Sunday, September 20, 2009

Paris: a fickle mistress

Paris is kind of like a girl I dated once.

My first two days in Paris were a blast. I saw many of the main attractions and spent a lot of time walking the city, becoming enamored with the city of lights, love, and fine cuisine. I loved Paris and the people in it, and couldn't wait to see more of her.

Once we'd gotten past the initial courtship phase of pretty lights, buildings, and fashion models everywhere (seriously, the French are gorgeous - and they dress accordingly!), I went about trying to find out about the REAL Paris - who is she, what does she like to do in her spare time, and what are some of the things she might be hiding?

I decided that a good way to explore the city now would be to jump on a metro and get off at a random stop. The first trip took me to the Opera district, which I promptly started exploring with gusto. What would I see? Who would I meet? What are all those riot police doing?

I had stumbled into the middle of a protest, and there were riot police everywhere; some with batons, some with hands on pepper spray. There were five or six protesters protesting the poor pay of their jobs, and the riot police were there I guess in case the guy with the drum got out of hand. Apart from my initial concern, there didn't seem to be much risk of a full scale riot, so I picked a direction and started walking.

One of the first things I noticed was that all the buildings were very pretty. But so are the buildings everywhere else. It was this that suddenly got me a little bit down. Paris was lovely, sure, and had some wonderful features, but could it be that she really is just like any other European Capital - full of expensive stores and lovely building facades? Don't get me wrong; I don't know what I was expecting, but it suddenly hit me that after a while all of these buildings and major cities are starting to look the same. With that depressing thought in mind, I figured I should try and find a bar.

I stumbled across a bar I had read about in the Lonely Planet: Harry's New York Bar; apparently the oldest cocktail bar in Europe. I walked in, and was greeted by a surly bartender who promptly said "what would you like to drink; this is a bar after all." This caught me off guard a little, so I replied with "a cocktail please, you are the oldest cocktail bar in Europe".

I don't think this won me any friends.

Flustered, all I could think of was to order a Manhattan (it is Harry's New York Bar, after all), and I also noticed a sign suggesting that I try their 'delicious' hot dogs. So I ordered one of those as well.

18 Euros. I made sure to drink that Manhattan very slowly. I sat there for an hour or so slowly sipping on my drink, trying to make small talk with the bartender, though whenever I said anything he just looked as though he had swallowed a bee and went back to his Sudoku.

And so I left Harry's New York Bar, annoyed that I had paid so much for so little, and even more so put out by the general surliness of the bartender. This, on top of the general feeling that Paris was not as exciting as I had hoped it to be, left me a little depressed for the rest of the day. So I bought a bottle of wine, headed back to my hostel, and hung out with some foreign folk before going to bed, to find that my lovely room mates (whose names and ethnicities shall remain anonymous) had flooded the bathroom again (but had somehow managed to keep all of their 'Hello Kitty' memorabilia dry).

It seemed that the honeymoon period was over.

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