You should grab yourself a nice steaming cup of coffee, maybe a baguette and some butter, or perhaps a croissant from your local bakery, turn on some Charles Aznavour and enjoy the next few minutes as I take you on a little trip through the romantic streets of sweet, sweet Paris.
When I was in Argentina, I was lucky enough to meet the beautiful soul Stéphanie and we spent the day exploring Igauza falls together with some other lovely friends. We kept in touch, and when I was on my way over to France, she generously invited me to come and stay with her in Paris. She was currently in between jobs so she also offered to show me about the beautiful city herself – how spoiled I am! My plan was to sort of skim through Paris on my way up towards Norway, but I ended up spending four days instead of two because there was simply so much to see, and I was having such a lovely time with Stéphanie!
I opted for the cheapest route as usual, the night bus from London. Which was not a very enjoyable ride, as just when I was going to try and sleep we were awoken to head through Customs, and then shortly after had to debark the bus on the ferry and sit in uncomfortable chairs for two hours as we crossed the English channel. I arrived into Paris around 530am and had a bit of a journey to find my way from the Charles de Gaulle airport into the South where Stéphanie lived. She had given me excellent directions but not having slept, I wasn’t able to find the train platform I needed from the very start. I asked a few gentlemen working who hardly spoke a word of English, and I kept responding to them in Spanish, which was frustrating because I knew some basics in French and it surely would have gone a long way if I responded in French rather than Spanish! It really takes a while for your brain to adjust to the language switches!
I eventually got it sorted after a long examination of their transit system map and had to change lines three times, getting a little lost once. Luckily a nice young Frenchman approached me and with his shaky English helped me to find where I needed to be! It was pretty stressful as I was in a rush because Stéphanie was meeting me at a bus stop at a specific time. I only ended up being about 15 minutes late, which is incredible considering how many changes in transit I had to make! The most stressful part of travelling for me is exactly that- the travelling- the logistics- getting from point A to point B. When I’m in a foreign country, don’t speak their language, can’t read their signs, and have so little experience with public transit (remember, I can walk through my entire town in a half hour, no need for transit there!), it can become a stressful endeavour to get to where you’re going. But the one thing that adds to that stress the most? The preposterous amount of baggage I lug around with me. So it’s really self inflicted! It’s not so bad getting lost when you’re not carrying an extra 27KG on your back!
When the tram pulled up to my stop, I saw Stéphanie waiting outside and excitedly ran out to greet her with a big sweaty hug! “I made it!” I exclaimed. “I got a little lost, and I’m a little late, but I made it!” I was so grateful she came to meet me at 8am at a bus stop to show me the rest of the way to her place. We stopped at a small boulangerie (bakery) and she picked a fresh baguette (oh god… I hadn’t slept, I spent the last two hours lugging 60 pounds on my sweaty back getting lost in the Paris subway system, and now this?! I could hardly handle her charity! If I needed anything in life at that moment it was a fresh baguette in PARIS!). We got to her absolutely adorable apartment, I dropped my bags, and we sat down with her other friend Sandra who was also visiting. I enjoyed my first real french baguette and discovered the exquisite heaven that is demi-sal buerre (semi salted butter) spread on the soft, warm, fresh fluffy inside of my baguette. I tried my best to be polite, but I could have easily eaten the entire baguette to myself, and likely started on another. I did my best to keep my ravenous appetite for bread and butter in check, but it was an awful battle between basic human manners and a barbaric animal desire to grab the whole baguette and stick of butter and run off into a corner, shoving it into my mouth, crumbs tumbling to the floor between my guttural growling at the girls, daring them to try and take it away from me. My humanity won. Barely.
Stéph knew I was tired, and said that her and Sandra needed to head down town to do a little shopping, so if I wanted to have a nice little nap, I could just meet up with them in a few hours. I was so relieved! I needed sleep desperately so as soon as they left, I laid down. Just kidding. Of course I didn’t; I snatched another piece of baguette, smothered it with butter and then forced myself to put it all away and crawl into bed. I slept soundly for two hours and then compelled myself (more like bribed myself, with the promise of more baguette) to get up and shower and get ready. I threw on my most Parisian appropriate outfit (thank you once again Primark!) and with her directions and my rain jacket, went to meet the girls in the heart of Paris. Just kidding. I devoured another hunk of baguette, and then I left.
I met up with the girls and we walked among the streets in search of two more stores Sandra wanted to hit (one of which, Dilemme, I fell madly in love with and had to restrain myself terribly not to buy anything!) and then went on a hunt for some lunch as I was starving. I may have snuck another piece of baguette and butter before I left, but I mean that’s hardly sustainable. We stopped at one of countless cafes that line the streets of Paris, with tables set outside and an awning stretched overtop to keep the rain off and heating lamps running for those who needed them. Nothing could keep Parisians inside (come now, there’s no smoking inside, and you can’t very well people watch from inside the restaurant!) I indulged and ordered the Croque Monsuier- when in Paris, why not!? It was simply divine!
After lunch, passing through the Hôtel de Ville (Paris’s city hall), we made our way down towards the Eiffel Tower so I could catch my first glimpse of her. We planned to take a Bateaux Mouches boat tour down the River Seine to take in many of the magnificent sights along it’s banks: from Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower, and many renowned museums, to cruising beneath many of the famous 32 bridges such as the Pont Nuef and the Pont des Arts. Paris at night is a marvel, and there isn’t a better way to see her than from a boat roof top cruising town the River Seine. The girls hadn’t been on a boat cruise since they were little kids so it was an exciting ride for them as well.
Suddenly, the Eiffel tower lit up with thousands of dazzling lights, like a giant sparkler on the cake that is Paris. I absolutely squealed with delight; “Look! Oh my god Look!!!” as I jumped up from my seat on the boat and pointed, jabbing my finger over and over in the air.
“Yes, pretty isn’t it?” Stéph laughed.
“Does it always do that?! Is it some kind of special night? Is it Paris’s birthday?!” I excitedly (and naïvely) asked.
“No, no, it does this every couple of minutes, every night!” she replied.
Oh boy. It’s needless to say, but I was head over heels for Paris on day one.
The next day we hit the streets, again putting on endless kilometres and seeing sight after sight – walking through Concorde square, wandering the district of Le Marais while watching strange street performances, seeing Invalides and Ecole Militaire, catching a busker in front the the beautiful Opera, and cruising the streets of Pigalle while taking in the many sex shops and the grand Moulin Rouge. We would stop at cafe’s for lunch, and carry on, our feet aching, but our eyes bright and eager for all of the sights Paris has to offer. Stéph took me by the University where she studied and I marvelled at how lovely it would be to study in those old buildings and in this vibrant neighbourhood.
To end our big day, we set out to explore Montmartre, my absolute favourite spot in Paris. It’s full of artists sketching portraits and painting landscapes, buskers singing, musicians playing the accordion, graffiti on the walls, and church bells tolling from Sacré-Coeur Basilica. I expected to see a mime any moment! Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s absolutely beautiful, and full of cute cafes to grab a bite at. We sat down to some crepes (how could I not have a crepe when in the HOME of crepes?!) I’m usually a sweet crepe girl, but it was lunch time so I opted for the savoury swiss cheese and mushroom crepe. It was tasty, but Stéph admitted it was no where near the best crepe she’s had in Paris. We both decided to indulge and ordered a sweet crepe for dessert and the place most definitely redeemed itself. Have you ever heard of crème caramel au buerre sale? If you haven’t, it might be a good thing… I’ve never in my life tasted something so nectarous, so rich and and delectable, so tantalizingly sweet. I may spend the rest of my life trying to perfect making this saccharine heaven.
With aching feet and full bellies, we headed back to the apartment after a full day, of course stopping by the Eiffel tower on our way home to see her in all her glittering glory. Stéph put together a delicious dinner of snacks – hummus, cheeses, baguette(!), tomatoes and cucumber. How good it was to be eating food so close to my heart again!
On my last full day, Stéph suggested we check out Versailles and see the King’s palace. He had originally lived in the Louvre Palace as did his predecessors in Paris, and then decided it simply wasn’t extravagant enough, and so commissioned to have a palace built in Versailles so he could have miles of gardens and nature accompany his palace. We took the 30 minute train to Versailles and walked over to the palace. It was huge and beautiful, but the gardens and surrounding nature reserve are what really steal your attention. The perfectly manicured shrubs and lawns, the array of flower arrangements and statues located throughout were simply striking. There were a few art installments on the grounds as well – one was a little odd and to be honest a little homely, but had sadly been vandalized only days before with lewd spray paint messages. The others were rounded mirror installments that offered spectacular perspectives of the castle and sky.
There was a large, man made rectangular shaped lake with two cross sections that was full of swans enjoying the waters. We decided to take a nice long hike all the way around the lake and talked about everything from death to love, dreams to ghosts, and everything in between. Conversation with Stéph was wonderfully effortless and stimulating. It’s so wonderful to meet people on your travels that you connect with and can have meaningful, intellectual conversation with. By the time we got back around to the palace, we could see threatening clouds rolling in and within minutes a huge storm blew over us and caught us in the rain! We bolted for the nearest doorway of the palace and took cover while the heavens opened up and drenched the place. Once the heaviest of the rain abated, we began to make our way back towards the train and the sunshine came back out to shine down upon us!
We spent the rest of the day touring more of the fabulous city. We walked to the Louvre, but because it was late in the day they weren’t allowing any more visitors in. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t have had time anyway – I have a tendency to get lost in museums for hours on end and the Louvre is 14km of corridors with over 35,000 pieces on display…! I would have to save that experience for when I returned to Paris. We walked along the huge boulevard of Champs Élysées and stopped by the Arc de Triomphe to watch the madness as 12 boulevards coveraged on the leviathan roundabout designed by the famous Baron Haussmann. Stéph told me she had to drive in it once, and it was absolutely terrifying! I saw people on bicycles and scooters zipping through without a care and couldn’t believe their audacity (not to mention the courage!).
We had a late lunch and then ended our evening wandering through St. Michele’s food area which was my second favourite spot in Paris! It was absolutely lined with restaurant after restaurant, with nothing but special food shops in between each one. The smells, the signs, the cuisine displays! It was food heaven! Everywhere of course displayed the most stereotypical of the french foods: frogs legs, escargot and foie gras. While I can’t boast that I tried any of these, while I was in Paris I did ensure I tried brioche, crepes, croissants, pain de chocolat and caramel au buerre sale. So basically I made sure I indulged in all the sweet French foods! We stopped in a sweets shop and I nearly fainted when I saw they had little jars of caramel au buerre sale. I had to have one. And I also had to have a little bag full of flavoured caramels! (one of which was buerre sale flavour!)
I didn’t have to head to the train station until around 5pm on my last day, so we headed over to Notre Dame de Paris, the famous Gothic French Cathedral. The back side of the church is rather blocky looking, and it’s not until you get to the front that you see it’s full elegance and splendor. Ghoulish gargoyles hang from the sides of the church, their open mouths howling in eternal agony of hell (actually their open mouths act as rain drainage, but that’s no fun!). Inside the church is absolutely stunning. We walked around admiring the stained glass, the altars and the beautiful sculptures and paintings throughout. I am not religious in any way, but I deeply appreciate the impressive architecture that religion has to offer society. It’s quite an astonishing tribute to have such buildings created in you honour and reverence, and it always leaves me breathless, touring through this colossal houses of worship and dedication.
To end my time in Paris we of course had to go and say goodbye to my favourite lady, the Eiffel tower. I hadn’t seen her much in the daylight, only mostly in the evening when she shines her finest, so it was nice to get a good view of her from further back. It was strange, to feel such an admiration and love for a building. I never understood it, and honestly you just can’t until you have been there and seen her yourself. Before I saw her, I thought, well it’s just a tall structure, I don’t know what all the hype is about. But my god. When you see her peeking through the buildings all around her for miles around, you feel something inside of you. Some little tingle begins to flutter in your belly. You get closer and closer, and she grows, towering above you to such great heights.
And then suddenly you’re right under her. 7300 tonnes (thats 7,300,000 KG) of hulking iron, towering above you, reaching for the sky. The immensity is something that can’t be captured in photos, but can only be felt as you stand in her shadow. You have to stand beneath her to truly appreciate her awe, to understand the strange feeling of adoration that overcomes you. How silly, you think, that I feel so strongly for an iron structure. But you can’t help it. And my god, when she puts on her evening dress, and gets all dolled up for the night time… she will take your breath away. She lights up, an orange glow against the black sky, and suddenly she explodes in sparkles, glittering wildly, dazzling you. She demands you reverence. She deserves your adoration.
Indeed, this illustrious city has a reputation for being romantic, for being the city of love, and for just being one of, if not the greatest city in the world – and it’s so easy to see why. The old architecture, the street cafes, the ornate bridges, the glittering lady herself, Eiffel, the baguettes and croissants, the butter, and the hoards of lovers walking hand in hand: Paris is undoubtedly romantic. But you don’t need to be wandering around Paris arm in arm with a lover to enjoy her. The romance emanates from the city: it’s in the old, elegant buildings, it’s in the food, it’s in the the music, it’s in the very air. So grab your friend, lover, parent, or simply yourself and come saturate yourself in the wonder and enchantment that is Paris, ma chérie.