Paris, the City Painted in Pastels

I spent three cold rainy days in Paris, but none of that changed the beauty of Paris.


Day 1

Goodbye London, Hello Eurostar Train to Paris! 

Traveling has made me such a nerd for trains... but only the underground ones! We leave our hotel in London and jump on a bus to St. Pancras Station to board the train. It is much like an airport where we go through security and wait in a room full of rows of seats until our train is ready to board. Up to the platform and on to the train, seating is spacious and we even have a table in the middle of four seats facing each other. The train is fast and we don't even realize when we pass under the English Channel because it happened so quick. Once we are through, we are above ground and have a view of a rainy French countryside. We arrive an hour and a half later, jump on another charter bus and weave through the streets of Paris to our Hostel. Looking out my window, this is Europe: that quintessential old charm that you want from a European adventure.

We arrive at The Generator, one of the best and biggest hostels in Europe, and it definitely impresses! There's a chill lounge filled with seating and ping pong tables, a club complete with bar and dance floor, and a large cafeteria where breakfast is served. With only an hour before we have to meet up with the group for evening activities, me and a few folks from my group head out for food and an ATM. We walk down a street for a little while and find a bank, then turn around to find a restaurant. We settle on a small restaurant that looks fast, where the outside is wallpapered in pictures of the food on the menu. Quick and easy... we think! We struggle as the couple that runs the place doesn't speak English, and French is definitely not their first language. We all order cordon bleu sandwiches and Cokes, well almost... Un coke? Oui! Un coke? Oui! Un coke? No. Un coke? Oui! It is slightly amusing and we laugh at ourselves as we make sure we all get the right meal when the food comes out. 

Our first evening out in Paris... We get our Metro passes and head to the station Colonel Fabien, as it is right across the roundabout from our hostel. We ride the train as a group, make one transfer, and try to get a feel for Paris' underground. I am not even sure at this point where we are headed in this blur of rain, but Marco takes us to the Cathedrale Notre-Dame.

He says we have 15 minutes to go in an look around - 15 minutes!! I am awe-stricken... this is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life. The atmosphere... smoke rising, candles flickering, light casting tones of blues, yellows, reds, greens; a man singing a hymn that transfixes you, transports you to another time and place. Thank God (I had to...) for this camera! My memory may forget this beauty, but the Fuji x100s that I rented is killer in low light! There are visitors placing their fingertips in a vat of what I assume to be Holy Water, and you can buy a tea light to light and add to a spiral candelabra display. I walk around the perimeter facing up, watching the light change as I pace; completely missing the displays in front of me. I am open-mouthed and looking for the words to define the amount of admiration that I am feeling at this moment. As I remind myself of where I am in the world and our timeline, I tell myself that I won't forget this feeling: heart beating in my chest, overcome with emotion as I can sense the years and souls that this place has seen. 

Ann with our first crepe!

With a few minutes to spare, Ann and I backtrack a little because we can't hold out any longer - the street crepes are calling to us! We approach a crepe stand and look at the menu: sugar, lemon and sugar, chocolate, chocolate and almond, chocolate and banana, and yes, even nutella crepes! I must try one of each! We hand over three Euro for a chocolate crepe and watch as the man pours the batter, turns the wooden spreader around the surface, folds it once, spreads the chocolate, folds again, and hands it to us in a napkin. We pass it back and forth on our way back to the group with only "Mmmm"s and "SO GOOD"s coming from our mouths in between bites. Delicious!

My tour group outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

When we get back, we take a group selfie in front of the Cathedral. Back to walking with the group. Across the bridges. The Seine is muddy and swallowing pathways that used to be down alongside it. But none of that bothers me. Maybe I am just high off of Notre Dame and a crepe, but I am looking left and looking right and I can't stop saying "WOW, It's so beautiful..." Camera shutter clicks, clicks, clicks. We are headed towards the Latin Quarter and have an hour to get a bite to eat. Me and some of my group-mates settle on a restaurant; I already ate so I get some wine and try some bites of a savory crepe, chicken, and some fish.

Dusk has fallen along with some raindrops and we head back with the group over the bridges and back past the Cathedral and back to the Metro. We are headed to the Eiffel Tower! The Paris Metro is very clean, and I love practicing my French pronunciations of each station each time we stop and the announcement comes on to tell us where we are.

When we get off the metro, we aren't quite sure where we are because Macro took us a different way to the Eiffel Tower, but we round a corner and there it is! "Street vendors," if you will, crowd the surrounding areas and we push past not making eye contact with the men trying to sell trinkets of the tower. The cloud cover is only making for a better photograph, and we pose for selfies on the landing before descending the stairs to head towards the tower. It starts to drizzle as we walk down and I grab some images of the carousel, a man holding a rainbow umbrella, and some unexpected shots of the tower. The group starts to buzz as we talk about climbing the stairs (instead of queuing for the elevators) to the second viewing floor. Then taking an elevator to the very top! Nerves are rattling as all 26 of us buy tickets for the first floor. Five Euro will get you there.

We begin to climb and I notice that each stair has a number... I wonder how many it takes to get to the top. Now I'll be honest, most of the climb is a blur of shortness of breath, people passing you on their way back down, and some girls beginning to get nervous about the height. I just look down at my feet and focus on climbing. We get to the first floor and stand on the glass platform where you can see straight down. Not scared yet... Halfway done with stairs. We beginning the climb to the second floor. Legs burn. We will feel this tomorrow. But we feel so alive! 669 steps to the second floor! Time for some selfies and snapchats! What a great view, despite the dreary weather. I love the way the streets turn at a slight angle and how the grey rooftops contrast the off white buildings. The nightfall looks good on this city.

At this point you must pay again for the elevator ride to to tippy top! Six more Euros and you are golden. The line moves quick and a group of us are in the elevator. Going up, fear sets in. A few "Eekkk's" and nervous energy from my friends in the elevator. But it is overcome as quickly as it takes to get to the top. Fog and the atmosphere is wet. We are in the clouds! So alive right now! Some members of my group buy champagne and we toast! A couple kisses at the height marker for the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Eventually we all end up back on solid ground, grab a few photos of the Tower all lit up in the night and head back towards the metro. Jessica, Ann, and I decide to split a cab ride back in the rain. But first we stop for crepes - lemon and sugar for me! Ann and Jess split a chocolate almond crepe. Getting a cab in the rain around the Eiffel Tower is tricky, but once we hail one the ride back is much enjoyed.

We end the evening in our Hostel at the bar and club in its basement. Some relaxing, dancing, and meeting some Aussie's is a lot of fun. I love being able to meet fellow travelers from all over the world without the stigma of being a tourist. I wish we stayed in Hostels this whole trip. This one would definitely top the list!

 

Paris Streets

 

The Cathedral of Notre Dame

 

The Eiffel Tower


Day 2

Good morning, Paris! We head downstairs for breakfast at the hostel and enjoy french bread, ham, and cheese. It's not what I am accustomed to, but I could get used to this. We meet at 9 am to head to the Louvre and on the way there some of the guys tease us girls for "getting drunk last night" and we say that they are just jealous because they didn't get to dance with us! It's funny and you can tell that we have bonded as a group. But boy, they must be partly right because I did not wake up well - feeling a bit under the weather - maybe because of the cold evening we had. 

We travel by metro to the Louvre. There is a metro stop inside the Louvre, but we take the stop after it so we can walk a little and take pictures in front of it. Ann and I pair up inside after we get our tickets and we make a bee line for the food court before seeing all the art. Once inside the museum, it is a little tricky figuring out where to go to actually see the exhibits but eventually we found our way. 

There's so much to see... If you look at each piece for 30 seconds all day with no breaks you will be there for over 100 days. With that in mind, and about 3 hours to see what we could, we happened upon the painting wings, Greek sculptures, the Egyptian wing, the Napoleon wing, and yes the Mona Lisa. Being already exhausted from the day before, I am a zombie but still in awe of everything we are seeing. I get emotional looking at the Greek sculptures because they are magnificent and impressive. There are painters in certain galleries live painting their own rendition of some of history's most famous works, which is just so cool! The Napoleon wing is mind-blowing and surreal because I cannot imagine living that lifestyle - there's no true modern comparison. One of our last stops is to see some Egyptian art and I am inspired by the caligraphy and how their sculpture depicts a man and a woman side by side. Finally we come to the Mona Lisa, a crowd, bulletproof glass, and all her glory - I am ready to leave the Louvre.

We venture back outside to meet with the group and Marco meets us with Macaroons! There's enough for each of us to have two - a fun treat and a nice gesture. Next stop is a bus tour of the city. To be honest, it was probably the least memorable part of the whole trip: rainy dreary day, coming down with a cold, tired... tired... asleep on a bus...

The Louvre

The bus tour drops us off at our hostel, and we freshen up a bit for our free evening out. Ann and I decide to head to the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, which is only two stops on the Metro. On this Metro ride I begin to get a feel for Paris and its people. The train goes above ground and I see apartments, street art, and little convenient stores. The train is full of Parisians headed to their final destination for the evening. The people are much more reserved compared to the Europeans I observed in London. That's Paris: not screaming for attention. You find beauty in its details, in its subtleties. I observe the people on my train and I notice that I have to look a bit longer to interpret them.

Very first Escargot!

Very first Escargot!

Our stop is Anvers and we head above ground to explore and find a bite to eat. Montmartre is known for being home to many artists in their time, such as Dali, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso... do I need to name more? It's beautiful. Classified as this bohemian hub of artists from all over Europe, it is also the home to The Moulin Rouge and is the central location of the movies Amelie and An American in Paris. We walk around a bit, enjoying the ups and downs and curves of this area. We settle on a quaint restaurant close to the Metro stop. It is very European as you walk in, the brass bar takes center stage and we are seated inside to the left. We order wine and Escargot and laugh as we figure out how to hold the snail shell with the tool they gave us. Surprisingly good we eat all of them! For my main course, I have ordered a lamb and it is divine. Tender, juicy, and the sauce is favorable!

After dinner we aren't ready to head back and leave this bliss we have found, so we wander for some dessert. With most stores and bakeries closed in this area, we are happy to find a crepe restaurant! They serve sweet and savory crepes and their decor is just too cute - a little line drawing of a cow on a honey yellow napkin. These aren't your average street crepes... double the price, but double the enjoyment. We leave the place fully satisfied and walk a little before we begin to wonder where we are! A kind Parisian woman stops and Ann practices her French with her. She repeats herself only in French a few times and Ann picks out the words "tree" and "hill" and her hand signals to the right! We interpreted correctly and are safely on the Metro back to the hostel. We call it a night as we have a day completely free tomorrow!


Day 3

I jump in a hot shower to try to stop my throat from tickling and my sinuses from running. I won't let this stop me from having a good time. I meet Ann for breakfast. We have the day to ourselves until the evening. Our group mates left early for The Palace of Versailles (which is somewhere I would want to visit if I ever came back to Paris, but I didn't want to sacrifice my free day in this city).

More ham, cheese, and french bread. We sit by the windows in the back of the cafeteria and look out to the courtyard. Ann gets up to get tea, and a girl comes over and asks if she could sit with me. I say of course, and we start talking about where we are from and where we are traveling to. She's from Australia and has a bike tour of Paris to get to this morning. She tells me that Paris is just one stop along a three month adventure. The first month she is traveling solo - jumping city to city - I am amazed. She will meet up with a friend for the last two months. She's my hero! The first roommate I had on this tour told me that I was her hero for coming to London one day before the rest of the group and doing it alone - but that's nothing compared to this amazing world traveler! 

We are all near finishing our meals and we are about to connect on Facebook, and I ask her for her name. She says, "Olivia!" I say, "That's my name," and I am perfectly enamored with this random stranger who sat next to me with the same name! Maybe some day I will get to travel to all the stops she is making on her trip! She is still globe trotting, and I am following her on Facebook!

Heading out, the plan is to take the metro back to Montmartre for some more exploring. When we arrive we head the opposite way from which we headed last night. It soon becomes apparent to me that we are headed uphill to Sacre Coeur, a Basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus - meaning a pretty serious tourist destination. Climbing the main street, there are beautifully decorated candy and chocolate shops, souvenir shops, and we explore them as well as stop for some tea before conquering the rest of the hill! 

When we get to the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Basilica, the area opens up and to the left and right it's picturesque Paris! We begin our way up, and it's tourist ridden which means there are street peddlers all over the place. They have string in a loop with a long tail and ask young ladies to place their wrist inside (I assume they make a bracelet, but I never saw them actually secure a customer). We push past, no eye contact.

Every couple of landings we look back and take a few pictures. This is the highest point in the city and has the best view. Gahhh it's breathtaking. There's a mist and a beautiful fog nests with the city in the distance. At the top there is one big central flight of stairs where a man sits at the bottom playing a harp, and tourists sit on the steps looking out at the city. People are quiet, still, and the harpist plays "Hallelujah." Closer to the Basilica, a man sits and plays the accordion and a group of French school kids with matching red hats pose for a photo.

We round the Basilica and start to journey through the curvy streets, stop for lots of photos, and to just take in the views! It's almost as if it were built here for a movie set, but - pinch me - people live here! Pinks, greys, and blues paint buildings and vines wrap them. A motorcycle sits underneath... I'm telling you, it's a movie set! I pose for a picture and a group of French construction workers walk by at the same time. They jump in the photo with me - how funny! We find a movie theatre and stop in for show times. The neighborhood kids leave school and head home for lunch. I love listening to them joke and tease as they make their way up the street.

We take side stairs back down the hill and walk a ways and run into a book store. I am naturally interested, and I hit gold! A photo book on Patti Smith - in French! For those of you who don't know, I have a Patti Smith / Just Kids (her memoir) obsession. And in her youth she traveled to Paris multiple times. The book was just 10 Euro, and on top of that I found the perfect post card for Nick. It is a portrait of the French Poet, Arthur Rimbaud, who had a big influence on Patti Smith when she was my age. Magical!

We stroll some more and happen upon a little fabric district. Stores filled with rows of fabric samples. I look up and I can see sewing machines in windows and "Mode," meaning "fashion" written in block letters on the side of a building. Deciding we are hungry, we look for that crepe restaurant which we had dessert at the previous evening. It takes lots of walking, lots of confusion, and a cab ride, but with thanks to the business card the waitress gave us last night, we arrive! We both order different savory crepes - filled with mushrooms, chicken, and cheese. We are satisfied.

We take the rest of the day in stride. I find some cute earrings at a local artisan shop before we head back to the Metro. We need to find some tights to wear with our dresses this evening. We are going to a French Cabaret and we didn't think Paris would be this cold! Ann takes me to UNIQLO for tights, which is like a Japanese H&M. After, we head over to the Galeries Lafayette to check out some extravagance to make sure we can check off "Parisian Fashion stores" on our Paris bucket list. We then head back to the hostel for some down time before we head out for dinner and the cabaret.

All rested and prettied up, six of us girls meet up with Marco to head back to Montmartre for dinner and a show. We eat outside under a large tent where multiple restaurants in the square have seating. We order and the waiter jokes and asks Marco the secret to having the company of so many ladies. After dinner we head back down the hill and along the main street. This district is a PG-13 Red Light District with sexy shops and flashing lights. Music plays from each storefront and I am laughing in joy. No embarrassment here just enjoying the energy in an otherwise grey Paris. We pass the Moulin Rouge and turn down a side street to get to La Novelle Eve. We have tickets, but wait in line before they are ready for us to enter. Once seated, we are poured champagne and sit back and relax while we wait for the show to start.

No pictures were taken by me, out of respect for the performers. But, BOY! I wish I could have recorded each act and had been able to replay them for you here to enjoy. While, yes it is tourism driven with the performers speaking and singing in English first, then French - I was laughing, clapping, or smiling the whole time. Not only were the women beautiful and in sync, but they were flexible. They did the French Can Can which was incredible... picture me clapping, laughing, cheering in astonishment as these ladies jumped around on one leg the whole time, meanwhile holding their wrists underneath their other leg, kicking it in the air! And sometimes, these women would have their leg above their head and fall, yes fall, into a split on the ground. And then the men did it! Even more incredible, they do this show daily...

In between dancing and singing acts there where little shorts while the sets were changed behind the curtain. Notable acts include: a man dressed in a futuristic body suit that did a laser show where he multiplied lasers, bent them, and spun them at progressing speeds; a woman who suspended from the ceiling in a hoop and performed acrobatic tricks to suspenseful music; a dance competition featuring three male members of the audience; and my favorite, a perfectly French gentleman in his later years who did acrobatic balancing tricks with comedically timed jokes. I loved this show. I didn't want it to end!

Afterwards we got crepes (my last Parisian crepe), got our picture taken in front of the Moulin Rouge, and stopped by the restaurant in the move Amelie for a picture perfect ending to our three days in Paris.

 

Montmartre & Cabaret at La Novelle Eve


Overall Thoughts

When I first went through the photos of Paris from my Fuji x100s and my iPhone, I only selected a few to edit from the multitude of images I took. I had just finished my London blog and was high off of those experiences and feeling so enamored with the images and memories I had made there, that I felt the images from Paris were lack-luster. Feeling uninspired, I went back through the images to see if there was anything I had missed. To my surprise, I picked and edited 25 more, and fell in love with Paris through my lens. When I got closer to sitting down to write this blog, I again felt like I missed something. This is because my camera didn't get charged one night and I used my iPhone one of the three days. (I thought my adaptor didn't fit the outlet in the Hostel - it totally did!) The images were flat and grey like the weather we were experiencing, and I didn't find the images very attractive. But I have a new appreciation of Instagram because of the beauty it brought out in my iPhone images! In fact, those images are some of my favorite from the trip!

During my time in Paris, the Seine was flooded, the weather was bad, I felt sick (which turned out to be allergies - stay tuned), and it was just that middle of a long trip dip that clouded my vision. I see my impression of Paris in the same way I saw those photos: at first it wasn't my favorite, but looking back I am finding that it was something unexpected and ended up being some of my favorite memories. With a little more research on the city and the language (and better weather), I would really love to go back to Paris some day.