Traipsing around Paris in the snow: tips for surviving the French capital in December

“I don’t normally feel good about feeling miserable, but Paris is all about paradoxes. This city makes you feel fabulous in all of its melancholy.”

I visited Paris one snowy, cold weekend in early December. The city was rather hostile – people hurried around the streets, scarves pressed to their faces, eager to get inside to a warm fire. It was not the Paris of postcards, with chic French ladies sipping vin by the Seine or cheerful tourists posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. But it was still Paris, and I was determined to make the best of it.

The Jardin de Tuileries was hiding beneath muddy brown slush and studded with bare trees. I sprinted across the famous garden as icy cold rain pelted down. Only you can’t really sprint on snow without falling over, so I was madly hopping from one puddle of slush to another, avoiding all the glissant (slippery) patches of ice. On the surface I was wet, cold and miserable. But my heart was bursting with joy.

The Jardin de Tuileries. Watch your step: shiny patches of snow are slippery. Slush is good.
The Jardin de Tuileries. Watch your step: shiny patches of snow are slippery. Slush is good.

When in cold, eat.

Hot food will cure any physical discomfort. French food is incredibly satiating: it will warm you to your bones.

In December the Champs-Elysées is transformed into a Christmas market. Hundreds of brightly lit caravans line the famous street, adding vibrancy and colour to the dull overcast sky. As I huddled under awning eating piping hot, delicious, buttery champignons, I felt very good about being cold and miserable in Paris.

Embrace the paradox that is Paris.

I don’t normally feel good about feeling miserable, but Paris is all about paradoxes. This city makes you feel fabulous in all of its melancholy. Heartache, second-hand smoke, pompous Parisians, poverty, overpriced everything, a god-awful subway system, dirt, dog poo on the streets, tacky tourist shops, McDonald’s in the Louvre – all this is romantic in Paris. Because you’re in Paris.

Climb the Arc de Triomphe.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe has stuck in my mind. It is melancholic, dreamy, heart-wrenching Paris at its best. At your feet there is the crazy roundabout that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a high-speed motor race, yet on the horizon there is nothing but calm wispy golden light at the edges of this clay, caramel-coloured city.

Straight ahead you’ve got the sparkling Champs-Elysées, famous for high fashion and style when really H&M seem to have bought shares in the street. Then to your right there is the Eiffel Tower, standing over the city in all of its ugly glory. I don’t know how all of these elements work together, but somehow they do.

View from the Arc de Triomphe across the Champs-Elysees.
View from the Arc de Triomphe across the Champs-Elysees.
View from the Arc de Triomphe across to the Eiffel Tower
View from the Arc de Triomphe across to the Eiffel Tower

Let your imagination take you there.

I fell in love with Paris that winter’s afternoon. I want to move there, it would be a writer’s heaven. I looked across at all of the buildings, smoke bellowing out of the chimneys, and tried to imagine all of the lives being played out in the tiny, horrendously priced apartments.

I am aware that I have fallen under the spell of Paris propaganda, that it is all probably some magical illusion but hey… I believe in magic. And sometimes a little bit of illusion is exactly what the imagination needs.

I could write and write and write about Paris. Around every corner there is a story. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining or there is snow beneath your feet: the city is captivating all year round.

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