Writing Portfolio


Parisian perspectives

I have stayed in Paris on several occasions, and during those times I have never had a room (or, for that matter, an apartment) with a view that includes the Eiffel Tower. Such things, I presumed, were reserved for characters in films and TV shows (and even they seem to make do with a picture most of the time). The closest I have ever come to an eyeful of the Eiffel without having to walk out of the door came when we went to Paris last year. Our apartment in the north-east of the city (the 11th arrondissement to be precise, right next to Belleville station) may not have had a view of the tower, but the window in the hallway mere yards from our front door did. We liked the place so much that we  stayed there again when we went back to Paris last week.

One thing I really like about staying in a Parisian apartment few floors up is the view of the rooftops of the adjoining apartment buildings.

There’s something uniquely Parisian about these buildings, just like there’s something very Parisian about the way the traffic behaved at the road-junction that sits above the Belleville Métro station. This junction, which I think I’m right in saying is the only place in Paris where the boundaries of four arrondisements meet, is chaotic at best and in true Parisian style many motorists resort to using their horns. This, combined with the distinctive sirens of French emergency service vehicles, is what Paris sounds like, especially on the fifth floor when you’ve got the windows open to let some air in.

Out in the hall, we got our view of Eiffel’s Tower during the day and when we came home at night, when it is lit up. As an extra bonus, we found that every hour in the hour the whole tower sparkles for five minutes! We couldn’t let this special Parisian moment pass without a glass of wine and some musical accompaniment from the iPhone; we settled on Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’.

But there’s more to viewing the Paris skyline than the Eiffel Tower, right? After all, the novelist Guy de Maupassant, one of the tower’s early critics, said that he liked to dine at the restaurant on the second level of the Tower because it was the only place in Paris from which he couldn’t see it. The original plan was that it would be demolished in 1909, twenty years after it was constructed, and it was only spared because it turned out to be an ideal platform for radio antennas.

Admittedly, M. de Maupassant made his claim about his dining habits on the grounds that he hated the thing (as did a lot of snooty Parisians when it was first built; the ‘metal asparagus’ was one of its nicer early nicknames), and over my past couple of visits to Paris I’ve been checking out various viewing-pointss of the city. Is there more to it than the Eiffel Tower? It certainly seems to crop up in a lot of vistas from ground level – although it’s not the only building to do that; from the eastbound platform of the Métro station at La Chapelle (connected to the Gare du Nord via a foot tunnel, although you have to know where you’re going as the signposting isn’t the best), you can see the basilica of Sacré-Cœur.

Last year, I indulged in my love of climbing towers by going up the bell-tower at Notre-Dame Cathedral. I was rewarded with a close-up of the famous gargoyles (although to be accurate they are in fact chimeras, as strictly speaking gargoyles are the ones that are intended to be used as water-spouts) which have a permanent view over the city.

And what a view! From Notre Dame, the view is uninterrupted. One thing that’s very interesting about Paris (and which makes it distinct from London) is that the main financial district is out of town, over at La Défense at the end of the axe historique. This means that there are hardly any modern high-rise towers within the city itself, the obvious exception being the one at Montparnasse, although it’s worth noting that two years after this was built, the civic authorities passed a law banning the building of towers more than seven stories tall in the city centre.

For Paris, the happy result is that the views over the city are, by and large, unobstructed. The Arc de Triomphe and Montmartre (dominated by Sacré-Cœur) and a certain iron lattice tower can all be seen from the top of Notre Dame – as could the queue of tourists waiting to enter the cathedral (top tip: get there early; same goes for the bell tower).

But what about a panoramic view of Paris without having to climb a tower? Well, there’s always Montmartre. When we went there a few years ago, we rode up the funiculaire to the top of the hill and looked out over the city from in front of the basilica, but the view seemed somewhat restricted, and I don’t just mean by all of the other tourists and the souvenir-sellers offering plastic models of the Eiffel Tower. As you look out from Montmartre, there is a thought in the back of your head that the view from the top of the basilica behind you will be better.

Having climbed up the spiralling staircase, I can confirm that it is. All of Paris is laid out before you from the Sacré-Cœur; you can, apparently, see for almost 20 miles on a clear day.

There is, though, a spectacular panoramic view of Paris away from the tourists. For this, we need to go back to Belleville. Out in the 20th is another Parisian hill which has the Parc de Belleville on its western slope. This is the highest park in the city, and what with it being located in the 20th it is more than a bit seedy – although some would say that that makes it authentic as it must be one of the parts of the city least frequented by tourists. They’re the ones who are missing out, though, as at the park’s summit is a building called the Maison de l’Air, a small museum dedicated to the importance of fresh air, and on top of that is a viewing-platform. There, minus the tourists, is the best view of Paris.

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