Paris had a lot to live up to. I have wanted to go to France since I was 8. I love French. I love old buildings and cathedrals. I love bread and cheese. I love crêpes. I love little streets with cafés. I love musicians in train stations. I love museums. I love being immersed in different cultures. So, what’s not to love about Paris!
This to say, I was not let down.
I left on Monday from Birmingham International airport with my classmate Steven (from Canada). We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and managed to find the RER after a bit of fussing around with passes. The RER B goes directly from the airport to the center of Paris. When we got off the RER we couldn’t actually find the metro (the ONLY time we couldn’t find a metro during the whole trip). We asked a lady nearby and she told us to follow her and then gave us directions, en français (huray for the “directions” sections in my high school French class). We jumped on line 4 and then line 6 and found our hostel easily, right near the Place D’Italie.
The metro system in Paris is brilliant. I missed it the day I got back and had to use B’ham’s transport again. Who knew public transport could be so easy and efficient! There are 15 or so lines that all criss-cross one another. You look at where you want to go, find the nearest station, and then work your way backwards to where you are. Usually you can get there within one or two line changes. Very simple. The stations vary quite a bit, from well dodgy to strangely posh. Unfortunately, none led to Narnia.
We shared a hostel with a crazy Australian, who may have been sober once in the 4 days we shared a room with him, and a guy from Ireland, who was there to audition for an orchestra. Between the 4 of us there were 4 countries represented. We actually had some really interesting discussions at night before we dropped off to sleep one by one.
The first day we went to Notre Dame, which was amazing. The scale of it is unbelievable, and the stained glass is absolutely beautiful. We also met up with a friend of my brother’s, who showed us around some areas that the “real Parisians” go. (Thanks JD!) An area brimming with strange art, quiet little back streets, and some great Japanese restaurants (apparently Parisians do not eat French food in Paris, they eat Japanese. So, when in Paris..).
<– One of the many metro performers.
There was a bridge opposite the pont neuf bridge that had thousands of locks on the gates. People would write their names and messages on a lock, put it on the fence and throw the key in the Seine River.
The next day we played the role of tourists quite well. We managed to see the Sacre Coeur, wander Montmartre (a quirky area full of artists ready to draw a portrait of you, who knew my face could provide such inspiration to so many artists!), walk up La Tour Eiffel (yes, walked up, we are hard-core), visit the Louvre, meander through the Christ-mas Markets, and walk up over 1,000 steps in the process. Pretty full day.
A random but really cool building on the way to the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel tower was pretty cool, and got gradually cooler the darker it got. So. Many. Stairs. 672 to be exact. The view from the top was amazing. We were able to look at a map and line up perfectly the visible sites. I could have stayed up there all day! But we wanted to get to the Christ-mas markets and the Louvre, so we cut it short to an hour or so up on the second level. (And yes, there really is an ice skating rink on the first level!)
For some reason I forget how much I love museums until I’m in them. The thought of museums isn’t actually that appealing to me, but as soon as I’m inside I can’t tear myself away!
We came upon half price tickets too! Well, they came to us really. We were in line to buy tickets when a man came up and said he had to leave but would sell us two tickets half price. As dodgy as it sounds, it was credible and we bought them off him. We enjoyed 3 hours in the Louvre with our 5 euro tickets.
The last day we had we hit the rest of the “main sites” such as the Champs-Élysées, L’Arc de Triomphe, Château de Versailles, and a dodgy part of town that was supposed to have flea market but didn’t. Right so, we hit the main sites and some strange sights.
Our misadventure to the outskirts of Paris gave us the opportunity to see a different side of Paris, buy some weird food in a local supermarché, and have a successful conversation with a local completely in French! So overall a good experience 🙂 We also arrived in Versailles a bit too late and were not allowed through the front gate… not that, that stopped us. We walked around the side and actually found another gate, which we promptly sneaked into. There were still people in the courtyard, so it wasn’t really illegal… they stopped admitting people at 5, and it was 5:45 or so. It didn’t actually close until 6. Where we ran into an issue was getting lost in the dark behind the castle and being found by a guard around 6:30. I explained to him (attempted anyway) that we were trying to find a way out.. which we were. He pointed us in the right direction, and we got there. Eventually. Good times.
The first few gates we found were locked…
The next morning was… early. We got up at 3:15 and left the hostel by 3:17.. we meant to leave at 3. We ran to the #2 night bus and just barely caught it. Then caught the #143 to the CDG airport. We got there and waited around for a while, found out airport security was on strike (always a good sign), and eventually got on our flight. I may have slept on the floor in the terminal at some point…