Last Saturday, I took off on a four-day jaunt to the the most visited city in the world: Paris. I was a little nervous about traveling by myself for two reasons–the first being that the last time I visited Paris (at the tender age of 18), I ended up taking a bus to the wrong side of the city looking for Sacre Coeur and the second being that the last trip I took alone (a two-night blitz in NI/Ireland at the end of last summer) made me feel just that: alone. I think it is helpful to periodically travel by yourself because you see how much you’ve grown as an individual. The more experienced traveller in me now knows that city buses are to be avoided when an excellent Metro system offers confusion-free transit. The more relaxed traveller in me knows that loneliness can be combatted by not having breakfast by yourself at the hostel and talking to everyone else you see carrying around a Rick Steves’ Paris book…it’s like Jeep drivers who wave to other Jeep drivers on the highway.
I was pleasantly surprised by how idyllic this trip was…until the last 18 hours, but we’ll get to those later. I had picked out an itinerary ahead of time: Rick’s Marais walk and a concert (Maria Gadu!!) on Sunday, the Montmartre walk (featuring the long lost Sacre Coeur) and a Fat Tire bike tour on Monday, Rick’s Historic Paris walk on Tuesday, and a train to Chartres to see the cathedral on Tuesday afternoon, returning to Paris for a smooth Wednesday departure.
All started smoothly on Sunday. Hotel Sully, below, was one of my first stops. It was places like this that made my jaw drop and recognize why Paris is often-imitated (e.g. Buenos Aires), but never duplicated. The grandeur! The infrastructeur! (hehe.) It was also the first spotting of two fellow Rick Stevers.
The walk continued around Place des Voges and I enjoyed the free part of the visit to Victor Hugo’s house…and the kids playing in the sandbox in the plaza circled by expensive cars. (The grandeur!) In line for a famous falafel in the middle of the Marais, I met an Australian who had moved to the neighborhood in February. The picture below was snapped by the daughter of a woman who knows Steve Smith (the mind behind Rick Steves’ Paris.) It’s a small world…
I decided that whatever photo someone took of me that didn’t involve them running away with my camera was a success. Some are flattering, some are not, but all are memories.
The Pompidou awaited at the end of the walk and I think I needed a little more than an hour (and possibly a guided tour?) to get the most out of this ENORMOUS place. But, I will say the gift shop had this nicest postcards in Paris!
The Maria Gadú pics turned out blurry, but I loved the concert. She didn’t sing my two favorites…but, it was so cool to see her live and swim in Portuguese for an hour. I wish I knew more because she gave some interesting chat about half-way through and I would have loved to know more about what she said.
As planned, Monday started on the hill. I found Sacre Coeur to be one of the least “holy” feeling churches of the trip. Too many people and too many 10€ votives to be lit. Regardless, arriving was a success, a skill I didn’t have 7 years ago.
I veered off my plan a little with a visit to the Montmartre museum. I took advantage of my last year of being 25 and under and got a 2€ discount on my entry ticket. The information in the museum revolved around the artists that lived in the neighborhood at the turn of the century (e.g. Picasso) and only reaffirmed my love for that time period. The house and grounds of the museum were the most enjoyable part of the visit.
On of the first stops on the early-evening bike tour was Notre Dame. I didn’t know that Victor Hugo helped save this from destruction with his book about the Hunchback. Literature does mean something, if there ever was a doubt.
We also made it to the Louvre. Though I never went in, I felt justified in seeing the classic glass triangle everyone photographs and I enjoyed the splendid light hitting the palace.
The “problem” of getting back to my hostel at night, on the metro, by myself, was solved by three Canadian girls, who also happened to be staying in Montmartre, in my same hostel, in the room across from mine. AHH. Too bizarre.
The next morning, I made it through a quick line to see Notre Dame. (I was surprised because when my mom and I visited in March or April, I remember the line being of an intimidating length and we never made it through). One of my favorite parts were the quirky glass confessionals. I was not only surprised by the priest who spoke 5 languages, but I was even more impressed that one of them was Catalan. The linguist in me fluttered a bit. And yes, that’s a nun in the confessional.
When it gets warm, you open window. Just like anywhere else.
Another spot I had missed as a teen? The charming bookshop on the banks of the river, Shakespeare and Company. With an hour longer (and some €€), I would have some out with half a shelf of books.
The spectacular stained glass of St. Chapelle was my last stop before catching a train to Chartes.
And I was astounded to see a piano in the train station, for anyone to play. Those French! They’re so sophisticated! (But, this guy was playing “Gangsta’s Paradise.” It was excellent.)
My hotel (an upgrade from the shared hostel room) was in a perfect location in Chartres. The spires are the cathedral. Unfortunately, my time there was slightly marred by the fact that Vueling informed me that flights from France were cancelled because of an air traffic controllers strike. And when I went to buy a train ticket to Barna (which were alternatively sold-out and not sold out depending on when you checked), I realized I needed cash. No problem, right? Wrong. The first ATM I went to dutifully swallowed my plastic and left me desperately calling my bank (and finally, R.) to bail me out of a sticky situation. I had had a fabulous time in Paris…but, I didn’t want one more night there. I wanted some salty water and morning toasts and clean funderwear. Thankfully, Miriam and Sabata let me crash overnight in Barna with them before my early a.m. plane back to the island.
Last thought: the next time I’m in France, I’d like to travel with a French speaker. I don’t know how people make it around without the language of the country they’re staying in…it’s tough!
Last last thought: Longest post ever. Go have a cookie.