Paris has been around for centuries, surviving multiple wars – pretty impressive. Seems nothing can take this city down… Am I setting you up? Yes. Because I know how this city will fall. Lung cancer. Cigarettes, bread, berets. It’s a package deal.
I was nervous when I left home for the airport. The what-ifs. What if I get sick? What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations? What if I get lost? Etc, etc. I let God know I was scared. And just moments later, at the bus stop, He sent me a distraction named Trae, who proceeded to hit on me until I got downtown. He was harmless & sweet & calmed me down. He let me know that Paris was filled w/male models, “sorry about that” (not sure why he was sorry. He said sorry a lot, though, so perhaps it was a reflex). Fast forward a 10 hr flight and I’m standing outside of the Paris airport, waiting for my ride. A truck of French soldiers pull up & one stares at me. Hard. This wasn’t a normal hard stare that you ignore & shrug off. I felt violated. There was something hostile about it, whether to intimidate or prank, I don’t know. I ignored him, but was feeling pretty great about the trip remainder. Or not. Gulp.
I spent the afternoon picking up my museum pass, buying souvenirs/candy for friends, sipping the famous Angelina’s chocolate chaud (hot chocolate in a tiny cup. Which is perfect because you’re basically drinking a melted chocolate bar. Crazy good. I got it twice), and strolling through Jardin de Tuilleries. I was delighted to find this was literally across the street from my hotel. As was the Louvre (be still, my heart!), Angelina’s, and the Musee d’Orsay. As I walked through this famous garden, I heard a French boy ask his dad if they could eat ice cream. I understood him perfectly. This happened a few times over the week – I could understand some of what was said as long as it wasn’t directed at me. Otherwise I was lost. I said “desole” (sorry) and “Je ne comprends pas” (I don’t understand) a lot.
Words can’t express the manmade beauty of the place. Jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, makes-you-want-to-weep architecture. I was overwhelmed w/it all. And approaching the Louvre, the whole reason for my visit…wow. I’d been dreaming of visiting there all my life.
The next morning I was up early (thanks, jet lag) & decided to enjoy petite dejeuner at the hotel. As I was consuming as much coffee as possible – oh, and some croissants – I noticed the music that was playing. Music in English plays a lot in Paris. The songs playing that morning were covers of American songs. First was “Fat Bottomed Girls” w/banjos. Alright. But I nearly spit out my coffee when a man w/clear diction said, “Oh my God, Becky” & proceeded to sing “Baby Got Back” jazz style (there was even piano, peeps). What just happened?! I got to the Louvre 15 minutes before open, visualizing on the walk being the 1st in line. Buuut there was already a line when I got there. Dang it. I made a beeline for the Mona Lisa (tip: get there early so you can see her w/less people & then move on to the rest) & then explored for another 3 hours. I controlled my zeal as much as possible, keeping a calm exterior while squealing on the inside. So many amazing works! Sculpture & paintings & rooms w/incredible interiors (never have I seen its equal)! I saw works by all but 1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (no Donatello). The Louvre was a fortress –> palace –> museum, so even the building was a work of art. Afterwards I explored downtown, got lost, and relied on the map to get myself back. I like getting lost in strange places, though, because you see more.
The next day I was bright, chipper, & ready for Montparnasse Tower (tallest building in Paris) & Musee d’Orsay. I went to Starbucks where the barista & I shared a good chuckle when I tried explaining my name was the same as a bee (abeille). Apparently I butchered the French because he only got it after I pantomimed a buzzing insect. Armed w/a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte avec soya lait, I marched. And marched. And marched until I realized I’d miss the street about a mile back. Oops. But then I wouldn’t have found this amazing bowl I purchased underneath Les Arts Decoratifs. #brightside. I walked through a less touristy – and thereby sketchier – part of the city until I reached the tower & got a 360 view of Paris. Hi, Eiffel Tower! Pretty cool. Heading back to the d’Orsay, a friendly man said hello, asked how I was, & then hammered rapid French at me. He ended w/a question, and catching only a word (rest or meal…they’re only a letter different), I said, “Desole?” He replied, “Non…non” and turned away. Good talk. Two other guys tried to get my attention (I think like the guys passing out their CD’s in Seattle), but I said “non, merci” (no thank you) & kept moving. They kept moving with me, saying “Excusez-moi” but I kept going. They yelled something after me, but joke’s on them because I didn’t understand a word! (Tip #2: use your city smarts to not get ambushed. You’ll be fine). After a baguette poulet (chicken salad sandwich…they’re big here) I took on d’Orsay, the Impressionism museum. A-ma-ZING. Renoir is my all-time favorite artist, and I didn’t know they had his painting (the picnic one) there – it’s not my favorite, but it’s the one that made me love him. I nearly took a knee. Degas, Rodin, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh…all there. One of my favorite parts of the museum, though, was a “fete” (party) room. It was a ballroom w/gold molding, mirrors, and chandeliers. The 2nd day I visited d’Orsay, I went straight there because I loved it so much. I turned around to see a woman about my age come in & the look on her face was exactly how I felt – pure joy & wonder. I imagined standing on the side of the room waiting to dance.
The next day I headed to Starbucks again, hoping my barista friend was there. I’d say, “Remember me?” & we’d share a laugh over my name. Instead, it was a very nice girl who spelled my name “Bise.” Alright then. Off to Notre Dame! It’s just as majestic as Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame illustrates. I loved it, it was stunning. I waited in line to then climb the bell tower. I was terrified climbing those interior stairs. No problem jumping out of a plane, but nearly paralyzed by stairs. 🙂 In my defense, I messed up my tailbone twice on stairs, so we have bad blood between us. The view from the top was spectacular. I especially loved the gargoyles, both on top & from street view. I imagined what life was like for the clergy. That was what I loved most about Paris – the dreaming, putting myself in their shoes. Then it was the Musee de L’Orangeries, which was more Impressionism, including a whole wall of Renoir! I then rested in Tuilleries w/gelato from Amorino (a chain sweet shop). A nice man walking by wished me happy digestion & we chatted a bit in English when he realized immediately I wasn’t French. It was a nice break in the people-watching, of which there’s plenty.
On my last full day I visited the Louvre & Musee d’Orsay again. I did a drive-by of my favorites but explored new areas mostly, including Ancient Egypt, my favorite from history. I saw a real mummy, people! It was a little creepy taking pictures of a body, but also cool (note to self: name future band “Creepy But Cool”).
It’s hard to sum up my trip at this point. I think I’ll continue processing it over the coming days. I’m incredibly blessed to have been there, to make a dream reality. So for now I leave you with my wisdom should you travel to Paris one day. #yourewelcome
What to Know (aka I Like Making Lists):
— The streets are narrow, so Parisians adapt via tiny cars (which have suspicious marks on the backs…parking = bumper cars) or old fashion bikes or Vespas w/blatant disregard for vehicles & pedestrians alike
— Speaking of vehicles & pedestrians…cars are crazy & pedestrians must walk w/reckless abandon/preparedness to jump back for your life. I like to think I blended in w/my nonchalant street-crossing
— Style: leather, black, boots. Women have long, limp hair (very pretty, clearly not obsessed w/volume like Americans), no make-up or a red lip. Men are shorter and/or slight w/super cool hair/facial hair combos. They sling their jackets over one shoulder or tie sweaters around their necks.
— Do your homework before you go. I was grateful for articles that let me know to always say hello/goodbye in shops, not to expect ice, & to use French.
— Waiters are snooty no matter how nice you are or how much French you use. They will get annoyed w/you if you don’t understand their attempt at English. Is this a generalization? Probably. But this is my list, so deal with it. 🙂 Everyone else was nice. I think making an effort goes a long way (read: don’t be the obnoxious American demanding your own way. When in Rome…). Smile & say “bonjour” & “merci” a lot. Worked for me. One security guard was gruff w/the people in front of me but smiley & jokey w/me.
— “Take away” = “to go.”
— Elevators are called ascenseurs. Not important; I just think it’s funny. Makes me think of Jesus ascending into heaven…in an elevator.
— Bring extra euro/euro cents for tipping. I thought like in the US paying w/credit card would allow you to add the tip. I thought wrong. Embarrassing!
— Bathrooms (toilettes) smell like they’re not clean. I witnessed public bathroom cleanings TWICE – so it happens – but someone forgot to tell the odor. Some streets don’t smell that nice either. But hey, it makes you imagine living in the Medieval Ages while you’re looking at centuries old architecture.
— Quasimodo does NOT live in Notre Dame’s bell tower. I know, I was disappointed, too. Thanks for nothing, Hugo. 😉
— Bring walking shoes. Paris is only 6 miles across & thereby super walkable. I looked up directions to everywhere I wanted to go beforehand (since I don’t have international cell service) so it was super easy.
— Crossbody bags are your friend. Backpacks tell pick pockets you don’t care to hold onto your valuables
— If you’re going to Paris for museums, get a pass in advance. I did through Travelocity & picked up the voucher in Paris. That beauty let me breeze by others standing in line for hours – au revoir, suckers! J/k, sorry for your wait… – and get right to the art. My pass was good at 50 museums for 4 consecutive days. #jackpot
— Police/soldiers carry some serious weaponry here. At one point I thought, “Is that an AK-47?” No wise-cracking John McClanes here.
— They have really good Italian food. I had delicious lasagna & spaghetti carbonara. Baguette sandwiches are good when you’re in a hurry & they rely heavily on bread for breakfast. And snacks. I saw a small girl on the back of a moped gnawing a baguette.