Before arriving to DebConf11, I arranged my flights so that I had a day and a night in Paris as I have not been there before. So after checking out of my work apartment in Tampere, going to work there with all the things from that apartment, then flying back to Riga, going to a midnight screening of the last Potter movie and finally getting back home around 2am, I quickly checked that I have everything needed for the conference and went off to sleep only to wake up at 8am again, pack everything (into a single carry-on bag, after a year of experience travelling by air weekly and watching 'Up in the Air' twice) and be off to the plain to Paris.
The CDG airport is quite huge, even compared to something like JFK it feels bigger and more concrete. And yet so dark and lacking interesting features that the only photo I got from it was this
I then used the B line train to get to my hotel(9.1€), drop my stuff there and another metro ticket (1.7€) to go to Arc de Triomphe (Métro Charles de Gaulle-Etoile), went up there and walked the length of the Champs-Elysées right up to the Louvre. Then I walked to the river, crossed it to a small island to see the Notre Dame and then went back following the other bank of the river Seine seing both some more normal non-touristy streets of central Paris and also some other magnificent buildings, like Les Invalides and ending up at the Eifel tower. It was a rather easy walk that was only spoiled by some rain in the end so I did not get to take some night photos of the Eiffel tower as I wanted.
But the experience still was breathtaking. The scale of the buildings was impressive. The pervasive gold-gilded decorations do expand on the splendour and the same time the full access to all the previously-royal places brings them down to people. The city looks well built and the planning mostly makes sense, especially if you are on foot. Car drivers might have a different opinion about it considering the maze of roads and traffic circles and underpasses I saw in central Paris.
It is often said that Riga is a mini-Paris. Mostly, that is said in Riga. But walking the back streets of Paris I can see where that comes from - the architecture, the street design, the small cafes and some cobblestone roads and some historical buildings with a few modern building thrown into the mix, and a tower too. Visually Riga does look like Paris a lot, but for the feeling, I still think that Riga feels more like Berlin with its mix of eastern and western Europe.
I had one incident when some girl in front of Louvre started to ask me to sign something, gesturing to show that she was mute, it looked like a donation racket, but I did not get to find it out in detail as a swift security guard appeared and started running for the girl, who immediately took off running along with several friends. I guess the guards know them very well.
On a more positive note, in one of many confetterie shops I noticed the macaron sweets that my friend advertised loudly some time ago, so I decided to buy and try some. They cost 7€ for a box of 6. The taste was very, very sweet. Basically it tastes like froffed up and then frozen sugar made into cookie form with a cream layer between two cookies.
So basically it is like an Oreo cookie, but much, much, much more tender, airy and sweet. The two of the 6 cookies were partly crushed while I tenderly carried them for 5 minutes in their box while searching for a place to sit down and eat them.
After that I also had a proper dinner in a restaurant that was not too near the touristy paths, but still it was a bit lacking. The starter was quite nice - I mean it is hard to screw up cutting off a piece of foie gras (basically a piece of liver paste with a layer of extra geese fat), but the main dish was disappointing - I ordered a medium rare steak. First of all it came with a side of fries, that in itself was an insult to Paris, baked potatoes would have fit much better with this dish. And despite the main part of the steak being very nicely done to medium rare, the cut was done badly and the edges of the steak had sinew that was too chewy to eat or even cut normally.
Other interesting things I liked about Paris:
* high street shops of fashion labels and car manufacturers, that showed off the concept cars and also sold small branded accessories, such as Mercedes Benz key chains
* Statues - some made of stone, some of iron, some covered in gold, everywhere and made with great quality
* Bicycle rentals, I mostly saw the locals using them
* Segway tourists
* And countless classic postcard shots of very recognizable architecture
The Eiffel tower was immensely impressive. It towers over everything around, especially because there simply is nothing high enough around it. It would not have been so impressive in the middle of New York, for example. The age and openness of the construction makes you really feel the massiveness of this marvel of functional architecture.
But in the end Paris also looks like a great city to just kick back and relax in
P.S. I am amazed that when I put a link to a Flickr image (such as "http://www.flickr.com/photos/aigarius/5950187165/in/set-72157627230456160" in a separate paragraph in my Wordpress article text, something along the way translates them into proper linked images with a reasonable size. Progress is amazing.