Our trip to Paris began stressful, and with preconceptions from others exchange students of a snobby dirty city, we seemed to be off on the wrong foot.
The stress developed when Jesann was late to meet us on the way to the airport. We left the night before to spend the night in the airport because our flight left so early the following morning. It was the only choice considering our airport was nearly three hours away and the trams and shuttle buses didn’t leave earlier than 6 am. We had thought that the last shuttle arrived at 11:15 that night, but luckily it left at 11:30. Jesann made it to the minute on the bus, and Marah held it while we went to find her. Talk about cutting it close.
Our slumber party at the airport was another story. It started off with a satisfying Ritz cracker binge and then took a turn for the worse. We naively decided to go to a warmer empty area of Bergamo airport to have our three hour sleep. By sleep I mean nap.
I woke up to Marah freaking out “He touched me!” and looking up to see a guy in my face as well trying to grab my hat. I cursed at him, and he spat out everything from “F$%# Italy” to “I love you”. We moved immediately to the safer sleeping area abundant with other devoted discount travelers. Needless to say though, I kept on the lookout for more weirdos until my eyelids became unwillingly weighed down like an Italian mob victim in cement shoes.
Apart from the scary passengers, our discount airline Ryan Air wasn’t so bad. We were expecting poor service and quality, and we were paranoid about getting ripped off. We took precautions and followed the luggage restrictions a little safer than necessary and had our boarding passes preprinted. The only real problem we had was the shuttle buses that we hadn’t anticipated on taking. The flights fly in and out of distant airports, so it’s necessary to take shuttle buses on both ends, both directions. It added not only unexpected costs to our too good to be true 50 Euro flight, but time that we could have spent in Paris.
We arrived at our hostel that Friday morning exhausted. We were surprised to find that we had to check in with a bartender as opposed to the more common receptionist at a desk. Our hostel fittingly called “Peace and Love Hostel” consisted of a bar and rooms above it. I got a “Cheers” vibe from it when our friendly bartenders gave us free shots/beer and great travelling tips over the course of the weekend. One even looked out for us when creepers hit on a couple of the girls and advised us not to go to the Red Light District after dark (being young girls). Gotta love hippy love! I later noticed that the unique hostel is listed in my Lonely Planet book, so my faith in my travel companion continues to grow.
After checking in, we set off on foot in Paris. The first thing I noticed were the old fashioned signs that adorn the streets. I always loved that style, and I didn’t realize that it has been preserved so well in Paris. We wandered to a not so authentic Mexican restaurant. We were only disappointed until we found our second Starbucks in Europe. Oh hail globalization. Starbucks is very consistent and charges the same price all around the world – too bad 4.70 for a Vanilla Latte in Euros is NOT the same as 4.70 in Canadian dollars. I still feel that the value was there.
With warm fuzzy feelings from Starbucks, we started our Parisian tour at the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris. We couldn’t find it at first as everything is very spread out and equally as beautiful in the “City of Lights”. We ended up at a church near the Louvre, and it seemed I had overestimated the size of the church, but it was very beautiful. After taking a million photos of it, we realized it was the wrong church – go figure.
After our second attempt, we were sure we were in the right place by the amount of tourists and people trying to take advantage of the tourists. Real gypsies filtered through the courtyard of Notre Dame, and a man dressed up as a “Hunchback” stood in front taking donations for photographs with him. Esmeralda was nowhere to be seen. The church had free entry which pleasantly surprised me. I always think to myself, donations sure, but admission to a church? It’s not a circus!
Candle light created an ambience throughout the whole church. It was difficult to take photos, but it seemed degrading anyway. My favourite part of the church was the ceiling. It arched with a crisscrossing detail that can only be seen to understand. The stained glass windows were impressively large and high up. The detail in the whole church was captivating from the outside to the inside, from the entrance to the baseboards. The atmosphere of the church was peaceful and calming, and I could feel why it is so famous. I did however have a stray thought of a boy throwing a baseball through one of the beautiful windows. I quickly dismissed it, but it could happen!
We left before I was struck by lightning. We walked for at least an hour in suspense to find the Tour Eiffel. At first sight of it, I couldn’t stop thinking about a quote from my Lonely Planet guide book “Parisians sometimes snidely refer to it as the metal asparagus…” It really does look like it from far away!
As anticlimactic as it seemed on the journey toward it, I was blown away by the Eiffel Tower up close. I guess if you looked at Brad Pitt from far away he wouldn’t seem overly special. The beauty is in the presence. We timed our elevator ride to the top perfectly. It was a gorgeous day around 5 pm. I signed my name on a billboard at midway point. I’ve never seen a view like that, but to be honest, it made my stomach flip. If people were made to be up that high, we would have wings. Whether it be evolution or God-given, we would have wings!
I digress. We took photos around the Eiffel tower at dusk. We were excited to take photos of us jumping, until I found out that I am the worst jumper in the world. “Lift your legs and you don’t even have to jump high” advised Jesann. I swear that I was, but the photos don’t lie.
The last view of the Eiffel Tower we had was it orange and twinkling in the dark like a sparkler on the 4th of July. I’ll never forget that.
That night we enjoyed some French cuisine and went to bed early. After at least 8 hours of exploring Paris on foot with four hours of sleep on an airport floor, bus, and airplane, 6 hours of travel, we were done! We had one beer in the hostel bar and called it a night.
We all slept like babies. We woke up to rain, but we didn’t mind because we had planned to go to the Louvre. We stood in line for what seemed like forever, but as a consolation we got in for free for being EU Students! I was so thankful I had brought my Cattolica student card. The museum was huge. You go downstairs and are covered in the famous glass pyramid. It is neat because it illuminates the whole inside lobby. Divided into five areas, we easily got lost in a mere two of them.
The Mona Lisa was way smaller than I thought. Though come to think of it, I do remember hearing that before. She was adored from afar behind glass in a roped off area, and I wondered if Leonardo Da Vinci ever knew she would be so lonely. We saw Egyptian artifacts, paintings, sculptures, Napoleon’s apartment, and the Venus de Milo. Although I may not have understood where most of the artists were coming from, or possess any talent comparable, I got a real natural high just sensing the passion throughout the museum. It was a wonderful experience.
After the Louvre, we walked through the Jardin de Tuileries. They weren’t nearly as beautiful on a rainy day as they could have been. The fall leaves did enhance the experience though. We explored the elegance of Champs Elyse, and envied the Louis Vuiton manikins. The Arch de Triomph was beautiful at the end of the road.
Before dark, we ventured to the Red Light District. The atmosphere is so different from the rest of Paris. First of all, there is porn everywhere. There are naked statues, posters, even a sex museum that had a chair with revolving tongues in the window. People look at you differently, everything. I forgot it all though once I saw the Moulin Rouge- one of my favourite movies that managed to make a brothel seem glamorous. I didn’t get quite the same feel as I did from Ewan McGregar, but I loved it! The bright lights were so stunning with the windmill. I wish I could have seen a cabaret show, but they were 90 Euros. The Moulin Rouge was one of the things I really wanted to see on my “To Do” list, so it seemed surreal to me.
That evening we had the perfect dinner with wine, escargot, and French onion soup. The escargot literally came in the shell. I was nervous! It was delicious though, and Elysha and I wanted more! It was difficult to get them out of the shell. I was worried I’d pull a Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” and flick it across the room, so our waiter agreed to lend a hand.
We partied in our hostel on our last night. We played giant drinking Jenga, and I was stoked that there was a block designated to “Canada Drink”. We ordered a tower of beer and spilled it all over each other. The bartender must have taken pity on us because he gave us free beer and shots the rest of the night.
Getting up to leave at 4 am was not fun. To get home we had to go through the woods, swim the ocean, climb the hills, under the bridge, through the valley, etc. No haha, but we did have to: take a taxi at 4, a shuttle at 5:30, a plane at 8, another shuttle at 10, a metro at 11:30, and our tram home by 12:30. What a journey. We made it home though fluently by 5 different forms of transportation. The Ryan Air experience in a nutshell.
I loved Paris! I wish we could have stayed for so much longer! Honestly, I would have preferred to study abroad there, but I knew that from the beginning. If only Mrs. McDonald, my 9th grade French teacher didn’t ruin my passion for learning the language, I may have done it. It’s funny how things work out that way.
I hope that this blog can be proof that Paris is amazing! I don’t know why I’ve heard “It’s dirty”, “the people are snobby”, etc., but let this be a testament to how wrong they are. One guy even gave Jesann his broken umbrella while we stood in line for the Louvre because she didn’t have one! I would go back in a heartbeat, and I’m going to bust out a cliché in protest of the anti-Parisians…“J’adore Paris!!!”
Miss you guys,