Bonjour from Paris!
I spent last weekend in the amazing wonderful city of Paris, France. I have been dreaming of visiting this city since I was a little girl; witnessing the Eiffel Tower and posing in front of the Arc de Triompe. I’m happy to say that my experience here matched, if not exceeded my expectations of the city.
Wednesday night and most of the day on Thursday was not looking promising for our trip, however. Working with kids all day exposes you to some pretty nasty germs and illnesses. I’ve fought them off pretty well, until last Thursday. Karina, who works in the same center and classroom as me, also caught the bug and we were both sick with the same symptoms within 30 minutes of each other. The virus knocked out a good portion of our kids and staff and I’m happy to report that it’s on it’s way out of our center. Thank the Lord! Believe me, I much rather would have been working that Thursday than feel the way I did.
We were back to work on Friday and I’m pretty sure Paris was my only driving force. I still wasn’t feeling 100% and was still uneasy about eating food and my ability to keep it in my system.
Luckily we were on the upswing and good to go on Friday. Well, until I realized I had forgotten our train reservation tickets at home and we were due to get on the train from work.
Possibly the single downfall of France is that their trains require you to have reservations in advance for seats. We made the reservations the week before, but I had forgotten the tickets. Good move, Kaley. Luckily we had planned to take a late enough train that our boss could play superhero, pick us up from work, run us home to grab them, and get us to the train station with time to spare. Two claps for Tracy.
With our eurail train passes, we take ICE trains, which are high speed. On these trains, Paris is only 2 1/2 glorious hours away. I couldn’t wait to get there and the train seemed to be crawling at the pace of a snail.
We arrived into the city around 11pm and headed to our hostel. We had saved directions how to get there, but by blind chance we wandered out of the train station, walked a couple blocks, and stumbled upon it without even realizing it.
Our hostel looked promising, with a restaurant/bar on ground level with live music. We checked in, dropped our stuff in our room, and headed down to listen for a while.
Paris was the first city and first hostel I have had to share with strangers. Unlike hotels, hostels are rooms with 6-8 beds in them and can be reserved by anyone. There is no privacy really, unless you’re lucky enough to have a curtain to block your bed from the rest of the room. Two of our roommates were from Maryland and studying in London, so that was pretty cool. We never met our other roommates, but it was a pretty pleasant stay for a hostel.
After being sick and traveling, we decided to call it a pretty early night. We knew we’d be hitting the city hard in the morning. At this point, we were only planning to stay Friday night and head for home Saturday evening. When we awoke Saturday morning, we quickly changed our minds and decided to stay another night. Boy am I glad we did, because I didn’t have the energy to do anything else on Saturday.
After eating breakfast, our first item of business was to buy a metro pass. These were very reasonable, costing us less than 4€ a person (because we’re still considered ‘youth’ in Europe) to use the subway or local trains all day in zones 1 & 2 of the city. For anyone who might need a future reference, every major attraction in Paris is in zone 1.
A perfect day weather-wise, without a cloud in the sky, with the sun shining bright and warm, I knew it would be a promising day. Our first stop was sacre cour, a beautiful cathedral atop a hill. We climbed the short incline and saw a great view of the city. The hustle and bustle of tourist season was very evident here, as there were tourists taking photos and locals sitting on the steps listening to a harpist play a beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah.”
We didn’t go inside, but marveled at the beauty of the outside. After a bit, we wandered around the neighborhood and discovered an art market taking place. We walked around for a good amount of time admiring the beautiful paintings and sketches of the city, of famous people, or of themselves. We even caught a few of the artists in action as they were painting the ongoing around them or a memory of a site in the city. Seeing this made me wish I had any artistic ability at all. Since I don’t, I contributed to the art market and bought a beautiful painting of Paris and the Eiffel Tower at sunset.
We headed down the hill to hop on the metro. Our next stop? THE EIFFEL TOWER. I was like an 8-year-old on Christmas morning, giddy with excitement, but nervous at the same time. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as amazing as it had been in my head all these years. Like I said earlier, the city did not disappoint and surely the Eiffel Tower didn’t either. If I was a person who cried a lot, I probably would have cried at the site of it. But I’m not, so I just smiled my ‘three finger smile’ and laughed as I looked up at the marvelous work of architecture.
We had planned to go up to the very top, but the lines were crowded and never ceased to get longer so we decided against it. Only because I know I’ll be revisiting Paris in a few weeks was I okay with this. (Hint: buy your tickets ahead of time. Even if you plan to walk to the top, you need tickets.) This was also the part of the day where I realized it was really windy. And I was wearing a dress. And a big floppy hat. Do you know how hard it is to keep your dress from flying up while also trying to keep your hat from flying away? Hard, very hard. I don’t recommend it to anyone.
Luckily I have friends who give me their clothes so I can walk around with a little bit of dignity. Karina was wearing a cardigan and gave it to me to tie around my waist to help hold my dress down. What a saint.
We made our way across the street a bit so that the Eiffel Tower was in full view. We enjoyed crepes with the most beautiful view there ever was. We took some photos and took our time getting to the metro for our next stop. Along the way, we saw a beautiful newlywed couple taking photographs with the Eiffel Tower in perfect view behind them. Talk about a dream come true!
Our next stop was Arc de Triompe, which was positioned in the middle of an 8 lane roundabout. Just looking at the traffic made me anxious, let alone watching bike carriages and buggies riding along in the traffic. Whoever chose to ride in that thing had a death wish I think. I’ll stick to subways and trains, thanks.
The Arc was at the end of the famous Champs Elyseés. This high-end, designer shopping district was flooded with people. People going every direction, going everywhere and no where at the same time, rushing or taking their time. I looked into the distance and all I could see were people. I’m not a large-crowd person, but it was neat seeing all the people out enjoying such a beautiful day. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the city, but in that moment I loved being surrounded by hundreds of strangers.
We popped in and out of a couple stores before making it to another metro station. By this point, we were starting to feel the exhaustion of the non-stop traveler/Parisian lifestyle. With one last stop on our agenda for the day, we made our way to the ‘island’ of the city, home to Notre Dame cathedral.
It was free to enter, so we got in line and took our time exploring the beauty of the inside. I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed the immaculate and extravagant La Sagrada Familia, Goudí’s famous cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. Anything compared to that cathedral seems to be mediocre. Notre Dame was beautiful, but it wasn’t as awe-inspiring to me as it was perhaps to a lot of other people. What I will say about it is that I appreciate its class. It was tasteful, classy, and very genuine. The stain glass windows go unmatched and the architecture was simple and beautiful.
With miles under our feet of walking around and our senses stimulated by the sights, sounds, and smells of the city, we headed back to our hostel. We ate dinner at the restaurant below, our first full meal since being sick I might add. We filled our stomachs and headed to our room to rejuvenate and figure out our plan for the evening.
It turned into a relaxing evening complete with revisiting most of the sites we’d seen earlier in the day. Paris has two personalities: one during the day and one at night. Both equally as alive as the other, but perhaps more of a sense of magic and beauty at night. I mean, we saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling. SPARKLING!
We went on a river cruise on the River Seine where we passed under the infamous lovelock bridges and other landmark bridges. We also saw Notre Dame lit up at night, which I must say was so beautiful.
After a chilly, relaxing boat ride we were definitely ready for bed. Especially since we’d be tackling (or attempting to tackle) The Louvre in the morning before heading home.
A restful night’s sleep could never prepare someone for The Louvre experience. If you’re someone who is genuinely interested in art, it’d probably take you two days to go through and view everything in-depth. To be honest, Karina and I were mostly interested in seeing the Mona Lisa and maybe some statues. However, we made the mistake of forgetting to take a map with us, so when we entered it was a good 30 minutes before we meandered through the maze and found our way back to the information desk. In getting lost through the twists and turns and multiple levels, we saw a decent amount of the museum. The marble sculptures and Egyptian ruins were the most beautiful and interesting.
We finally made our way to the Mona Lisa, which I will plainly state was underwhelming. A large crowd of people surrounded the painting, with cameras and phones recording their presence there. We fought our way to the front, took a photo, and quickly escaped the soon-to-be mosh pit that was ensuing. It was much smaller than I had ever pictured, but at least I got to view that and many other miraculous pieces of artwork.
Another sunny, beautiful day put us in the mood for a lot of walking once again. With a few hours before our train left, we walked the few miles from The Louvre to the Eiffel Tower; I couldn’t leave without embracing it’s beauty one last time for as long as possible. This time, we enjoyed ice cream as we said goodbye to the epitome of Paris.
Our train ride back was a little more complicated. First of all, we tried booking a reservation for a seat on the way back Saturday in Paris and were denied, being told we should have booked 15-30 days in advance. Oops. We panicked a little before creating an alternative plan and booking reservations into different cities and taking more, but shorter trains to connect to other trains. Needless to say, it was a confusing process and made a 2 1/2 hour trip almost 6 hours. Our first train was confusing and we wandered around for a good 10 minutes before we figured out where our real seats actually were. The next train had no open seats so we had to stand for 30 minutes before deciding to get off at the next stop and finding an alternative route. Our next train was late getting to the platform, making us miss our connecting train and making us wait an hour and a half for the next one. It’s safe to say that we were more than ready to be home when we arrived around 8pm Sunday evening.
Expectations are often times not met; maybe we have too high of expectations, maybe they’re unreasonable or unrealistic. I’ve had my fair share of disappointments in multiple aspects of life, but I have yet to encounter one in travel. Even though the Mona Lisa wasn’t as big as I had thought or Notre Dame wasn’t as beautiful as other churches I’ve seen, I was able to appreciate each event in other aspects. Don’t be afraid to have high expectations, but also don’t be discouraged if those expectations aren’t met. It just means that next time, you’ll know how to better set those expectations up for success.
Au Revoir! Paris, I’ll be back for you!