Travels: Paris Vs London

17 08 2011

So, it’s almost the end of my time in France, an adventure that has lasted over three months. And how better a way to round it off than a short stay in the capital; Paris. Having spent time in London (as a visitor), I thought I’d compare the two.

Paris has some very big things over London that’s for sure. For example, it’s nowhere near as crowded. This is mostly down to the very wide boulevards and the numerous side streets, you don’t often find yourself walking in a crowd.

Another plus over London are a few of the sights. I’m a bit of a cynic (I know, you’re surprised huh) but I’ve got to admit that the Terrasse at the top of Galleria Lafayette gives awesome views over what genuinely is a pretty looking city in the main. The view from the hill in front of the Sacre Coeur de Monmartre, especially at night, is fantastic. The lit up Eiffel Tower is definitely a visual treat.

Walking along the banks of the Seine offers you another angle on things and it doesn’t get any worse from that angle. Not something you can actually do along the Thames in London, not that you’d want to either.

So Paris is looking good huh? Are you falling for the city of love? Have I?

Nope, not in the slightest. But then you were expecting that really weren’t you.

Paris falls down on several counts, and falls hard. Top of the list is that Paris is expensive. Sorry, that should read EXPENSIVE! Ok, London is not cheap, you can certainly empty your bank balance quickly if you go to the right places. In Paris it can empty even faster. Howso? Ok, you’ll want to spend a fair bit on your hotel, if you don’t and go for cheap n cheerful you’re likely to regret it. Secondly, you’ll be eating in restaurants etc. Unless you wish to eat at McDonalds, which isn’t so bad in France, or their very very good rivals Quality Burger (my preferred chain), then expect to pay a fair amount for what isn’t exactly stunning food. That’s before you order any alcohol. £5 a pint sounding a touch on the high side? Try something more like €11 in Paris, which at the time of writing works out at about £10. And of course they kinda hide the price of drinks to fool you into paying that price.

Wallet hurting yet? Ok, we’ll leave that be and now we assault the senses.

How’s that walk along the banks of the Seine looking? Tempted? It really is a visual treat, just be prepared for avoiding a lot of places thanks to the French homeless using the self same banks as toilets. The walk up to Sacre Coeur is a nasal treat in the same vein, ammonia smacking you in the face, not necessarily thanks to the homeless but more to the french way of going anywhere for a pee.

Not the worst thing ever is it as these places you can avoid. Fancy the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame? Perhaps it’s because of the time of year, but I never EVER saw a queue less than 100 metres to access either of these sights. To be expected as Madam Tusaurds (sp?) in London has a similar length queue yet leaves you with that nagging feeling that you’ve just wasted time and money to go there.

How’s the anxiety? This is a mentalists view so I’m covering that angle too. See, I’m good to you aren’t I. The reason I ask about anxiety is that where you get crowds, you get hawkers and beggars. I’ve said ‘No’ more times in Paris than anywhere else ever. You will get people coming up to you asking you to sign a piece of paper to donate money to a charity for the deaf and dumb (never liked that word). These people are not deaf, they may be dumb although not in the mute sense, and the charity may be real but they aren’t collecting for it. You will also get people, normally female, normally looking like Romanian gypsies (rather than romany), who will ask you if you speak english. Again, the reply you need to use is ‘No’.

Fortunately your anxiety shouldn’t be too high as these people do take no for an answer usually. Hawkers are a different matter. These are the ones who try using charm, or what they believe is charm, to sell you stuff. The more jaded will accept the stock ‘No’ response and move on. The more confident they are, the more insistant they are. Not good for me as I can go from zero to aggression in a fairly low amount of time. Just keep saying no and keep moving.

If you’re thinking that this happens in London, you’re right, but nowhere near the same levels.

So Paris. Promises so much and delivers so little, especially for the price. The city of love appears to be just another exercise in french self promotion, akin to a politicians promises – nice idea but total flannel.

So which would I choose, between Paris and London?

Neither.

I’ve concluded that I’m not a fan of the big cities. Paris may be beautiful but it’s quintisentially French – expensive, cocky, and underdelivers on pretty much everything. London may be not the most gorgeous place but then it’s not that expensive in comparisson. However, the amount of aggression needed to make any headway in London is high. I do well there as I can be that aggressive, but I just don’t want to be, it’s exhausting.

If you’re insistant on going to either place then so be it. From a mental health aspect I’d have to toss a coin and go with… Paris, for lower anxiety levels due to lack of crowding.

See, you never got travel advice like this on Wish You Were Here.

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3 responses

17 08 2011
theurbanworrier

oh love, tired of london, tired of life (says the deathwish londoner…)

as you say, paris is pretty. and that’s worth it. I think the trouble with any city as a tourist is that they get expensive. know couchsurfing is beyond most mentalists, but if you’d managed to stay at Shakespeare & Co (well, you’re a writer, aintcha?) you could have excused bad behaviour as artistic temperament.

but london is pretty and amazing. Walking along southbank is much better than the seine. ok, you can’t see cathedrals from the thames, but mercantile imperialism is much more interesting than god. and at low tide you can stomp about in the mud and be completely away from the city..

and for the dedicated anti-social (such as myself) london is a real lesson in never being so alone as when in a crowd. yuh, the chaos (usually invoked by tourists) of most streets is slash-up silly (I generally end up taking my chances in the streets with taxis- it *is* that bad, I’ll give you) but perversely, if you can step out and throw yourself into oxford street on a saturday afternoon, or the markets around brick lane, and you lose your self. which is a very lovely thing.

looong comment- sounds like i should hog my own bandwidth, eh? cool to hear your take on the contrasts. You’ve really shocked me saying it’s been 3 months- sure you haven’t been in a time loop; it’s never that long. really expected you to end with something along the lines of home is best…!

17 08 2011
nullfuture

Yup, May 7th I departed the UK for France and came back today (August 17th), just over 3 months. I do actually like London, it certainly has its attractions, and I get on quite well in London as I’m very broad and educate people on the fact that if you stand in front of the door on a subway, you’re going nowhere till I get out so move. Just don’t think I could live there. Too much aggression required day after day and I’m tired of that.

20 09 2013
bpnana

Like your blog. Welcome to our world. Three years in a row, for one month each year, my husband, a jazz musician, did a gig at Ronnie Scott’s(world famous jazz club). We lived at the Shaftsbury Hotel. The elevator was always broken but everyone there was cool. We had no frig, but it was cold enough in winter to put our milk out on the ledge. I love London. Felt safe there. Had lots of time to take in all the sights. One year, my daughter went to Ireland, then joined us for a week. The clubs there close later than the States. In LA, I wouldn’t dare walk alone at night but I had no problem walking by myself around 11:00PM to see the second show and no one bothered us on the way back to the hotel at 3AM. We had friends there and were taken care of at the club. There was a place across the street, Cafe Napoli, that had great food & espresso. I loved hearing the drunken kids singing on the street, after coming out of the pubs. That was before all the bombs. Even with GAD, I never had a panic attack. There was a good health food store in the red light district, a nice Italian restaurant near the club, & a Hari Krishna restaurant that was cheap & not too bad.. Took the Chunnel to spend only a day in Paris. Hung out on Blvd. St. Michel. Had pizza in Paris for dinner & watched a Great Dane defecate on the sidewalk. I hope to go back and check out the countryside next time. Maybe go to Bath
My days in the city are over! Been all over Europe and London is one of my favorites. Good memories!

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