A visit to the French capital city leaves Rose McIver longing to return
The last time I remember letting a pigeon stand on my head, I was 9. My parents had taken the family to London and we were in Trafalgar Square, marvelling at the size of the city. But here I am, years later, being photographed in front of the Notre Dame with another bird on my head.
A kind Parisian had given me a handful of unpopped popcorn as a lure. Birds flocked to me with an eagerness that was, at first, flattering and soon after, terrifying.
After a few hasty photographs I escaped the avian madness — well the popcorn had run out — grateful none of them had relieved themselves in my hair.
Pigeon-free, I could fully appreciate the impressive scale of Notre Dame. Although I'm not religious, I was taken with a sense of the sacred. The building is considered to be one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture and, unlike some of the other historical architectural marvels, was built by respected and paid artisans, rather than slaves.
The cathedral was one of a collection of buildings I saw that reminded me how young the architecture in New Zealand is, and it's not just the tourist hot spots that are loaded with history.
You can run an errand as simple as visiting a post office and it will be situated in a building that we would turn into a museum simply because of its age.
It's strange to think of all that's transpired since my last pigeon run-in. High school, relationships, jobs, living abroad and, yet, I still get the same buzz when I travel now, in my late-20s. I am blown away by how we can alight a big bird made of metal and whizz across the oceans to see completely new and unfamiliar places. Today I have the opportunity to explore Europe and I have felt the same childlike curiosity that I did all those years ago. That's the thing about travel, it reminds you how little you know of the big, wide world and what a joy it is to discover it.
Having learned French during my first couple of years at high school, I was keen to try my rusty schoolgirl French in Paris. Although I had plenty of missteps and some very confusing exchanges, my lessons served me well and I was able to navigate my way around France ordering coffee with abandon.
I also enjoyed a lovely aperitif at a bar where, like most of the eateries, people spilled on to the footpath, enjoying the start of summer.
Life in France is much more public in every sense. Arguments, conversations and affections are all on full display, without a sense of embarrassment. It makes it easy to feel part of the club — there's no sense of exclusion to the energy. It made me think immediately of the Joni Mitchell song In France They Kiss on Main Street.
Using Uber and taxis seemed to be the easiest way to get around, enabling me to hit a series of highlights and avoid some of the sweltering heat. It also provided an excellent musical interlude when I got in a car with a man who spoke neither French nor English and, after panicking trying to fumble through gestures to explain where I needed to go, he turned on the stereo and we grooved along to the Bee Gees for a good four minutes. Turns out he knew every word to Saturday Night Fever, including the echoes of the back-up singers.
I feel like I haven't scraped the surface of this rich and textured city and I'm desperate to explore more of it when I get the chance — and maybe have a car karaoke performance encore.
Rose McIver is an ambassador for Emirates.