So, it’s been a few months since my trip. Okay, maybe more than a few months. Okay, okay – almost a year. However, I still want to document, at least for myself, the wonderful trip I had to Europe in October. I hash tagged the entire trip on my Facebook page as #LiveLifeNow, because, why not? I was entirely in the moment, and hungry to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime trip. This entry will focus on Leg 1 – Paris.
Ah, Paris – the City of Lights. Did you know that the nickname has nothing to do with lights at all? It actually is because way back when it was the center of the Age of Enlightenment. It was dubbed ‘La Ville-Lumière’ because it was known as the best place for education, science, art, and ideas. If it were for actual wattage – Las Vegas would get the moniker (that trip is on the near horizon – stay tuned).
The first thing I noticed about Paris, and Europe in general, were the armed soldiers patrolling the airport. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore – even though I’ve never been to Kansas. Having to step aside on the sidewalk to let the stoic-faced soldiers pass with their high-powered rifles at the ready was jarring for this naïve American suburbanite. Getting through TSA is one thing, being welcomed by an army is another.
I stayed at Hôtel Mercure Paris Centre Tour Eiffel which is within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, so when I arrived after my taxi ride from the airport and was reasonably checked in, and done with my little happy dance after discovering that I could see the Eiffel Tower from my room, and after a few minutes watching the show House with voices dubbed in French (tres weird), I took off for a stroll to see what I could see on the way to my pre-scheduled bus tour.
I had always heard that Paris in springtime was the time to go. I disagree. Autumn is AMAZING in Paris. There are so many tree-covered walkways to showcase the vibrantly changing foliage, that I can’t imagine a better backdrop to an adventure. I was at least smart enough to bring my real SLR camera to try to capture the beauty of the surroundings. I did take some snaps with my phone for horrible selfies (none published – I was there to see - not be seen, ahem), but they don’t compare at all.
After taking in the enormity of the Eiffel Tower, and the small groups of people enjoying the park surrounding it on covered blankets with picnics, and the many tourists taking photos, I found the pick-up spot for my hop-on/hop-off bus tour. Side note – I highly recommend these types of tours; a ticket will last you all day, and you can get off and get back on as you please to see specific landmarks at your leisure. I actually stayed on through a few stops to take in the commentary provided of the historical sites – and Paris has a lot of those. After listening for a while, I popped on my iTunes and played some Gershwin’s American in Paris to totally cheese it out. Hey, I was by myself with headphones on and embarrassing nobody. It was a silly self-indulgence that I still have zero regrets about. When in Rome… but when you’re an American in Paris… you get the idea.
One thing they mentioned on the tour was how well the layout of Paris itself was planned. It is made to be beautiful aesthetically no matter where you are in the city. The lines of sight from the end of one road to another are breathtaking, with nary an obstructed view.
Another thing I noticed was how NARROW the streets are; this is something I’m sure wasn’t planned for by the city architects who probably only had to deal with horses or carriages to worry about. As my monstrous double-decker bus tried to navigate the busy streets, we often came a hair between us and other vehicles. And people on motorbikes just zoomed in and out of everyone with no cares in the world. I’m sure Paris drivers are used to this but looking down from my position on the top of the bus, it looked pretty harrowing. Kudos to the courageous bus drivers that have to traverse these routes daily.
I got off at the exit for the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe and Musée du Louvre (Louvre Museum) to tour the museum. This was one of the highlights of my trip. To see the wonderful sculptures up close, and with all-natural lighting that made them even more magnificent still takes my breath away just thinking about it. I can only hope my photos do them justice. Of all the wonderful artwork in the museum, the sculptures are still my favorite. I already knew that the Mona Lisa was tiny, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw it in person. It’s behind glass with a rope cordoning off the area a few feet in front of it. And of course, there was a mob of people trying to take a selfie with it behind them – which is hard with the pushing and shoving. I just held my camera up over everyone’s heads and hoped for the best. I didn’t get a great shot, but then I wasn’t there for her.
After wandering the museum for a few hours, I hopped back on my bus to pass Notre Dame on the way back to the Eiffel Tower, crisscrossing the Seine River a few times. There are a ton of little Bouquinistes along the riverbank that sell used and antique books, art, and other souvenirs. Some of the artwork looked amazing, but I had no room to carry such things on my continuing journey.
That evening I took a Seine boat tour. After a brief fiasco regarding my ticket, and seriously pushy people in line with no concept of personal space, we boarded for our cruise. I took a seat on the upper deck outside, so that I could get better pictures. The views from the boat were simply amazing, and I was awed at how many people were out and about along the river at night. From solitary persons reading by street light, to groups of friends hanging out, to couples strolling hand in hand, to dancers. Yes, dancers. There was one section of river bank separated into about 4 or 5 alcoves with different groups of dancers. As we passed each alcove we could hear the different types of music each group was dancing to – one was 50’s doowop music, another was salsa music, another was polka, and yet another was swing music. It was crazy and beautiful at the same time. To see these regular folks dancing alongside each other with their own style of music playing was very cool. This still remains one of my favorite sites of my entire trip.
As the boat turned around and headed back it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then it was a deluge. Everyone from the upper decks scrambled to get below. Well, everyone except me. I figured I was already wet, so why bother? Then I remembered my camera… and eventually squeezed my way down to join the others. As we passed the Eiffel Tower on our way to dock we noticed that the lights were sparkling a little different, and there was music playing around it. I later found out that they were celebrating their 300 millionth visitor. Pretty crazy number.
On my way back to my hotel I had a very enterprising young man try very hard to sell me an umbrella. I told him it was a little too late for that, but he was determined. He continued to compliment me and my American accent, and flatter me unabashedly, which I let go on for a while, because, why not? He eventually gave up on me and looked for another mark.
I dried off, ordered room service, then headed to the hotel bar for a glass of wine. Because French wine is the best, right? Well, it was okay. I took my glass with me outside and came across another American woman who was there with her husband’s family. It was nice to talk to someone after a day of silently taking in the sights. I got to hear all about how her husband’s family pays for their yearly trips, but she never gets to pick the location. Boo hoo, I say. I’m still paying off this trip… Different strokes for different folks I guess.
I finally fell asleep after gazing at the Eiffel Tower for what seemed like forever. I kept having to pinch myself that my view from my head on my pillow was the Eiffel Freaking Tower. Note – pinching yourself makes it hard to fall asleep…
The next morning, I checked out and took a taxi to the train station to catch the Eurostar to London. Only problem was the signage for finding the train is HORRIBLE. It took me a half hour to find where I was supposed to go, and they stop letting you in an HOUR before the train leaves. Seriously? I mean, REALLY? I was furious as taking a later train meant missing a whole half day in London where I had already bought my tour bus tickets. By the time I got to my hotel, etc., I’d miss the whole tour day.
After purchasing a later train ticket, I went in search of nourishment. I found a sidewalk café across the street and had a croissant and coffee while people watching. This is one place where beggars are a real problem. People of all ages and gender will come up to you and stand there with a sign proclaiming their need for help and will not take “No” for an answer. The café owner had to come out a few times to wave them all away from the patrons. Don’t get me wrong, I’m often more generous than most, but I was on my own in a different country and didn’t want to get caught up into something that would get me in trouble or encourage others to confront me. I admit, I was a chicken.
I made my way back to the Eurostar station in time to make my one hour wait for my train. Loverly. Between the train fiasco and the beggars, Paris was starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily there was free wine on the train to London to wash it away. I determined to remember Paris fondly for its fabulous parks, museums, historical buildings, and the lovely river Seine at night.
And I will never forget those dancers.