I wanted (when I originally planned this trip) to have long rural stays to hopefully learn about sustainable living interspersed with short urban stays to go out, be a tourist, and experience foreign city life. So far this trip has sort of taken on a life of its own which has been a pleasant surprise.
For our final days in London Caroline and I:
Met up and ate lunch with a couple friends who live there now,
Watched the changing of the guards (which was really busy and kind of anti-climactic),
Went to the Tower of London (Where we saw the flamboyant Crown Jewels, a torture chamber, and an almost funny reenactment)
Went to the Tate Modern Museum,
Tried go to the Globe theater (but it was closed),
Ate kidney pie,
Went to Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (which is the oldest pub in London that has low ceilings, small winding hallways and makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Apparently a lot of famous authors have written about and frequented this pub including Mark Twain..),
Saw an Ai Wei Wei exhibit (which may have been my favorite experience in London actually).
All in all it felt as though we barely had enough time to scratch the surface of everything there was to do in London, but I think we did okay.
We woke up early and headed to the bus station to take our bus to Paris. You heard me right. A bus. Despite making it there pretty much just in time, we couldn’t get our tickets fast enough to catch the first bus. Which is mostly my fault because we bought them online and (when I’m not buying shoes) the Internet is just a confusing place to me.. Either way (if I remember correctly) we left for the bus station at seven and boarded the bus at like 10:30. A couple hours into our ride we went through a passport check where I again did not get a stamp. Damn Schengen Agreement.
Gimme my passport stamps Europe!
Then after a delay the double decker bus boarded a train which took us across the English Channel. I didn’t know buses took trains.. It was weird. There was again a delay on the train due to a group of Syrian refugees trying to break in somewhere near the train track or border. Which made me feel really guilty, because let’s be honest they have more of a need/right to be entering the country then I do. Then we road all the way to Paris. We arrived in Paris by like 9:30. Had to find the subway. Had to take the subway from the heart of Paris to Montmartre. Basically by the time we arrived at our AirBNB it was almost 11:00 and we had racked up a fifty euro late fee and were starving. Luckily Montmarte never sleeps so we found an Argentinian restaurant across the street to get a few 3€ empanadas. After we eat, we pull out our sofa bed and sleep like the dead.
The next day we explore our neighborhood. We are right below the Sacré-Cœur, in Montmartre, in an extremely diverse artist district with a lot of African, Indian, French restaurants and shoppes with ornate window displays and colorful people. We buy produce at a small produce stand where we continue to buy at least one item a day the entire time we are there. The man who owns this stand does not speak English but is helpful and very kind. He takes a picture of Caroline’s hair and always smiles and waves when we walk by. We buy baguettes and “petit pain au lait” from the bakeries when we need bread. We never buy meat but there are plenty of “boucheries” near by.
I have been d r e a m i n g about, researching, just plain dying over all the soft stinky illegal cheeses I never thought I’d actually get to taste. So of course every time I pass a fromagerie I want to stop to at least browse. I had/have a list of about twenty cheeses I want to try before I die (because I’m cool and have a thriving social life filled with lots of dates and friends). I at least wanted to try five of these while in France.
Some of the cheeses on my lists are classics, some just sound amazing, and some of the especially smelly cheeses with maggots in them and such are on the list purely for adventure purposes.
By the time I leave Paris I have tried four.
Wine is also everywhere and extremely inexpensive. Like literally everywhere. Every market, restaurant, magazine stop.. There are even people peddling it in parks and outside the Eiffel Tower. You can get a bottle as cheap as 3.50€ and a decent bottle for 7€ to 20€. A city where the primary diet of the people that live there is wine, bread, and cheese? I must be in heaven. I don’t understand how all the Parisian women AND men I see are so impossibly skinny.. Must be all the walking.. And portion control maybe?
It is interesting to me that the stereotype of French people is that they are very impatient and rude toward Americans (now I don’t speak any French so who knows what they are saying behind my back) because everyone that we have encountered has been respectful and patient with us. Even with our horribly broken memorized French phrases, loud laughter, and general American-ness. If I go to a place once generally the person who helps me will always acknowledge me if I see him/her again. If people can’t speak English they generally try to communicate with you in Spanish or ask someone to help them translate instead of turning you away. The French are nice. They are just not sugary sweet. They don’t force a smile every time you make eye contact or baby talk you. Because we’re all adults. We shouldn’t need that much reassurance from strangers.
Caroline and I do not make it to all the tourist destinations we have planned for Paris.. Actually not even close. We never go to the Louvre, we never tour Versailles, I never see the Musée d’Orsay or climb the Arc de Triomphe. The weird thing about Paris is we both just sort of want to live here while we’re here. It’s fun enough to take the metro to different stations and to walk down different streets and to just.. Be in Paris.
Paris is the perfect place to get lost.
You could be walking down the most typical touristic street, turn a corner and suddenly be in a whole other world. That’s why even though there are cigarette butts and graffiti everywhere (and a constant stench of urine in every metro station) you still somehow get a sense of adventure and romance everywhere you go. In Paris you get the feeling that anything is possible, more than New York, more than London though I don’t rationally know why. It’s just Paris. It could very well be the cheap wine that incites the emotion but whatever.
Sunday night we go to the Eiffel Tower. It is funny because this is the first time I really realize that I am actually in Paris. We haggle down the price of champagne from a peddler and from plastic cups we cheers to at least making it this far. We get a little mixed up on the train home but it ends up being fine. Obviously. Walking around alone at one am is not as scary in Europe as it is in the States (maybe this is due to the lovely gun control laws here).
The next day it rains.
The whole damn day.
I buy a cheap umbrella and Caroline finds a chocolatier. We try to go to Versailles but end up going the wrong way and won’t have time to see everything by the time we get proper directions. So we go to Notre Dame instead. It is really beautiful and again feels sort of surreal.
That night we decide to go out and try to make new friends.. Or at the very least dance a little. We look up fun Parisian night clubs and choose one with in walking distance from our flat. It is closed. We are right by the Moulin Rouge, but that is too expensive for us so we go to a bar with a lot of people outside on a nearby corner. We order a beer. Sit down and immediately make friends. They are two guys and two girls all friends since childhood, all born and raised in Paris. They are celebrating a 26th birthday. They buy us drinks. They are loud, friendly, and absolutely hilarious. They speak very broken English and most of our communication is through hand gestures and simple words. We tell them we want to dance and when they ask what kind of music we like we say hip-hop and they think this is hilarious. They all kiss each other (and us) on the cheek a lot which is also funny to me. The next thing I know, the bar is closing and they are leading me and Caroline down the street to a corner store where they buy a small bottle of vodka, red bull, and cigarettes (because everyone smokes in Paris). They all take a shot out of the bottle of vodka then pour the red bull directly into it. The girl asks Caroline if she will put it in her bag and then says “..nevermind I will put in my crotch” And she literally sticks the bottle down her pants. Then we all hold hands and literally skip to a near by building with two huge bouncers outside. They talk for a moment as the bouncers seem to almost not let us in… Which is funny, because when we go in their is literally not one person inside. It is incredibly dark with vintage furniture, human sized birdcages with lounge chairs in them, and lots of colorful flashing lights everywhere. There is a completely glass smoking room near the bar. And a very concentrated DJ.
“Paris is very expensive, never buy drinks at club.” The taller girl says pulling the vodka/red bull out of her pants and passing it to me. Okay so our new friends are a little crazy but we love them. The music is French electro-pop mixed with bits of early 90’s hip-hop and we danced for hours. I don’t know when it happened, but the next thing I know the once empty club is now full of hip looking people all about my age. They are jumping up and down with unrelenting energy and I cannot keep up. I don’t understand where all this energy is coming from until I go into the smoke room where a lot of younger people are doing cocaine. Oooooh, okay.
Finally at 4AM it is time to go and Caroline and I exchange numbers and Facebooks with our new friends. “I am nice, if you need anything but not too nice!” The taller girl says typing her number into my phone. Did I mention that they all had to work in less than four hours? As Caroline and I walk home a smart car taxi stops in the middle of the street beside us. “Want a ride?” Our new friends yell as they literally hang out the windows all sitting in each others laps. When we decline in a fit of laughter, there were kisses blown and they were gone.
The next day.. Or I guess later that same day technically:
Caroline and I wake up early feeling wonderful.
We woke up late feeling like shit, but it had been worth it.
We try to go to the Catacombs but the line is sooo long and we do not feel like waiting. We meet up with a super fabulous friend/sister-of-a-friend from home whom has lived in Paris for like four years, and abroad for like seven. We meet in her district (which is very chic) and she takes us to a really cool place where we have a glass of wine and share stories. Now this girl has some absolutely hilarious travel stories and has been absolutely everywhere. She shows us a fountain where the graffiti from the Charlie Hebdo manifestations has been purposefully left in memoriam. Also on this fountain is a small memorial from where a man fell from the top of the fountain during a more recent manifestation. Caroline and I luckily catch the very last metro “home” and vow to see the catacombs the next day.
Which we do. The line is much shorter and within an hour we are walking down a narrow spiral staircase to the impossibly deep underground tunnels of the catacombs. It is dark and damp and chilling to be in a place so old and of course to be surrounded by literally millions of Parisian remains. It actually amazes me that this is a legal tourist attraction. Seeing people take selfies with the bones of people dating back to the 1700’s is a weird thing to experience and it really makes you think about what it is to be a human. The air is a little thin down there and it can be a bit claustrophobic as well so we walked the gated underground path pretty quickly. When we walked back up the stone stairs to street level we were in a whole other area which was also crazy. To realize that while you are walking among the cafes and the flower shops of above ground Paris, there is a dark damp scary dead Paris below you.
After eating some questionable Chinese, we head back to our district and for the first time actually venture up the stairs of the Sacré-Cœur to witness the beautiful historical building up close and also the most amazing view of the whole of Paris.
This was our last night in the AirBNB and Caroline was set to head to Germany in the morning. I was originally supposed to go to Italy, but decided upon my arrival in Paris that I needed more time in France. So I cancelled my future Italy volunteer job and set out to find another one preferably in the French country side. I sent out new requests everyday. By our fifth day in Paris I start to get nervous. What am I going to do if I don’t find a host? I used to joke that I didn’t care what it took, I would be homeless if I had to just as long as I was homeless in Paris. I didn’t really want to test this theory in real life, so I signed up for couch surfing in the meantime. After several confusing exchanges with several different hosts, I lucked out at the last minute and found a volunteer job at a self-sustaining vegetarian hotel in Normandy(!)
..because the *~u N i V e R s E~* and stuff..
The minimum stay is four weeks, which is fine. I’ve got nowhere to be. And I can leave for their place on Friday. Perfect.
The next morning we wake up early and I realize that Caroline is leaving.. The country. And I will be alone in a place I hardly know where I don’t speak the language without my familiar English speaking companion. Whelp, It’s officially time to learn some damn French. After we hug goodbye, I find and reserve a place in a hostel online and pack up my things. At eleven o’clock I bid our Parisian apartment goodbye and screenshot the directions to the hostel on my phone. I then get really lost. I ask two different people at two different tourist shops for directions because I assume they will speak English. They don’t and they are nice but not helpful. I try to ask a sassy police officer who literally gives me the hand and continues to walk down the strip assigning parking tickets. I try to ask a woman police officer who barks something at me and also walks away. Note to self: Parisian police officers don’t like to be bothered. Hope I don’t get mugged. I finally get good directions from a waiter (in French) and Google translate the words I could make out and magically find my hostel an hour and a half later. I go in and the receptionist-man-person is super cute and very friendly. I am so excited to take off my backpack. He cannot find my reservation at first and then realizes that this is a simple mistake. My simple mistake. I accidentally somehow made my reservation at a completely different hostel all the way across the city. And he informs me that it is too late to cancel because I will definitely be charged. I do not get to take my backpack off. He gives me simple directions to the nearest metro and I walk there. For some reason my tickets aren’t working even though they are new and unmarked. There is only a machine to add money to a metro card and no ticket machine. There is also not a map like there usually is in subway stations so I pull out the map of Paris app on my phone and try to figure out where another station is. I know that my generation is entirely too addicted to their smart phones and I don’t think that this is a good thing but today…I am so grateful for my overpriced soul-sucking iPhone6 and I don’t care who knows it.
Sooo.. I walk to where I think another metro station is. It is a bus station. I walk and walk until I do make it to another metro station. My ticket is again declined and again there are no cash accepting ticket machines. I am so confused. I consult my map and finally make it to yet another nearby metro station. Here I easily make it, not only through the station, but also from the metro to my new hostel where check in is not until four. I wait in the kitchen area which is nice and has coffee, tea, and croissants. I eat at a nearby pizzeria because I’m starving and then I check in and nap. Which is glorious. I get instructions for my travel tomorrow from my host and plan to meet a fellow volunteer from Australia at the train station. I remember that I have money in my Skype account and call my mother, because I miss her today and she recently turned fifty and I still haven’t mailed my postcards yet!