Spring Break Part Deux: Paris

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Well it was hard saying goodbye to Spain, especially since I was unsure of when I would return, but I was excited for my first trip to the “City of Lights.” I had been to France once on a high school trip where we stayed in the South of France, but I had never been to Paris before. I once had a Parisian exchange student stay at my house during high school (Augustin, if any of you remember him), but we didn’t exactly get along, so I was hoping to avoid any awkward encounters with him while I was here.

As I sat on the plane I could barely contain my excitement to finally be in this world famous destination. I couldn’t wait to eat the food, see the sights, and soak up some serious French culture. I arrived in Paris at nearly 11pm, and the only way I knew to get to the bed and breakfast I was staying at was by train, which unfortunately was closed at the time, so I asked for directions from a man who had been on my Granada flight. Racking my brains to remember everything I could from my one year of French, I eventually settled on “Vous Parlez-Anglais?” (Do you speak English?) To which he responded with a “yes.”

Reading the address I had written down, I asked if he knew where Rue 9 Emile Zola was. “Ah, Emile Zola!” he responded, before I could finish reading the address. “That’s right in the center of Paris. I’ll show you where to go!”

Feeling relieved that he knew where I needed to be, I hopped on the bus going straight to the Arc de Triomph. If I had finished reading the address, the man would have heard me say Vitry Sur-Seine, which unfortunately is not in the center of Paris.

While driving down the Champs-Elysee and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up and the Arc de Triomph towering over me, it almost didn’t feel real that I was actually here. However, I knew I would have plenty of time to marvel at Paris, so once I was on the Paris metro I needed to figure out how to get to my hostel. I ran into a  few major mishaps, with the train I needed being closed for repairs.

However, with the help of several friendly French people, I eventually found the street where I thought I needed to be. I saw Rue Emile Zola, and continued with my two heavy bags to Rue 10 Emile Zola, which, strangely, was the last building before the River Seine. Unless my bed and breakfast was underwater, it was not here. I crossed the river, hoping it would be on the other side, but it was a completely different street. I then wandered the Paris streets hauling my bags, hoping desperately that I had somehow missed the address, until I finally mustered up the courage to ask for help.

I stopped a young French couple, who luckily spoke flawless English, where my hostel was. This time I was careful to include Vitry Sur-Seine in the description.

“Vitry Sur-Seine?” the man asked. “That’s not in Paris.”

…….wait, what?

“What do you mean it’s not in Paris?!” I asked, beginning to freak out.

“It’s a small town outside the city, about 10 kilometers from here,” the woman said.

“Well…..how do I get there?”

“The trains are all closed now, so your best bet is a cab,” said the woman.

“Is that going to be expensive? I asked.

“Oh yeah!” exclaimed the man. “Not a good first night in Paris, is it?”

“No,” I sighed. It was now after 2 am.

“Well good luck,” they said.

Merci. I walked off in the other direction for a few blocks before I heard a shout. I turned around to see these two had hailed me a cab.

After a bit of a language barrier and a half hour later, I was in the Paris suburbs. I gave most of the euros I had to my cab driver and rang the doorbell to what I hoped to be the right place. Apparently I had awakened the owner, and when he came down to let me in, he was not at all happy, but luckily this was the right place. My friends who were staying here with me were amazed I made it here alive, especially since my phone had been dead for the journey. I headed to bed, hoping the remainder of my stay would be trouble free. I also hoped that this would be the biggest inconvenience I would face in Europe. I could not have been more wrong.

It may not have been my biggest inconvenience in Europe, but it was definitely the biggest inconvenience I faced while in Paris. The rest of my stay went wonderfully. Three of us, Emily, Lauren, and myself, began our day at the Eiffel Tower, a monument that lived up to all the hype, in my opinion. It is just as massive and awe inspiring as you would imagine it to be, and can be seen from all over Paris.

We then met for a tour at Notre Dame where we saw many of the major sights of the city, but unfortunately no hunchbacks. Even though it sounds cliche, Paris is maybe the most beautiful city I had ever been in (other than Prague) with monuments and bistros on every corner, and the air was filled with the smell of crepes and the sound of accordion music.

After a traditional French lunch which was good but not nearly my best meal here, we went to the Louvre, which was free for students after a certain hour. The building itself was half the attraction, especially with the giant glass triangle in the middle of the courtyard, and the amount and quality of art here is just astonishing. We saw saw some of the major sites, like the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, which is rather underwhelming, but my favorite was the Egyptian collection. I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that some of these mummies were over 3000 years old.

Three of us then had a very tasty meal at a nearby restaurant, very close to to the Eiffel Tower. As I sat there with a delicious meal in my stomach and the sight of the Eiffel Tower glittering in the night sky, I decided I could get used to this French lifestyle.

The next day was the Musee D’Orsay, which was also very cool. Filled with Impressionist paintings, it was not as cool as the Louvre in my opinion, but I still definitely enjoyed it. Next I wandered around the city for awhile longer, exploring several different arrondisements before heading to Montmartre, a hilly, artsy neighborhood home to the Sacre Couer, a famous church overlooking Paris. It has one of the best views I’ve ever seen.

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I then ran into Emma, Renee, and Caitlin (did I mention I was the only guy on this trip?)while I was buying macarons and a baguette. They wanted to see the Moulin Rouge, so I brought my baguette over to see what all the fuss was about. It’s basically just a strip club with a red wind mill in front, but I decided it would be cool for all of us to take turns posing in front of this place holding my baguette, just to look extra French. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that the neighborhood around here is very seedy, filled with sex shops and other scandalous businesses. At another strip club a man tried to get every passerby into his strip club. And I mean everyone. Even a woman wearing a burqa. We then decided this neighborhood was a bit too sketchy for our tastes so we went our separate ways before getting dinner later.

Most of Sunday we spent at Versailles, which is about a half hour outside the city. This is the lavish palace where Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette lived in luxury before being beheaded. This place is about as ornate as a palace can get, and like most other attractions in the city, it was free for international students. This helped a lot considering how expensive everything else was in this city.

The last day I spent exploring some more of the neighborhoods in Paris, before heading to the Pompidou, which is a very strange building looking to be a collection of pipes and plastic, a stark contrast to the more traditional Parisian architecture.

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The first floor I went to was filled with the type of modern art that causes most people to say “Hey, I could’ve done that!” Like those paintings that have a single spray of graffiti paint across the canvas and are supposed to symbolize the futility of life, or something like that. However, the next floor I went to was very interesting, and although I was pretty museum-ed out at this point, I’m glad I came here.

On the way to the airport is the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the famous Paris cemetery where so many famous people are buried, such as Jim Morrison from the Doors, the French singer Edith Piaf, and the unfortunately named philosopher Balzac. While wandering around the labyrinth of graves, I stumbled on a photoshoot where a topless woman posed on a grave dressed in black leather. Only in Paris, I thought.

A few hours later, I said “Au Revoir” to Paris (Not literally, but you get my drift) and boarded a flight back to Prague. In the coming weeks when people would ask me my favorite European destination other than Prague, I would usually tell them Paris. There’s a reason why this city is the world’s top tourist destination. This city, with its grand boulevards and buildings, is amazingly beautiful, and there’s enough to do here that you will never be bored. The food, although extremely expensive, is some of the best in the world, and the people were far friendlier than I expected. If it hadn’t been for the help of friendly French strangers, I might have never found my way to my hostel. I had high expectations before coming here, and Paris surpassed every one of them.

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