Paris is the city of love; we think of it as all walks along the Seine, candlelight, ‘ooh lalas’, purring French accents and tasty food. Yet the travel guides often fail to mention the reality. I would call it the city of dog poo, bad drivers and snobby attitudes, but let me explain myself before your dreams of a romantic valentine’s weekend are shattered…
As a third year English and French student I have learnt to survive in a city where a cup of coffee often costs the same as your weekly shop to Tesco’s and a mere ‘merci’ or ‘désolée’ is hard to come by. Like any country girl moving to a big city, I’ve found it difficult to adjust to peoples’ blank looks and ‘tut tuts’ as you wander through the metro station searching in vain for the right line.
Now I’ve become one of those people myself, dressing in black with a baguette in hand and a French pout on my lips, well and truly immersed. Perhaps it is the fact that I am so often treated like a tourist that frustrates me – perhaps the melancholy influence of Baudelaire and Victor Hugo is penetrating my soul…I just cannot help but roll my eyes at the ‘Oh my Gawds’ that echo through the streets on a day to day basis as I fight my way through a crowd of bumbag-wearing Americans.
So if you want to avoid the natives’ looks of disdain and the ever frequent clichés, take my advice: of course take a look at the Eiffel tower (it is magnificent, particularly at night), the Louvre is a must, but take the time to appreciate the little things which are often cheaper, free or at least a little off the beaten track.
Your number one stop should be the Sacré Coeur. It is seething with sightseers during the day, but at night in the fairer months the steps which lead up to it are a student’s dream – A vibrant atmosphere, groups of French teens huddled around a bottle of red wine, people dancing to hip hop music blaring through boom boxes to entertain rather than make money, and a view that in my opinion far surpasses that tower thingy…if you’re not breathless after climbing the many steps up to the church you will be when you see Paris at your feet.
This area has just the right balance of real life and romance – a must see. It is a chance to mix with the locals in a friendly setting – I once met a tour guide with whom I enjoyed a slightly intoxicated franglais conversation about the city and which left me slightly more optimistic about the attitudes of the Parisian population; oh the joys of French wine.
Why not end the evening with a late night dinner at “Le Timbre” (3 rue Ste-Beuve, Montparnasse) the best Parisian restaurant I’ve yet to find, owned by a man hailing from Manchester (though we don’t tell the locals that), where I discovered the most heavenly chocolate mousse with jasmine cream. It’s a bit of a treat, so if you’re looking for good food on the ultimate budget, as well as some great student bars I would recommend Rue Mouffetard (5th arrondissement, Metro 7 Censier Daubenton).
This street features in ‘Amélie’ but has not been at all tainted, retaining its village-like charm, with a daily fresh fruit and veg market and a boulangerie or cheese stall every few paces along the quaint cobbles. At the upper end of this famous street you can find plenty of restaurants offering three course meals for 14€ and believe me, the food is magnifique!
So to end on a completely different note, Paris is wonderful. Yes the majority of Parisians seem allergic to smiling and yes the roundabout circling the arc de triomphe is a driver’s nightmare but that’s for those living here to worry about.
Explore the Latin quarter with eyes wide, you don’t want to miss the well concealed back streets and their endless boutiques. Stare in awe at the designer shops along the Champs-Elysées. Do walk everywhere as Paris is contained enough to allow this. Just watch your step for that dog poo.