Two weeks ago, Rachel, Alisha, and I headed for Paris after classes on Thursday. Even though I had already visited the city on a trip with my high school a few years ago, I was excited for a weekend there. I guess I should begin by saying, this weekend wasn’t what I expected. With high expectations, we arrived in Paris late Thursday evening around 11:30pm. We were instantly faced with a steep language barrier. Far from the city center, and unsure where exactly to go, we headed outside the ORLY airport to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. Luckily, I knew the metro stop near our hotel and somehow our taxi driver understood where we wanted to go. We arrived quickly at our hotel, checked in, and climbed over 6 flights of stairs to our room (the elevator did not appear trustworthy). We threw our things down, desperate for supper and headed to McDonalds around the corner (the only place open at this time around our hotel). We each ordered and paid. When I looked at the change I had received, I realized I was missing a few Euros. I asked the cashier for the rest of my change and he refused to give it to me. As I tried to explain, he just gave me a blank unwavering stare. Although he knew English, he refused to use it and in turn got a few extra Euros from me. Frustrated and losing my patience, I walked away and knew from that point this was not going to be the trip I had imagined.
After our greasy dinner, we headed back to the hotel and found ourselves in a long conversation with the man working at reception. At first, it was really nice talking to him, getting suggestions about the city and learning a bit about French culture. However, about an hour into the conversation, things started to get weird. Although generous and meaning no harm, (well, at least I think so) he offered us a “rare” Egyptian alcoholic beverage. We politely turned him down unsure of what was really in the drinks. Then, somehow, mysteriously female porn came on the TV in the lounge (of course the reception guy had no idea how…) and we all knew it was time to go to bed. We quickly escaped, got showers in our moldy bathroom and tried to remain optimistic for our first full day in Paris the following day.
Friday was a new day! We slept in, organized our maps, and headed on the metro to our first sightseeing stop, Père Lachaise Cemetary. The largest of Paris’s cemeteries, here lay many famous philosophers, writers, and artists. We checked out the map and searched for all the tombs we hoped to see: Comte, Pissarro, Gay Lussac, and Seurat. We began walking, excited to find a grave we recognized until we realized how difficult of a task this really was. Not realizing the cemetery was 110 acres, we blindly searched for these tombs.
After about an hour of wandering (which isn’t so bad) we finally found the burial spot of Oscar Wilde. Feeling accomplished after finding one recognizable name, we decided to cut our losses and hop back on the metro to République, a famous square.
After the Paris Terrorist Attacks, République held the largest demonstration of people in modern French history with over 1.6 million people in attendance. Here, people came together to express solidarity and rally against the attacks.
After quietly admiring the statue, the memorials, and the artwork, we wandered around République and the surrounding streets to find a good place for lunch. We wandered into a quaint French café and relaxed over a good lunch as we planned where we would go next. We hopped back on the Metro (I think we spent half of the entire day just on there) to Montmartre, a famous neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris City center. We began at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, an iconic and beautiful church on top of a large hill.
We ascended until we finally reached the top and got a great view of the city skyline. We took enough pictures and followed the crowd inside to admire the massive basilica. We fought the crowds and finally made our way back down the steps as we headed to Moulin Rouge, the most famous cabaret in the world (also home to the can-can dance). We wandered around until we spotted the infamous giant red windmill and the long street of sex shops. Feeling adventurous we bravely made our way down the street, glancing curiously in shops here and there. Then, of course, we got nervous when a few guys standing outside on the shops, tried to pick us up. We quickly crossed the street only to find another guy making odd noises at us. It was settled, it was time to head elsewhere.
Back on the metro to the Arc de Triomph- the highlight of our day! Realizing we would rather climb the Arc than the Eiffel, we got in line until finally it was our turn to head to the top! Here, we got another bird’s eye view of the city and our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!
Next, we walked down Champs-Élysses, the most famous shopping street in Paris before hopping back on the metro (yes, once again) to the Luxembourg garden, a nice park where we took a rest before heading for dinner. We found pizza for dinner, conveniently located next to a highly rated crêperie. Of course, we got delicious dessert crêpes (banana and Nutella) and made our way back to the hotel for the night.
Exhausted from our first day in Paris, we woke up late once again and began our day with lunch: an ice cream cone from a small place called Berthillon. We savored our delicious cones as we walked to Notre Dame, the most famous church in Paris and also one of the best examples of the French Gothic architectural style. We got into line and waited our turn to enter the home of Quasi Moto (somehow Rachel didn’t realize this church was the setting for Walt Disney’s movie, The HunchBack of Notre Dame).
Much more beautiful than the cartoon, we spent awhile admiring this impressive church. Next, we continued to walk along the Seine until we were approaching the Louvre.
We came around the corner off one of the many bridges crossing the wide river, when we spotted a few women holding clipboards and asking for donations. While Rachel and I avoided the ladies, Alisha walked right through them with one woman naturally coming right up to her side, asking for a donation. As Rachel and I looked back to see if Alisha was coming or not we saw a second woman approach her on the other side. Then, suddenly, for no obvious reason to us, they backed off. Alisha continued walking to where Rachel and I stood, waiting for her. Instantly, Alisha said frantically searching her purse, “I don’t have my phone. They took my phone.” In a bit of a panic I asked her if she was sure they could’ve taken it. She said yes and hurried back to confront one of the women. I watched from a few yards away as the woman laughed in Alisha’s face but then finally revealed under her clipboard Alisha’s phone. We were lucky Alisha realized and lucky the woman was willing to give it back to her. We heard that pickpockets were bad in Paris, but, of course, we didn’t think it would happen to us, especially with how careful we always are with our purses, money, and phones.
Once we had all calmed down a bit, we made our way to the Louvre, took some cliché tourist pictures and got in line where we waited about 45 minutes to enter. It was our own fault we didn’t purchase tickets ahead of time, but we were unsure of our plans and didn’t know if we wanted to enter or not. We spent over 3 hours in the Louvre (glad we had decided to enter), wandering and admiring so many famous artworks, like the Mona Lisa, La Liberté, and the Venus de Milo. We walked through the Egyptian art section studying a mummy and the rooms full of sarcophaguses. We saw Napoleon’s apartments and some amazing marble sculptures. Only seeing a small portion of the Louvre, we were starving and unfortunately it was closing time.
We found a normal looking restaurant nearby where we decided to get dinner. We couldn’t believe how expensive this place was, 5 euros for a bottle of Coke! We let feeling guilty for spending so much on such an average meal. However, after looking around, we realized all the restaurants around were that expensive. Even McDonald’s was expensive, over 3 euros for a McFlurry!
Moving on, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. As we walked, it started to rain, we just couldn’t win. Regardless, we were determined to see the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful light show. Ok, I will admit, seeing this did make our day a bit better. After walking around the Eiffel and souvenir shopping we made our way back to our hotel, since it was getting late and we had to get up early for our morning flight.
We got up early, giving ourselves ample time to reach the airport. We planned to take the tram to the airport, the cheapest method. We reached the tram station. It wasn’t running today. Ok, plan B: metro and bus. We walked down into the metro stop and studied the map. Thankfully, a kind man approached us and explained the best way to get to the airport, was it possible that our luck was finally changing?
Well, the minute we walked into the airport we knew that couldn’t be true. Our flight was delayed an indeterminate amount time, so all we could do is wait at our gate for our signal to board. After over an hour delay we finally boarded, nervous because we knew we would really be in a time crunch to catch our train from Madrid back to Valladolid. Naturally, we got held up in the airport and ended up missing our train by 15 minutes. We headed to the service desk and were politely told we would have to buy new tickets since our delay had nothing to due with the train company. 30 euros later, we were finally on a train back to Valladolid, quite happy to be heading home after such bad luck all weekend.
Although we faced some obstacles in Paris, ultimately it has made me a smarter traveller, even if it did cost me a lot of money to learn this. I can say while I won’t be heading back to Paris anytime soon, it is a place worth visiting at least once in a lifetime!