A Chaotic Day in Paris
Paris is one the most written about cities in the world. It seems that in 2021 everyone has their own best restaurants or best sights to see in Paris guide. However, when I went in the summer of 2019, it was rather different to your traditional trip. It was a very chaotic day in Paris.
First of all, I was only there for a day. At the time I was staying in the city of Arras in northern France and the group that I was staying with decided that a day trip to Paris was what we needed to do. This was an idea I could certainly get behind. I had only ever been to Paris once seven years previous and it was also for just a single day.
So, after getting on the train in Arras early on a Saturday morning in July, we were headed for Paris. We had all got varying ideas of what we wanted to do that day. Some people wanted to spend hours in the Louvre, others just to enjoy the summer sunshine in one of the world’s most famous cities. I however was on the train headed for Gard du Nord with no plan of how I was going to spend my day.
I have found when travelling that when you get to a city with no plan at all it has the possibility to be either the best experience or an absolute train wreck. This day in Paris was certainly in the former category. Upon our arrival, I headed straight to the Louvre with a few others. Naturally our main aim was to see the Mona Lisa, as well as get a few of the traditional tourist photos touching the top of the Louvre pyramid. From the outside, the queue for the Louvre was not that big and moved quickly. However, as soon as we were on the floor of the main building it became clear that inside was a completely different story. It was more than an hours wait to see just the Mona Lisa, something that none of us wanted to do given we had just one day there.
After a lot of- well what are we going to do now then? It was decided that we should leave the Louvre and head for some of the other famous Parisian landmarks. Naturally the first one mentioned was the Eiffel Tower. However, none of us seemed to have any idea about Parisian geography. So, we made the bold decision to walk it. As it turns out, it is a 4km walk, one that takes the average person a little less than an hour. In the July heat this was extremely hot. To make matters worse, rather than bring up google maps to get the route to the Eiffel Tower, we decided that the best way to get there was to just walk towards it. Something that must have added unnecessary distance.
Despite the heat, it was a lovely walk through the streets of Paris. We passed by countless cafes with people reading the day’s paper whilst enjoying a coffee. I was able to pick up a few croissants from a cute little boulangerie well away from the crowded boulevards. It was at the Eiffel Tower that I was able to take a break from all of the walking as we sat and ate on the Champ de Mars in typical tourist fashion. To get the best shots of the Eiffel Tower, we crossed over to the Jardin du Trocadero where we spent far too long posing and asking other tourists to take photos of all of us. There was also a debate as to whether or not we were allowed to swim in the fountains, an idea that I was luckily talked out of.
The level of chaos until this point was not massive, but it was about to be raised up a notch. After accidently arriving on the Champs Elysees, we made the decision to walk along it to the Arc de Triomphe. Anyone who has ever been to Paris or watched films or TV shows, will know what I am talking about when I say the roundabout by the Arc de Triomphe. For anyone who doesn’t, it is one of the most mental roundabouts in the world that can have up to nine lanes of cars at any given time.
I was stood at the edge of this roundabout looking for a way to reach the Arc de Triomphe. As I later found out, there is an underpass beneath the roundabout that allows you to cross but at the time this was not something that I noticed. Instead, the only way that I could see to reach the other side of the roundabout and the Arc de Triomphe was to run through all of the traffic.
So that is exactly what I did. I waited until the perfect moment when there were not too many cars and then proceeded to run at full pace across the roundabout. I almost made it to the Arc de Triomphe without getting in the way of any cars, but just before I got there a car came flying round the corner and had to slow down to avoid hitting me. This whole experience was a very thrilling one but not one that I would recommend to anyone when in Paris!
After actually making it to the Arc de Triomphe alive, I went to see the tomb of the unknown soldier. It was a very poignant moment for a historian such as me. The candles burnt quietly, and it was an oasis of calm and contemplation surrounded by the chaos of the roundabout. Standing there looking down the Champs Elysees on that sunny July day, with the cars flying around the roundabout it really was a solace in the middle of the chaos.
When leaving the Arc de Triomphe I cleverly took the underpass as to make sure that I did not put my life in unnecessary danger again and took the Paris Metro to Notre Dame. My visit was only a few months after the tragic fire that destroyed much of the building. It was a very eerie sight. There was a massive barrier that had been erected around the whole building preventing us from looking in. People were milling around, not entirely sure what to do. Some were taking photos, while others just stood staring at the building, many with tears in their eyes.
At this point in the day, it was time to start heading back to Arras. So, after taking a stroll along the Seine I headed for Gard du Nord. As I got back on the train, I noticed that I had done more than 40,000 steps in the day. I guess that is what happens when you have no plan and spend your day strolling around Paris. It might have been a chaotic day in Paris with more than 40,000 steps and at least one near death experience, but I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday in July.