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Published: March 23rd 2006
One of the major policy flaws with my first hostel in Paris was that alcohol was prohibited from being brought in from the outside. It could of course be purchased in hostel at an overinflated price (2 euros for a tiny bottle of bavaria. Last time I checked Bavaria was a part of Germany not Holland, but the label begged to differ) but poor backpackers like myself can't afford that kind of thing every day.
My new hostel, situated right at the foot of Montmarte had no such authoritarian beverage related regulations. This new found freedom must have gone to my head though, because it led me to behave rather recklessly with regard two euro bottle of wine (now identified as the possible culprit for my subsequent mystery illness) and several supplementary beers. In hindsight this was certainly not a good move, particuarly as I was sharing a dorm with several Japanese travellers who apparently think it's their constitutional duty to be awake, dressed and out of the door by 7:00 every morning. It's probably fair to say I wasn't in the best of spirits the following day. Unfortunately the gods had chosen that day to be the coldest since
I arrived in Paris.The hostel kicks everyone out at 11:00 so my preferred choice of activity, lying in bed and moaning, wasn't really plausible.
I had been putting off going to Versailles for a while, fearing it wouldn't be to thrilling. As I had only one day left in Paris however, I realised I should probably do something productive with it.despite the fact that I was currently hobbling like an arthritic pensioner to Versailles I went.
Seemingly to counterbalance that famed 'city of love' tagline, the Parisian planning authorities decided to build the ugliest suburbs imaginable, from the train to Versailles they really looked quite disgusting. No wonder there are riots, If I had to live in somewhere like Javel I think I'd riot. A gruelling 40 minute journey to Versailles, during which I was plagued by unnesscesarily loud train announcements and doors which beep and hiss when opened, was not the ideal tonic for alcohol poisoning.
Yes Versailles is large and impressive, regal and historical and all that, but it was also kind of boring. Faced with the largest tourist hordes I had encountered so far(it was like being in a football crowd, at some points
I could hardly move) I took a, shall we say, rather laissez-faire attitude to touring the chateau, in that large parts of it were spent sitting on a very plush looking bench reading my book. I didn't want to spend the 20 euro that allowed access to the entire chateau, so I bought the less pricier ticket that allowed me to wander through the state appartments. The furnishings were probably worth millions and there were hundreds of priceless paintings on the wall, but the rooms were all very similar; some were quite deliberately identical. Does one really need drawing rooms dedicated to all the Roman Gods. I began to wonder whether Louis XIV or whoever ever got bored of the gold and red velvet(I know I did), whether he occasionally yearned for a nice minimalist blue, or an aquamarine green; although by the looks of Versailles the interior decorater hadn't attempted mixing the blue and yellow paints in his paintbox yet.
Although the Palace itself was tedious, the gardens were lovely. Had it not been so fucking freezing I would have spent more time there. Considering the hangover though it would have been unwise to linger. By this time
the cold had started to take advantage of my alcohol weakened immune sytem, which is already laughably feeble, and I was beginning to feel feverish. So I got the hell out of versailles and went back to my hostel to lie in bed for a few hours.
The Pompidou centre was everything that Versailles wasn't: modern, minimalist, actually interesting. Although the structure may at best be described as innovative or functional, it is never gong to be used in conjunction with adjectives such as 'graceful' or 'attractive'. Stripped of all its infrastruture, which is placed on the outside, the floor space is available to be used creatively. This, along with the outstanding modern art, is what held my interest for almost an entire day. It is the little details that make the Pompidou such a success;, llots of sofas, each with a different theme are placed in the entryway of each floor, for example. The exhibitions were presented inventively also; an exhibition about modern achitecture in LA, which could easily have been quite dry, was presented under a sloping glass floor which visitors walked upon using the provided cotton socks. Because the exterior walls are all glass,the views over
the city from pretty much anywhere in the building were quite breathtaking. I'd walk into the next room, expecting more exhibits, and be presented with a fantastic view over the Parisian rooftops.
After leaving, I lingered a while in the Beaubourg square outside the Pompidou, which is a gathering place for students and street artists. I never thought the Digeridoo could actually be played with any sophistication, it is normally a fairly monotone instrument. The sounds this one woman got out of it were quite amazing though; all rythmical whoops and shrieks, and reedy flute noises.
When I left Paris I'd been there for about ten days. I'm glad I did it that way, I couldn't abide rushing around to see all the tourists sites in a few days. My time there enabled me to relax and taking things slowly, and I think I got a better insight into what it would be like to actually live there. I still didn't have time to do everything I wanted. With the exception of Notre Dame, the Latin quarter and the Montmarte area I never really got around to seeing Paris lit up at night. I'm not too dissapointed though,
I've seen it before and I'm certain I will see it again.
Nevertheless I was can't say I was sorry to leave when I did. I'd been unwell, and a large city is never the place to endure an illness. It has been difficult to adjust to the loneliness of solo travel, it certainly was at first, despite often having people to talk to in the evenings. The aloof and somewhat elitest image that Parisians often adopt towards outsiders certainly didn't help. I think part of the problem (and I tread carefully for fear of being labeled the next James Blunt) is that Paris is famed as 'the city of love' and I, to put it bluntly, don't have any. Last time I was here it did, and I suppose that added to the magic . I didn't think it would affect me, but when you see couples strolling round arm in arm being romantic all day and you haven't talked to anyone for eight hours it can lend a slightly melancholy air to proceedings. Too borrow a quote from Mr Morrissey:'Two lovers entwined pass me by, and heaven knows I'm miserable now'.
Still that's half the fun
though, isn't it.
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