I can still remember the exact moment I saw the tower for the first time and the sweeping sensation being romanced by Paris. I swear at this exact moment one can hear Edith Piaf singing ‘La Vie en Rose.’
I have started this blog entry over a couple times, not sure how I wanted to detail my Paris trip but alas I have worked it out…one week later.
This was my second time visiting the City of Lights – three years ago I was first wowed by Paris. All of the classic sites impress: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Versailles, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Sacré-Cœur…the latter being the only one I did not visit in 2007 (and subsequently became my favorite haunt on this trip.)
It seems that every trip to Paris is marked by some unfortunate bout of bad luck. The city is a temperamental mistress, dazzling the unsuspecting tourist and then, when sufficiently distracted by the beauty of the sites, turns you out on your ass. Three years ago I was mugged and this year, though less seriously affected, we witnessed a riot, were denied entry due to a worker strike and became well acquainted with terminal 2G due to a flight delay.
However, let me first review the major sites and then entertain with the tragic anecdotes that plagued us.
The Eiffel Tower – the type of event that plucks your Paris cherry. I can still remember the exact moment I saw the tower for the first time and the sweeping sensation being romanced by Paris. I swear at this exact moment one can hear Edith Piaf singing ‘La Vie en Rose.’ The three large fields preceding the tower are populated by tourists, students, vendors and lovers alike…all drinking of course. One must dedicate at least one evening to sipping some vino under the tower. Note: don’t forget to pack the bottle opener and if you do run dry, don’t worry, there will always be a friendly African gentlemen peddling Sekt and white wine. When ascending the tower, do yourself a favor and shell out the extra few euros to reach the top floor. Expect to wait 30-45 minutes in line and if you can, avoid frequenting the tower after a large sporting event…
Notre Dame – the lovely Gothic cathedral that is home to Quasimodo (Hunchback of Notre Dame.) The Church has beautiful stained- glass windows (removed during WW2 so that they were not destroyed by the Germans) and flying buttresses. Definitely a must-see and good news to you, it’s free of charge to enter. If you wish to ascend the towers, which is where the infamous bell and gargoyles are located, you’ll have to queue and pay a small fee. Note: these towers are notoriously exhausting to ascend. I would not recommend climbing them when hung over.
The Palace of Versailles –when Louis XIV felt that Paris was infested with too many commoners, he blew dodge and ordered the Palace of Versailles be erected in Versailles (some 20km from town.) The Palace is decadent. No expense was spared to encrust all exposed surfaces in crystal, gold, silver, paintings and sculptures. All of the ceilings are painted. An entire bedroom was created in which the ‘sun god’ would sneak into in the morning and then proceed to wake up. The purpose? So that palace folk could witness the sun rise, of course! Other features of interest include the Hall of Mirrors and the Versailles gardens. Note: expect to spend at least a half day here, if not a full day, depending on whether you intend to explore the gardens. The train takes about 40 minutes each way. Heed warnings of strikes on the web page as the definition of strike in France translates to ‘entirely closed’ not ‘expect delays.’
The Louvre – one could spend 2 weeks in the Louvre and still not have fully explored it. We didn’t tour the museum this trip, but on my first trip we entered long enough to view Mona and leave. If Mona was a penis, I would would be severely underwhelmed by the size of her. (Prepare to crowd about in order to examine her.) I would recommend spending an entire day here, if you are an art-type. The exhibitions are cool though, and include Greek, Egyptian and Mesopotamian antiques. The court yard is also a must-see which features the giant glass pyramid and is located literally, in the heart of the city.
Arc de Triumph –situated at the end of Champs Elysees (the MMMMMAYJOR shopping avenue) the Arc de Triumph provides one of the best views in the city. One can ascend the structure and bear witness to the madness that is a seven (or so) lane traffic circle. It really is an anomaly. If I were to take up residency in Paris, successfully navigating it would validate me as an legitimate Parisian expatriate. Shop your way to the Arc de Triumph or take the metro, stop: Charles de Guile Etoile.
Champs-Élysées –shopping on the Champs-Élysées qualifies you as an official consumer. Here you will find all the chicest and most luxurious flagship stores. Pricewise, it’s like shopping at the West Edmonton mall –you pay the premium for the experience. Looking to power shop? Avoid Saturday. Point of interest: note the 200 foot line of people queuing to enter Louis Vuitton.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica – located on the highest point of the city in the district of Montmartre. One must approach the basilica from the Anvers metro station and climb up through the narrow Rue de Steinkerque. This approach provides the most impressive view of the basilica and you can enjoy the Parisian cityscape from several platforms. Entrance into the basilica is free but one must be dressed ‘respectfully.’ Unfortunately, we were kicked out promptly after entering (don’t wear shorts…)
Our Accommodations: apartment rentals, booked through Airbnb.com. This is a fantastic website that connects travelers with apartment-owners who rent their flats as ‘hotel suites.’ Who knows where they go while you stay there, but it is fantastic to have command of an entire apartment rather than sharing a dingy 6-bed hostel room with strangers. Plus, when sharing between friends, it’s more cost efficient to use Airbnb.com and many of the flats are very chic. We stayed in the Montmartre and Le Marais districts and enjoyed them quite a bit. Montmartre is more notoriously artistic and up-and-coming, while Le Marais is classic Paris, trendy and full of good bistros, shops and bars. Note: when arranging the pick-up for the key, it is slightly difficult to estimate what time you will arrive at the flat. Just be cognitive that it may take a little extra time to locate the flat for the first time, and having a cell phone is most advantageous for everyone’s nerves. (This was the greatest source of tension regarding our accommodations, given that land lords tend to not want to wait around for you versus a hotel that will receive you at any time of the day.)
Food & Drink: Bring a reusable water bottle with you, or face paying 2 euro/bottle in town. You can drink Parisian water but guaranteed, it will taste different from what you are used to. We usually tried to find a super market in the morning and stock up on snacks and drinks for the day. These are also the best places to buy your booze. Something that excited me to no end were 2 euro bottles of wine, boooh-yah. Local bakeries, or boulangeries, are great for picking up a baguette for the road or indulging in a tasty Parisian eclaire. I caution you when ordering a salad in Paris –we found the same horrid salad dressing on all of our ‘salads’ and were consistently disappointed. Best street food: crepes. I like the Nutella and banana ones the best. Looking to order a coffee? Order ‘café au lait.’ While we were staying in Le Marias we frequented a small Chinese food bistro. Oh my lord, so delicious! The best Asian food is in big cities!
Shopping: I enjoyed shopping in Le Marais the most. Prices are reasonable and the selection is uber-chic. Downside: you will notice that some of the stores have the exact same pieces, which leads one to suspect that there is a profitable warehouse somewhere in China. I’d recommend just getting flashier items here and sticking to quality basics from known brands. Rumor has it, that there are phenomenal vintage shops located around the Centre Pompidou (in Le Marais.) If you have the time to poke about, you will find some gems –and don’t feel shy to barter a bit! You’ll find quality goods on Champs Elysees and of course, high end department stores such as Printemps which vends $24,000 fur coats and $3,000 floral tunics. If you’re interested in designer goods, all of the major fashion houses are located within the 6-floor department store. Have a browse, day dream a bit, perhaps use Mom’s Visa to buy a treat and then be sure to sip a cappuccino in the café on the top floor and people watch the actual customers.
Transportation – I happen to think that the Pairs Métropolitain (metro) is superb. I find that the underground network of 16 lines to be extremely efficient. A single ticket will cost you 1.60 euros. Since these are a bit of a pain in the ass (for various reasons, just trust me) I would recommend buying a weekly pass or a Paris Visite pass (1,3,5) days and eliminate the hassle. Procure yourself a metro of the map ASAP. Note: each of the 16 lines run in both directions and are characterized by different colors. Find your heading on the map and then take note of which direction you will be going and cross reference with the signs in the metro stations. At this point I will mention, I am unabashedly, the Expert Navigator of the Paris Metro system. Not once, sober or inebriated, did I lead my fellow tourists in the wrong direction or onto the wrong line. Boo yah.
The Bad & the Ugly…
Riot Squad – having been mugged during my first trip to Paris, I never ascended the Eiffel tower (we spent our last day in a police station and hospital.) On our third day in Paris, Nathalie and I sauntered down to the tower and got ourselves in line. 30 minutes later we had successfully befriended some American students and were about 10 minutes from purchasing our tickets. At this point, a mass of Algerian soccer fans stormed through the plaza beneath the tower, kicking about a soccer ball, running/hopping through the lines of tourists and being generally obnoxious. After consulting with a tower employee, we were alerted that the Algerians had lost a soccer game to Slovenia and were…celebrating. At one point some young men were hopping rails not more than 25 feet from us. One of the guys went to open a glass ‘gate.’ He pushed and it was definitely supposed to be pulled. Consequence: the door shattered. Apparently this served as the catalyst security had been anticipating because within minutes, cops were everywhere. The crowd backed up in a semi-circle around one pinned perpetrator and the tension between the Algerian fans and the cops was tangible. Next thing you know, people are being pepper sprayed. Had we not just made the cut off in line, we would have been covered in the stuff. Children were screaming, tourists were choking and coughing, and people were fleeing. It was horrible. Subsequently the entire Eiffel Tower was shut down for hours following this incident. I couldn’t help but think, “Am I ever going to get to the top of this goddam tower?”
Strike At Versailles Palace –Monday evening after successfully ascending the Eiffel tower, Nathalie, Tyler and I shared five or six bottles of wine. We were pretty surprised when 6:00am rolled around. Nathalie: “If we go to bed now, we will sleep in until 2:00pm and waste our entire day. And we haven’t even seen Versailles Palace, and that will take at least half a day! Jenn, seriously, let’s just go there now.” Me: “What. We haven’t slept. This is going to suck in a couple hours. Hell, let’s do it.” So we got dressed, painted on our faces and found the closest café to suck back some java. An hour later we were wide-eyed, buzzed, shaking and en route to Versailles. We arrived about an hour before opening and sat dazed in a Starbucks. More java. 45 minutes later we walk to the Palace. 35 minutes later we are looking, cockeyed, at the ticket office and wondering why the EFF it isn’t open. Sleep is starting to nag me, my body is starting to sweat and had I eaten anything, a disaster could have occurred given the FOUR coffees I consumed in an hour and fifteen minutes. Nathalie: “Didn’t it say something about a strike on the website?” Me: “I’m going to fucking die.” Disapointed and feeling rather dumb for pulling an allnighter and then training 40 minutes out of town for n.o.t.h.i.n.g. we dragged our sorry asses home. Nathalie: “Jenn, don’t let me fall asleep on this train.” Me: “ZZZ…al;kdsjf;aljsd…..” I think we managed to get some decent pictures of the exterior of the palace at least.
Flying Home –Nathalie and I were able to coordinate our flights so that we arrived/departed in the same terminal at Charles de Gualle airport and within 30 minutes of one another. “How convenient!” we thought. After booking it out of the Ile-de-France to CDG on our last morning, Nathalie was mad stressing that she would miss her flight as she checked in just 25 minutes before departure. Feeling rather content with my own flight status I leisurely went through security as she was rushed through. I waited half an hour until the flight was boarding and walked to the gate. Oh…delay. The plane is still going through a technical inspection. Waiting, waiting. “Please return to the terminal, a new plane is required” I was informed. Ugh. Two hours later I impatiently flipped through a Wall Street Journal. Had a French businessman not befriended me and bought me a Coke and a muffin, this wait would have been decidedly intolerable.
Whoever said the French were rude clearly wasn’t a 21-year old young woman. Nathalie and I were scoring winks from waiters, making several new friends on the fields below the tower and flattered by vendors and residents alike. Vendors constantly tell you are a ‘pretty lady’ while residents will omit a, “jolie” out of the corner of their mouths while walking by you, sans-agenda. By the end of our trip we decided that we were the most beautifully people in all of city, after all, all of Paris was saying so! After five days of being assaulted with such ‘horrendous’ slander, a vendor would shout, “Oh ladies, such beautiful girls” and without skipping a beat we would reply, “We know!”
It was to my advantage that Nathalie can speak some French, just as it was to Nathalie’s advantage that I am an Expert Navigator. We completed one another. As soon as I arrived in Paris I discovered that all of the French I studied in elementary and high school is AWOL. My apologies to the provincial government. I can’t believe my inability to communicate in French, it’s mortifying. I am literally, useless. I’m praying that it’s just buried under layers of German.
-In Paris, you simply can’t count dollars/euros. It’s expensive, budget as such.
-You may indeed see men urinating against a wall, in the underground. Gross.
-As unfortunate as it is, if a young African man approaches you, it is likely that he is trying to sell you something. In any circumstance, do not let him tie string around your pinky finger. He is going to braid the strings and then charge you for it.
-Cocktails generally start at 12 euro > highway robbery if you ask me!
-Pin pads for paying with debit or visa generally don’t have the letters on the buttons. For those of you like myself who memorize their pins as a word, not digits, you are SOL unless you can get your hands on a cell phone.
-predrink, predrink, predrink!
Thanks Tyler, Andy & Nathalie for such a fantastic trip. Much love <3 xox
Pingback: 2012: Tackling the Bucket List « Fodder for Day Dreaming Flashpackers