Tale of two cities


I’ve always maintained that Paris and London are incredibly alike.

They’re both big, proud, characterful cities that utterly dominate their respective countries politically and culturally, and they both are world famous cities that are centres of major world languages. Also, they share a similar feel – engaging, gritty and down to earth, yet with an architectural and atmospheric grandeur that comes from their size, scale, history and multiculturalism. They also share the basic geographical determinants of a river and an underground system.

I know I’m pretty much in a minority of one on this, but the more time I spend in each, the more firm I become in this conclusion. The comparison is, of course, much easier to make now that Eurostar links the two in a couple of hours or so, and I’ve been through a few times in the last few years.

Not to knock Paris, but I’ve also not quite got the whole lofty-eyed romanticism either. Yes, it’s a beautiful city, with some iconic buildings, great literary and musical traditions, and a reputation for love. But much stronger, more evident and more colourful is its gritty vibrancy – everything from the slightly unkempt feel about the place, the very evident homelessness and begging, and the graffiti, through to the social unrest it throws up now and then, all conspire to create a feel that is more in your face than in your heart.

And it’s all the better for that, I reckon. Who wants Paris to be some slick and sickly-sweet cinematic experience, when it could be much more interesting than that?

ShapesWhen your time in Paris is limited to a few hours on each infrequent occasion you pass through on the train, then there is always something new to discover. This time, as we returned home from our French and Austrian rail odyssey, the major attraction to be ticked off was the Louvre. Sadly it was closed on the day we were there, but that meant that the crowds were lower and the main courtyard more enjoyable.

Even if it was at the cost of being more likely to be harassed by the tiresome scam artists that hang around tourist sites. Next time, I am going to make sure I’m armed with some scambaiting responses to waste their time and annoy them in return.

A few hours easily passes in somwhere like Paris, where even if you’re tired as we were it’s easy to spend time in a cafe watching the world go by and relaxing at the end of a fun but packed holiday.

The rest of my photos from that brief day in Paris are here.

Soon, it was time to head off to London, where we had a few hours to kill again before our sleeper that night. We enjoyed the high-speed of the Eurostar as much as we could, knowing it would be a sharp contrast with the sluggish sleeper train northwards that night.

We were also aware that London would be at the peak of its Olympic busyness, the Games in full flow.

As we arrived back at St Pancras station, what I assume were Olympic volunteers were handing out guides to what was going on in London. We politely declined to the woman who was brandishing them.

“Oh, welcome back then,” she said, with a slight tinge of sarcasm.

“We’re not back,” we said.

We still had about six hundred miles to go.


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