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     Volume 7 Issue 42 | October 24, 2008 |

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Straight Talk

An Enchanted City Revisited

Nadia Kabir Barb

As I waved goodbye to my children from the taxi, I tried to squash the little voice inside me telling me that I was going to regret my decision to throw caution to the wind and go with my husband and a small group of friends to Paris for the weekend. By the time I was sitting on the train and heading out of the station, I had managed to convince myself that this break would not only be a great thing for us but the kids would barely miss us as they would have their Nanu looking after them and in all likelihood spoiling them rotten.

The journey itself on the Eurostar train was uneventful with the exception of making me

The Great Organ

wonder whether there was a global conspiracy against people who did not eat cheese (yes that would be me). Everything on the menu seemed to have cheese in it --- beef and cheese, chicken and cheese, salmon and cheese, pasta with cheese! So while the rest of my group devoured their sandwiches with relish, I munched away on a packet of crisps. When we finally arrived in Paris two and a half hours later we were all looking forward to heading off to the hotel and freshening up in our rooms so that we could go and explore the area we were in and make the most of our short time in such a beautiful city. When we pulled into our platform, we wasted no time in grabbing our bags and making our way to the exit. I was quite surprised to see an inordinate number of beggars in the station. While we waited for a taxi, we were approached by old men in dirty clothes and young women with children asking for money. Sadly, in Bangladesh, we have so many people begging on the streets it is no longer a shock to the system to see a woman with a baby tapping at the window or someone disabled holding out their hand for money. But it was rather disconcerting to be approached by so many beggars in Paris. It was almost a relief when we got into the cab and drove away from the station.

At the hotel, we literally unpacked our bags, freshened up and headed out. As we stepped into the glorious sunshine, I wondered why it had taken us almost six years to come back to a city that was just a hop and a skip away. Everywhere I looked there were magnificent buildings and works of architecture and you could feel the air of history and culture permeating the city and clinging to the bricks and stones.

We were in an area called Saint-Germain-des-Prés and as we strolled around I was struck by the number of bistros and cafes we passed along our way. It was wonderful to see people sitting outside sipping their coffee, chatting with companions or just reading a book by themselves and simply enjoying the glorious weather. So what else to do but join the Parisians ourselves and sit at one of the delightful cafes and sip our coffee and watch the world go by.

I think the higher powers were watching over us and the weekend turned out to be idyllic. The weather was perfect, the food was scrumptious and the company was wonderful. I must have walked more in those two days in Paris than I do in a whole month in London! We walked to the Louvre and despite not actually going inside (the queues were daunting) we were able to appreciate the magnificence of the colossal museum from the outside. I believe the Louvre started off as a royal fortress in the 12th century until it evolved into the modernised dwelling of François I and, later, the luxurious palace of Louis XIV. It was only in the late eighteenth century when the palace was turned into a museum and has now become one the most famous museums in the world. I was reading that since the filming of the adaptation of the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown, there is even a tour in the Louvre following the footsteps of the hero of the novel and the movie exploring the places, works, and themes at the heart of the story. Sometimes museums can feel a little intimidating and the use of fact and fiction to make history accessible to people is a wonderful idea. Having been to the Louvre when I was a child, I have vague recollections of seeing the Mona Lisa up close and have made a mental note to revisit the city especially to spend some time exploring the vast halls and galleries of this awe inspiring museum.

Our next stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral. Having been built in the gothic style, the cathedral was quite imposing and once again we could only look in wonder at the amazing architectural offering standing tall and proud in front of us. Inside the Cathedral people talked in hushed and awed voices. The Great Organ which is the largest organ in the world loomed over our heads and the stained glass windows were like a kaleidoscope of colours sparkling like jewels in the dark cavernous cathedral. Tradition has it that the first stone was laid in 1163 in the presence of Pope Alexander III. All I can say is that it is incredible to be able to stand in an edifice that was built almost a thousand years ago! I felt small and humbled.

We spend the rest of the weekend trying to see as much of the sights as we could and realised that it would take multiple weekends to even scratch the surface of the countless places to see and things to do in Paris. I have to admit that for once I was glad to have ignored that little voice in my head and just thrown caution to the wind...

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