Have a few European mini breaks lined up over the next couple of weeks. Apparently, they call it 'un cite-trip,' rather than a 'vacances,' if you're only away a few days. (I stand to be corrected).
Went back to Paris for the 4th time. And the 4th time in Winter. Plan to go back again next summer, finally to see what this city's like when everything's bathed in sunshine and the cafés take over the streets. I love Paris. I really do. There's something about the place. I actually find it quite hard to describe. When I first went a few years ago, my initial impressions were that it was fairly shabby, a bit dirty and very run down in places. The amount of graffiti (and of course dog mess) also struck me.
But, by the end of my time there, I found myself liking it more and more. The same thing happened on my second visit. I'd forgotten what I liked about it, until its magic and charm did its bit once again.
It's such a traditional city. In many ways, deeply conservative. Like the French in general. Socially liberal but always clinging on to the past, whether it be in defence of its generous state welfare, pensions, or even in their vigorous efforts to safeguard the language itself. It's very hard to change things in France. Successive presidents have found this. Instead they like to portray themselves as the antidote to our individualistic, uncaring, unkept, Anglo-Saxon capitalist model.
It's also such an intimate city. It's not nearly as big as London and therefore very easy to walk around on foot. Because of old planning laws, no building in the main centre can be above a certain height, which certainly gives it a different feel to other capitals. Things are small in Paris: hotel bedrooms, bathrooms, flats. Their bistros and restaurants are so small that very often you find yourself virtually touching the person next to you.
And yet, I never find Paris overly crowded, providing of course you avoid the obvious tourist traps. I never find it stressful or claustrophobic in the way that London can be. At night it really is one of the most magnificent places in which to wander.
However, its conservatism is coming at a price. Its young are flocking to London to look for work. Alienating the younger generation isn't particularly wise. Its behaviour towards its immigrants, and outsiders in general, still leaves a lot to be desired. Its cuisine, which I have never been mad on, is ridiculously overrated (although it seems nowadays it's only the French who still rave about French food!) and very samey.
Have you ever been to a vegetarian restaurant in Paris? They're still churning out the kind of fare we served up 20-30 years ago: plates of vegetables without sauce or flavour and that stringy looking accompaniment (can't think for the life of me what it's called) as decoration.
But if it changed, it wouldn't be Paris. And to admit that it needed to change just wouldn't be very French.