Let me start off by saying that I was a France skeptic. When thinking of the places I wanted to go in Europe, Paris never even really crossed my mind until a friend of mine from England told me that she and some friends were going to Paris for a weekend. So when I booked my tickets to Paris, I booked them for Natasha, not for me.
Imagine my luck when I find out I booked my flight for the completely wrong weekend. I booked my tickets for the first week of October, while Natasha booked hers for the first weekend of November. As is usually the case, I bought the cheapest and most certainly non-changeable plane tickets I could find and there was nothing I could do to get a refund. So you see, I was already bitter about Paris.
“¿Vas a París este fin de? ¡Qué guay, qué guay!” My roommate had said to me in our Madrid apartment (also known as a “piso”). I nodded, but her enthusiasm was lost on me. It was the night before my flight, and I still hadn’t packed or written down the directions to a friend’s apartment I was staying at. I tried to look at the bright side. I was going to meet up with my friends Solène and Cheriffa, who were foreign exchange students at UW last year. At the very least, the trip would be worth it to see them.
I had a late night flight on Friday night and was excited to get to Solène’s apartment, which is on the Seine River very close to the Musée D’Orsay. I figured I would have an easy metro ride, a leisurely stroll along the river and some great conversation before heading to bed. This more or less happened, though you have to remember that my luck with Paris is non-existent.
It turns out the station I needed to change lines was closed for repairs just for that night. So, I found some Parisians speaking English and asked them how I could get to my metro stop.
“No, no, the train will keep going, don’t worry. Just stick with us, you’ll be fine,” one girl reassured me. Yet when we got to the stop, Nord du Gard, I asked again – “are you sure the train keeps going? I mean, I don’t read French, but the bright orange signs that mention today’s date and Châtelet make it seem like we can’t go that way.” They dismissed my worries and the train started again—only going in the reverse direction.
My new Parisian friends and some other unlucky fellows who didn’t read the signs were outraged. A chorus of “Why were we not warned?!” and “There’s another half hour on my commute!” came from some of the English speakers. Chris, one of my new directionally-challenged friends sheepishly smiled at me and said, “Welcome to Paris, Lin-say.”
My friends helped me get onto another train (which would you believe ALSO went in the wrong direction – I literally picked the worst Parisians to ask directions), but I finally arrived at my metro stop. Fast forward through another hour wandering the streets of Paris lost and crying in front of the Tuileries because I thought I was going to sleep outside. I waved down a group of Parisians with a frantic “PARLEZ VOUS ANGLAIS!?” and asked to borrow their phone to call Solène and let me in her apartment.
Yeah, I know, I’m THAT American tourist, but when my only options are to be obnoxious and chase down people who speak English or sleep in the rain on Quai Anatole France, I’ll pick the former.
After a night like that, I thought, how can I love Paris when everything seemed to be going wrong?
I woke up the next morning to do some sightseeing on my own. I was nervous to do things by myself because I figured that it would only add to the loneliness I had felt getting lost last night. Yet, I have to admit I discovered how satisfactory it can be to travel by yourself. Instead of conversing with friends on my walk, I had the time to take in my surroundings: a woman with her Longchamp backpack and prancing scruffy white terrier here, a well-to-do businessman there, friends gossiping at a café in their wicker chairs being attended to by a “serveur” who wore a traditional white button up shirt, apron, black vest and tie. I saw it all, and within a couple of blocks, I fell in love.
I spent my morning at a café called Les Deux Magots, a restaurant that Hemingway frequented. It was a beautiful spot and many of the customers appeared to be regulars, which surprised me for a place that I assumed to be touristy. Even though I could probably find a more economical place to get a black cup of coffee, I just decided to be completely uncreative and do whatever the Hemingway did as an expat, because of course, you remember, I recently hated Paris and hadn’t thought to do any research on the city.
After spending a couple hours there and thanking my waiter with a “gracias” because I am American trash who can’t remember what country she’s in, I checked out the Louvre. I was told you can’t go to the Louvre and see everything in a day, which is true, but thankfully being a solo traveler, I had more time to pick and choose exactly what I wanted to see.
I wish I could tell you the wonders of seeing the Mona Lisa in person, but I can’t. I could barely get close enough to see that she was more than a blob in the distance. The great thing about the Louvre is that it has so much more to offer than just the Mona Lisa – the Denon Wing alone has some of the most famous works of art in the world, such as Venus de Milo, Nike of Samothrace, Lady Liberty Leading the People, The Coronation of Napoleon and Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, just to name a few.
Later on I had a traditional French savory crêpe for dinner along with cider, which Solène recommended to me. The cider, along with the weather of Paris, which was far colder than the consistent 80-degree weather in Madrid, reminded me of fall in Wisconsin. I don’t tend to miss home a lot, though I definitely have had days where I yearn to see the fall foliage, eat caramel apples and layer my clothes with all of my favorite autumn fashions. France gave me the little taste of fall that I had been missing so much.
That night was the grand finale—seeing the Eiffel Tower. For me, this moment was the cherry on top. It’s the moment that I knew without a doubt that I love Paris. I don’t know if there are enough words to describe the splendor of it. It’s powerful, inviting and pictures simply do not do it any justice. While turning a corner, the Eiffel Tower came into view for a girl walking in front of me and she stopped in her tracks and exclaimed the sincerest “Wow!” I’ve ever heard.
I couldn’t leave Paris without a trip to a castle and more French pastries, so my friend Cheriffa and her boyfriend Andrea took me to Sceaux, a castle on the outskirts of Paris with garden designed by La Nôtre, the same designer as the gardens of Versailles. It was great to see both the grandeur of French gardens as well as life outside of a metropolis like Paris. Not to mention, baguettes and pain au chocolat are to die for.
I can honestly say that I am a skeptic that has seen the error of her ways. Paris, I apologize for my prejudice. I only hope that I get the chance to visit you again some day, preferably when there aren’t any metro closures.