Paris stinks- literally. This is not what I expect.
In my mind Paris, the city of dreams, is light and romantic and rosy. So… why do I find myself covertly covering my nose as I walk through Charles de Gaulle to find my luggage? This is the first of many things that challenge my idea of “Paris”.
I had planned to take the Métro to the Airbnb I’m staying in, somewhere in the 11th arrondissement, but can’t figure out how to get to a bus stop from the airport. A guy walks up to me, says a taxi would be better, and walks me downstairs to his car.
SOUNDS SKETCHY, NO? I’m nervous about whether this guy is legit and I think he can tell. He says his name is Fahed, shows me the car’s taxi registration and we make a deal that he’s going to speak in French and I’m going to speak in English so we can each practice the other’s language. As we drive he points out tourist sights, like the football stadium and Place de la République, but also explains that the mass of people at the plaza have been protesting something for a week already. He doesn’t remember what. We pass a block of makeshift tents overflowing with people, crushed between each other and spilling onto the street, and he says, “Migrant crisis. Refugees. It’s not good.”
Fahed shows me pictures of his 3 month old daughter, Sylia, and then cuts my fare by 10 euros when he can’t break a 20. When we find my apartment building, I thank him. It’s been an interesting ride.
I get up to my Airbnb, which requires 2 passcodes at different doors and more than one break while I carry my stuffed suitcase up six flights of ancient stairs. As per the instructions of my host, I unearth the key from its hiding spot and enter a sauna- I mean, my room. But MAN is it hot. The weirdest thing to me is that the toilet is down the hall, even though the shower and sink are in my room. And no, I don’t mean bathroom- it’s literally just a room with a toilet. I have to bring my own roll of toilet paper with me every time I go. Weird, but that’s travel for you. Things can be weird.
I’m starving and it’s Friday night in a big city. Even though it’s nearing midnight, people are out and about eating and drinking, socializing and wandering through the streets. I join them, trying to find a place close enough that I can navigate back to the apartment in the dark.
Bicycles are everywhere here, as are motorcycles, scooters and- surprisingly- rollerblades. I’m not watching out for cars as much as people whizzing by me from all directions. Narrowly missing being run over by a blazer-clad, cigarette-dangling biker, I duck into Chez Imogene..
I come face to face with a guy that asks me something in French. I, ever the suave and clever one, go, “Uh- je suis American.” I pause. “No parle.. um..” (this is what happens when you try to learn French from Spanish… ) The guy raises a concerned eyebrow at me. “Parlez vous l’Anglais?” I ask finally, giving up. “Oui- yes,” he nods, and I order a crepe and a glass of red wine. Hey, I’m in France!
After, nearing 1 in the morning and with the city still wide awake, I head back to my apartment. I strip to my underwear (and am STILL sweaty when I fall asleep around 4am) and write for a while, squinting at a map of France trying to figure out how to organize my next two days. There’s no Wi-Fi in the apartment, so I have to figure out everything without Google. The horror!
I am in love.
I am in awe. I need to figure out a way to stay here, forever, now
My dinner tonight, enjoyed sitting cross-legged on my bed, is half a baguette, a tomato and some sheep cheese. All were cheap, basic grocery store items- all are fantastic. Somebody in the room next door is watching TV- I can hear sitcom laughter. I wonder if it’s the same person who was playing that “my, my Miss American Pie” song and The Proclaimers’“I Wanna Be 5000 Miles” when I woke up this morning.
To finish my meal I grab the bottle of wine I spent 2 euros on, pour a glass and snap off a piece of dark chocolate from a Marou bar (which I admittedly brought with me because one of my fears in life is not having constant access to great chocolate. Now you know). I’m glad I bought food that I can eat with my hands, because although I remembered to buy a bottle opener for the wine, I forgot to find some utensils. Luckily there’s some aluminum foil in my room, and I’ve been folding this into awkward, too-flexible spoons to consume my morning oatmeal. This is what we call, “living it up in Paris,” right? Well, no… but it’s free, filling and tasty- I’m not complaining!
I’m not sure if I stink too at this point or it’s just my airless room, the city, whatever. Any of those would be viable options.. I spent 7 hours walking around Paris today, and I’m too tired to care. I just want to write down everything I can about the city before it slips my mind.
When I planned my day I did, for once, look at a map. However, I didn’t orient myself super well. I’m staying in the 11th arrondissement, and my plan was to head through the 3rd until I got to the Seine, then follow that to the Eiffel tower, checking out all the things on the way, like the Louvre and Notre Dame. Except when I left the apartment I headed in the exact opposite direction. Because I was so busy admiring everything and snapping pictures, I didn’t realize my mistake until I came across this gorgeous little green space, Parc du Belleville, hiked up to the top and turned back to see what was behind me.
Shit, I thought. But hey… at least now I know where I’m headed! I spent a few minutes admiring the park and some of the artwork nearby, then dove back into the maze of Parisian streets.
Imagine asking a three-year-old to draw a straight line from point A to point B. They’d probably connect the two, yes, but there would be a lot of twisting and turning between the points.
That’s pretty much what my route to the Seine looked like, so badly that I actually got all the way back to the Bastille area before I made it (which, having made my goal the Eiffel Tower, meant I was still going in the opposite direction). Luckily, Paris is beautiful and amazing and I was enchanted by everything, so I didn’t mind too much. I stopped into several bookstores (here- libraries or bibliothèques) and flower shops, mumbling “Bonjour” to shopkeepers and snapping photos.
One of the things I really adore about this city is the way everything is small and tucked away but so open at the same time. There are dozens of cafés, boulangeries and pâtisseries, brasseries, pharmacies… Most eateries have outdoor seating with awnings for when it’s super hot or pouring rain, as do the fruit/vegetable stalls invading the sidewalks with colorful assortments of figs and tomatoes, zucchini and heads of lettuce. Everything seems to be at your fingertips.
While I was walking along the river there were all sorts of people selling things out of stalls. Most were old books and magazines, or postcards and other artwork, though there were a few tourist-oriented Eiffel Tower figurines. I ended up buying a few polaroids and postcards, because ahhh they were so gorgeous and I love paper things.
I felt very touristy with my camera and backpack, but I guess I didn’t look it, because other tourists asked me for directions twice. One asked me in French and I awkwardly blended French words and Spanish grammar again*- “no parle Francais” Another couple, though, started asking me in French but I waved them away, mumbling about not being able to speak French. As I passed they started talking to each other in English and I went, “OH, English?” and we had a lovely chat and I told them where the Notre Dame was like a fabulous local (I only knew because I’d passed it a minute earlier but hey). I passed a lot of things like this and I don’t actually know what most of them are. I only knew Notre Dame because someone said it behind me while I was gazing at it. Damn, is it impressive, though.
Better than single attractions like Notre Dame, though, is just the general architecture of the city. Literally every. Single. Building. Is a work of art. Just LOOK! And this is only a TINY SAMPLING. I had to restrain myself from photographing everything everywhere from 20 angles.
And then there’s the classic and world-famous buildings, like the Palais-Royal, where the Louvre is…
HOW IS THIS REAL GUYS.
So I didn’t go into the Louvre because the lines were crazy, but just seeing that magnificent palace was astounding enough. The thing I keep forgetting about Europe is that it is really, really, old, like that one great-uncle you have who somehow still exists at an indeterminate age. I’ve spent most of my life in what I think is one of the most recent countries in the world to be colonized and built up (my lack of historical knowledge is showing here), and on the newest side of that as well. All this crazy impressive, beautiful, historic architecture is completely blowing my mind. We just don’t have anything comparable in the US.
At this point the sky was getting a bit dark and ominous, and it smelled like rain. I was worried about getting to the Eiffel Tower before it started pouring, and I’d been walking for hours already so I was eager to rest my blistering feet. The Jardin des Tuileries was beautiful though, especially in this light, and very serene. It was filled with sculptures and statues and so beautifully verdant.
I had been crossing bridges back and forth over the Seine all day, just checking things out and getting new photo angels or spotting a shop to duck into… So I was crossing one final bridge over to where I could see the tip of the Eiffel Tower- so close! – and it was a love lock bridge!! People stick padlocks on the bridge with their lovers, or friends, and Sharpie names and messages all over. I LOVE the idea of this, and they actually took the old one down a few years ago, so I didn’t think I was going to be able to see it! Definitely a highlight of the day.
Of course, as soon as I crossed the bridge it started POURING and there was thunder and lightning and all that. But I was DETERMINED at this point; it was nearing 5 pm and I’d been walking since 10 am. I was GOING to get to that tower!
I did try and get out of the rain a little by stopping to buy groceries, hoping the sky would clear up. The weird thing was the way all the Parisians reacted. Instead of yanking out umbrellas and raincoats, they all just ducked into the nearest shops or under awnings, in little groups, and they’d pull out a cigarette or start chatting with whoever was under the same awning. It seemed as though they were just going to… wait out the rain? I love that idea, that relaxed attitude of, okay, it’s raining, it will end soon, I’ll just unwind a little while I have this moment.
So I got a lot of weird looks as I rushed, dripping, plastic shopping bag whacking against my leg, to the elusive Eiffel Tower. But in the end I made it, of course- how can you not see Paris’ most famous monument while in the city? This is EXACTLY when it stopped raining, but you can see in this lovely picture I asked some girl to take of me, soaked, grinning at the symbol of this city I have longed to visit for years. Definitely worth the effort.
Finally, soaking wet, feet aching and blistered (lesson- don’t wear 15$ sandals to walk several miles on cobblestones) but thrilled with all I’d seen, I caught the Métro back to my apartment and collapsed on the bed. What an excellent way to see the city! But I have another whole day to play with tomorrow.
After fruitlessly trying to find a café open on Sunday with free WiFi and an open seat, I end up at Starbucks with an “American coffee”, which I’d sworn not to do but I really need to send some emails before I head to the countryside tomorrow. At any rate, my café hunt on the way here led me through a little flea market, so that was fun. I’m spending the day relaxing like the Parisians, and I might head up to Montmarte if the weather holds up.
Tomorrow I’ll be boarding a train and heading out to Le Perche, where I’ll begin the first of my WWOOFing adventures. For those who don’t know, WWOOF is an international farming work exchange- you work on the farm, they feed and house you. And you get to travel/learn all sorts of awesome stuff about organic farming. The farm I’m heading to this month is called La Ferme des Cabrioles, and what I believe I’m doing is working with goats for a few weeks, maybe learning about goat cheese and even helping them sell things in their market. Again, don’t know what the Wi-Fi is going to be like, especially in the mountains of France (but I’ve been emailing my hosts so…), but I’ll share when I can. As always, thank you so much for reading- I love being able to share what I discover in the world, and I hope it inspires you to explore where you can!