Thursday, June 26, 2014

Paris, Take Two

I'm back in the comfort of my own room in Minnesota, wondering how I could have expected to find the time and energy to blog during my month-long journey across western Europe.  At any rate, I will try my best to make up for lost time now.  I did keep a journal for much of my trip so I can reiterate much of what I recorded there, here.
Torrie and me before boarding our plane in Minneapolis
Torrie and I had a long and exhausting trip before we finally reached our first destination: Paris.  The planes had been as comfortable as planes can be (Icelandair is always lovely) but I can never really get a satisfying sleep sitting upright in a space where elbows seem prone to spill over into my personal bubble.  Notwithstanding, I was able to enjoy a free movie or two on the flight from Boston to Reykjavík while Torrie slept and, admittedly, I did doze off for a little while on the flight from Reykjavík to Paris.

As our plane touched down in Paris we found ourselves brazenly greeted by the buttcrack of dawn; we had been traveling with no solid sleep for a good 21 hours.  Needless to say, we were both exhausted.  We used the restrooms in the airport to change out of our travel clothes and freshen up before attempting to leave the airport.  Now THAT was an ordeal in itself.  We were unable to buy tickets from the airport into the city at any of the booths, and when a Parisian girl helped us use a machine to buy tickets we had to pay €20 a piece just to leave the airport!  When Torrie and I reached the Gard du Nord station, we couldn't figure out how to find the line connected to our hotel and opted to walk the distance instead.  At this point, I think a cocktail of determination and adrenaline kept us awake.  Our hotel allowed us to drop off our luggage for the time being (it was about 8am by this point) and informed us that our room would be ready by noon.  

The closest significant landmark to our hotel was La Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, so that's where Torrie and I headed, dragging our exhausted bodies through the misty stairs and streets that led to Montmartre.  When we found the basilica, it was quite lovely.  After taking plenty of photos and enjoying the panoramic view of the city, we decided to find a café for the holy trinity of food, caffeine, and wifi.  Thankfully, the real morning rain didn't begin until we were comfortably nestled around our internet portals in the café, and we spent the next couple of hours waiting out the rain and looking forward to noon.

Now, a tangent regarding our accommodations: Paris is an expensive place.  For this reason, I had tried to find a non-sketchy couchsurfing host for our four day stay in the city.  Unfortunately, the person who had originally agreed to host us stopped answering my emails about a month before we embarked on the trip.  A few days prior to our arrival in Paris, I finally found an affordable room, booked it, and sent Torrie the link.  The day before we left, I received an email from her asking whether or not I had read the reviews: "Get ready for bedbugs!"  Damn.  In pre-travel panic mode, Torrie and I each researched the best safeguards against bedbugs.  We ended up buying ourselves sleepsacks to add a layer between ourselves and hotel bedsheets.  Torrie managed to find some anti-bedbug spray to repel the nasty critters if they did indeed rear their parasitic antennae in our room.

As soon as we got to our room Torrie spritzed the hell out of the bed; we peeled off all the layers of duvet, blankets, sheets, mattress pad... she even lifted up the mattress and attacked the box spring with the bold smell of cinnamon.  Finding no pests, we drew the blinds, rearranged the bed, and passed out until late afternoon.

With fresh burst of energy after our nap, Torrie and I left our hotel and rode the metro into the centre.  We walked along the Seine on our way to the Eiffel Tower which, even after having seen it last year, didn't disappoint.  We were pretty exhausted by the time we reached the Tower, so we sat in the park and rested and talked about deep things until we felt a little more energized.  We got back on the metro to see the Arc de Triomphe, but poor Torrie was feeling sick so we got off at a random stop so she could find a place to throw up.  We did make it to the Arc, but decided to get back to the hotel as soon as possible so Torrie could rest up and hopefully fight off whatever had suddenly hit her.  To be honest, sleep was at the top of my priority list too, so we took the metro straight back to the hotel.
River Seine
Lovely Torrie
Unfortunately for Torrie, her sudden bout of stomach sickness wouldn't leave her alone to rest.  I felt pretty awful in sympathy; who wants to be sick on holiday?  We opted to sleep in and talk about plans for the next day when we knew how she'd feel in the morning.

Torrie still wasn't feeling 100% in the morning but she faced the day like only a truly strong and independent woman can and we headed in the direction of the Louvre.  On our walk from the metro stop to the museum, we came across one of Paris's beautiful lock bridges.  Of course, this merited a photo-op.

I don't usually embrace touristy behavior, but in this case I simply had to make this photo happen.
I was thoroughly awed with what I saw for the next several hours in the Louvre.  Personally, I enjoyed the Ancient Egyptian artifacts and Neo-Classical statuary best but, of course, many of the museum's countless paintings impressed me as well.  Da Vinci's Mona Lisa had been talked down on so many blogs as being overrated and tiny that its actual size and composition did impress me more than I had expected.  (I was honestly expecting it to be about the size of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper after some of the blogs I read in preparation for the trip).  Overall, we spent the bulk of our afternoon in the museum and since Torrie was feeling queasy again after that, we returned to the hotel for a while.

After a short rest, we went to see Notre Dame.  This cathedral struck me in a different way than anything we'd yet witnessed in Paris.  It wasn't the exquisite gothic architechture that metaphorically knocked the air out of my lungs, (although that contributed to my fascination) but the mystique of a place that is so steeped in history and legend and richness heritage that did.  I mean... wow.  This is where Joan of Arc's mother came to plead for her daughter's life.  This is where the Wolves of Paris finally met their demise, lured by angry Parisians from their forest den after killing dozens of people.  This is where, albeit fiction, every major event of Victor Hugo's novel occurs.  Needless to say, I was thoroughly church-struck.

We couldn't get inside the cathedral but I decided to look up mass times later on in the evening.  A perk of having grown up Catholic is having entry to just about any church in the world through the mass.  Torrie was feeling better so we tried to see the Pantheon and the Père-Lachaise cemetery, both of which had already closed to our collective dismay.  It had been quite a walk around the city by this time, and we were hungry.  We split a margherita pizza at a cute little hole in the wall café near the Sorbonne.  (As an ex-waitress, it still feels weird not to tip service staff but since it's not part of the culture and my wallet was happier for the circumstances, I didn't go out of my way to impose American cultural norms on our French waiter).

Our third day began with a visit to Père-Lachaise.  My initial interest in the place was sparked by the graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and Abelard and Heloise.  As it turned out, Père-Lachaise exceeded my expectations and admission didn't cost anything.  

Next, we went to the Palais Garnier Opera House.  Tickets were only €6 and worth every cent, since we stayed for as long as we liked and saw just about everything accessible by ticket.  Admittedly, it would have been interesting to see the dressing rooms and backstage area but I can see why those areas are off limits.  (Oh, and of course it would have been amazing to go underneath the building to visit the Phantom's lair... but no angel of music was to be found for an escort.  Alas).  
My illegal photograph of Chagall's ceiling
After the Opera House, we visited Shakespeare & Company, the famous English-language bookshop which was one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite writing haunts in Paris.  By this time, the Parisian skies had decided to sprinkle a little, adding even more charm to the city that was rapidly growing on me.  To be honest, after my short-lived albeit miserable time in Paris less than a year ago, I was ready to write it off as grossly overrated and thoroughly disappointing.  Thankfully, I had the opportunity to dispel that unpleasant first impression and replace it with happier memories.
We had a couple of hours to kill before mass at Notre Dame, so Torrie and I visited Luxembourg Gardens as the rain let up.  Paris really is lovely, sunshine or rain.  It was nice to just walk around the gardens and talk with Torrie before going back to Notre Dame.  After the mass service (which was pretty difficult to follow in French, although I surprised myself by how much I understood), we proceeded to walk the entire length of the Champs-Élysées.  By the time we reached the Arc de Triomphe my feet were killing me, but tickets to the top of the Arc were fairly inexpensive so I climbed the 284 steps to view Paris by night.  It was quite pretty with everything lit up, but my camera wasn't able to clearly capture the view.

Jardin du Luxembourg
When we reached the hotel both Torrie and I were ready to get some sleep before our trip to Versailles the following morning.  However, actually accessing our room turned out to be more difficult than expected.  Our hotel was staffed 24 hours a day, so when we left the room we dropped off our key with the concierge, and when we arrived back at the hotel, we picked the key up from the desk.  Simple enough, right?  Wrong.

When we entered the hotel we greeted a yet unseen concierge and I asked for the key to our room.  As I held out my hand to receive the key he clasped my hand in between his hands, staring at me and asking my name, whether or not I spoke French, whether or not I wanted to learn French, and how I liked Paris.  Now, I'm no stranger to advances from creepy guys.  In fact, my college friends used to refer to me as "the magnet" because I seemed to attract every weirdo within a 20 mile radius.  But being used to this kind of encounter hardly makes it more comfortable.  After what seemed like a long time he let my hand go and we bolted up the stairs, hardly holding in laughter until after the door closed behind us.  Honestly, Torrie was more amused than I was but even I found the situation a little funny.  Unfortunately, when I tried to log on to the internet I realized that my wifi had expired and the only way to get more would be to buy some from Monsieur Happy Hands at the front desk.  Joy.

I could tell right away by his too-eager face that he was thrilled to see me again.  I politely asked to buy wifi and he grabbed my hand again, ignoring my request for wifi and instead telling me I was "so beau-ti-ful" while maintaining a death grip on my hand.  I wasn't excited to have my hand violated a second time but I didn't know how to get him to release it without making the situation even worse.  As a result, I had to endure talking to him.  Our conversation went something like this:
Him: "How you like Paris?"
Me: "It's beautiful."
Him: "You move to Paris?  Live with me?"
Me: "I don't think so.  I have a job in the States."
Him: "No, you are so beau-ti-ful.  Live with me and work here.  You will do it?"
Me: "No, thanks.  I don't think so."
Finally, he let go of my hand and took my €3 for wifi.  I bolted out of there as soon as he printed out my wifi password and slammed the door of my room behind me, relaying the story to Torrie.  I slathered my hands with hand sanitizer to wipe away the residue of aggressive concierge and logged onto the network.  I hoped that the weirdness had ended at the front desk.  Unfortunately for me, the phone next to my bed let out a screeching ring and I hesitantly answered it.
Me: Hello?
Him: Hhosa? (This is a really unattractive way to pronounce my name, by the way).
Me: Yes?
Him: How is wifi?  Everything working okay?
Me: Yes, it's all good.
Him: Do you like beer?  Wine?
Me: Uh... what?
Him: I give you beer and wine, you come to see me at desk.  Drink with me.
Me: Um, no thanks.  I need to go to sleep.
Him: No!  You come down and drink with me!
Me: Sorry, I don't think I can.
Him:  You must come, Hhosa!  So beau-ti-ful Hhosa.
Me: Um, maybe... (I had ZERO intention of going there but for some reason I couldn't just spit it out that I was absolutely not attracted to him and I would never, ever drink with him).
Him: Okay!  See you soon!

I slept uneasily that night, knowing that the creepy concierge was a mere three floors below our room, lurking in all his sliminess.  The next morning Torrie handed in the key as we ran out the door to Versailles and I didn't turn back as he called after me.  In fact, I ran out the door like it was on fire.  We got on the metro and were two stops into our journey when panic socked me in the stomach.  "Torrie, you don't have my Versailles ticket, do you?"  "No, I gave it to you yesterday."  NO.  In my scatterbrained glory, I had left my ticket to Versailles in my room at the hotel.  The hotel with the room keys retrievable only at the front desk.  The desk where the weirdest man in France with a major craving for me was now sitting...

Torrie couldn't come with me because of her ticket; it wouldn't be fair to expect her to buy another ticket because of my oversight.  I jumped off of my stop and ran up to the hotel, purposely appearing out of breath and hurried.  I insisted on the key, refused to give him my hand, ran up to my room, located my ticket, locked the door, and gave the key back.  He was obviously annoyed with my disinterested manner but I repeated "I'm late" unapologetically before leaving in a rush.  Back on the metro, Torrie and I navigated our route to Versailles.  The line we were supposed to take was closed so we had to find an alternate route at a separate station.  It was a hassle to get there, but eventually we found ourselves approaching Château de Versailles in all its decadence.
Could you imagine being a French peasant marching on Versailles?  Your children have starved to death, you can't afford to buy bread.  You know that the monarchy is rich but you've never been far enough from your home to know how they live.  You join with a mob to storm the palace and you see THIS. SOLID. GOLD. GATE.  Honestly, is what followed any surprise?  Obviously, the revolutionaries did some terrible things, but I can't say the royalty didn't have it coming.  Versailles is beautiful, but at what price?
Hall of Mirrors
We spent several hours touring the palace.  I found it to be impressive, but the overt gaudiness of many rooms took away from the beauty a simpler design might have allowed.  As could be expected, the crowds were pretty awful.  I can't imagine living in the town of Versailles... I would really hate the swarms of tourists coming through every day.

Our train brought us back to the metro and we switched lines in order to see the Catacombs.  There was a huge line and we knew it would be a long shot, but we waited anyway.  Unfortunately, we were about thirty people too far back in line to enter.  Boo.  At this point we were both pretty hungry so we had lunch at a little café by the Moulin Rouge.  I splurged on an assortment on French cheeses and Torrie had her own pizza.  The restaurant owner was from Montenegro and had the cutest little girl running around the place.  Unlike my first visit to Paris, almost everyone I met this time was kind and helpful.  After dinner we went back to the hotel to pack and figure out whether or not we'd have to sleep in the airport to make our morning flight.
Moulin Rouge
Thankfully the staff had changed by the time we arrived back at the hotel.  The (non-disgusting) concierge informed us that the metro didn't start running until 6am, which tipped the scales in favor of sleeping at the airport.  Actually, it was a relief to know we'd be at the airport plenty early and we'd even have time to nap at the hotel after packing.  When we were ready to leave, I backed out of the room with my luggage in tow, shut the door behind Torrie when a voice from the shadows stopped me in my tracks. "Why you check out tonight?"

Areyoufreakingkiddingme.  Him?!  Again?!  Somehow, my not-so-secret-admirer had chosen the opportune moment to creep up on us.  "Yes, we have to go now."  "No!  You stay the night, take taxi in the morning!"  Jeez, this guy really seems to know what we should do more than we do.  We insisted that our flight was too early and a taxi was too expensive as we locked the door and exited the hallway.    Ugh.  It really was unnerving to see him again, but at least as we left the hotel we knew that would be the last we'd have to put up with him.

So, Torrie and I spent the night in the airport.  I was able to sleep on the cold hard floor for a few hours and she was able to use the free wifi to talk to her boyfriend, so it worked out okay.  It's funny to me that both my trips to Paris ended with a night at the airport, but this time I left the city with a thorough appreciation for its charm and appeal.  I hope to return someday and see all we didn't have time to see this time around!

Next up: Madrid and our reunion with my date to the homeschool prom.


  1. "Monsieur Happy Hands" - I love that you just called him this! So true and funny.

    1. LOL, I'm glad you liked that! Jeez, he was so gross!