Seeing as this was my first-ever time in Europe, I decided that I needed to go to one of the big three tourist cities (in my mind, London, Rome, and Paris) at some point, despite my big talk about trying to find some trips a tad off the beaten path. It does feel nice every once in a while to be able to cross five things off the bucket list within the span of a weekend, and I got to do that and so much more that I didn’t anticipate while I was there.
We got up at about 4 am Friday morning to catch the 6:30 flight to a small airport outside of Paris. Being cheap means you get to take a bunch of small planes without free drinks to airports about an hour outside of a major city and then catch a bus in.
Anyway, so after all of our traveling was done, we had arrived in Paris about 10:30 a.m. We surprisingly had very little trouble finding our hostel, which turned out to be a tad further away from the center of the city than we had anticipated, but luckily was right next to a metro stop (I should note briefly that all of the public transportation that I have used so far in Europe, which is in 5 different cities, pales in comparison to Madrid).
So we dropped off our bags and hit the ground running. We were able to make a nice little walking tour from our hostel down to the Seine, along the way passing a monument to the Bastille prison and catching our first glimpses of the Notre Dame cathedral.
To describe the Seine as picturesque is a bit like calling the Grand Canyon big; it’s what makes the city beautiful, in my opinion; there are just no words to describe how everything about Paris wouldn’t seem nearly as wonderful and elegant without the river cutting through it. We got to the Notre Dame cathedral and walked through, rubbing St. Peter’s foot and looking at what is believed to be the original Crown of Thorns along the way.
We kept on walking down the Seine to the Louvre, and hung out there and enjoyed watching all of the other tourists taking the same variation of pictures involving the giant glass pyramids in the main plaza.
It was at a little street cart outside of the Louvre where I purchased the first crepe of my life. It was just a simple Nutella (the European chocolate substitute) crepe, and was truly breathtaking. I and the two other guys with whom I traveled developed the “Last Bite Concept,” where we decided that our last bite of every crepe we bought should be as big and messy as possible, so that it would leave the best possible aftertaste. Needless to say, I brilliantly executed this theory a couple more times over the course of the weekend, and I really don’t need to ever eat another crepe in my life – they just won’t be as good.
From the main plaza of the Louvre you can see, in a scene reminiscent of the Washington Mall, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, so we once again set off and tried to make our way down there. By this time it was getting into the evening hours, and we had all been walking all day on very little sleep, so as the skies opened up and began to unleash serious downpours on us after an hour of trekking toward the Arc, we decided to call it an afternoon and make our way back to our hostel.
After a solid power nap, we made our way back to the metro and got off for our first visit to the Eiffel Tower. I’m sure if I had read any kind of good travel book I would’ve been aware of the fact that it lights up on the hour at night, but the surprise and glory of that first unexpected show might’ve been the highlight of my trip. After an hour of sitting around the tower enjoying the cool night, we returned to the hostel for a good night’s rest.
We woke up the next morning and enjoyed our hostel’s breakfast of a croissant with a variety of jams, a chocolate Danish, and a cup of hot chocolate, which hit my cold body in a delightful way. Most of our day was spent going through the Louvre, and I am very pleased with how thorough we were – and yet how I never tired of it.
I would call the Louvre the “anti-Alamo” because it is so much larger than you would ever believe in real life. The main difference I noted between it and the Prado (the national art museum of Spain), besides size, is how many different paintings that would squeeze onto a single wall. The impression it gave was that they just didn’t have enough room to put their collection, even though the three different multi-storied buildings of the Louvre are spread over a space of land pretty comparable to the main part of SMU’s campus.
Even though all of the rumors of Mona Lisa being disappointingly small are entirely true, there is just a certain feeling of disbelief to be looking at a cultural relic whose fame in Western society is probably matched by nothing else.
Later in the day we ventured a ways north to the part of the city known as Montmarte, where the Sacred Heart Basilica is located and is also known as being one of the best views of the city, as it sits atop quite a steep hill. The view didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed getting to hear the nuns in the basilica perform their daily prayers of adoration.
What we didn’t anticipate taking place there was a massive wine festival, which meant we were in the midst of about 2,500 French and other tourists in different stages of inebriation for the rest of the night, as we decided we couldn’t leave the festival once we learned of the fireworks show that night.
As we waited for the show, we found a nice French restaurant and went inside, and were quickly shown the door for not having a reservation. We tried the restaurant next to it, and were given the same greeting. Finally we found a restaurant, which allowed us to dine after a 15-minute wait. This ended up being well worth it for me as my meal consisting of the house specialty quiche, house specialty French lasagna, and chocolate mousse for dessert left me quite fulfilled.
We then climbed onto the roof of an abandoned building by the festival and enjoyed the show. The show was quite different from an American fireworks show, where instead of lasting 45 minutes and at times becoming a tad monotonous, this lasted only 15 minutes and consisted entirely of grand-finale-quality fireworks.
Our next surprise came as we were sitting in the metro station, and an American young man walked up to us with a question. After a couple of minutes of conversing he introduced us to his group of friends studying in Paris and their group of French friends they were passing time with that night.
Before we knew it we were heading with this group to sit in the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower again at night. Spending that night sitting around with a group of strangers who were speaking a language of which I had no knowledge and just soaking in the wonderful Parisian night is just one of those experiences I’ll never forget. I’m quite certain we’ll never run into any of those people again, but I’ll always be grateful that they turned a night of uncertain plans into a cultural experience I’ll have with me forever.
The next day we checked out of our hostel, but still had a few hours to kill before having to catch our bus back to the small French countryside airport. Seeing as we had not yet been to any of the major monuments on the west side of the Seine during the daytime, we hopped on the subway and started walking again.
This time we got to see the Statue of Liberty’s cousin, which is situated on the end of a small stretch of land in the middle of the Seine. As we began walking on this island toward the Eiffel Tower, we noticed that on the side of the river a huge running race was taking place. We probably walked along that little island for 45 minutes, and for as far we could see along the Seine in either direction there was a giant mass of humanity, 15-20 people wide the entire way.
The race ended, like us, at the Eiffel Tower, and we finally got out daytime pictures of it while trying to navigate through a gigantic finish line and even a movie scene being filmed underneath the tower. We didn’t end up having time to go up the tower, but I suppose you can’t win everything.
Our last stop before catching our bus was finally making it to the Arc de Triomphe, and thankfully the clouds agreed with our pursuit this time and we wound up taking the necessary “we were there” pictures before racing to the bus and finally catching our flight.
It was quite the weekend. I feel like we couldn’t have possibly tried to do more in the city, but that doesn’t mean I certainly won’t be willing to venture back there at some point in the future – maybe it’d be a more conducive environment for my apparently sporadic blogging.
Tomorrow: surfing in Portugal