It’s a fine line…

Kim axis 3Pondering the beauty of my home city the other day, it struck me that the ‘P’ for Paris also stands for ‘paradox’ – and I don’t just mean the presence of sheer mountains of dog merde clogging up streets in a place so celebrated for its good looks. When we think of France’s capital, we often think of it as a place to spend a romantic weekend, or a few days’ shopping. Whatever the purpose of your visit, it seems that most of us intend it to be a short one, which quite frankly sells the old Dame a bit short.

With so many gorgeous things to see, having a mini break here seems as nuts as trying to fit your worldy possessions into a 10m² apartment (trust me, despite optimistic projection is NEVER. GOING. TO. HAPPEN.). Your experiences will just end up bulging out of either side, and no one likes squashed memories. Sure, life is busy and there are so many amazing places to see, not just in France but in the whole world, and finding time for a holiday is as difficult as locating a Parisian parking space.

Kim axis 2Coupled with this, we’re used to having things at the touch of a button, in an instant, in a tiny package that fits into the palms of our hands. Well as much as I’m reluctant to move with the times (still resisting that smartphone would you believe), I have to admire the way that Paris caters to these modern needs and provides us with all the best bits in one bite-size chunk. Want to see all the big players in one tidy tableau without spending precious sightseeing time zigzagging the city map encased in the metro? Paris delivers like a pro.

KIm axis 1If cityscapes were apps, the Axe Historique would gain top marks for usability. An axis, or straight line extending from the centre of the city out to the west, it connects a large number of the most famous sights, meaning that if you’ve no other option than to limit your time to a couple of hard-won days off, or God forbid, mere hours (shudder), you’ll get to bask in the delights of the city’s most revered structural gems without sacrificing too much time.

Kim axis 6The concept of this handy continuous perspective across the city (clearly completely impossible these days in our cram-’em-in pile’em-high urban tangles) was hatched back in the 17th century with the creation of the straight-as-a-poker Champs-Élysées, and encompassed the neighbouring Tuileries gardens (and ancient palace that has since burned down). These days the collection of famous faces has swelled, and now includes from east to west: the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Place de la Concorde and its central Obelisk, Champs-Élysées, Place de l’Étoile dominated by the Arc de Triomphe (regular) and the modern Grande Arche in the satellite CBD way out at La Défense. Currents plans will see it extend even further into the well-to-do suburb of Neuilly.

Kim axis 5I’m hardly the greatest fan of modern scourge the ‘selfie’ (savour life through your very own peepers, not through the screen of your blinking’ phone!) but even I have to admit the gold star value of this particular spot. Position yourself at the eastern end of the Tuileries gardens and the Eiffel Tower will also be in clear view (seriously, what more could you want?!), and turn 180° and ponder exactly how drunk the builders must have been to ensure that the great pyramid of the Louvre will forever be frustratingly off-centre*. Perfectionists beware.

*Said drunkenness is probably not in the slightest bit historically accurate.

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Talkin’ bout a revolution……

If Paris was a family, the Eiffel Tower would be at the bottom of the tree, the precocious young pup at a mere 126 years old. Being the juvenile show pony of the city kin, it’s no wonder that hordes flock to her as a priority, leaving the rest of the Parisian clan to fill up the lower reaches of the sightseeing list. But you know what tower, dear? It’s far too hot to be shimmying up your height in this face-melting weather, so we’ll leave your daunting climb to a day during much cooler times.

Kim bastille 1Luckily it’s almost as if the history of Paris prepared itself for this change in temperature, and July is the month to cast our cultural eye, Sauron style, to a different part of town where it’s the country as a complete generational unit that gets our undivided attention. You’re in the mood for a lively celebration? Then you can’t go wrong if you happen to be in the capital on 14 July for France’s Fête Nationale, or ‘Bastille Day’ as us Anglos like to refer to it.

Kim French 3In the Motherland, the damp squib that is England’s national day on 23 April couldn’t be more of a contrast. Over there we raise little more than an eyebrow in celebration to Greek-born Saint George who never actually went to the green and pleasant land, and made himself famous, as legend has it, by having a to-do with a dragon. Yes, that traditional English native animal, THE DRAGON. Here in France the origins of the national celebration may be more recent, but a whole lot less tenous, and a far more historically rich and suitably patriotic affair.

Kim bastille 5The whole shebang started way back in 1789 when thousands of cheesed-off revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison, marking the beginning of the French Revolution and setting the wheels in motion for a chain of events that would change the country and its values forever. A feast was held on the same date the following year to mark the momentous occasion, but there was a whole lot of revolting happening during the subsequent 100 years, and the date wasn’t chosen and officiated as the national celebration day until 1880.

The spirit of French unity which prompted its creation carries through to today and a week on Tuesday you can check out the huge parade of military might on the Champs Élysées and watch the heart-shuddering air display pass over the city. The Eiffel Tower can’t help but muscle in on the festivities as restless kids are wont to do, and naturally an impressive fireworks display makes sure we pay enough attention to it.

Kim bastille 4If you fancy absorbing some of the original revolutionary spirit, head to Place de la Bastille. You won’t find the original prison there as the revolutionaries did a sterling job of dismantling it stone by stone, but if you want to see just what an impressive feat that is, duck into the metro and find the platform of line 5 (direction Bobigny) where you can find the only remaining chunk of foundations and an outline of where the structure used to stand.

Kim bastille 2Don’t be lumping into the 1789 story the green column standing proud in the middle of the place though – that’s a whole other story of the 2nd French Revolution (oh how they loved making their point back then). Named the July column, it commemorates the 3-day-long July Revolution of 1830 (27-29 July), and the little gold cherub on the top represents the spirit of freedom. Revolutions? Buy one get one free in these parts.

I hope you can appreciate my brevity in telling these tales, with history as rich as this, we’d be here all year if I tried to delve any further. So for now, enjoy the sunshine, embrace the fête and save the French history lesson until the winter.