On the Streets of Paris

Years ago, my great friend Ali and I went to Paris to visit a clarinet-playing biochemist and the city knocked me out. It's so very, very close to Britain, the land of the Aberdeen Steak House, but when you step foot in the French capital it is as if you are sucked into a fantastical film.

So, after yonks of talking about how splendid it would be to go back to this grand maze of cafes and balconies, we headed over with a couple of grand friends.

My brother spent a year living with Claire and Phillip and I often wondered what it was like to live in their book-filled home. Based on the experience of three nights in a Monmartre apartment, I reckon it was pretty good. Each morning I'd stumble down and find Phillip had filled the tables with the most extraordinary treasures from a bakery that would make an Argonaut marvel.

Paris is like a film set in which everyone with even a walk-on part is perfectly cast. But the set design, is fantastic, too.

Is it any wonder the French are so good at making films when they've been masters at projecting light for centuries? Notre Dame is a masterpiece of cinematography.

But if you want a true widescreen experience, head over to the Musée de l'Orangerie.

Many of Monet's greatest hits ended up in Cardiff thanks to the inspired purchases of a pair of wealthy sisters... but there's nothing to match the immersive experience of sitting in front of one of these.

You start off admiring the technical achievement of these giant works but suddenly you're lost in the deep hues and in the world of Monet's imagination. The building is a wonderful creation, too. Very Frank Lloyd Wright, and filled with Picassos downstairs and a few fantastic works by Henri Rousseau.

The great thing about travelling with energetic companions is that they compel you to race between wonders rather than lounging in a cafe imagining how much fun it must have been to be Camus (who was supposedly quite a fine goalkeeper).

We did manage to nip into a few between downpours.

This one, next to the Sorbonne, is opposite the philosopher's bookshop (I kid ye not!) and has a splendid waiter who likes to take take hold of your camera...

It's just around the corner from somewhere Proust would like to saunter.

But we'd bought these smashing museum cards which allow you to queue-jump so there wasn't time to hang around a try on berets. Not when St-Chapelle is there to be experienced.

These windows are amazing. They're so bright, it's as if you're perched on the branch of a Christmas tree that's draped in plutonium-powered lights.

When we left it was starting to rain again so we ducked into the complex next door where the 2,800 folk who were sent to the guillotine were locked up. It was fascinating to see a recreation of Marie Antoinette's quarters and the room were the Girondins feasted before their execution. But when I read that one of them tried to kill himself by plunging a stiletto into his heart I laboured under the misapprehension for quite a while until put right by Philip that this was an example of attempted suicide by shoe.

The Rodin Museum is a wonderful theme park. You can visit Disneyland Paris and be hugged by an anthropomorphic rodent (an experience I thoroughly enjoyed in younger years) and it's just as exciting to come face to face with the Thinker.

And the Gates of Hades is a terrifying tableau straight out of Danteland.

There's so much excitement about 3D cinema at the moment, but when you encounter Eve it's as if you're in the garden.

I'd been warned that a visit to the Mona Lisa is a horrendous experience. But while it was like being in a mosh-pit at the front of a concert it was quite exciting.

I was surprised the guards were quite happy for lunatic tourists to take flash photographs. But upstairs there wasn't such hysteria and the Louvre is an amazing building which pulls together spectacular architecture with vast open and airy spaces, a true airport of art.

The Pompidou Centre is also a gallery where the building is a sensation. Tantric chanting was amplified in the escalators running up the outside of the building which made the whole experience quite similar to what Jonah might have experienced in the digestive tracts of the whale. The stand-out work was Christ Among the Prisoners by a Spanish civil war artist.

But much of the finest art in this city is dotted along the bridges...

Or in the Palais du Jardin.

It's a grand place to escape the zooming traffic and the rather whiffy Metro.

It's also home to an amazing pair of creatures.

The orangutans were the most fantastic characters. Their curiosity, dexterity and strength contrasts with the sense of melancholy emanating from their cramped conditions.

And we spent our last hour in Paris in the Jardin du Luxembourg, where Parisian families race boats.

There wasn't much sunshine to soak up but the flowers in the thousands of elegant pots which line the perimeter of the palace are as bright as Neptune, Venus and Uranus on a good day.

And then it was time to scoot over to Gard du Nord, fly through a tunnel, and emerge a little dazed and very well exercised (but very well fed) at King's Cross. Great times. I can't wait to go back.

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