My trip to Paris was a mere two and a half days. But, in those few days I feel I experienced enough of Paris to beg of people to stop calling the French people mean and snobby. Sure, they are a bit reserved, but I did not encounter a single snobby or mean Parisian. They were quite nice to me, despite that even though I was clearly American I kept spouting out Italian (accidentally, of course). So, if you are of the number of Americans who suffer from logorrhea as concerns the French, please stop.
Moving on. Yes, French baguettes are just as good as everyone hopes they would be. Especially if one eats them with a bundle of cherries and fizzy water with a touch of lemon and sugar. Delicious!
In two days I accomplished quite a lot, so perhaps it would be easiest to go in chronological order…
First, I landed at the Orly airport. I felt very cool because this is the same airport from the film Funny Face. I am positive the Charles de Gaulle airport was not yet in existence when Funny Face was filmed. Anyway, I landed (did not get my passport stamped, unfortunately), bought a museum pass, then headed to the metro.
From the Orly airport, one must take an airport shuttle train to the actual metro station. At the airport, I bought a carnet–a bundle of ten metro tickets–hoping it would cover the shuttle. One thing among many that I’ve observed in Europe, is that shuttles are not always free like in the U.S. The typical metro tickets do not cover the airport shuttle, so I had to pay around nine euro for a ticket to ride eight minutes to the metro. It was shocking. Travelers have no other option, so they charge a lot.
Somehow, once I reached the metro station, I was able to figure out the system to a certain degree. I made it to my hostel, anyway. While at the station, I kept channelling my seventh grade lessons about the metro system hoping they would magically guide me to clarity, but it was to no avail. I survived the metro, but it is still ridiculously baffling to me at this point.
The Regent Hostel is near the base of Montmartre. I have heard many horrible things about that part of Paris, but my experience was mostly perfectly nice. Of course, I did make a point to stay inside after dark and avoid all traces of the Moulin Rouge. To me, Montmartre seemed an excellent place to lose one’s self and discover fantastic treasures just by wandering around. During my evening wanderings I found a man practicing the saxophone in a park; a group of old men (one of whom wore Converse All-Stars) performing American jazz music; a vegetarian cafe; multiple boulangeries; a boutique called “1962” that makes the store “Anthropologie” look like bargain shopping; a store called “zut!”; steep inclinations of steps; open air restaurants; interesting doors, windows, cars, etc.; and all manner of fascinating things.
My first evening in Paris, I walked up the Butte Montmartre and visited Sacre Coeur. Before venturing up the great many steps, I purchased a nutella covered crepe, which I ate on a bench in front of a carousel. It was a wonderful moment in time. Then, I started heading to the stairs. Almost immediately, I was stopped by a guy from Ghana. My first reaction was to ignore him and keep going because he looked like he was trying to sell something. However, he said, “oh, it’s for the church!” Naively, I decided to stop and let him do whatever, wondering if it was some traditional thing for Sacre Coeur. He had a loop of three different strings, which he put onto one of my fingers. He began to talk as he wound and wrapped the strings into an intricate design. The finished product was a quite interesting string bracelet, which he asked five euro for. His words were, “now a donation for the artist.” At first I was confused, still thinking it was something for the church. I asked where I donate and he said to him. Then it clicked. Naive much? I didn’t give him five, but I did shell out three euro for a string bracelet. I thing the rate was about one euro per string. It is a really cool bracelet so I’m not too broken up, but definitely not worth three euro. From then on, it was quite easy to wave away further bracelet vendors. They weren’t very happy with me, though.
The view from Sacre Coeur is amazing. All of Paris is spread out beneath, though the Eiffel Tower is hidden. But, almost all of Paris is there to be seen from that single spot at the top of the hill. Breathtaking.
Behind Sacre Coeur is quite interesting. I found a park with an arcade of leafy branches. I also found all manner of interesting cars. Also, I noticed that front of Sacre Coeur is quite clean but the back and sides are covered in years of Parisian grime. Perhaps most tourists don’t go to the back. I don’t know.
The next morning, I awoke early to go to the Musee d’Orsay. The Musee d’Orsay is situated inside what used to be a train station. Compared to the Louvre it is quite small (then again, compared to the Louvre most things are quite small), but it filled my heart with ecstatic peace. Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Manet, Cezanne. I saw them all. And after ignorant decision making followed by art history class followed by the Uffizi and finally, actually seeing a real Van Gogh in real life, Vincent is still my favorite painter.
After the museum, I went to see Eiffel Tower. Droves and droves of tourists were there so I did not go up, but it was still good to see it. I think I would like to return to Paris in the fall or winter, when there are fewer tourists. I feel like my time at the Eiffel Tower was rushed and crowded and constantly tainted with obnoxious and illegal salesman who wanted my to buy cheesy miniature Towers. But, the Eiffel Tower is still great. I have finally seen it after wondering about it for years and years.
Following the Eiffel Tower, I made my way to Notre Dame. Before going in, I found a baguette sandwich and some frites. My baguette sandwich was absolutely delicious! I think I prefer French bread to Italian bread, truthfully. My sandwich had tomatoes, some kind of cheese, and some lettuce. Simple but delicious!
I was eating on a short wall type thing in front of Notre Dame, people-watching when I was accosted by a gypsy. She asked if I spoke English, I said no. Then she started asking me if she could have my frites. I said no. I don’t know exactly what the situation is for gypsies, but my cousin once told me that when she took something from a gypsy, the gypsy chased her down. Thus, I avoid gypsies.
Frites in France are very, very good. I loved my frites.
After eating, I went inside Notre Dame. Notre Dame is beautiful! The Rose windows are just as magnificent as I always thought they would be. I loved everything about Notre Dame except the tourists and my ongoing guilt about being a tourist inside a church. But, if the Catholic Church wants to let me visit their sacred places, I guess I should feel okay.
Because I was sick all weekend, by the time I was done with Notre Dame and a long walk, I was ready to go back to my hostel even though it was only 3 or 4 pm. I went back, wrote a bit, read a bit, did yoga, then took myself on another walk to find fruit and a baguette. It was during this walk that I found the group of old men playing American Jazz music. I believe they were all Americans in Paris. With my baguette and lemon fizzy water, I sat on a bench and watched them play. As someone in love with jazz music, I was quite in my element: jazz, delicious baguette, Paris, a part of town wherein it seems anything can happen. Wonderful.
The next day, I went to the Louvre. I got there a while before it opened, and with my earliness and my museum pass, I did not have to wait in line. I went in right when it opened. It was wonderful.
The Louvre is divided into three sections. The first section I went into housed the Ancient Egyptian artifacts. My reaction was to have a desire to hug everything. Odd and most definitely illegal, but that is what I wanted to do. I adore Ancient Egyptian things. The history, the legends, the traditions, the everything. It fascinates me. And at this point in the day, not as many people were there so I was able to enjoy my Egyptian artifacts almost entirely alone.
The rest of the Louvre was amazing but not as wonderful, only because of tourists. I seem to loathe tourists, even though I am one. But, I’m not an annoying tourist.
My favorite sculpture was of Eros and Psyche. I found it beautiful in every possible way.
Here is my ongoing question about the Louvre: why is the Mona Lisa so popular? No doubt it is an excellent painting. But it is not the only Da Vinci painting in the Louvre. I would argue it isn’t even his best. And yet, there are so many people shoving to see it, that visitors can only get within twenty feet or so of it. And, most people were mostly concerned about taking a picture of it instead of actually looking at it and considering it. This Mona Lisa situation is utterly bizarre to me.
I learned something about myself while at the Louvre. It was something a long time coming in this trip, but it really hit me at the Louvre. I can’t handle huge crowds. I don’t mean I just don’t like them. That I’ve known almost my entire life. I mean I honestly can’t handle them. Towards the end of my time at the Louvre, I started having a minor panic attack because of all the people.
Upon first arriving in Europe, the immense number of people was a shock to my system, born and bred in the Western United States as it has been. I have been told many times how crowded Europe is in the summer. But my brain could not wrap around exactly what people meant until I got here. So, for the last few weeks, the stress of crowds has been building and building until at the Louvre I couldn’t handle it anymore. So, I went outside and sat around a fountain, controlled my breathing, said a prayer, wrote a bit, and focused on trees. It helped a lot.
After my panic attack, I walked down the Champs-Elysees, avoiding all the uber-expensive shops, and visited L’Arc de Triomphe. I climbed to the top, visited the eternal flame and the unknown soldier, then went to my hostel because my illness made my brain and my limbs about as useful as