Sounding as nonchalant as possible, I told the whole world I was going to Paris. Yes, gone are the days when "you know she went to Paris" stories did the rounds amongst 'friends of relatives' but I still tried my luck hoping at least someone would envy me for going to this chic phoren destination.
Where fashion first
So I landed in the world's fashion capital with two pullovers, two pairs of woollen socks, colourful hand-woven mittens and a snug red cap to keep me warm. This is blunder number one not to have stylish clothes to wear can mean you never want to get photographed. Carry that trendy overcoat, ankle high booties, cashmere scarves, skinny jeans and designer bag. Travelling light? Forget it.
With its twinkling Victorian street lamps and liberally scattered human sculptures, Paris looks like a well-preserved museum itself. Sit by any secluded bench along the sidewalks, sip a cup of hot coffee and soak in the details of the place where you can never stop clicking pictures.
A metro ride is a must. It is a life long lesson in courtesy. They have folding chairs that are not pulled down during peak hours. People 'voluntarily' give up their seat to make space for other passengers. But you have to manually lift the heavy latch to open the door at each station-- nothing like electronically operated doors of our technologically advanced Delhi Metro. However, the quickest way to explore Paris is by sitting atop a doubledecker city tour bus where the headphones rattle out French names you can never pronounce. But the best part is that the same ticket can be used for the entire week and you get to keep the swanky red headphones too (how we Indians love our freebies)!
Be every bit the tourist
The scene at River Seine is a lover's delight. Take a loved one on an oh-so-romantic cruise over a candlelight dinner, hold her hand, look into her eyes, tell her how beautiful she looks and make your confession of love, if she says no...just push her into the river (there is always the totally fabulous Parisian cabaret at the Moulin Rouge). Walk into one of the roadside cafes and let the wine and cheese culture descend upon you or board the 'disco bus' and dance to some groovy music while the bus skids effortlessly from one street to another with jingling disco lights. If you are a Yash Raj/Ekta Kapoor fan, there is high voltage melodrama at the OpÃ©ra de la Bastille.
The special mention award is shared by the Eiffel Tower and Louvre. You might have failed your drawing exam but that is no excuse to give Louvre a miss. With the glass pyramid (of Da Vinci Code fame), Venus de Milo, the dying slave by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, a walk down its hallways is enough to make you realise why Paris is the epicentre for world's most famous movements in art and literature. So what if some Bunty type chor absconded with two of the paintings a few months back? Apart from Louvre, the Eiffel Tower is something you cannot miss simply because you are likely to bump into it when you least expect it. Climb the tower (I took the elevator of course) lo and behold...the view will sweep you off your feet. The feeling is quite unlike anything you have ever seen or heard before.
The scene around the Eiffel tower needs a word or two too. If the Eiffel tower key ring sellers sniff your matthi aur achaar or get the slightest clue that you are from India, be sure to hear relentless satsriakaal chants from them. They will smile at you and offer you the key rings at "5 euro..." when you go past them they become "ok...4 euro" and when you feign total disinterest "two for 3 euro... only for you madam."
My careful Indian sensibilities made a mental note of a few queer observations about Paris. For one, "Water" for them is soda (which they call sparkling water). So unless you specify "water with no gas", you will always end up with fizzy soda bottles. Secondly, the bathrooms in your hotel rooms will usually never have a bolt. So keep singing or wait for the room mates to sleep to keep fear at bay. And lastly, they eat everything cold-salad, pasta, sandwiches, and hot dogs but when you say "cold coffee" they will smile at you and say "no English." So ask your kids to polish their French speaking skills (its time to test the French tutor) which are likely to come in handy.
The last day, walk down your street and pick up some pretty Paris postcards and candles as souvenirs. Sit by the roadside cafÃ©, scribble personal notes on them for your loved ones and take the time to listen to the violin player's melody. Of course, you have seen him the day before and the day before in the same black tail coat and a rugged brown hat, immersed in his music without a care in the world but when will you ever see him again? Wrap up your Paris memories in his soulful music and carry them in some safe corner of your overloaded suitcase, only half captured in the zillion pictures you have clicked.