I sit in an apartment in Paris as I begin to write this post – listening to a dubbed re-run of Who’s the Boss. Livin’ the life, right? But I have to admit that Paris was never a desired destination for me. I have listened to people for years tell me about how amazing Paris is, and how I ‘needed’ to visit Paris, and all the things I needed to do while visiting Paris….. There were two instances that I had planned to visit while I lived in Europe, but they fell through and I never regretted it. Once I decided to visit Brussels, I figured we better head to Paris for a few days – it’s only an hour or two away and we had a free place to stay….. but I wasn’t necessarily excited for it.
I began to feel that my hesitations were justified as Jess woke me from a nap on the train, “He needs to see your ID.” I was delirious and figured it was due to crossing the border into another country. The man began to explain something about 26 and telling us that we owed more money. Even though he was speaking English, I had no grasp of what was happening – even as he charged my credit card 55Euro more than the 100Euro we had already paid for our roundtrip tickets. And then Jess clarified – the ticket man had sold us youth tickets. And while he was convinced that we were 25, the man on the train had not been so convinced. Oh, and we’d have to pay an additional 55Euro for the tickets that we had purchased to get home.
Welcome to France. I watched the lush green countryside roll past my window as I recalled all of the stereotypes of the “rude French” that had been relayed to me. This was a sign that I should not be going to Paris…..
We arrived in the train station, bought a three day bus/metro pass, and found the public transportation that would take us from Gare du Nord to the apartment of Jess’ friend John. While sitting on the bus, an elderly couple began speaking to Jess in French. She relayed the translation to me – they were trying to help us as we were clearly on the wrong bus. This bus didn’t go to the Eiffel Tower. Haha. We may look 25, but apparently we don’t look French! Maybe the stereotypes weren’t so right afterall….. we had only been in the city for 10 minutes, and these people were trying to help us.
The remainder of that day involved consuming a pizza ASAP, followed by a lot of walking in a very cold environment. We walked the Champs-Élysées singing one line from the only song I recalled from French class, “Aux Champs-Élysées, Aux Champs-Élysées” to the Arc de Triomphe and onto the Eiffel Tower.
The following morning we awoke – to sunshine! We got dressed and proceeded out into the city to start tackling our list of tourist destinations. First up – the Eiffel Tower. We cut in line with our pre-purchased tickets and were on our way up. The view was good, and the sun felt amazing. Jess and I pondered life while overlooking what has been described as an incredibly ‘magic’ city. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. This is it? I wasn’t impressed.
We made our way down, out to lunch, then in and around Notre Dam. I still felt a void. This is not the experience others had described. Jess humored me by walking around the cathedral to see the back. I love flying buttresses. We sat in a park with a view of the best architectural invention known to man, and plotted our next moves. I wanted to see Chanel and Jim Morrison’s grave, while she wanted to explore the area around the Moulin Rouge. We decided to head to Montmartre for a bit, then hit up Chanel before meeting John for dinner.
While walking Montmartre, we experienced a thrilling display of the city’s best sex shops and peep shows. I was beginning to question Jess’ judgement for coming to this area of town. We turned left up a side street, and began walking towards the Sacre Coeur – a church on top of a hill that overlooks the city. We walked up several of the steps before taking a break. I found some cats to love on, and we continued to the top. Once we landed at the base of the church, we turned and sat on the steps to enjoy the view (as well as some musical entertainment in the form of Bob Marley). Ok, enough sitting – off to our next destination.
We walked around the side of the church to snap one last photo before finding our way back to the subway. And this is where the day (and the city) turned for me. This photo was snapped at the moment that I began to ‘get’ Paris.
All the sudden it wasn’t about ‘seeing’ the city, it was about ‘being’ in the city. I suddenly didn’t care what was next on my list, and turned around to find a cozy little side street with some interesting looking shops. We began to wander towards the shops, then got distracted by an exhibit of local artists in a square. They were selling original art pieces from watercolors to oils, portrait to still life to landscape. It was so endearing – and off the map. We began to follow streets – periodically looking at one another and asking, “left or right?” I fell in love – we had found an area of real Paris and we were the only ones speaking English. Jess and I talked about what our lives would be like when we moved to this neighborhood, and even picked out which apartment would be ours and why. We watched parents pick up their kids from school and stop in to the patisserie to grab some bread for dinner on their way home. We sat in a cafe surrounded by people speaking French and allowed ourselves to just ‘be.’ I knew that this was why I was in Paris. In fact, during part of our walk I looked at Jess and said, “I’ve been here before.” Consciously I knew that I hadn’t, but I had dreamt of the location several months earlier.
That night we experienced the second best meal of my life – warm goat cheese over a bed of lettuce with raspberry vinaigrette, ravioli with a cream sauce, and three desserts shared (berry crumble, chocolate explosion, and creme brule). I had died and gone to heaven. John took us on a driving tour of Paris on our way home. He indulged us in driving around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées as we returned to the apartment for rest.
The next morning we decided to hit up a Parisian garage sale/flea market, then experience the Pére Lachaise cemetery where several famous people are buried. It was a cold day, and I barely made it through our full cemetery experience. Aside from the immense cold, I loved wandering the ruins. The art in this particular cemetery was incredible – ranging from marble tombs and crypts from the 1800′s to more modern interpretations of tombstones (Oscar Wilde’s was very Art Deco). I wondered what the lives of the inhabitants had looked like, and mourned for the abandoned, moss covered, and shattered tombs that clearly were not visited on a regular basis. Plus, it’s clearly where the zombie apocalypse will begin…. so it’ll be cool to someday say “I was there.”
That evening we were invited to the home of some of John’s friends for a quaint dinner party. It was a very engaging evening highlighted by amazing food and drink. The conversation bounced between several different languages – English, French, and Italian – as we paused occasionally to enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower through the kitchen window as it sparkled once per hour. And again it hit me – THIS is Paris! These were the experiences and feelings that people had when falling in love with the city. I couldn’t help but feel spoiled and blessed. I was able to experience Paris from a real perspective – not just the standard tour of the city, but the behind the scenes, exclusive VIP tour! Seriously amazing.
…..And then we drove around the Arc de Triomphe listening to my new favorite song by Jay-Z and Kanye West about being in Paris. Best. Trip. Ever.