Paris, sing me a song

Posted from Paris, Île-de-France, France.

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My whole life I’ve wanted to see Paris. I’d been to Charles de Gaulle Airport three times, all stop-overs, but I never had the window seat, or the plane took a round-about way on its approach impeding my view of the city of love, and thusly my desire to see this old city, even a peak of the Eiffel Tower, was thwarted. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. Left with the choice to spend a few more weeks in SE Asia or go to Europe, I made a very natural decision. Fly from Bali to Paris.

After an extensive travel day I arrived in Paris a few minutes early at the ripe time of 7:45 a.m. Outside temperature 12C. I whizzed through immigration wielding my burgundy European Union passport and tried to figure out how to get downtown. For my stay in Paris I chose to use Bewelcome, a traveller website akin to Couchsurfing. I wanted to do this because I wanted a real experience in Paris, not just a sterile touristy one. That and hostels were $45/night. This was my first time using a site like this, and I have to spoil the ending, it worked out great. The weather, however, would prove to be a trying experience. I just came from five months of 35C. This is June mother nature! It was unseasonably cold. It was wet. And I had only one pair of jeans. My host wound up lending me a jacket to use during my stay. I still froze.

Hello beautiful. It's really hard to take a bad photo of Paris.

Hello beautiful. It’s really hard to take a bad photo of Paris.

But back to my first day. When I got to Gare du Nord (one of several big train stations in Paris,) I wandered around aimlessly for a little while before I found a manned ticket booth to buy a 3-day three-zone visite metro pass. Basically, for €27 I had unlimited use of the metro. I recommend this. It was highly useful.

I wasn’t meeting my host until later in the evening, as she had to work, so I had to figure out what to do for the day, and what to do with my backpack. I chose to head to the Louvre. Seemed sensible enough, right? To my surprise, the Louvre offers free bag storage – a service for its patrons. I checked my backpack in and wandered casually through the museum, having skipped breakfast. The museum is huge, though. There was no way I could get through it all, especially with my bum foot. It’s just massive! But I saw a lot of the Egyptian artifacts – which was heaven for me (and really I could’ve just stopped right there as that was like gold,) hordes of statues, some Monets and Renoirs (though most of the painting by these artists are at another museum,) Degas’ and Michelangelos, the Mona Lisa and numerous other paintings. My inner nerd could no longer be contained.

I'm not sure of this guy's name, but that's a really mummy right there.

I’m not sure of this guy’s name, but that’s a real mummy right there.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze - Fear, Expression Head

Jean-Baptiste Greuze – Fear, Expression Head

Da Vinci. La Belle Ferronnière

Da Vinci. La Belle Ferronnière

This is the statue courtyard. Yup. Not too shabby.

This is the statue courtyard. Yup. Not too shabby. There’s a whole wing dedicated to more of these.

I loved the Louvre. But I could only make it four hours. And then the hunger pangs hit. The only food spot in the museum is freakishly expensive (I wonder why?) so I decided it was time to leave and get some French food in my belly.

I bought M&Ms. Seriously. I’m beginning to think something is wrong with me.

I met my host at Saint Lazare train station after she finished work. She lives in Nanterre, a suburb to the west of Paris. Here’s the thing. Paris really isn’t that big. It may have a population of 2.2 million, but everything is easily reachable.  And if you got good feet it’s easy to walk between many of the attractions. I walked a bit, but let’s not do anything too crazy.

That evening I went to her band rehearsal (think orchestra) and wondered why I don’t play music anymore. Music would be a recurring theme for me during my time in Paris.

The next day I went downtown and saw Notre Dame Cathedral. Entrance is free and luckily for me, it was raining, which meant shorter lines than usual. I wandered through the cathedral admiring the impressive stained glass windows, arches and vaulted nave. I’m not really a church person, and I nearly died of temple-exposure in SE Asia, but Notre Dame was impressive.

I found that beggars in Paris will give a speech about their hard luck in order to appeal to bleeding hearts. This is a strange thing that befuddled me. And when the dude came on the train playing the accordion I had to admit that Paris was ripe with culture. I think he wanted money too.

I went to the Catacombs, but the line was so long that I decided to defer that visit until the next day. And it was too cold to watch other people sip their hot coffees that their friend went and got from the bakery across the way while the other held their place in line. Apparently the rain doesn’t stop people from wanting to see bones.

I had been dreaming about seeing the Eiffel Tower for years, and I couldn’t believe that I continued to put it off. My plan was to have a picnic on the grass below it. Me and my host, Madeleine, were going to do this on my last day in Paris. That was the plan. The weather, however, would curb these plans. So I figured it would be best to not wait any longer and visit this famous landmark. When I rounded the corner from the metro station and the Eiffel Tower came into view, I can’t deny that the hugest smile came across my face. There it was towering over the Parisian skyline like the majestic wrought-iron piece of history it is (though it’s made of puddled iron.) I made it. I finally saw the Eiffel Tower. I finally knocked it off my bucket list. Even the rain couldn’t ruin this moment for me.

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Hello? Anyone? Where is everyone?

Hello? Anyone? Where is everyone?

The view is great from up here.

The view is great from up here.

The rain actually helped make the experience a little more special as it seems to encourage tourists to do indoor activities. I took a few photos and decided I had to climb. I paid €5 to allow myself the privilege of hiking the steps up to the second level. My foot loved this. The first level was basically empty. I think I saw only 10 other people. It was on the second level that I found where the people were hiding. They were queued up to go to the very top level. Only an elevator goes this distance. I didn’t want to pay any more money, and I didn’t want to wait in the drastically long line, so my experience of the Eiffel Tower is limited to the second level, but I’m not complaining. Paris is gorgeous.

I wandered over a few metro stops for a quick view of the Arc de Triomphe before meeting Madeleine for dinner. We headed on the train to Montmartre, a famous area of the city known for Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge. We found a little joint, Les Canons, that Madeleine had remembered from a previous outing and went in to have drink before getting dinner. What we learned was it was the bar’s last night (sort of) so the owner was serving tons of food and there were live musicians and an impromptu party kind of unfolded. More musicians. I’m not sure what time we got home. But we didn’t get dinner.

The party went out into the street. Au revoir Les Canons

The party went out into the street. And there was a slide show of the bar’s patrons. Au revoir Les Canons

The events of the prior evening ensured I got to the Catacombs a little bit late – which meant the long was really long. I waited for 2hr 15mins to get into these underground passages. At least it was much warmer. Entrance is €8 and for an extra €3 you can get an audio guide. I chose this method. So down a bunch of stairs I go into only a small section of the bizarre network of tunnels beneath Paris. What can I say? There’s a lot of bones. Lots and lots. The bones of six or seven million people by some estimates. I had this weird feeling, not eerie or anything supernatural, or even anything spooky, but this feeling of detachment. Like it no longer mattered. Is that cruel? Only 300,000 people visit these tunnels each year, and yet it still felt a bit like a carnival ride. I got the sense that it wasn’t sacred anymore. Such a pity.

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So someone was thinking – hey, why should we just stack these bones? We can do art.

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And this person was like – I like neat lines.

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I met up with Madeleine and she took me on a walking tour of Montmartre. We saw Sacre Coeur, had a cheese board, and went down beautiful old streets. Montmartre was once home to many artists, but now the rent has gone up and only the rich live here. We did run into people with guitars again, though. Next we went past the textile district, walked along the canal, through a park and took a scenic bus ride. We met up with some of her friends to watch a circus. A real honest-to-goodness circus – Circo Zoé at the Big Top. It was amazing. By far the most spectacular part of my visit to Paris. Ok, the Eiffel Tower was the best part, but this circus was magical.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

A busy tourist street in Montmartre.

A busy tourist street in Montmartre.

That's a windmill. Yup. Notice there's not so many people in this apparently not so touristy area of Montmartre.

That’s a windmill. Yup. Notice there’s not so many people in this apparently not so touristy area of Montmartre.

Walking along the canal.

Walking along the canal.

At the circus!

At the circus!

Stinky French cheese. I love it.

Stinky French cheese. I love it.

The following day I had to leave. But first I went and watched Madeleine’s orchestra (she plays the trombone) perform at a ceremony honouring the resistance or rebels or something like that. It was all French to me. More music. As it ended we went to the market, got some lunch, I bought some French cheese for my friends in London and I headed on my way towards the bus station, Gallieni, on the east side of Paris. It took less than hour to get there – and that’s only because I got on the wrong subway and then found out the interchange I wanted to switch lines at was closed. That sucked. Three days is not long enough to see Paris. While hotels and hostels are expensive, the food is reasonable and the incredible metro system will get you anywhere. Just get a pass.

But so one €49 bus ticket later I’m on a Eurolines coach heading to London, through the chunnel. Why didn’t I take a train? Because it’s twice as expensive. Faster. Much faster. But I’m cheap and I had seven hours to kill. Anyway. London’s calling.

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