same email to everyone who ordered this product). “Okay, you just need to send us an email saying that you want to cancel, and you will have a refund in 15-30 days.”

Slightly irritating since I ordered the chair less than a week ago and the money hasn’t even been taken from my account yet, but I’ll take what I can.

After sending my email, I tried another website: Multi-Affaires.

The chair was only €39 here, but the reason I originally chose Maison Facile is because I can’t see any way to actually buy the chair on Multi-Affaires. Check out the link– there’s a title, a picture, a price and a description, and even an icon that I can click to see my shopping cart, but no button to actually buy it.

If anyone else can figure out how to do it online, please let me know, because the call centre wasn’t much more helpful.

Allo?” a woman answered.

Bonjour,” I replied, “est-ce que c’est Multi-Affaires?”

Oui, how can I help you?”

“I’d like to order an armchair.”

“Okay, did you see it on the website?”

“Yes, it’s the fauteuil moon noir,” I said. After spelling it, she seemed to recognise the product.

“Do you have an order number?” she asked.

“No, I would like to order it now – I tried on the website, but it was impossible. There was no . . .” I paused as I searched for vocabulary, “logo to click.” Really don’t like the phone – gestures make life so much easier.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I have the website in front of me. There’s a title, a picture and a description, but no link to buy it,” I ran my cursor over the different parts of the page as if this would help her understand me.

“Okay, I will look.” She went quiet as she looked at the website. After a couple of minutes she said she would look into it and call me back.

An hour later and she still hasn’t.

I’m not impressed with French online shopping to date.

 

Update:

The next day they called me back to say that their website was broken, and they would contact me when it had been repaired. One week later, I called them to discover that not only was the website still not working, but the chair was out of stock.

So I’ve agreed to give Bénédicte money for the chair. She’s just adding up how much I owe her for the bed . . .

A tourist in Paris

Les Invalides

After yesterday’s class I realised that I don’t think I’ve visited the left bank since the weather got cold. Possibly not since my friend D visited in early October.

Even in Paris, most of the expats I know seem to get into a rut – the only places I seem to go now are Saint Lazare, Les Halles, Belleville and Neuilly. So I’ve started being a tourist again.

Yesterday I visited Les Invalides and paid my respects to the Eiffel Tower before wandering around the 15th (I stayed in the 15th on my first two trips to Paris and, as we approach the

Notre Dame

time of year when I was first introduced to this city, I’m constantly reminded of how she seduced me).

Today I went to the top of the Institute du Monde Arabe to enjoy the views of Paris and the Notre Dame, after which I strolled along the Seine. I looked through the windows of the restaurant boats, and a man offered me his hand to help me jump across a large puddle where the bank gets a bit low.

When I crossed Pont au Double, two rows

Skaters

of small, plastic cones lined the road and a group of boys were rollerblading. Their feet wove intricate patterns at incredible speeds – one of them was so talented he was basically dancing. As a crowd gathered, they started playing salsa and house music and, on a sunny, cloudless day, it felt like it was summer again. People meandered along the river and Paris seemed more relaxed than she has been in some time.

The sun started to set as I walked down Ile Saint Louis and window-shopped, stopping to stare at small glass figures and gourmet delights.

Hotel de Ville

I then headed to Hotel de Ville to watch people ice-skating on the rink they set up every winter. As the temperature dropped, people started to quicken their pace again, and I knew Monday was coming.

I swear – sometimes this city is so beautiful it makes me want to cry.

Border security

When you take the Eurostar, your passport is stamped twice – once at the French border control, and once at the English border control, 10 metres later.

The French don’t care – a ‘bonjour‘ and a stamp and I’m done. Some times they omit the ‘bonjour‘. Today, the man didn’t even look at me to see if I resembled my photo (probably a good thing – it was taken when I was 20. Yesterday, one of the teachers at worked guessed that my age was 27. I’m 24 – not happy).

With the English, it’s an entirely different story.

“How long are you going to the UK?” the woman asks, pursing her wide mouth.

“11 days.”

“What’s the reason for your trip?”

“I’m visiting friends for Christmas,” I replied (seriously, why else would I be travelling now?).

“Where are you going after that?”

“I’m coming back to Paris.” At this, the woman looks at me suspiciously. “I’m on a Working Holiday Visa,” I explain.

“And you also had a Working Holiday Visa for the UK.”

“Yes . . .” I’ve been asked this a couple of times and I’m not really sure what the point is – it’s not like there’s a limit on the number of Working Holidays you can take, and many people take more than one.

She continues looking at me.

“I lived there for 18 months and worked in media monitoring,” I say with a sigh, “after that I went back to Australia for a year, and now I’m in Paris on a new visa.”

“And what type of work do you do?”

“I’m an English teacher.”

“Do you like it?”

Generally I’d say yes, but this time I try a new tactic: “some days I do and some days I don’t. It depends on the day, on how busy I am, on my students, on the metro . . .”

The new tactic? Bore her into submission!

It seems to work, and when she asks, “and what age are your students?” she sounds a little resigned.

“Oh, they’re adults,” I reply cheerfully, “so I have some in their 20s, others in their 40s, and others in their 60s, though I don’t usually talk about their age . . .” I babble and she purses her lips again. I’m not sure if she’s repressing a yawn or a smirk.

“Okay, go,” she tosses my passport back to me.

Jolie – 1

UK Border Control – Nil

The Panthéon

Today I visited the Panthéon, and I think it may be my new favourite Paris monument.

I’d only seen it from the outside before and, knowing nothing about the building, had always assumed that it was some sort of national assembly.

Originally the Panthéon was intended to be a church, and Jacques-Germain Soufflot was commissioned to design it in 1755. The foundations were laid in 1758, and the building was finished in 1789, coinciding with the start of the French Revolution. Thus, the Revolutionary government ordered it to be changed from a church to a monument to great Frenchmen.

Since then it has been through a political and religious tug-of-war, twice being changed back to a church, only to again become a monument to French intellectuals.

Not knowing any of this when I walked in, I was surprised at the mesh of different atmospheres – the building looks like a church. It is made in the shape of a Greek cross and the dome is reminiscent of St Paul’s in London or St Peter’s in Rome. But many of the paintings on the walls (separated from the central area by a wall of columns) are not religious, and neither are the statues. And, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, it felt like I was walking through an ancient, cavernous library.

It was only when I went down into the dim, echoing crypt that I learned of the history of the building, and when I returned to the main level I tried to look at all of the changes that were made as the building changed identities – many of the windows have been blocked in, so it’s darker than many churches of this style, and though many of the main paintings are not religious, the smaller ones above them show angels and saints, and are done in a completely different style with a lot of gold-leaf.

I was so caught up in the paintings that I didn’t actually see the pendulum – one of the things for which the Panthéon is known – until I was on my way out.

In the centre of the building, hanging from the dome, is a gold pendulum. It swings back and forth over a table that represents a 24-hour clock face and tells the time by swinging over the hour. The original was built in 1851 by Léon Foucault who demonstrated the rotation of the Earth with the experiment. Basically, because the pendulum isn’t touching the Earth, it continually swings back and forth on the same line, but because the Earth (hence the Panthéon and the clock-table) are rotating under it by 11 degrees an hour, the pendulum appears to be moving as the day progresses. Very cool.

(Btw – the Pendulum picture is from Somewhere Else as I forgot to bring my camera today.)

The Panthéon is one the monuments that has left me awestruck by its size. Maybe it’s because I haven’t looked at many buildings like this for some time, but I found myself staring at the ceiling, unable to comprehend how high it was, or the size of the pillars which line the walls. Even the model with a cross-section taken out was twice my height! Although it isn’t as well-known as the Louvre, the Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower, I think this is a must-see for anyone visiting Paris.