One night in Paris
One night in Paris

The wedding party had continued well past the wee hours; indeed, it was 6am before the last of the revellers had called it a day. A few hours later and everybody returned to the same community to celebrate once more my friends' nuptials with a long lunch. They do weddings well, the French.

All too soon it was time for the plane home, from Paris to Perth. My train had pulled into the Gare de Lyon at 5.40pm and despite its arrival coinciding with rush hour, I was in a hotel in the Latin Quarter within 10 minutes.

A luggage drop in my tiny bedroom (well, it was a Parisian hotel, after all), a quick wash and I was out on the streets for some quick-fire sightseeing. Because it was mid-summer there were several hours of daylight left, but I was only in the French capital for about 12 hours so time was of the essence.

At the end of Rue Saint-Severin stood an imposing statute of St Michael and his fountain, crowded with tourists. Paris had put on its finest weather for my flying visit and plenty of visitors wanted to enjoy it, too.

I bought a city map from the bookseller next door but didn't need any directions to find my way to my first port of call, Notre Dame de Paris, aka Notre Dame Cathedral. The massively impressive Gothic structure on its tiny island in the River Seine was impossible to miss, dominating its surrounds with its famous gargoyles jutting out into the blue sky. But no time to stand and stare: would I get there before it closed?

I joined the long queue and by the time I reached the massive doors of its western facade it was 6.40pm. I knew Notre Dame closed at 6.45. Five minutes to see one of the world's great religious monuments? Sacrilege, surely. But it was all I had and we were all let in. In fact, it seemed we late entrants were allowed as much time as we liked. Perhaps the fact a service was still taking place had something to do with it.

Inside, the cathedral was cavernous, the scale daunting, such as the magnificent South Rose window, almost 13m in diameter, and the great organ, with its almost 8000 pipes.

Back outside and my attention was drawn by a weathered Parisian of uncertain economic means hand-feeding sparrows. It made for a great photo, the western facade of Notre Dame as his backdrop. He spotted my interest, struck up a conversation and requested a tip. "You have a great photo," he reasoned. It was hard to argue, so I gave him a tip - too large by far, but it was the smallest currency I had. He responded by giving me a warm kiss on the cheek, French style. My wife hadn't exactly warned me against kissing strange men in Paris on my solo trip, but I felt sure she'd disapprove.

I continued through the Square Jean XXIII gardens along the Seine and down to one of its many fine bridges, the Pont de l'Archeveche which is laden with padlocks. This relatively recent tradition (which apparently has spread throughout Europe) calls for couples to lock in their love, and many were following the custom.

Once across the bridge, I headed back along the Quai de Montebello. Everywhere was the sound of American accents and the smell of French cigarettes, not least outside the renowned bookseller, Shakespeare and Company. A sizeable crowd had gathered. They were of all ages, but most seemed young and spoke American.

A sign denoted outdoor readings from three US poets. Now poetry is not exactly a passion of mine but, hey - when on holiday, why not be adventurous? After fulsome introductions, one of the trio began his spiel. His name was Dan and he announced his first reading would be about his non-reaction to the belated news that the father he had never known had died. Or something like that. I listened to Dan for more than 15 seconds and then decided to buy some T-shirts from a souvenir shop.

Along the banks of the Seine to famous Pont des Arts, the wooden pedestrian bridge that leads to the Louvre. Many were enjoying picnics on the bridge - pizza and beer, that type of thing. I came across a party on the bridge of young Americans who launched into a rendition of "Happy Birthday". Then I remembered it was July 4 and America was 235 years old that very day.

I'd already successfully passed two Irish bars and the Great Canadian Pub (confusingly with two American flags outside its doors) without weakening, but my thirst and the call of nature were getting the better of me. The French frown upon public urination so I popped into The Highlander ("Life's Too Short Not To Be Scottish") for a refreshing ale and some Auld Lang Syne.

There were only four people inside: a chatty couple from LA, a student from Chicago, and a barmaid who sounded American but turned out to be Swedish. "It's the television," she explained apologetically.

The Chicago student said he'd just returned to Paris after a two-week absence. "I get back and it's like the population has tripled," he said in astonishment.

Two Guinnesses later, I made my goodbyes and returned to my hotel for a shower. It's now 9pm and I've decided to visit a bistro in the university section that I'd chanced upon during net surfing.

My research suggested it was one of the few restaurants open on a Monday evening (traditionally a quiet day in France when many shops and restaurants close).

But as I began my walk, I passed restaurant upon restaurant, cafe upon cafe, all crowded with diners.

Stubbornly, I continued with my first choice and 30 minutes later, I arrived sweating at my chosen bistro to find its shutters down and no sign of life.

I doubled back to the Pantheon, originally a church and now the resting place of some VIPS, and found a hive of activity in its back streets. No problem finding an open restaurant here and no issues with getting served, even though it was after 10pm when I sat down. I opted for a table outside to cool down. Unfortunately, the French may have banned smoking indoors at their eateries but the rule wasn't being applied to alfresco dining, and the incessant Camel smoke drove me indoors.

It was a terrifically atmospheric bar but I could make no sense of the menu with my schoolboy French.

This was definitely off the tourist route. I reasoned I couldn't go wrong and picked a couple of dishes, one of which I enjoyed. The wine was pretty good, and I didn't hear any American voices.

It was after midnight when I left to wander back to my hotel but there was no sign of the cafes emptying. The students had more stamina than I. But then I also had a tight timetable; four hours of sleep, and I was up at 5am in preparation for an early flight.

Paris had put on its finest weather for my flying visit and plenty of visitors wanted to enjoy it, too

The West Australian

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