Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paris, Paris, it's a hell of a town

The first impression I had of Paris was of a swarm of impeccably-dressed, impeccably-annoyed commuters at Paris Est train station, along with the smell of bread. This was nice because my first impression of New York was of New Jersey, people from New Jersey and the Port Authority bus terminal. None of them fill you with a desire to remain in New York, but Paris made a much better start.

Paris reminds me a lot of New York. The subway tunnels are well-tagged, the stations are ancient and have the smell of history, or maybe that's just what tiles smell like after a century or so. Paris has a reputation for rudeness and so does New York. Paris has very nice but expensive restaurants and so does New York. Paris is remarkably cosmopolitan, with a unique composition of immigrants, and so does New York. Paris is full of tourists and so is New York. Paris has a baseball team full of assholes and so does New York.

The famous tourist attractions in Paris are remarkably cheap. You can visit the Arch of Triumph, second only to Pyongyang's in the category of triumphal arches, for free, though Pyongyang doesn't charge to get to the top. You can get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, a threatening looking piece of metal that looks far more remarkable in person, for about 13 euros. You can get inside the Notre Dame Cathedral for free, and up to the top for a panoramic view of Paris, for 10 euros. Victor Hugo's descriptions of the cathedral, its towers and the contrast between the dark, narrow way up and the endless view at the top are free, written on plaques. The Louvre, my next stop, is similarly-priced. Second and third-rate attractions elsewhere in Europe charge more, sometimes even double.

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