Saturday, June 30, 2012

Back Entry: The City of Lights

Remember that time I went to Paris with one of my very best friends from university? Oh, you don't? That's probably because I never actually posted anything about it here. Whoops.

So for the sake of catching up, here is a not-so quick version of our four (ish) days in Paris. (Warning, this is the LONGEST POST EVER!)

First of all, we took a stupidly early flight. As in, Flannery arrived in Prague on Friday night and then we turned around and got on a plane that left before 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. However, arriving in Paris (not so bright eyed and bushy tailed) early in the morning, was great. It gave us a little sense of what we were getting into. 

It took us like 30 minutes to figure out where to buy tickets for the train and then where the train was to get into the city from Charles de Gaulle airport, but we managed. Then the train proceeded to get hella crowded. (We found out on the trip back to the airport that this is just a thing. This train is always crowded. Get a seat while you can.)

We were honestly super excited about the hostel we were staying in. It's website is super stylish. They have an active Facebook page (as any good hostel should) and breakfast is included. (!!!!!) Add in that it's literally a three minute walk from the base of the hill below the Sacre-Coeur and it was pretty much gold. 

So naturally we made it to our hostel and took a nap. (It was now like 11 a.m. and we got up at like 4:30 a.m. after spending most of the night catching up on girl talk. It was a much deserved nap.)

Then we immediately went to find food and the Sacre-Coeur. This is when we first realized we were in Paris. At the base of the Sacre-Coeur there is a carousel (which Flannery immediately fell in love with). There are also a whole bunch of dudes waiting to scam you out of 10 Euro. Luckily, we grabbed some lunch across the street and sat back to watch it all unfold.

These guys walk up to you, start talking and asking you if you questions. Meanwhile, they thrust a few pieces of string in your hands and ask you to hold it while the proceed to braid a bracelet out of it. Once they've finished, they tie it on your wrist and ask you for 10 Euro.

First of all, I used to make this same bracelets back in middle school. They ain't worth 10 Euro. Second, in the words of Stephanie Tanner, "How rude!" 

(Yes, I just went there.)
So when we finally decided to trek up the hill (because believe me, it's a trek) we were already prepared for what was about to go down. We pushed passed a bunch of dudes who sort of tried to body block my way up the stairs and started walking up. 

At the top of the hill, we were taking pictures and messing around. I turned around at one point to find Flannery talking to some 'deaf' guy and telling him she doesn't have any money to give him. 

Here's your next scam: People walk up with a clipboard, pretending they're deaf (OK maybe they are deaf, but that means there are a LOT of deaf people in Paris) and wanting you to sign some petition of support or something. Then they want you to give them a, uhm, donation. 

Flannery then proceeds to open her wallet to get out some change to give the guy (keep in mind that there are 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins). Then the guy's supposedly also deaf friend (who can lipread English?), tries to reach in her wallet and point at the larger bills that are in there. I'm going to be kind and say she was only pointing and not grabbing...

Flannery slams her wallet shut, thrusts a few coins at them and we scamper off in the direction of the church and run in. We'll be on the lookout for those now.

Here's the thing, I'm used to Prague. You don't get a lot of people asking you for money or trying to trick you and stuff. Sure there are pick pockets, but in the year and a half I've lived here, I've not been pick pocketed. People will stop you on the street trying to get you to come into their bar. There's the occasional drug dealer or pimp. But overall, no one is actually trying to scam you. They're providing services however (il)legitimate they may be. 

So it took a little bit of time to get used to this. Once we did, we were able to enjoy ourselves while being on our guard but not freaking out constantly. You just have to be smart. Paris is a big city and like any big city, there are obstacles. 

After the Sacre-Coeur, we decided it was time to get ourselves acquainted with the center so our touristing would go smoothly. What better to start off with than the Louvre? 

This was just a walk through. We went down, took a bunch of pictures of the palace and then headed over to walk down the Champs Elysees. 

Can I just say now that before this trip, I honestly knew nothing about Paris. I did zero planning. Paris hasn't even really ever been high on my list of places to go in Europe. I always figured it was over-rated. I always figured I would go, eventually, but I wasn't really jonesing for it either.

Flannery, however, is a bona-fide Francophile. She loves all things French. She's the one who talked me ito attempting to make macrons at Christmas in 2010 (epic failure) and who I make constant references to the movie Amelie with. That's what made this trip so enjoyable for me. I just wanted to eat and take pictures. She had a wealth of knowledge about everything for me. It was sheer perfection. 

It was also incredible because it was Autumn. I believe I've mentioned a few times that Autumn is my new favorite season. "New" because we simply don't actually have Autumn in Texas. It's my favorite thing about the European continent. I honestly think everything is more beautiful in Autumn. It's part of the reason I loved Krakow so much and it's probably a huge chunk of why I actually liked Paris way more than I thought I would. 

We did most of the obligatory sites. But honestly, my number one priority for the trip was to not get yelled at by a Parisian for being so very American eat amazing food. Which we did.

At some point in the few days we were there, we managed to make it across the river to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Like you do. It's one of those things. 

This area of town is called the Latin Quarter and we were told you can get some pretty decent, relatively cheap food around there. I say relatively because this is Paris and everything is absurdly expensive. That's not because I'm comparing to Prague where everything is absurdly cheap. I almost died a few times looking at price tags in Paris. 

So when people say relatively cheap, decent food, I'm thinking gyros. It's the staple of cheap food in Europe. Gyros are everywhere. Sometimes they're mediocre. Sometimes they suck. And sometimes they're amazing. Either way, if all else fails and you're too broke to eat a real meal, have a gyro.

After checking out the cathedral (which I simply cannot think about without immediately thinking of that part of the movie Amelie), we weren't terribly hungry and we started just walking around checking out our options. 

Hear me, people: We found the best street in Paris. I don't know if there are more streets like this, but any place where I can get a three-course dinner of authentic French food for only 10 to 12 Euro, I'm freaking in. 

This is one of my number one favorite stories from Paris. Flannery and I both order three-course meals. We each got a bowl of French onion soup. (Which I had never had true French onion soup before and I'm now convinced I must learn to make it.) Then Flan got the fondue and I got a huge bowl of mussels. (Oh my god, SEAFOODDDDDDDD!) And we each order creme brulee. (Because what else would we be getting?)

It was amazing. We both devoured our soup because we were freezing and it was  warm and delicious. And then they brought out the second course. I dug in. I love mussels. Flan started to slow down.

Here's the thing, you see how skinny she is? She's not anorexic or anything like that, she just eats like a freaking bird. So when the owner of the restaurant walks by to check on us, he's immediately disturbed. He starts asking if everything is OK and she's like, "Of course, it's delicious." And he's all, Well, why the hell aren't you eating it?!? And Flans all, I want too, I swear!

She crams a few more bites in her mouth but simply can't do it. Especially not knowing that there's creme brulee to come. Screw the fondue when you can have amazing custard. 

He eventually comes back, takes away her plate with obvious disapproval and disappointment. I snicked to myself because I'm not the one who angered the Parisians! (Private mini celebration in my head!)

Then, wait for it, the guy comes back with a plate of pork covered in some amazing, creamy sauce and a TON of fries. 

I died laughing at the look of horror on Flan's face.

The restaurant owner said something about her being too skinny and needing to eat. He gestured at how great of a trooper I was because I was still hoovering my mussels. 

He came back and checked on us every once in awhile at which point Flan would shove another bite in her mouth. I helped where I could. Eventually this little Asian woman who worked there came by to take away my plate and could see Flannery wasn't getting anywhere and took that away too. Success. Flan was certain the guy would force her to eat every last bite before ever giving her the creme brulee.

And it was divine. 

Paris by day was all well and good, but Paris really is a city to be seen at night. Which brings us to my next favorite story of our trip. 

Flannery and I decided that after seeing the Eiffel Tower from a distance, we really wanted to see it close up at night. In the day time, it's just a really big tower. I'm sure it's cool, but whatever. I've seen lots of big towers. 

But at night, we were certain it would be incredible. And I'll admit this is one of those times traveling that I actually had that tingly feeling. I can't explain it very well. I just know, when I'm somewhere that i think is incredible, I get a tingly feeling. It's almost like a feeling of disbelief. 

So we take the metro over and then walk down the street, stopping every now and then to take a picture (or a hundred). When we finally got right under the tower, we were awestruck and snapping away like mad. We kept directing each other so we could take pictures with us in them. We took pictures at every angle possible. Then this homeless dude walks up and starts yelling at us.

I have no idea what the hell he was talking about, but it seemed he believed that this was his spot and we needed to get the hell off his property. 

We sort of moved around until he seemed satisfied that we were leaving and went away. Then we started taking pictures again. And at some point, I'm standing on top of a big block and Flan's lying on the ground trying to take a picture of me and then homeless dude starts running back and yelling at us. 

I was certain Flan was about to get attacked. I started to yell. Flan started scrambling. Then the guy got distracted by other tourists and suddenly ran off in another direction. 

That was close.

We also decided to head back over to the Champs Elysees for some window shopping and general browsing. This is another one of my favorite moments, though far less elaborate. 

At some point, Flan and I had decided to completely disregard our well-being and start standing in the middle of streets to take pictures. We did it on Pont Neuf and also to get this amazing photo.

So we're standing in the middle of the street (on a median mind you) snapping away pictures trying to get the perfect one, when this guy in a van at the stoplight next to us starts talking to Flannery. 

I remember nothing about this conversation although I believe it was mostly in French, but I just thought it was hilarious for a driver to strike up conversation with an obviously crazy tourist. 

Alas, this is Paris. Strange things simply continued to happen.

Like the fact that we were in Paris for nearly four days and never made it to the Louvre. We were outside. But we never actually went in. I know what you're thinking, how the hell do you go to Paris and not go to the Louvre?

Well, it's complicated, but chalk it up to bad scheduling. But hey, it leaves us something to do next time. That and Versailles. 

Above all, Flannery and I had a wonderful time in Paris. I don't think I could have asked for anyone better to go with for my first time. It was like a perfect pairing. I'm great with maps and directions. She's got a wealth of knowledge about the city and its history. We both seemed to be on the same relative wavelength about when to party and when to chill and what to do. We're both huge shutter bugs. And now, a city that I was hardly interested in can go down as one of the best travel experiences I've had. 

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