Well, the deed’s been done. The number one “must see” thing for visitors to France can now
be checked off my list. We made it to our train about 15 minutes before it left and I was extremely stressed out. I hadn’t been on a train since I was about 8 years old so I really didn’t know what all went into the process of taking a train. It turned out to be extremely simple. No security. No ticket checks. No seat assignments. It should have been an easy process but Annie still had to deal with me worrying that we would be separated on the train or that our bags would be too big or we would get off at the wrong stop…etc. Luckily for her, it was still super early in the morning so I passed out pretty quickly and didn’t wake up again until we were there.
Once we got out of the train and onto the street, it was time to figure out how to find our hostel. We knew the name of the street and we had the small map that my french sister had printed for me, but we still had to ask a nearby merchant to get started in the right direction. It turned out to be pretty easy to find but we weren’t allowed to go into our rooms until after 4 pm and it was only 10 am at this point.
We got sent to the “luggage room” where we could store our bags until the rooms opened up.
When we opened up the door to this room, we found a set of stone steps that led down into a damp smelling area that looked like a cross between a dungeon and a cave. It was pretty gross but we didn’t want to haul our luggage around Paris for the next 6 hours so we did what we had to do and then we were back out in the street, ready to start exploring.
One of Annie’s friends, Anahi, is studying in Barcelona for the semester and flew to Paris for the weekend to meet us there. They had previously decided to meet at the hostel and she wasn’t there yet so Annie and I hung out outside the hostel for a bit before we realized it might be a while and we ought to try to find somewhere closeby where we could sit.
Luckily, the weather was gorgeous and there was a nearby cafe with outside seating where we could still see the hostel, so we grabbed a table and ordered coffee. Since there was still
no sign of them around noon, we decided we would go ahead and order lunch there. Right after the food came out, Annie saw her friend walking down the street with two other girls in her program. They decided to join us at the restaurant so we ended up sitting out there for several hours. It was such nice weather and a great change from the cloudy city that is Lyon.
After lunch, we decided we would walk to Notre Dame which was about half of an hour away. On the way there, we stopped in a few stores and took all of the touristy photos of the beautiful old architecture that lined the streets of the city. It seemed like every time we turned a corner, there was another massive important building with arches and stained glass windows. Walking over the bridges was also a treat, seeing as the river was filled with picturesque little restaurants on the top decks of boats and couples sitting with their legs dangling over the water as they shared a bottle of wine. Absolutely stunning.
Just after we crossed the last bridge closest to Notre Dame, we ran into another group of girls from UVA who had flown into Paris from Valencia for the weekend. It is such a strange experience to run into someone you know when you are over 4,000 miles away from home, but we were excited to see them and to find out that they, too, were headed to Notre Dame.
We all walked over together and took pictures in front of the Cathedral. Of course we got a
few with our arms up spelling UVA in an attempt to make it onto the “week in photos” on the UVA website. Onlookers stared and tried to guess what we were trying to spell and the closest I heard was “UUA” but hey, you win some you lose some; it’s hard to make a V.
Inside, the Cathedral was filled with intricate stained glass windows, hundreds of lit candles, and rows and rows of empty pews. I have to say that although I was thoroughly impressed by the outside architecture of the building, I did not enjoy the inside of Notre Dame as much as the inside of the Basilica in Lyon. It had a lot to do with all of the tourists and talking and flashing cameras I think. There’s a lot to be said for sitting in silence in a beautiful Cathedral, but you just can’t do that in Notre Dame.
Once we had gotten our fill of French Catholic history, Annie suggested that we walk to a
bookstore nearby that she had visited the last time she was in Paris. The outside was adorable and had three chalkboards with a short poetic history of the store and note from the owner. I could already tell I was going to like this place but when we entered, my expectations were instantly exceeded. Every wall was lined, top to bottom, with books. The people who worked in the store were climbing up ladders to reach top shelf books for their customers and it looked like a scene from Beauty and the Beast. I thought it couldn’t get any better but then Annie revealed the fact that the upstairs was even better. We walked up the narrow wooded stairs, once again, lined with stacks of books and stared at the walls where there were simple portraits painted of famous authors. Upstairs there was a small seating area behind curtains where
you could write a note or poem and pin it to their wall. When we walked into the next room, we found that the music that had been playing throughout our visit here was actually just a very talented customer using the upstairs piano, situated by a bed with velvet covers, surrounded by very old classic french novels. The store was unreal and I did not want to leave but then I remembered that we were in Paris and of course we should be out in the streets drooling over French fashion and food.
Annnd that’s just what we did. We made our way over to the “Latin Corner” and found a delicious crepe place where each of us bought ourselves a parisien treat and then headed back to the hostel to get showered and changed for dinner.
We pulled all of our luggage out of the dungeon and headed up to our assigned rooms. Unfortunately, they only had one and two person rooms available and the one person rooms were expensive so I had to book with a rando since Annie and Anahi were staying together. Since I had never stayed in a hostel before, I had no idea what to expect and I was a little weirded out at the prospect of sleeping in the same room as a stranger but luckily when I brought my baggage into the room, it was empty so I wouldn’t have to deal with it for a little bit.
The room was actually pretty nice. It was very clean and had one bunk bed, a sink and
shower, desk, chair, and set of shelves. The bathroom was right next door and that was all very clean too so I was relieved, considering the horror stories that get told about hostels. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought about the fact that I would need to bring my own towel so I didn’t really have the option of using the shower.
Once I had checked out the room, I took the elevator up to see Annie and Anahi and to start making steps towards finding dinner. The three of us walked along the street next to our hostel and critiqued the different restaurants based price, food choice, and view before we finally settled on a small restaurant featuring lots of pastas, yum. I have become progressively more and more obsessed with seafood here and ordered a shrimp pesto dish which came out with large shrimp that had to be shelled at the table. They brought out warm lemon water to rinse your hands in afterwards and then we dug in. The white wine, seafood, pasta, I don’t know what was the best but we had scraped our plates clean by the end of the meal and had already fallen in love with Paris.
Since dinner was not exactly cheap, we decided to make up for it by investing in a convenience store bottle next, instead of worrying about going to a bar. We sat ourselves on a bench in the center of Bastille and discussed our weekend plans and items on the agenda. Just within the 30 minutes that we were there, several suspicious looking guys walked up and got in our faces trying to talk to us. I am already extremely paranoid that I am going to get pick- pocketed so I am sure I looked horror stricken and they realized that we were not french so they started testing what other sorts of languages we might know. They spoke to us in spanish and english before finally giving up as we just sat there and shook our heads. It was a little intimidating for the first night out and since we had ended up going to dinner very late, it was already pushing 12 so we headed back to the hostel in hopes of getting in a good amount of sleep before the busy day we had planned for Saturday. When we got back to the hostel, my roommate still wasn’t there so i just claimed the bottom bunk for myself, laid out my outfit for the next day, and set an early alarm.
The next morning, when I woke up, I saw that my roommate had arrived at some point during the night, although I do not remember waking up and I have no idea how she got in because I (supposedly) had the only key. As I got dressed, all I could see was the back of her head, covered by a white-blonde bowl cut. She never stirred so by the time I left that room, I still had no idea who I slept in that room with that night….so weird.
I headed upstairs and woke up Annie and Anahi and then we got ready to leave for the day. Since we would not be able to return to the hostel until after 4 pm, we had to make sure we had every thing with us for the day. The night before, we had planned to pick up baguettes, wine, cheese, and fruit so that we could have a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We bypassed the free breakfast at the hostel because the line was almost out the door and instead, we went to a nearby cafe and got chocolate croissants and coffee. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get home and can’t have fresh chocolate croissants whenever I want…They are crazy addicting and Greenberry’s just won’t cut it.
Sadly, when we came outside from breakfast, we realized it was definitely not going to be picnic weather and we headed back to the hostel to grab our raincoats before we got locked out for the day. While the walk to Notredame had been gorgeous, the day before, walking to the Eiffel Tower didn’t seem like a smart idea considering the weather. We hopped on the metro and then a train and made it there in less than 25 minutes. I was extremely paranoid about my purse the entire ride and kept eyeing anyone suspicious looking and gripping my purse until my knuckles turned white. Since my mom got pick-pocketed the last time I went to the Eiffel Tower (ten years ago), I have convinced myself that everyone in that area is trying to rob you blind.
In either case, we made it there with all belongings in tact and starting taking all of the necessary pictures. “Ill take a picture of yall if you take a picture of us!,” seemed to be the popular phrase of the tourist-crowded area. I feel like I heard more English than French while walking around there and street vendors walk around selling lighters and keychains for almost nothing. The line was pretty long to go up the tower and signs were flashing with 45-50 minute wait times at the halfway mark, so we decided it wasn’t worth it and starting searching for a place to eat.
Since Annie was in Paris for a week last summer, she knew of a few places in the area that we might like to see. We walked for about 15 minutes before we got to her favorite macaroon place, which also served lunch so we decided to get it all at once. One of the sandwiches they had was a “hot dog baguette,”
which is a full size baguette with a foot long hotdog in it, covered in melted cheese. It doesn’t look that great behind the case but a friend of mine had previously recommended it to me so I couldn’t leave Paris without trying it. Annie and I both got ourselves the strange phenomenon and then a pistachio macaroon to follow and we left in search of a spot to picnic.
It had stopped raining at this point, so we sat ourselves down on a couple park benches near the macaroon store and ate our lunch outside. After one bite of that baguette hotdog, I was glad I listened to his recommendation and I have to pass it on. If you are ever in Paris….you gotta try it. It was delicious, hot, cheesy goodness and I finished the whole thing in no time. Then we moved on to the macaroons which were unbelievable and I will be sad to leave this country, if for no other reason than losing the ability to buy those.
It was starting to get chilly so we went into the mall we had noticed on the way up and found a really nice H&M. Shopping is so different here. For one thing, it’s way more expensive. But also, chain stores don’t always have the same selection and H&M doesn’t look anything like it does in the US. It is also one of the least expensive stores that I have found here and so I spend a large portion of my time browsing there, knowing that I won’t just have to drool over things, knowing they would never be a possible purchase.
When we had gotten our fill of shopping there, we wandered in and out of boutiques down this road until we got to the end. We walked up a hill to get to
the ledge that tourists usually go to to get a picture with the Eiffel Tower. When you are up really close to it, most pictures are from a very unflattering angle if you try to fit the tower in, but from this view, you could see everything all in one. Of course we did the photo exchange again with a family that was visiting France from California.
That was about all there was to do on a rainy day at the Eiffel Tower so we decided to move on to the next item on the list: The Louvre. The day before, we had spoken with the other girls from UVA and they were headed to the Louvre after Notredame because it was free for students after 6pm. We wanted to get in on this too so we dawdled around, stopping in pet stores and staring at puppies, sticking our fingers in the cages when the owners weren’t looking, and finally ended up outside the Louvre around 5:15. It was a little early but we had to go to the bathroom so we figured we would go ahead and search for that and then check in with someone at 6 to get our discount. After stopping outside the glass pyramid entrance and taking a few photos, we headed down into the main ticket area. People were all over the place and a woman at the bottom of
the escalator staring pointing us in the direction of the theater. I tried to tell her that we actually wanted to go to the exhibits but she wasn’t listening so I went over to the main information counter. The security guard informed me that that student discount is only for Fridays and that for Saturdays, the museum closed at 5:30. So basically, we had wasted all of our time all day so that we could get there in time to miss everything…wonderful.
Even though we were mad that we had gotten the time messed up, we realized we could still fit in one more monument before the night was over. While we were over by the eiffel tower, we had not gone to see L’Arc de Triomphe, which
is pretty close by so we decided to head back to that area. We got off the subway at Champs-Élysées and started walking down the long strip of high-fashion stores to get to the Arc several blocks down. We passed huge designer stores as well as car dealerships with cars that looked nothing like what you see in the US. They were very futuristic and they even displayed cars on the walls… it was an odd sight.
Of course, we looked at menus the whole way down the avenue and on this night in particular, we were on a mission to get french cuisine. We found a few spots that offered frog legs or escargots but we didn’t want to make any decisions about dinner until after we got pictures by L’Arc de Triomphe.
By the time we got down there and finished seeing what there was to see, we
had decided that the entire road was pretty overpriced, just because it was a tourist hotspot, and we would be better off to try to find somewhere closer to the hostel. We metro-ed back to the Bastille area and quickly found a cute place with live music annnd escargot. What could be better?
For dining, the seating was mainly large circular booths and the waitress just pointed at a table that was already occupied by three other people and told us to go sit there as well. This was slightly intimidating at first but they turned out to be really nice, even going as far as offering us a taste of their food when theirs came out before ours. We also got to sit super close to
the singer, who was very talented and sang classical french music for about an hour of hour dinner. The whole place was really charming. And for the big news: We tried escargots! It was very weird looking at first since it is served in the shell and you have to pull it out with a thin fork but then you just plop it on a small piece of bread and eat it all at once!
Surprisingly, no one disliked it. It tasted a lot like garlic, as we had previously heard, but the texture wasn’t at all slimy like I had expected. Since I had ordered the dish, I ate four of them and each of the other two girls tried one. They really aren’t anything special. I’m glad we tried the dish since France is known for it but it probably isn’t something I’d order again due to a craving or anything… Looks like it’s just frog legs left and then I will have lived up to the name of my blog!
After dinner, we got in touch with the other girls from UVA, that we had seen outside of Notredame, and they told us that they were going to a bar on Champs-Élysées. Of course, we ended up right where we had started just a few hours before. Since we knew the name of the bar, we asked some girls in the metro if they could point us in the right direction and we found it pretty quickly. Unfortunately there was a 20 euro cover charge which comes out to like $26.00…totally not worth it. We all agreed that we weren’t willing to spend that and instead we bought ourselves a bottle of wine and decided we would go upstairs in McDonalds and drink wine and eat fries. Yum.
We got kicked out of Mickey D’s pretty quickly because it was closing time at this point and we didn’t really have anything else to do so we headed back for the metro. When we got there, it, too, was closed. Soo we were stuck on Champs-Élysées, which is about a 45 minute walk (if not more) from Bastille. We stared at the bus maps for a little bit and tried to figure out if we would be able to use those but it ended up being too complex and we had to call a cab.
Apparently in France, cab drivers don’t care if they already have passengers and so one stopped for us, with another passenger inside, and told us to get in, without caring that we were not going anywhere near where the other girl was. After he dropped her off, he ended up adding more fees on top of the cab since she had been in there originally, making it more than three people. All around, it was an expensive night, despite the fact that it really wasn’t all that eventful….
The next morning the alarm went off at 8:15 and I trudged up the stairs to wake up the sleeping beauties in their double. We got dressed and ready for a day of museums. Putting on our boots was a painful process. After two days of walking around non stop in the same pair of boots, my feet felt like they were going to fall off. Sunday morning, I almost wanted to vocally apologize for the ongoing torture but we didn’t have a choice and a day of museum hopping isn’t exactly forgiving for sore feet.
After coffees and croissants, we got on the metro and were at the Louvre in less than 15. There was no way we were going to show up late in the day and take the risk of missing some of the exhibits so it was the first stop of the day. We looked over the map that showed the layout of the museum and didn’t even know where to begin. I hadn’t been there since I was about 10 years old and I only remembered one thing in the whole place. They had a real, life size,
mummy, that had scared me to death at the time but I also figured if I could still picture it 10 years later, it was probably pretty sweet. So we made a note to hit up the “Ancient Egypt” section. Aside from that, we obviously wanted to see the Mona Lisa and that was really all we had figured out…So the rest of our visit ended up being just whatever we happened to see while we searched for those two things.
We walked through sections of statues from ancient greece, replicas of medieval dungeons, and finally made it to the ancient egypt section. After the sphinxs and tombs and stone tablets, we found the mummy. It was awesome and soo interesting to read about. Once I had satisfied that curiosity, we were ready to find La Joconde so we started towards the 16th century Italian art.
I have to say that we were pretty disappointed when we saw it. Everyone says that it is tiny and it’s really not all that small. It was also behind a thick glass covering and velvet ropes kept you from getting closer than 8 ft away so there really wasn’t much to see. I was thoroughly impressed with so many other paintings that I just didn’t understand why that one was such a big deal. In either case, that concluded our trip to the Louvre and we left for Musée D’Orsay, not far away.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in Musée D’Orsay but it was incredible. I got to see so many paintings that I had previously studied in art or art history classes. They had a large impressionists exhibit that featured mainly Van
Gogh and Gauguin and we got to see some of there most famous works. We were so sad that we could only stay for an hour or two because we ended up enjoying this museum a lot more than the Louvre. I could barely believe that I was walking through an exhibit where I could look to the left and see an original Monet and then on the right, a Degas. It was an amazing experience and made me feel veryyy discouraged about my own art because these painters were unbelievable.
Since our feet were once again hating us, we decided to go sit in a cafe and give ourselves a little break to recover. We all ordered coffees and just sat and talked for a little over an hour. Although the waiter was clearly hinting that he wanted us to leave or order something else (he first brought the check then kept coming to see if we were ready to pay), we stuck it out for the benefit of our aching heels. By the time we left, we just wanted to get a quick dinner and crawl into bed. We all agreed that it wasn’t worth it to try to go out since we had class the next day and had to catch early trains and planes back home.
We ate sushi, soup, eggrolls, and dumplings and then decided we ought to finish it off with crèpes. Both of the previous days that we had been in Paris, we had gone to crepe places and been able to get a wide variety of selections including chocolate or nutella. For some strange reason, I cannot stand nutella but it is reallyy popular over here and most Americans love it too. Both Annie and Anahi ordered that but I went for the chocolate. The guy poured some kind of suspicious looking syrup into mine instead of melting dark chocolate chunks like most vendors do and after one bite, I knew I didn’t want any more. We all agreed that it tasted like hot, watery bananas, but I couldn’t kick the craving!
Since there were several other crepe places along the strip, we went to all of
them and asked whether they had chocolate crepes with solid chocolate. Not a single one did! Some didn’t have bananas but mostly all of them had that weird syrup. One of the vendors offered to run next door and buy bananas, but we told him not to worry about it and we kept walking. Shortly after, I felt a hand on my shoulder and found that he had run down the street after us and wanted us to follow him to another location to get bananas..”Just a short 15 minute walk”…I think not.
People were starting to get really creepy right around this time and it was only 9:00! One guy reached out and grabbed Anahi and started making weird noises so we hurried away from that area pretty quick. On the walk home, we passed a woman loudly talking to herself in the streets and we realized it was hightime that we got back to the hostel and then home to our normal little cities.
That night, I was assigned another double room but when Annie came to wake me up in the morning, we realized that no one had ever showed up. I guess that wasn’t a very normal hostel experience but I will have another chance to see what they are like in a week or so when we go to Nice.
We ate breakfast at the hostel, a baguette with a bowl of jelly and a free cup of coffee. Then we headed to the train station. We didn’t want to sit separately on the train but our seats were not in the same car so we decided to just sit in my assigned seat and hope no one showed up to take the seat beside me. We found the car and took our seats and then, about 15 minutes before departure, the car filled up with a large group of students and some of them couldn’t find seats. Apparently, I had misread my ticket so neither of us ended up in our assigned seat and we had stolen the seats of a few architecture students.
This ended up creating an extremely amusing train ride because it was just Annie and me surrounded by all of these students who knew each other and we were sitting in the type of seats where you had to face the other passengers and there was a table in between. Luckily, one of the students was very friendly and spoke really good English so he filled us in on what all of the other students were talking about and offered for us to come with them and become architects. The whole group was super friendly and it made for a great train ride.
All in all, Paris was great. It was beautiful and exciting, but too expensive for my taste. Most of the streets looked a lot like Lyon but everything was about 15% more expensive. I also didn’t like how many tourists there were there… I mean, I know that we were tourists too but it’s nice not to have that in Lyon. We get to live in a major city without running into all of the tourist traffic everyday. I had a great weekend and I will be glad to go back in a few weeks during our spring break! Missing everyone tons! Love from Lyon!