It is a truth universally acknowledged that spending three days in Paris eclipses any other happenings of the remaining week.
Paris. Paris. Paris.
Where do I even begin?
They warned us about culture shock but… London has nothing on Paris.
Paris. Paris is.
Paris is unapologetic. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She twinkles and dances by the moonlight, pushes and begs in the light of day. She knows other cities, how they build themselves up, moulding into distinct personalities, black or white. She is the grey. She is the spectrum entire. She laughs in the rain, rejoices in the sun, cries when it pours, sweats in the heat. She is you. She is me. She breathes life into cold hearts. She is beautiful without trying, yet she tries hard. Sometimes, not always. She embraces her flaws and places the bad next to the good. She doesn’t scrub herself clean for travelers to deem her worthy for their lens. She embraces her dirty, her clean, she is the in-between. She looks you straight in the eye and dares you to tell her no. She dares you not to hide. She dares you to be who you are. Give them the good and give them the bad, she’ll exclaim, and to hell with those who can’t see that the imperfect falls perfectly into place. Paris. Paris. Paris is. Paris is everything.
I’m not entirely sure how I’ll be able to go to class in six hours and fall back into the London routine after a weekend in Paris. My mind is still processing the city and everything she showed me these past few days. The moment we arrived, we took a stroll around our neighborhood way past midnight looking for something to eat. By the Bastille statue, I ordered my first Parisian crepe in French, and it was all the more delicious for it. I was surprised at how easily it started coming back to me. Who knew being taught by a Cuban French teacher would pay off five years later? (Monsieur Perez, if you’re reading this, you rock.)
Our first day led us to the Champs-Elysees. It was rainy, cold, and cloudy. In the distance the Arc de Triomphe stood out, urging us to come closer. By the time we reached it, the rain had all but stopped and we made our way to the very top. The view was indescribable. All of Paris stretched out before me. Every street, every monument, and there in the distance, the Eiffel Tower. It was the first time I had ever seen it. The clouds started to clear up, like stage managers pulling back the curtains as if to say Welcome to Paris. You have arrived.
We grabbed lunch on the Champs-Elysees, right next to Laduree. And there I had my first taste of macarons. Chocolate of course. From there, we walked. Driving through Paris is an insult. Paris is meant to be seen on foot. To stop at every corner. To stumble into a cafe. Let her lead you around. You’ll see everything you’re meant to see. Our walk took us through side streets and hidden roads until we reached the museums and statues, and crossed the river, the Eiffel Tower on one side, the ferris wheel on the other. Daylight was fading. From a gray pale day, Paris burst into color at night, blue and yellow and orange. We reached the ferris wheel around 6 and went on just as the Eiffel Tower started twinkling in the distance. We watched the light show from the highest seats in the house, watching the city twinkle to life, answering the Eiffel Tower’s calls.
That night, we made it all the way there. Seeing the Eiffel Tower up close is breathtaking. Bigger than I ever could have imagined. My dinner that night consisted of a hot dog in a baguette watching the ten o’clock light show right from up close. It was nearing midnight but our day was far from over. And that’s the beauty of Paris. We strolled the unknown streets. No set plan, absentmindedly looking for the metro. It was late and most places were closed. Few people on the streets. Something caught my eye and I turned. A tiny little bar. Nothing to make it stand out. Until I saw the name. Gatsby. Gatsby. The name of this place was Gatsby. I pointed it out to everyone and on a whim, we decided to go in and grab a quick drink to warm up before calling it a night. Through a small doorway, framed with dark curtains, and we stepped back into the 1920’s. People chattered at the bar and small tables scattered around. The lights were dim. The atmosphere was the perfect blend of antique and modernity. We stood awkwardly in the doorway, unsure what to do, everyone looking our way, feeling like self-conscious Americans. Someone at the bar motioned to us and from the crowd emerged a beautiful blonde woman. She knew English and spoke it with a beautifully thick French accent. She helped us get seated, gave us menus, asked us where we were from. Her eyes widened at our answers. Miami. New York. Boston. Chicago. California. She talked with us the entire time, asking questions and picking out drinks for each of us. She toasted to us and laughed with us. We were all completely smitten within ten minutes. We asked for some recommendations about what to do over the weekend. Without missing a beat, she fetched a notepad, sat down at a nearby table, and wrote out a list for us. That paper became our treasure map over the next two days. We owe our entire experience to her. She invited us to her apartment the next day. I’ll make tea and we’ll talk about life. You might say it was the cocktails, but we all had stars in our eyes by the end of the night. We promised we would go see her tomorrow. We didn’t want to leave. I was convinced I was starring in a Woody Allen film and I had just met Ella Fitzgerald.
Reluctantly, we headed out. None of us could stop smiling or talking about the place and her and the adventures we would have. One thing’s for certain, Paris gives a hell of a welcome.
We started out early the following day. We walked through the market in the neighborhood we were staying in. Breakfast consisted of the usual croissant and sandwiches from the boulangeries in the surrounding streets. We rode the metro out to Monte Mare. We climbed the steps to the Sacre Coeur. A large beautiful cathedral at the top of a mountain. The views were incredible. The day was beautiful. Blue skies and sunshine. It was the first trip on Charlotte’s list (that was her name, though I’m still convinced it was Ella). Climb to the top, walk through the streets, get inspired by the poets and writers who came before you. We called her immediately after and made plans to meet for tea in a few hours. In the meantime, we explored the Louvre. We didn’t spend much time inside, pressed for time as we were. I’ll say one thing. The Mona Lisa? She’s tiny. Smaller than I ever imagined she was. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the fascination behind that painting.
After the Louvre, we anxiously took a cab to Charlotte’s apartment. The anticipation as we nervously laughed and wondered what her place would be like and what we would talk about. The fascination we all had with her. I can’t explain it. She was a real, down-to-earth, authentic young Parisian woman. There was something about her. She had life written all over her. Young as she was, you knew she had stories to share. I simultaneously wanted to be her and be her best friend. We arrived at her apartment. It was just how I imagined it would be. Small, cozy, artistic, vibrant, unique, French. We gathered around and she prepared the tea and told us about herself. We listened intently, laughing and gasping and exclaiming at all the right moments. She then invited us to go around and tell her about ourselves. We all shared tidbits here and there. Shyly, self-consciously. We could have sat and talked with her for hours. We only had one. As suddenly as we had arrived, we hurriedly said our goodbyes with a heavy heart. But not before taking a group photo and adding each other on Facebook. I hope I see her again some day.
Our hurry was due to an event we had bought tickets for. A two-hour wine tasting. It was fantastic. We decided to do one in every city we go to. As the minutes passed, the volume of the room got louder, the atmosphere got happier, the bread kept disappearing. I must have eaten four loafs in one sitting. We hadn’t eaten much so we ate bread and cheese and drank wine until we couldn’t stand on our own two feet. It was in high spirits that we stumbled back out into the streets, barely noticing the bitter cold, trying to find our way back. Tipsy and happy, we managed to figure out the metro. After a quick stop by our place to change, we headed out to a late dinner. The restaurant was chic and cozy and warm. After we just walked around. Along the river, all you could see was black and gold from the reflections of the Eiffel Tower. The streets were bathed in orange light. We crossed the bridge, getting closer and closer to the Eiffel Tower. It was past midnight at this point. In front of the Eiffel Tower, we snagged some delicious crepes for dessert just before the stand closed. They were burning hot, but the warmth was welcoming. That night was bitterly chilly. We made one last tourist stop to the Notre Dame Cathedral and walked around some more before making our way back.
Our last day in Paris, we went to the shops. The last few places on Charlotte’s list. It was a beautiful area. Scenes straight out of “Midnight in Paris.” It was a relaxing day, just exploring a new place. We ate dinner at the oldest restaurant in Paris, I had one last crepe, and before I knew it, we were arriving at the train station, suitcases and passports in hand, ready to head home.
For such a short weekend, I feel so different. Paris is really something else. I’m already dreaming of going back. There was so much I didn’t get to do. Go all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visit Versailles, see the Lock Bridge, eat at Leon de Bruxelles. I want to stroll through those midnight streets, stumble into something new, meet interesting people. Paris by day is beautiful. But Paris by night is magical.
I know I’ll be back soon.
So much happened this week. Paris blew everything out of the water. There’s a lot I want to write about, things that have been going through my mind and random musings. I need to upload some of my favorite photos from Paris to my flickr feed. I also want to jot down all the restaurants and cafes in Paris so I don’t forget when and if I go back. I’d like to do it for London as well but I think I’ve forgotten most of the ones from this month already. There will probably be a stray blog post sometime this week cause my head is becoming a very noisy place.
It’s strange being back in London. Usually when I visit a new place, coming back is familiar and comforting. I’ve only been in London a few weeks. It still feels like coming home to a new place. A place I’ve just barely attempted to scratch the surface of. It will be weird getting back into the London vibe after being in Paris. The two are so different. I wonder if that will be the case every time I travel, with the London experience being punctuated with foreign adventures. I’m infatuated with Paris but I’m still falling in love with London.
It’s 3 in the morning. I’m going to fall asleep in class tomorrow, dreaming about crepes and croissants. But I wouldn’t trade this weekend for the world.