Europe Echelon: Paris – Centre Georges Pompidou, Champs-Élysées

I need to come back to Paris again.

Looking back, I realized I was averaging one attraction per day! But that’s the thing with France: its effect on history is so vast that even a glance takes an entire lifetime. It’d be a while before I return, but I’m sure I’ll find Paris just sitting there, waiting to begin our fling where we left off. I was able to negotiate with my French hosts about leaving the apartment pretty late, and there were glad to oblige – I like staying with them, I felt safe and welcomed. This allowed me to rush just one more attraction. I had to pick wisely, and it was really down to Sacre Coeur or the Centre Georges Pompidou. In the end, I really had to go with the latter. I mean, the Musée Nation d’Art Moderne… that’s hard to beat.

Centre Georges Pompidou, or Pompidou Centre, is a multicultural arts centre which opened in 1977, housing the Bibliothèque Publique d’Information which is a public library, the National Museum of Modern Art, which has the second largest collection of modern and contemporary art in the world after New York’s MOMA, and IRCAM, a music and acoustic research centre. The centre’s architecture is also one of mention, co-designed by Italian architects Renzo Piano and Gianfraco Franchini, and British architect, Richard Rogers. The building with its exposed skeleton of plumbing, climate control, circulation and electrical wire ducts “turned the architecture world upside down”, notes The New York Times when Rogers’ won accepted the 2007 Printzker Prize for the design. Why the lapse in critical acclaim? Controversy. The postmodern, high-tech design, when it opened didn’t sit well with many, including the French. Centre Georges Pompidou was famously dubbed “the ugliest building of all time”, and there were some cause for such outbursts. It is located near Les Halles, believed to be the traditional centre of Paris. Like the National Theatre in Beijing, the ultra-modern building, and other similar contemporary projects to disrupt the homogeneity of the Napoleon-era Haussman-designed urban plans were frowned upon. Still, the Centre attracted more than 180 million visitors since its opening, five times higher than predicted, but it’s not for reasons you might expect. Instead of visiting the world’s second largest collection of modern art, people visited the Centre for the views that it offered. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, the views are free, and for the first time, one could see an overview of the French capital from the geographical centre of the city.

Andy, oh Andy.

The original, not a copy.

Smokers carrying BIC lighters are carrying art.

I really love how this turned out.

Look closely. Yes, it’s supposed to look like what you think it looks like.

Centre Pompidou is also known for its stunning views.

Reminds me of that rooftop scene of Ratatouille.

Love taking shots like this.

Paris or Amsterdam?

With temperatures in the French capital finally pushing beyond 10 deg C, the crowds were eager to eat, drink, read and people watch in the sun. Just for the experience (I had to have lunch too), I joined in, and it was quite the experience. Where the sun shone, it was warm, but where the rays didn’t touch, the cold dominated. While I was initially to eat and go, I eventually fit right in. Cigarettes in Europe these days are quite a subject of societal contention: you can smoke anywhere – it’s legal, but increasingly, less people are smoking and many more want clear, defined limits. My Confit Canard (you’ve no idea how difficult it is to find a good restaurant, and the really good ones don’t accept walk-ins) was just average, no better than much of the stuff I find in Singapore, but oh well, when you’re alone, it’s a bit hard to pick and choose the best spots.

After my lunch, I relay to Champs-Élysées to purchase some Laduree macarons and pastries for an evening snack before I left for the airport, and a box to take home. I know Singapore’s going to get an outpost of this world famous maison, but I was eager to try the original – to calibrate my standards to that, and then return to Singapore wiser when it comes to critiquing macarons (at the end of the day, it all comes down to what you personally like, actually). I was so happy to be able to order a large chocolate macaron actually. It was crisp, every bite felt smooth to the palette – never crumpy and hard to swallow, the sweetness overbearing, but I’ve become accustomed to the French taste and preferences that it feels and taste luxurious. I couldn’t say the same about my Chocolate Eclair, though, which was in contrast, bland and rubbery.

Packing took quite a bit of thought, with the macarons, the two bottles of Aperitif, two Superdry tees (I’m gay for them), and worn clothes which somehow seem larger after you’ve worn them overseas (then mysteriously shrink back to size when you’re back home). In the end, I figured it out, headed to shower, came back, and closed my bag for one last time in France, and out my room door where my French host, I think, was waiting to bid farewell.

Laduree! Note the signature large macarons at the bottom.

Just so you know it’s not all macarons. There are pastries and patisserie as well.

Paris Metro’s Franklin D. Roosevelt, George V and Charles De Gaulle-Etoile are the stations for Champs-Elysées, not the namesake Champs-Elysées-Clemenceau station.

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