One of the great joys of living in Europe is that in less time than it takes me to avoid exercise, I can be in a different country! So Saturday morning, at the ass crack of dawn, I catch a train from Zurich to Paris for a whirlwind trip. I am going to meet a friend whom I haven’t seen in close to 20 years and who is taking the train from London to hang out with me. A weekend in Paris – I felt very jet setting and cosmopolitan indeed!
The train ride is absolutely beautiful, through fields of the unfortunately named rapeseed flowers – the stuff they make canola oil from. I land at the Gard du Lyon – a bewilderingly large train station with lots of people hurrying around looking like they knew exactly what to do and where to go. I have heard horror stories of gangs of pick pockets in Paris wandering around train stations so I keep a tight-as-a-constipated-sphincter grip on my bag as I make my way to Gard du Nord to meet my friend. And there she is – looking just the same after 20 years! Which means that she routinely bathes in the blood of babies or has a picture of herself getting decrepit somewhere because how does someone not age in 20 years?!!
Then it’s a quick train ride away to our apartment on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis – a bustling Parisienne suburb with wonderful bakeries and a surplus of felafel and kebab shops. This part of Paris is full of immigrants so you routinely hear a variety of languages. There’s even a Bollywood movie rental place. We dump the luggage, get a tour of Laure’s very cozy very clean apartment and then we are off!
We head out in the crisp, slightly rainy afternoon and make our way to the Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle. We chat about our lives in the last 20 years, our kids, our jobs, and then we talk about old friends. Nostalgia fills the air like the fragrance of flower baskets in shops lining our route. We cross the Pont Neuf and get our first glimpse of the Eiffel tower in the distance. It seems shorter than I imagined but I can’t believe that I’m actually in this city I’ve dreamed about visiting and gazing on it’s most iconic landmark.
We cross over to the Ile de la Cite and continue south, walking across the Boulevard du Palais to see the Sainte Chapelle on our way to Notre Dame. The line in front of the cathedral looks impossibly long and we still have miles to go before we sleep. So we skirt around the church with it’s spectacular architecture and flying buttresses and beautiful rose windows, across the bridge with all the locks, and onto the left bank of the Seine, where it is time to take a break at a little cafe for some cappuccino and pomme fritte! From there we walk west along the Seine, taking in the beautiful buildings. Paris is a city that is dressed to impress! With it’s wide boulevards and majestic architecture, it does not disappoint. And finally we are at the base of the Eiffel Tower – and it’s magnificent! In all the pictures I’ve seen of it, the tower looks slender and somehow fragile, almost feminine. But when you’re standing under it with it’s massive steel beams and arches – it’s awe-inspiring and eerily beautiful. At this time, the heavens open and what follows is a deluge of biblical proportions so we hot foot it to the nearest metro station and make our way home. Tired and wet and hungry, we dive into a neighborhood bar for mojitos, sausage, cheese, and more conversation. I don’t think I’ve stopped talking since the afternoon – which is really strange for me – because of how shy and quiet I am.
The next day, after a wonderful breakfast at a nearby cafe called Bar Le Napoleone and a walk past windows filled with some of the most mouthwatering pastries known to man, I say au revoir to my friend with many promises to meet again soon. I will be taking the afternoon train back to Zurich so with 4 hours to go and the sun shining brightly, I make my way to the Arc de Triomphe to begin my walk. The sky is blue, the flowers are out, and I indulge is some truly epic people watching as I make my way down the Champs-Elysees. There are famous stores and cafes and trees line the sidewalk. As I pass the Avenue Winston Churchill I look right to see the Grand and Petit Palais, and in the distance, the gold winged statues across the Pont Alexandre. I walk on through the horse chestnut trees to the Obelisk of Luxor. A strangely incongruous piece of Egypt stuck in the spot where they guillotined the King and Queen and others during the French Revolution. Looking back I can see the Arc and looking right I can see the Eiffel. I walk on through the Tuileries Gardens with the impressive statues of Roman gods and goddesses – made slightly less impressive by the three pigeons roosting on Zeus’s head. And then it’s through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Louvre. The place is packed so I’m kind of glad I’m not going in but I am so tempted to go to the base of the giant glass pyramid to see if Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s love child is buried there – damn you Dan Brown! Then it’s past the Pont Neuf again on to the Chatelet – Les Halles to catch my train to catch my train back to Zurich.
There’s so much I didn’t see and I wanted to – Mont Marte and the Sacre- Coeur, the Monet museum, Versailles – so I just have to come back to Paris some day to do all that – bummer!! I leave you now with many apologies for this extremely long winded post and miscellaneous, completely unnecessary advice if you go to Paris:
DO walk everywhere. Paris was made for walking – it has lovely boulevards and tree lined streets that are ideal for hoofing it all over the place.
DO at least once get a drink in a bar/cafe called Le Napoleane – and there’s one on practically every street. You can’t throw a croissant in Paris without hitting some eatery named for the diminutive dictator!
DO NOT assume that French people will be rude – don’t be scared to approach them. For one, the person you approach may not even be from Paris given the density of tourists, and for another – they are actually quite lovely. Start by saying hello (bon-joor), and asking if they speak English, please (parlay voo Anglace? Si voo play?) If they say yes, ask your question and always end with a thank you (Mare-see) and see ya later (aww-rivha)! In my head I sounded like Juliette Binoche, but I think the French would beg to differ.
DO use the brilliant metro subway system. In the rains the smell of urine is very pungent but you will see all kinds of people – its a microcosm in itself. And when you do…
DO buy the pack of 10 tickets – it’s cheaper than buying a ticket each time you need to travel.
DO NOT book an overpriced, tiny Parisienne hotel. Use a service like Airbnb – that’s right, it’s not just for prostitutes looking to find a cheap place to entertain a John anymore! There are some lovely people who will rent out their apartments very inexpensively. My friend and I stayed in a cozy 1 bedroom apartment for one night and it cost us $125. We were in the Republic area which has people from all ethnic backgrounds and is very lively at all hours of the day. And has some of the nicest little kebab shops for a cheap yet tasty meal!