Bart Och - Travel Journalist

How cliché … In the French capital, the glorious city of love, while drinking café noisette, a shot of espresso with a drop of milk, and gorging on copious amounts of pain au chocolat, I felt the way you feel when your stomach flip-flops over and drops to the ground when you stare into the eyes of someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. A feeling that can be measured by the enormity of emotions that swell your heart when you hold hands and kiss for the first time.

In Moulin Rouge, sat outside one of the charming little cafés draped in twining, purple wisteria flowers, we watched stylish people in trench coats – umbrella in one hand, a handbag in the other – scurry along those picturesque, almost gaudy streets as the rain drenched the city relentlessly. I don’t like rain, but in the shimmering glow of the wet, cobbled lanes and narrow alleyways, I was falling in love, unexpectedly, hopelessly.

Love, what a curious thing – unmeasurable by physical quantities and units, unexplainable by most sophisticated words, uncontainable, uncontrollable, sometimes unreasonable by all means. And yet, we keep on falling in and out of it as if it is a place, somewhere we can go to.

Easily recognisable with its red windmill on the corner of Boulevard de Clichy and Place Blanche, the neon-lit street lined with glam cocktail bars and sex shops for kinky clients and purveyors of the night’s pleasures seemed to be much safer than the Metro at midnight when there are drunks on board. We walked aimlessly, allowing the city to reveal its secrets to us bit by bit, step by step. A little high on sugar and caffeine, we found shelter in the shabby but cosy confines of yet another café reminiscent of an old movie set. Equipped with a handy phrasebook, I ordered two glasses of house red in my dreadful French. We sat at one of the wobbly, wooden tables set against the backdrop of dark green walls adorned with old photographs and yellowed posters hung askew all over the place.

I remember well the first time I visited Paris. It was back in 2014. We got a petite loft room in a cheap hotel; to this day, it remains one of my favourite places I have stayed in. Though it was small and not at all fancy, the views from the window were mesmerising. In the faraway distance, we could see the Eifel Tower adorned with thousands of golden led lights. Every day, from sunset till late night, the iron lady bursts into effervescent sparkles for five minutes every hour on the hour, while its beacon shines over Paris.

Strange because Paris, like most capitals, is big and noisy and exorbitant – in a lot of ways, it reminds me of my hometown, London. Yet, I have found this city so incredibly captivating and romantic and inspiring. Strange because I don’t speak any French besides a handful of polite words that I can’t pronounce very well anyway. Strange, also, because I wasn’t falling in love with anyone. This time, I was falling in love with the city. Maybe love is a place after all – a shelter from the storm. A memory that brings you home.

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