All roads lead to L’Arc de Triomphe

After spending a few days in London, it was time to catch a cab and head to St. Pancras Train Station to board the EuroStar high speed train for Paris. We only scheduled a couple of days there, but were planning on making the most of our brief visit.

The sun sets over a tranquil Seine River next to the L’Ouvre Museum

London and Paris are very close in terms of physical proximity, but are vastly different when it comes to so many other things. Language, right-hand driving and a lack of a monarchy are but a few of the more obvious departures.

The uniform stone architecture and quaint apartment buildings laden with black medal railings are a sure sign you have arrived in what many describe as the World’s most romantic city. London and its grey soot-laden buildings just don’t stand up by comparison.

The Louvre Museum was once the home of Kings and Queens ruling France

We arrived late afternoon and took the cab to a quaint boutique hotel which is located at the eastern entrance of the Louvre Museum. The Hotel Relais du Louvre was amazingly central and helped us to spend the entire two days either on foot or bicycle. The staff were incredibly pleasant too!

While there are millions of people that live in Paris, the pace of life is notably more civilized than London. There are literally thousands of outdoor patios which accompany the many restaurants and pubs which line every major street and alley way. It is perhaps this more visible presence of people enjoying a glass of wine while snacking on their foie gras that gives the illusion of calm, but somehow that just seems too simplistic an explanation.

Sun sets on the island in the Seine River which houses the famous Notre Dame Cathedral

Although it is almost at the same latitude as New Westminster, the Parisennes have learned to move everything outdoors. They have done well adapting to the cooler winter weather and embrace the notion that a life without outdoor cafes, simply isn’t life.

Now just imagine if the newly redesigned Front Street had bought into that concept. Life and animation shouldn’t simply be programmed there every Friday…it should be there seven days a week.

We decided to take a stroll on our first evening in Paris and stumbled upon about 50 people standing and milling about on the sidewalk and adjacent street. Was there a fire drill? Had someone been hit by a car? The answer is no on both counts.

What we encountered were people respectfully enjoying an adult beverage outside, without the requisite metal gates to keep you in…and vagrants out. It was an amazing experience to just see people casually enjoying life, without fear of a bylaw officer coming by to fine the owner for serving alcohol in public.

In fact, at one restaurant, the waiter even offered my 14 year old son a glass of wine! He refused, but it goes to show you how much more casual and less hung up on alcohol they are compared to us folks in North America.

They don’t have everything right in Paris, but they certainly know how to live life to the max.

While we did hear horror stories from one of our tour guides about how bureaucratic their municipal governments [yes, there are a lot of them] can be…take away their ability to enjoy food and drink in public and this would be justifiable cause for yet another French Revolution!

I must say I was thoroughly impressed once again with their public transit system. After I was able to master the ticket purchase system [that did take a few minutes and it was available in multiple languages] I was passed the entry gate and into the underground station.

Some of the public art on display at the Metro underground train stations. Try finding that anywhere on the SkyTrain line!

Unlike London’s Tube, the Parisiennes have figured out a way to have their cake and eat it too. The Louve-Rivolis Station was tastefully decorated and even had public art [see image]. Granted it was the official stop for the world-famous tourist destination which houses the Mona Lisa, but when I compare that to 22nd Street Station…or any SkyTrain stop in the Royal City, I can’t help but think we could and should be doing better.

The French have long understood that if you make something pleasing to the eye, humans are more apt to consume it, ride on it or live in it. It’s a lesson a number of our local municipalities and businesses should observe – particularly when cities are building public projects. If you want to see what I mean, just visit the New Westminster SkyTrain station to witness first-hand how a good redesign concept can go really bad.

On Day 2 we had pre-booked a cyling tour which would take us around Paris in places few would venture to go with their vehicle. We had a great 20 something dual citizen [French-English] named Sam who sported a British accent and seemed at times utterly spellbound by the beauty and history of Paris.

Our group of 12 riders mounted aboard our bikes [sans helmet as it is not the law unless you are my son’s age] and away we went. It was an amazing back of stage tour which lasted just under four hours and provided us with just the right amount of history and context. It also gave me a new appreciation regarding how bikes, cars and pedestrians can all co-exist without a dedicated bike lane.

I referred to this portion of the trip as organized chaos. Cars weaving in and out of traffic. Cyclists almost sideswiping pedestrians. It was all just so nuts…yet it all seems to work. There most certainly is a natural rhythm and balance to this imperfect symbiotic relationship between car, cycle and pedestrian. Take note Vancouver!

Our last evening in Paris took us to the beautiful Latin Quarter. While I want to thank everyone for all their lovely restaurant suggestions, it was a quaint little restaurant on the edge of the district that caught our eye.

We ordered a nice carafe of white wine and charcuterie that included some amazing meat and cheese I’ve never eaten before. While the service in France doesn’t quite compare to North American standards, it was hardly forefront in our minds as we watched the locals scurry about and purchase their baguette and fromage for the journey home.

I must say, when the French are not happy with you, there is no holding back. Order the wrong dish or put an emphasis on the wrong syllable and you’ll no doubt be met with an eye roll or an under the breath curse. That said, overall we found the people incredibly friendly and welcoming of us as Canadians. Need help finding directions, they will inevitably do whatever they can to assist.

With our two day trip to Paris now behind us, we pack our bags and make our way to Charles De Gaulle Airport to board a flight to Venice. After a one night stay, we board the Italian Cruise line MCS – better known as the folks who owned the ill-fated Costa Concordia which sank off the coast of Italy a number of years ago.

I’ve been told more than once, if there is going to be a safe cruise line these days, it’s going to be MCS. Nonetheless, it was sure hard to beat their two-for-one pricing! However, now I realize why the price was right!

Our journey cruise will take us to Italy, Greece, Albania and Croatia. Therefore, when I get back online and in front of my laptop, I’ll be sure to provide you with my next installment of the Fontaine’s in Europe.