Every one of us reaches a time in our lives when we want to feel something more, something beyond our immediate reach . Most often than not we let those feelings lead us to the inevitable wanderlust. I invariably let myself to be let astray by these feelings and find myself trying to find an unusual and exciting destination where i can spend the few short days I can convince my family to spare from their insane lives.
A few summers back we embarked on the most cliche journey that exists in the history of travel. The London- Paris route. Every ardent traveler would have been on this particular itenerary atleast twice in their lives for a variety of reasons. So I decided to the the cliche just to see what all the fuss was about. The Arc De triomph never really excited me and I had spent days comtemplating what the big deal about Montmatre was. But I told myeslf - You never know, if you try might discover something extraordinary in it.
So our plane landed in the busy Charles De Gaulle airport and we got onto our rented cab. Our apartment was in the very city centre so we had a long drive before we got there.
Tired from the journey, I rested my head on the windowsill and began my car-nap. The next thing I know, I open my eyes and all aorund me are Tamil and Bengali Shops. I couldn't believe my eyes. Where on earth had I landed up. The cab was just the same and my family was still around me. But we had suddenly been transported to some random location that I had never seen or expected to see.. If this was Paris, where were the cobblestone streets, the elegant spires and the skyline of the Eiffel. It had to be some sort of a time warp. It was the only logical explanation for this. I asked my family if they too say what I saw. I was told in hushed tones so as to not offend the Cab owner that in the suburbs of Paris there lives an infinite number of Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan tamils who set up shops selling clothes and spices which explained the strange sight I was witnessing at that moment.
I heaved a massive sigh of relief. This was just the beginning. My maiden shock in this city of contradictions. They call it the most romantic city, but I would say it was the most self-contradictory city. Everywhere I turned I saw this unique mix of the old and the new, the foreign and the native. It was a city that resisted change with all her heart, yet opened her arms to those unlike her who would come and make the city something altogether different.
It took all my preconceived notions and threw them out of the window. On the very first day I saw none of the fabled romance. It was mostly cobblestoned streets which were very hard to walk on because my heels continuously got stuck. The Louvre looked so low, so un-inspiring and so different from what we'd seen on Da Vinci Code. The Eiffel by day looked rusted, with the massive metal structure showing signs of old age and wearing. The Montmatre was just some backward city with annoying Hawkers who couldn't stop begging you to let them sketch your silhouette. I decided to relax the rest of the day and spend some time at home. Maybe the morning would bring with it some surprises and a new perspective.
With that I retreated to my apartment - a cramped one bedroom inside a quaint building with three floors of hard-core climbing to do. There were however a few books of tourist interest which i flipped through before hitting the sack.
The next morning, to my surprise and dismay, was the day of the Champions League finals between Arsenal and FC Barcelona. On stepping out of the house I saw plain pandemonium. The city was celebrating. There were people all over in their football jerseys cheering for their team and visiting the popular city sites. All the hop-on hop-off buses were crowded with fans going crazy, waving flags around. The excitement was infectious. Here again, the contradictions were born. People were so happy, so completely at ease and so cheerful. The day just lefted my spirits and Paris could now do no wrong. Visiting the Eiffel, we found the queues to be insanely wrong, but we could not care less. There were hordes of fans setting of colour bombs which spread the red and green characteristic of FC Barcelona all over the skyline. Hundreds of people thronged the streets selling and buying memorabilia. We could not grudge there celebrators their joy though it meant finding to place to sit for lunch and price hikes at all the roadside stands. The city was alive and at its best.
At nightfall, it began to drizzle and the historical Football Match was also under way. I found myself sitting, with my father in a pub/cafe watching the match on a 1-foot-by-1-foot TV and making small talk with the waiters. A running commentary ensued and the night was perfect. The slight drizzle outside just enhanced the feeling of perfection. Never has a city turned my opinion of it around like this overnight. It was the highest point of my holiday and after that things were uphill non-stop.
The louvre on further inspection proved worth its while and the roads were worth exploring. Half the fun of the holiday was in living it like the city folk. We did not stay in a hotel but instead took an apartment. So all the cooking was done at home. We walked around shopping at the traditional grocery stores, trying out our pathetic french 'fromage , pain' we squeaked endlessly, hoping to get our bread and cheese at the soonest possible.
The more we looked around, the more we saw. The city was so diverse - the peple dressed so well and you would find hundreds of people of every race walking around just belonging.
The promenades and gardens were lush with beauty. This was a city that every man and woman had to do twice atleast - the first time as a tourist, seeing all the architectural delights and then as a local, feeling the sights and smells, discovering all the unusual places to eat, learning some basic french and maybe working as a waiter or a grocer to see what life in a city as extraordinary as this could give.
Vive le France :D