In Denmark, at least in some places, we refer to our family as the hunchbacks (pukkelryggede). For some reason comparing our loved ones to Quasimodo is a form of endearment. As such, you often hear someone say that they are going for dinner at the hunchbacks or for a wedding with the rest of the hunchbacked family. (I have to emphasise here that no one in my family is actually hunchbacked, and neither is kyphosis a common trait amongst Danes – at least not after we left behind our heavy Viking swords).
However, you will allow me to find it particularly funny that I in April visited Notre Dame de Paris with the hunchbacks – I imagine the intro music to the Disney Classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to play in the background by now.
A fair warning should for this reason also be put out that this blog, unlike my usual ramblings, is dedicated to the ‘traditional’ tourist experience of Paris! It is a post dedicated to my two enthusiastic and travel-excited cousins.
My stepfather decided a long time ago to celebrate his birthday in Paris once the apartment was ready for visitors. That is the apartment in which I lived last summer for 4 months. Since buying it, he has done an immense job in restoring the place – making it a small piece of heaven. Since my stay over the summer the combined kitchen and dining room has had a complete make-over. It is quite a charming place and for those unfortunate enough to have seen it when he took it over and it looked more like the front yard of hell, it is a miracle. It is perhaps for this reason that he and my mother were so excited to invite those closest to them for a celebration of their birthdays in Paris, including a tour of the new kitchen and stories of the locals.
While both were busy preparing for the events of the weekend, I spent a few days in the company of my aunt and uncle and their two very lively teenage daughters (here meant in the best possible use of the word). I have travelled a lot in recent years and so have my uncle and his family, but never previously have I had the pleasure of their company.
Being a single traveller, free from the whims of others, I feared a bit for losing my independence. But I must admit that seeing Paris through the eyes of my cousins made me realise what a compelling and awe-inspiring city it can be. It is perhaps for this reason that I have decided to write this entry with all the glory of a first timer.
There are certain things, which any person will have to experience when visiting the capital of France for the first time: The Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysée, Notre Dame, Sacré-Cœur… etc. While my mother has been so good to assure that I saw most of these things while I was still too young to find other tourists tedious, it was the first time for my uncle and his family to discover the treasures of Paris.
Thus, first on our list of things to do were Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Surprisingly, I discovered that Notre Dame unlike Sacré-Cœur, still maintains at least a shadow of authenticity. While Sacré-Cœur seems to compete with Disneyland in regards to commercial ideas, Notre Dame retains the atmosphere of a cathedral in use.
The Eiffel Tower, in contrast to the large churches in Paris, was created not as a place of worship but to attract the attention and interest of the visitor. Created for the 1889 Word Fair, it was supposed to only grace the skyline of Paris for a short period of 20 years. In fact, it is said that the Parisians of the time found it extremely unpleasant to look at and hated its dominance in the horizon. I might be mistaken, but I sense that the attitude has somewhat changed since then.
I have once previously been to the top of the 324 m high steel construction; however I seem to have been quite traumatised by the experience because I have no recollection of it and only a picture of the view as a reminder.
This time around my 19 year old cousin demanded that we all take the trip to the highest level and though a bit wary of the idea the rest of us conceded in the end. As we reached the 2nd level it started pouring down in spades and as we stood in the line for the 3rd level we and the rest of the tourists were in a constant calculation about avoiding the areas which were not shaded from the rainfall.
People in tees and shorts or small summer dresses were drenched in minutes. I trust that many from that line had the rest of their vacation destroyed by a sore throat. Fortunately, as we reached the highest level the weather changed and while the dramatic sky continued as a great panorama, we were spared being drenched.
The rest of the time was spent on one of my all-time favourite things to do in Paris – shopping at flea markets. With the hunchbacks I went for a fantastic flea market in the 14th which proved an absolute heaven for my cousins.
On the last day we all managed to find our way to Le Marais and the best falafel in the world, which seemed to be quite a hit with my uncle who for all of 15 minutes did not take any pictures. Otherwise he and I had had an on-going and unspoken competition about ‘who-can-take-the-most-pictures’ and ‘who-can-find-the-strangest-focus-point’.
I always knew I took way more pictures when travelling than the average, something which I have previously discussed on this blog, but it is comforting to know that it is a family trait and great to travel with my uncle who is found behind a lens and flash 75 % of the time. Normally, I have to explain myself and my obsession with taking pictures constantly, but the hunchbacks are so used to it from my uncle that I don’t stand out.
And then came the day of my stepfathers birthday. He had decided to treat the entire group of family and friends with a guided tour around Montmartre. Here I can easily say that it was nothing new since I have already had several tours on Montmartre. For that reason, however, I had amble opportunity to take even more pictures.
The tour ended with a visit to the small and historically fascinating Montmartre vineyard where we were served a glass of the exclusive Montmartre vine, while several other tourists gazed enviously at us through the fence which surrounds the vineyard.
It is rare that I feel so v.i.p. And I admit that I enjoyed it enormously when I overheard one American tourist to another explaining that getting in there was not for the common man. I suppose that once in a while it is okay to feel a little above and beyond.
The day ended with a dinner at a local restaurant and while the food was amazing none of us could eat anything since my wonderful mother had treated us all to hundreds of canapés beforehand making us full long before intended.
The poor wonderful woman had been so worried about what kind of canapés she should make that she forgot about the fact that the better they were the more of them we would all consume.
I ended the day incapable of anything but rolling home.