Day 1, Friday
Edit: Added pictures of Paris at night. Enjoy!
2:15am, my alarm clock goes off. My bag packed already, its time for Paris! There are 8 of us on this excursion, and only 2 of us speak French. 1 fluently. Megan’s going to be doing a lot of translating. And my translator app too, but I certainly won’t be using it mid-conversation.
Not all of us are as ready to go as me. We have a missing passport, a number of missing people, and another “I need to go back for something” that I didn’t catch and didn’t bother to ask again. Fingers crossed everyone makes it to the airport, on time, with everything they need.
Its a foggy night, nice and cool. My glasses are covered though, so I’m blindly following the others to the train station. No one was hit!
Its amazing how much the city slows down in the early morning. We saw not a single person the entire way to the station, and even in Kings Cross itself we only saw 4 people. The others beat the train to the station, thankfully. (There’s only 1 each hour!)
We board the train, and ride in a half-awake stupor the entire time, laughing at jokes and stories that aren’t really funny and dozing off for seconds or minutes at a time. I really could have used more than an hour or two of sleep last night.
We arrive at our stop, and make our way to the shuttle to get to the airport. Nothing really exciting happened here, at least nothing I was conscious of.
The airport. A bustle of people all trying to not miss their flight. I forget to take my liquids out of my bag. I was too busy wondering why everyone is allowed to keep their shoes on for European flights. My bag gets flagged. I wonder what’s with my traveling that I get stopped, flagged, or selected for a random full check each time?
It’s my shampoo this time. Maybe they can’t see through the black bottle. Maybe its a weird consistency. Maybe they picked it at random?
I’m free to pass through border control, and get on my flight. Hurray for another stamp! I still think they should be more colorful, or have a symbol on it or something. It just says the airport’s name with a box.
The flight is 55 minutes. It feels more like 5, since there is 21.4 minutes of ascent and 21.4 minutes of decent. That would leave 12.2 minutes at cruising height, assuming my numbers are correct (They aren’t).
Nous arrivons à France! (We arrive in France!) Everyone else realizes that they have no idea how to communicate here, and the questions begin. “How do we talk to border control? Where’s the exit? How do I buy a drink?” I’m so exhausted I can’t remember, and I keep quiet while Megan answers most of them.
We approach the border guard, one at a time. The moment of truth. I say, “Bonjour,” and I immediately realize how strong my American mid-west dialect is (as well as how American I look in my plaid button up t-shirts) when he responds with “You can go through,” in English. So much for knowing some French. It probably didn’t help that I was right after the others who knew no French at all.
I’m pretty overwhelmed by the strain of trying (and usually being unable) to understand the speech and text around me. I only had an hour of sleep after all. Fortunately, the major signs in the airport are in both French and English. We find the Great Britain ticket attendant person (the one who sells the train tickets to Paris), and we each get a ticket. Maybe we can do this!
We find the train, and we hop on. I promptly fall asleep, but not before I notice that this train is in far worse shape than in London. Probably because there’s no cameras on this train. I doze for a while. I want to see as much of Paris as possible, so I fight it off. Look at all those suburbs… Reminds me of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles of Europe.
We arrive at our hostel. Our rooms aren’t ready yet, so we leave our bags in the locked luggage room and look around. Some of us walk in the bike lane and get yelled at by Parisian cyclists. (Not me, promise!)
We find a cafe, and can’t decide what to get. The cashier mistakes our silence for being completely unable to speak French, and she isn’t terribly happy about it. Megan helps the others order. I order all by myself. They don’t take cards, so we all have to use our 20s, and she nearly runs out of change. I apologize for not having any smaller bills. “Désole…” She seems happy that at least two of our group can speak French. We’re off to a good start!
We return to the hostel and get checked into our room. They don’t have any towels left because its a holiday of some sort this weekend. The toilet asks us to not flush toilet paper down the toilet. Must have old piping. We all collapse in our rooms, and wake up about 4 hours later, at 2pm. (Europeans would say 14:00)
We decide to take the subway to le Tour Eiffel. The ticket machine doesn’t take cash. I’ll have to keep that in mind, but for now I have enough coins for a ticket.
It doesn’t feel like we’re really in Paris until we get out of the underground station and see the Eiffel Tower. There it was, just sitting there. (What was I expecting it to do though, dance around?) We make our way past the street vendors selling “selfie sticks” and miniature Eiffel Towers.
We meander through town a while, and find a few other monuments. Eventually we stop to eat at a cafe/restaurant. The waitress is pretty happy talking to Megan. She’s also super helpful to everyone else who’s trying to order in French. Hilarity ensues as new French speaking skills get tried, with phrases like “Me sad because of cheese,” “I am ham,” and “Ongion soup, please” being the highlights.
That evening, we go up the Eiffel Tower. Climbing all 603 stairs to level 1. Then 603 more stairs to level 2. The view was great, though!
We stand in line to get to the top of the tower by lift. I meet some nice Canadians behind us, from Ontario. We talk a lot and take pictures a lot and wait a lot.
I’m pushed up against the glass door in the lift up. I sure hope there isn’t a problem and the door opens. It sure is a long way down. I find the easiest handhold to grab, just in case.
We make it to the top without incident. By this time, the sun has set and the tower is lit up. The city sure sparkles at night.
We head back down in groups. Luc isn’t in one of them. We must have left him at the top of the tower. After about 30 minutes of searching, we finally see him stepping off the stairs at the bottom. Found him!
We laugh about how he was forgotten at the top of the tower and head back to the hostel. Megan remembers the lack of towels and stops to get one from a touristy store, and Luc, Jake, and I wait outside. An attractive young French woman approaches us and sounds exceptionally flustered, asking us for help. She’s talking too fast for me to make out what she’s asking and she quickly walks off, assumably to find someone who speaks fluent French. I wish I could have helped her. Maybe next time.
Day 2, Saturday
Off to a late start today. We don’t collectively have enough coin to pay for our tickets for the day. I didn’t realize neither of my cards would work. The machines only support cards with the chip in them. Megan goes through the open-air market nearby and buys some bananas so that she could get coins for all of us. They were definitely the best bananas I’ve ever eaten.
There were two groups today that wanted to go to different places, so we decided to split into two groups. I really wanted to avoid the mass of people that would be at the Louvre as well as be with the fluent French speaker.
My group arrives at our station, and find ourselves in a two-hour line to get into the Catacombs. I really don’t like waiting in line. Being with the others and talking the whole time makes it bearable, though, and I get lots of pictures. We each take turns going to grab something to eat. I get a portable pizza and some sort of pastry with chocolate in it.
There are hundreds of thousands of bones in the catacombs, all sitting in nice, organized piles with trails leading through them. Its pretty morbid. They only let 200 people in at a time, and it’s a really long walk, so there were a few times when I didn’t see or hear anyone around me, and it was fairly peaceful.
When I got out of the catacombs, there was only one person behind me. We then waited another hour and a half after I got out before we decided we should let the other group know we were running late, as we had decided we would meet the other group at 3 o’clock. It was pushing 2:45.
I was part of the group that went to meet them, and we found them at the Arc de Triumph much more easily than we expected. We then met up with the rest and we went on our merry way.
We then went to Notre Dame
Luxembourg Park (where we saw the super-mini Statue of Liberty)
the Lock Bridge
and walked along the river. I loved walking along the bank. We were the only tourists around (that I could tell—it looked like all locals to me), it was a beautiful evening, and everyone was so happy and content. It felt like something out of a storybook. Everyone was enjoying everyone else’s company, playing games and eating together. After dark, we stopped by the Eiffel Tower again, and walked across another monument to get to an underground station. We stopped to see the Arc de Triomphe at night, and went back to the hostel.
We split again, as some wanted to take a train to Versailles, and others (myself included), wanted to stay in the city, see some more sights, and have a more relaxed day. We hopped on a subway and took it all the way to the end, getting off at Dauphine station.
One of the things I had wanted to see was the University of Paris. Ironically, about a block from the stop we got off at was the Dauphine branch of the University of Paris. We discovered that most places don’t open until 10am outside of the more touristy areas. We stop by a wonderful patisserie (pastry shop) and I have the most amazing, delicious, fantastic croissant I’ve ever had. As Luc so well put it, “I can’t ever eat a Pillsbury croissant ever again.”
I want to see the US Embassy, so we take the subway to the Franklin D. Roosevelt station and walk down the Champs-Élysées. Its tucked behind a bunch of trees and mean looking police officers, so I don’t take any pictures. Luc also discourages picture taking from his experiences abroad.
We stop by the Louvre to take more pictures, but we avoid the crowds, since its so crowded. (See what I did there?) We rode the subway to the small Statue of Liberty (not to be confused with the super-mini one in Luxembourg Park. Luc and I walked down to a bridge to get the statue and the Eiffel Tower in the same picture. I didn’t realize it was so far away, and I’m exhausted by the time we get back to the statue.
We walked down a pretty island to get to the Eiffel Tower, as we thought it was fitting to spend our last few hours napping in the sun beneath the tower. We decide to get one last treat before we leave. I successfully order an apricot marmalade crepe completely in French and have the cashier respond entirely in French back. There was full comprehension from both parties.
We head out to the airport, and I’m sad that I’m leaving. Its a little bit funny to say that I’m sad to be going to London, but I definitely wish I could have stayed in Paris longer.
After getting through security and border patrol, I decided I wanted to finish my collection of one type of each coin. I was missing a 1 Euro cent, and a 5 Euro cent, so I approach one of the cashers. I try to ask for change for a 20 cent piece in French, but the cashier doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I try to switch to English, but she doesn’t know English well and still doesn’t understand. I eventually resort to saying (in French) “This is 20. I would like 10, 5, 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1, please.” Success, she understands!
As we get in line to board the plane, two of my companions realize their phone is about to die. Their boarding passes are both on their phone. Fortunately, I’m an Eagle Scout so I’m always prepared. I let them use my mobile charger (which I haven’t needed to use yet, thankfully). They were pretty funny looking, joined together by the charger.
I already miss Paris, and I will definitely be making another trip back.