Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Falling in Love in/with Paris

Paris. Paris, je t'aime. It's the truth. I fell in love this weekend, and was so sad to leave. Paris was like a combination of the things I love about New York and Chicago and Madrid in one city. Somehow it's fast and busy and metropolitain but relaxed and elegant and spacious. I walked everywhere and took the metro a million times. There's so many different neighborhoods, so much to see and do, and I got into all the museums for free because my six-month student visa makes me a "long term resident" of the EU under the age of 26!

I flew to Paris Thursday night on a pretty uneventful flight. I slept some on the plane but happened to wake up in time to see the Eiffel Tower lit up from the plane, so I accomplished some sightseeing before ever landing on the ground. We deplaned away from an actual gate, so for the first time I descended a set of stairs onto the tarmac like they do in all the old movies. When I got to the airport, I followed signs (in French, Spanish, and English) for "Paris by train," planning to take public transit to my hostel, which I had figured out before I left. Unfortunately the train station within the airport was a good 15 minute walk from my gate and when I got there I found out trains weren't running from that station for some reason (which I never did figure out, because I took the train there on Sunday night just fine). Anyway by the time I walked back to the signs for "Paris by bus" I figured out that the bus had stopped running for the night. I thought about just sleeping in the airport, but as I was going to have to pay for my hostel anyway and I just wanted to sleep in a bed, I ended up taking a taxi. The most expensive cab ride of my life. Not gonna go there.

But, I got to my hostel in the Latin Quarter, checked in, and went to bed in a room I was sharing with five other people. When I finally saw the room in daylight, I was very pleased with how clean it was, and the hostel had a really cool aesthetic as well. I didn't take any pictures of it, but you can check it out here. It was certainly nice to have an ensuite bathroom, which I didn't have at my hostel in Palma. I showered Friday morning and enjoyed breakfast in the hostel - a croissant, a roll, coffee, and granola cereal. A good start to the day.

I didn't have any particular plans for how to spend my time in Paris, and my friend who is studying there for the semester had class during the day, so I used the hostel computers to start some investigating of where I could pass some time. While checking a destination on the (free!) map I picked up at the hostel, I realized there was a free walking tour at 11 and it was about 10:15, so I set out on a walk to Saint Michele to join the tour. I only got a little lost on the way and arrived just a few minutes late while they were still getting organized, so it worked out well. The free tour is operated by a company called New Europe, which does free walking tours in a bunch of European cities including Barcelona, Madrid, London, Amsterdam, and Berlin (which I'm going to do this Saturday). All of their tour guides are native English speakers who have moved to the cities they give tours of. My tour guide was named Arnaud (pronounced R-no), but he's not French, his parents are just mean. He's from LA, where he met his wife Jennifer, who is French, and they moved back to Paris three years ago.

So Arnaud showed us all over Paris - the walking tour took almost four hours including a short coffee break in the middle. We saw Notre Dame, the "New Bridge," a statue of Henry IV the party king, the outside of Saint Chapelle, the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, the Grande and Petit Palaces, the Tuileries Gardens, the Eiffel Tower, the Obelisk, the Arc de Triomphe, and so much more. I learned a ton about the history of Paris and got oriented to the city, and Arnaud taught us how to recognize French scam artists and pickpockets. He was really funny and at the end of the tour led those of us who wanted to go to a restaurant where they have a deal for New Europe tours for lunch. I got to try French wine, a white that I really liked, and had salmon, which was just okay. It had a flavorful sauce on it though which was nice since Spanish food is so plain. Arnaud told us before he left that he would be leading the Montmartre walking tour at 6pm on Sunday night if anyone wanted to join him again, and I did, with my new friend Ganesh.

Ganesh was also on the walking tour and was also traveling alone, and we both wanted to go to the Louvre Friday night, so after lunch we wandered around together and headed towards the Louvre which was free for anyone under 26 after 6pm. Ganesh has been traveling around Europe for the last six weeks and will be finishing his trip next week in Madrid, but is unfortunately leaving before I get back from Berlin. (Hi Ganesh, welcome to my blog where I talk about you.) Guys, Ganesh majored in aerospace engineering and just got his masters in 5 years. And he went to the Bronx High School of Science like my dad!

So we went to the Louvre. We're pretty sure the rules of time and space do not apply in this building, because every time we tried to figure out where we were on a map either on a wall in the building or the one we carried with us, things didn't match up. We did eventually make it to the Mona Lisa - there are so many signs pointing you to it you'd think the Louvre cares as little about the rest of the art there as most people coming to see the Mona Lisa do. It was about the size I was expecting, since I'd been told in the past it's pretty small. Might be a little overrated, to be honest. We also saw over the course of two hours: The Winged Victory of Samothrace, that famous portrait of Louis XIV, the Venus de Milo, and the Code of Hammurabi, which was probably the most impressive because it's essentially 4000 years old and if you could read Mesopotamian heiroglyphics, you could still read it today, carved in stone. After that we ran out as fast as we could, having been thwarted by the Louvre at every turn when trying to navigate the three wings and four floors of the most famous museum in the world. (For the rest of the weekend if anything went wrong, we blamed it on the Louvre. It's now our favorite exclamation, Looouvre! We're trying to make it a thing.) It seemed like we'd spent years in the museum, though it had only been two hours. Seriously the whole thing was like living in a surrealist film.

Post-expedition in the Louvre, we decided to go to Montmartre for dinner near Ganesh's hostel. (He had just gotten in that morning and hadn't even fully checked in yet.) I first tried to get in contact with Stephanie, my friend, but she apparently doesn't have much internet access on the weekends and the phone number she gave me was answered by a French woman. And then my phone died. So I sorta gave up on that. Ganesh and I weren't terribly hungry, as we'd had a big lunch, so we found a little cafe and shared a crêpe filled with cheese and mushrooms and - wait for it - crêpe flamboyant. Yeah. flaming crêpe. The waiter brought it to the table, just a plain crêpe, then poured some kind of orange liquor over it (Ganesh knows what it's called), and then SET IT ON FIRE. I mean, the flames weren't huge, and I couldn't really get a good picture of it, but people don't set food on fire right in front of you too often, so it was still pretty exciting and delicious.

Also in this little cafe was a group of probably a dozen Brits who were all playing some strange game with complicated rules. There was a guy in charge who would give a pair of initials, and then each of the (unclearly defined) teams had to name someone with those initials. Scoring seemed to be based on the type of person named. We figured out you get a point for fictional characters, two points if they're dead, and three points if they're Spanish. Don't know what happens if you name a real, living, non-Spaniard. It was funny when they got into arguments over whether or not people were dead. Including Harry Potter, which got Ganesh and I briefly involved as we told them that of course he died but wasn't dead. We wanted to play too, but they left before we had the chance. They were good entertainment though. After dinner we were both really tired, so we said goodnight and I headed home via metro to my hostel and to bed. It seems that everyone I was sharing the room with also spoke English, although I think the rest of them were from England or New Zealand.

Saturday morning was much like Friday morning, early shower and breakfast so that I could meet Ganesh near the Musee D'Orsay before it opened. It was pretty cold, as the morning was cloudy and it's also actually fall in Paris; highs were in the low 50s. We got in line around 9:15 because it opened at 9:30, but found out around 9:40 that the union, which had been on strike the day before, was going to be voting at some point to decide whether they were opening that day or not. We decided not to risk a fruitless long wait in the cold (good chocie, as they were still on strike that day), and headed instead to the original Shakespeare & Company (near Saint Michele, so I had passed it on my walk to the walking tour the day before), a bookstore that has a branch on Broadway right by the Tisch building. Shakes & Co. was closed until 11 and it was just after 10, so we sought out a patisserie to grab a coffee to warm up in the meantime. This was enough of a challenge, as it seems most things don't open until at least 11 on weekends in Paris. But we found a place, had coffee and split a piece of flan-like cake (we thought it was creme brulee, oh well) and returned to the bookstore at 11.

It was everything I want a bookstore to be. I want to live there. It was packed floor to ceiling with books of every kind on everything. There were books on shelves under the stairs. There was a shelf on a diagonal along the side of the stairs full of books. There was an entire wall of Shakespeare. It felt kind of like what I imagined Flourish and Blotts to be like when I started reading Harry Potter. We spent a good hour in the bookstore. I found (but didn't buy, somehow) British editions of Harry Potter, but instead purchased a copy of Patti Smith's Just Kids, because it's a book I want to own anyway, and I wanted to own a book from the original Shakespeare and Company.

After working very hard to separate ourselves from the bookstore, we went to the Saint Michele station where I took a train to Versailles and Ganesh headed to meet a friend of a friend for a flight over/near Paris. Fortunately for both our plans it cleared up over the next hour, and I spent a very sunny afternoon at Versailles, which I also got into for free with my visa! The tour of the palace alone took about two hours (accompanied by an audio guide) and was really impressive, of course. The epitome of French royal grandeur. I thought about going to the gardens after, but I'd seen them from the palace, which I think gives better views of their patterns than you can get walking through them, and I was pretty tired of walking. I had, after all, spent essentially the entirety of Friday walking. So I went back to the train and headed back to my hostel to figure out some things for Sunday and relax for a little bit.

Ganesh and I reconvened outside the Comedie Francaise around 7:30, because Arnaud had told us that an hour before the show they release tickets for 5 euros. However we showed up about 5 people too late, because a few people in front of us (and everyone behind us) didn't get tickets. We were disappointed, but started wandering to find dinner. We saw, sort of by accident, the really lame light show of the Eiffel Tower from across the Seine, and then decided to eat near my hostel, because everything near where we were was closed. All the French places were excessively expensive, but we found a reasonably priced Japanese place, and as I hadn't had any kind of Asian food in the last two months, I was happy. Plus it was just a block from my hostel so right after dinner I got to fall back into bed.

Sunday morning was my earliest start yet, as I was planning to go to mass at Notre Dame at 8:30. It was still kinda dark when I left my hostel, duffel bag in tow. I was a tiny bit late to mass due to train complications, but I was there for most of it and it was all in French and I'm still not Catholic so I was going to be confused anyway. Notre Dame actually wasn't as impressive as the cathedral in Mallorca, but I walked around it and took a few pictures after the service and then headed to Ganesh's hostel to drop off my bag before our day of adventures. (Thank goodness we became friends, or I would have been hauling luggage all over Paris.)

Our first stop was the Rodin Musem (not risking another pointless wait at D'Orsay), which was small and lovely. Saw The Thinker and The Kiss and a lot of other really impressive works, plus a very nice garden. One particular sculpture is definitely a major inspiration for a theatre piece I want to create with Colleen when I get back to New York. After the Rodin Museum we headed, quite early, to the Comedie Francaise again to make sure we got tickets. We succeeded and then rushed to eat a quick lunch before the show.

We tried to find a cheap coffee shop but instead ended up at Le Pain Quotidien. Yes, they have them in America, but not like this, and it was affordable. We couldn't really read the French menu, but figured out (thanks to Ganesh's questionable four years of high school French) that something said Belgian waffles with red fruit. We both ordered that, and I got an amazing (though overpriced) hot chocolate, which I had been craving all day. The waffles were amazing, crispy on the ouside and soft on the inside, with powdered sugar, raspberries, and strawberries. Perfection. They came with a sprig of mint on top, which I put in my hot chocolate at Ganesh's suggestion, which was such a good idea. Awesome lunch and we made it to the show on time.

The Comedie Francaise is where Moliere performed right before he died. It's so famous and was incredible to be in that space. We saw a Marivaux play titled The Game of Love and Chance. I of course didn't understand anything, and the production wasn't that good, though I think the actors were pretty talented, so it wasn't a life-changing experience, but I'm glad I went. Especially since it was only 5 euros. Mediocre costumes and set, confusing sound design, almost non-existent lighting design. But I tried something new.

We did go check on D'Orsay, which was in fact still on strike, so we went back to Montmartre to just sit for a bit at Ganesh's hostel before the walking tour, which started just ten minutes away. We reunited with Arnaud and met some new people as we walked around an incredible part of Paris. Our tour started right in front of the Moulin Rouge which is not as impressive in real life as they make it look in the movie. The walk was amazing though, as we saw where van Gogh lived with his brother, where Picasso traded paintings for food, where he lived with Modigliani, where Toulouse-Lautrec painted. It was really inspiring to see where so many famous artists got their starts back in the bohemian days of Paris. The artist in me couldn't get over it. It was also particularly beautiful as day turned to night during the tour. We walked around and went into the Sacre Coure, church of the sacred heart, and saw the amazing mosaics on the walls and ceiling. No photos allowed though.

The tour ended at a little bar close to the artist's square, where we were each given a free (very generous, thanks Arnaud!) glass of wine. Well, it was a paid tour so I guess I got a free tour with a 9 euro glass of wine or vice versa or something... Anyway a good deal. While in the bar Ganesh and I talked to a few other young people on the tour. One was a guy from Chicago (of course), there was a girl from Canada studying abroad in Lyon, and another girl from Canada studying abroad in - this is unreal - Birmingham, UK. Birmingham is where the Mötley Crüe show is that I'm going to in December, and I now have a place to stay or at least stash my stuff if I need it. Serendipity, man. The five of us wandered around Montmartre looking for a place to eat and settled on a nice place with a heated outdoor patio. I had incredible chicken with a mushroom sauce - definitely not something you could get in Spain. We all kind of shared a communal meal; three of our group got full courses with an appetizer and a dessert, so there was plenty for everyone to try. The chocolate mousse was amazing.

After dinner we said goodnight to our new friends (exchanging names for facebook contact, of course. 21st century...) and Ganesh and I walked back to the Moulin Rouge to get some night shots. It is prettier at night, for sure. Then we walked back to his hostel, where I made sure I had all my stuff. Ganesh walked me to the subway stop (not far, but he's a gentleman) where we said our goodbyes until we reunite in New York in 2012 - with B52 cheesecake, right, Ganesh?

I fell asleep on the train because I knew I was taking it all the way to the end of the line. I got out and headed to my part of the terminal to find the comfiest bench I could to sleep on. I actually figured out a fairly comfortable way to sleep despite the armrests. Half an hour later though I was woken up by police officers who asked to see my passport and then asked if I was traveling, I guess to make sure I wasn't just a well-dressed bum sleeping in a really obvious place in the airport. Then I went back to sleep for a few hours and woke up around 4:30 because I was really cold. I figured out this was because people had started arriving to the airport, meaning the doors were opening a lot letting in cold air from outside. I went through security and slept a bit longer at my gate. We boarded again on the tarmac, which this time was annoying because the bus took forever and it was really cold and I just wanted to get on the plane and go back to sleep. I think I did fall asleep before we ever took off. Definitely missed the security spiel, but it's always the same. Woke up briefly during the flight because there was some kind of scary turbulence, but we landed safely back in rainy Madrid before 9am, and I successfully returned to school, already missing Paris.

That might be almost all of what I have to say about Paris. I'm still working on editing the pictures (along with the remaining ones from Mallorca, no worries). I don't have anything to do tomorrow night other than pack for Berlin, so hopefully I can upload some then!

1 comment:

  1. Yes. I AM a gentleman. A MODEST gentleman.

    The most modest, in fact.

    Also, let's make it a B51 cheesecake. I'm feeling cheap.