15. The London Chronicles: Part IV – Paris

Firstly, I know I’m super behind on these travel blogs. As of the moment I’m typing this line, I’m already back in the States and will probably be back in DC by the time I post this. So much has happened, but I promise I will get it all down!

(Editing update: I am indeed back home in D.C. at the time of publishing this post.)

This here is a special edition blog on Paris. Firstly, Paris is amazing. Secondly, we were only there for three days. Thirdly, we did a ton while we were there. So hopefully this blog doesn’t end up being too lengthy.

Thursday, July 20th
So the whole Paris adventure starts with Ricardo and I running, quite literally running, through King’s Cross/Saint Pancras to try to get to our train on time. We made it and checked in literally a minute before the gates closed for check-in. We went through two levels of passport control and basic security before finally making it onto the Eurostar. We slept for a good hour or so and read books and wrote the rest of the trip.

We made it to Paris and arrived at the Gare du Nord station late in the evening. We could not find a free bathroom within the station (since they all made you pay euros and we had no cash) and so we went to Burger King across the street and got French fries in France to use a French bathroom. It was a very impressive entry into Paris.

We took the underground Metró to the Marais district where our Airbnb was located. We found a nice Parisian restaurant almost immediately and ordered escargot (which I’ve never had before), onion soup (not French onion, because we were in France), and two coke zeros (our joint soda of choice). The coke zeros came out in glass bottles with accompanying glasses of ice with lemons and long spoons. The escargot came out in a little tray with indentations for the shells – which were beautiful – and had either 6 or 8 escargot all filled with pesto sauce. You pick up a snail shell with this reverse claw grabber and then take this little tiny fork, dig out the snail meat, and then pop the whole snail body into your mouth. Oh my garlic, escargot is absolutely delicious. I could eat it every day. Also, the coke zeros cost more than the escargot did; we found this was a trend in France and eventually started avoiding sodas because they cost more than a glass of wine, for instance.

On the way to our Airbnb, we got sidetracked by the beautiful Hotel de Ville which was lit up in the night. From the plaza in front of the Hotel de Ville, we could see the bell tower of Notre Dame. We immediately beelined our way to Notre Dame. Notre Dame was incredible. Even at 11:30 at night, there were people. After Notre Dame, we walked along the Seine towards our apartment and oh how the bridge lights illuminated the river. As soon as I saw that vision, I understood why France was perfect for the Impressionists. The photo I took of that river and the bridge over it looked exactly like an impressionist painting. The entire picture was complete with a street musician playing an accordion down on the nearest street corner.

We finally made it to our Airbnb. I loved it immediately. You entered through a nondescript green door right in between two shops and entered this hallway that led to this sweeping wooden staircase. Right at the bottom of the staircase there was an open door that led into this little, tranquil courtyard filled with plants and a table and chairs and a fountain. The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by the walls of several floors of flats. Our little Paris apartment was on the second floor. It was a single room divided into bedroom and kitchen by a half wall. There were plants and large windows that opened down into the courtyard. There was no normal door to the bathroom, but instead the bathroom was separated from the bedroom by two swinging saloon-type doors. The little flat was lovely and I fell in love with it immediately. I would move there in a heartbeat.

Friday, July 21st
Friday morning started off with lovely sunlight streaming in the windows. We got breakfast of egg sandwiches, cappuccinos, and a Nutella crepe at a little café and then ate along the bank of the Seine. It was lovely. After eating, we walked back to Notre Dame, which was right across the Seine from where we were staying. The cathedral is even more magnificent during the day and the gargoyles are hilarious. There was such a long line to get into Notre Dame that we decided to not go on; when you have two days in Paris, several hours waiting in line is not a good time investment.

Our next goal was the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was a bit over two miles away so we decided to walk. We saw the Eiffel Tower and the beautiful park in front of it and it was everything I could have imagined. You always see pictures of these iconic, famous monuments, but I swear to you the Eiffel Tower is so much more magnificent than it appears in photos. After we took pictures with the sunny, blue sky behind the tower, we headed in the direction of the Louvre. On the way, we got lunch at this supposedly fancy French restaurant where we got salmon salad and very, very smelly cheeses with crackers. I can’t way I was a fan, honestly.

After lunch – and on the way to the Louvre – we walked down the Champs-Elysees and got a Nutella crepe (delicious) on the way. We saw the Petite Palais and the Grande Palais from the outside, and I must admit the Petite Palais is by far my favorite of the two. It was just as elegant and beautiful but on a less grand and haughty scale. Ricardo and I sat down in the grass next to a fountain between the two palaces and spent a good hour or two dreaming about the future and what possibilities it could possibly hold.

More walking! We walked through the very large and very beautiful, sprawling Jardin des Tuileries, which were these magnificent gardens with lawn chairs and hedges with secret passages and flowers and a Ferris wheel, all leading up to the Louvre. Then the Louvre. We managed to get there at the perfect time when there was very little line indeed. You know the famous glass pyramid? The entrance is down through that pyramid and into this grand foyer-type area that then leads to many offshoots. The Louvre itself is so huge it sprawls longer than I dare estimate. As the Louvre is so big though, we just prioritized the few things we really had to see. As such, we beelined towards the Mona Lisa, found the magnificent Winged Victory (which is one of my two favorite statues), actually got to see the small but absolutely captivating Mona Lisa, and on the way out saw my other favorite statue Eros & Psyche. The entire museum was amazing, and had we had more than two days in Paris, I would have loved to spend an entire day exploring. Before we headed out of the Louvre, we had a small luncheon at the rooftop café and sat amidst statues of old French kings while looking over the plaza below.

After the Louvre, we headed north towards Montmarte. We passed the Paris Opera House on the way up there and I finally got the chance to see the Moulin Rouge. We got delicious gelato (by courtesy and suggestion of Ricardo’s mom) in Montmarte and saw the Montmarte Cemetery from an overlook on a bridge. We would have actually gone into the cemetery, but it had closed already since sunset was soon approaching. Regardless, the graves and mausoleums all piled on top of each other made for the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen.

We climbed up a large hill and countless stairs to the Sacre-Coeur, which was a magnificent little cathedral that literally looked out over all of Paris. The inside of the cathedral was lovely, and the view was breathtaking. People sat on that grassy hill right below the cathedral simply to look out at all of Paris laid out below.

We ended our first full day in Paris by getting McDonald’s. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do!

Saturday, July 22nd
Saturday started out with breakfasts of eggs and bread with jam and butter at this little place across the street. Our main goal of the day was to see Versailles, so we got on the metro and took about an hour or more to get to the outskirts of Paris where Versailles is located. We already had our tickets, so we got a small lunch of sandwiches at a tourist trap nearby. After getting into the main gates of Versailles, we spent an hour and a half in line in the middle of the cobblestones surrounded by gilded fences of gold on all side, all to get into the actual palace. It worked well though; I had time to read my book and Ricardo had time to look over some philosophy.

Once we got into the actual palace, it was completely worth the hour and a half wait. Versailles was magnificent. Gilded gold and white surfaces everywhere, marble or wood floors (depending on what level you were at), and magnificent paintings and chandeliers adorning every wall and ceiling. Upstairs there were rooms all colored in themes, so the pink room had magenta pink wall hangings, curtains, and velvet wallpaper, while the green room had all the same items matching, just in apple green. The famous Hall of Mirrors, which I’ve read about so often when I was younger, was breathtaking. Photos simply can’t do it justice. We had a lovely luncheon tea of quiche and this fancy symmetrical cream pastry and wine and tea. I sketched one of the chandeliers in the dining room while we were waiting to eat.

After eating, we ventured into the Gardens of Versailles. And oh, they were magnificent. That day was one of the special summer days of Musical Gardens; this meant some of the largest fountains had shows where the fountain waters were set to grand classical music, and classical music issued from many different hedges and walkways. We explored through some of the different sections of the gardens – for it was divided into large rectangles with themes – like children, I taught Ricardo how to waltz and we waltzed down one of the boulevards, and we pretended to be statutes on an empty statue base. There was a large lake in the middle of the gardens and we discovered that this lake rented out rowboats for an hour. How often do you get to row on a rowboat on a lake in Versailles? So we rowed out and had a really lovely hour in the midst of this quiet little lake, surrounded on all sides by trees and Versailles and little ducks and a family of swans and cygnets.

After disembarking from the rowboat, we got kicked out of the gardens along with everyone else, for security was starting to set up for some large event that was happening there that night. We ran to Marie Antoinette’s estate a good bit off to make it in before they closed and we made it there within 5 minutes of them shutting the doors. The estate was small, but I’m so glad we saw it. When you first enter, there’s this little courtyard and it was literally the closest thing to a fairy tale setting that I have ever seen in my life. Rose bushes and trees filled the open space, while a little bird’s house hung from an overhanging rooftop edge. The inside of the estate was just as stunning, if a tad more simple, than the overly ornate main palace.

We got dinner at this place called the Americain. The menus had photos of some of the United States’ most popular presidents and the outside had vintage tin Coca Cola advertisements. I got the best chicken fajitas I think I’ve ever had and Ricardo got a crazy delicious burger that I think might have been called the Obama burger. We got pina coladas and apple pie for dessert and the irony is that one of our best meals in Paris was American themed.

We took the hour-long train home and relaxed for a bit before heading out to this jazz club Ricardo knew about that was just on the other side of Notre Dame and the Seine from where our Airbnb was located. The place was called Le Caveau de la Huchette and was very much a local secret. (Ricardo had been to Paris several years ago and found out about it then.) This club was two levels: the first level was a bar lit by stained glass lamps and had a couch extending across one whole wall, while the lower level was an underground dance place. The whole building had once been a prison back during the French Revolution and had been converted to a jazz bar. All the walls, especially on the lower level, were the same stone walls with engravings and cubbies carved out from the prison. A live jazz band played on a stage in one corner and the whole floor in front of them was taken over by whomever felt like dancing. The whole place reeked of the clean sweat of people dancing and it was such an experience to get to dance there in their midst to a jazz band while in Paris.

We wandered through a few streets after leaving Le Caveau and got another Nutella crepe on the way. I have to mention the absolutely terrible street artists who were trying to beatbox and dance to it on the corner. They were so bad the police literally showed up to make them stop.

Sunday, July 23rd
We were up early on Sunday to check out of our Airbnb. We left straight to the Musee d’Orsay, which was the Parisian art museum with most of the Impressionists. I got to see Monets, Degas, and Van Goghs, with my most favorites of course being some of Degas’ dancer paintings. Some of them were so tiny!

Afterwards, we met up with one of Ricardo’s old friends who lives in Paris. We had a lovely lunch and I learned a lot about life in Paris and how different law degrees and education is in France compared to the US. Yannis took us on a small walking tour through the intellectual capital of Paris and we got to see cafes where famous writers through the years have worked. The old church the three of us had coffee across from was the center of what would bud into Paris’ intellectual corner. For the life of me I cannot remember what that church was called.

After Yannis departed, Ricardo and I went to the Gardens of Luxemburg. I sketched a scene at the Fountaine Medicis where a delightful quintuplet of ducklings and their parents were swimming to and fro. In the gardens, there was also a very large fountain where children and their parents launched these clever little sailboats with big sticks. The sailboats would sail across the water and the kids would run to wherever their sailboat was going to land so they could push it off in another direction.

From there, we took the metro back to the station and ended up missing the first train back to London. We also missed the second train back because the lines for passport control were so ridiculous. In our defense, a good 30 people, all on our train, all missed the train together, so we got pushed onto remaining room on the train after that. People on that train also missed it because our supposedly booked coach was half empty. The whole system there was very poorly set up. Regardless, we finally made it back to London after a delightful conversation with some fellow study abroad students who were doing communications internships. As soon as we walked into King’s Cross, I felt like I was home. There was a man playing piano in the hall and all was well.

The rest of the evening we spent studying at the Good Samaritan. Thus ended our weekend trip to Paris.