#13 Bonjour, Paris ... a walkers' delight
The last time I saw Paris, I was in my early 20s, having a fabulous time on a 12-week Contiki bus tour. I didn't appreciate everything the city offered back then - too busy flirting with boys and having fun with my two Kiwi tenting buddies (who I'm still friends with).
I'm so glad to have the chance to experience the joys of Paris again, for real ... yep, it was wasted on the youthful me.
Now I'm walking the streets, soaking up Paris's long and complicated history, exploring the delights of Le Louvre (even though most of the toilets are not working in that place), checking out the cathedrals, loving the Metro, practising my schoolgirl French (why does Italian keep popping out though?), eating baguettes with Irish butter, and pastries (in moderation). And the white wine is as good as I remember it from my 20s!
There are changes of course - Paris, like many other parts of Europe feels the tragic consequences of the wars in the Middle East and now in Syria. Refugees have fled north and west - they have no work, no money and no place to go. Many must beg, sell kitsch at tourist sites, or scam. France's colonial past in northern Africa has also come back to bite the country.
I spoke to a local who can't see a solution to a growing problem, but he also was emphatic ... that life is a struggle for these poor people.
Another change ... there are many more tourists visiting Paris now. Not as bad at this time of the year, the queue into the Louvre was short. The paintings are magnificent and plentiful there, thousands of them, as are the sculptures.
And Selfie-Sticks advance like Caesar's Praetorian Guard.
In front of the Mona Lisa, many of the crowd face the other way - to take a selfie. Then they hurried away without looking at any of the other paintings on the walls and the corridors, not even noticing the huge painting on the opposite wall to Mona .. the biggest painting the French own, Paolo Veronese's The Wedding at Cana.
Yes, I know! I can hear you think ... 'At least they're looking at the Mona Lisa even if it's only because she's famous'. Perhaps I'm being harsh. Or not.
I reckon Leonardo da Vinci would've been vocal with scorn to witness the jostle in front of his most famous painting. And his subject would've been smiling on the other side of her face.