Paris, je t’aime. Mais putain que tu fais chier
Our arrival in Paris was a series of wonders. First we were setting foot for the first time in a month in a country where people spoke French around us, although not quite the same one we’re used to. It felt very strange but we were slightly relieved at the same time. Although we’re doing pretty good with our English it’s still an additional effort to address small everyday matters in another language than your own. Second, we realized, while riding the French underground that we had been sitting in the London Tube mere hours ago and it felt a bit surreal.
Sleeping on a boat
As we got to our host’s place we saw what he meant by “I live on a boat”. We didn’t really know what to expect and were positively surprised to see a very long ship with a full living room, kitchen, bathroom (times 2) a studio and 2 bedrooms. It really didn’t feel much like being on a boat (as in it didn’t move) except when we had to mind our heads while going on the deck and of course the peaceful and beautiful feeling of eating breakfast on the deck of a ship. Fabrice was really kind and fun and we felt very comfortable at his place!
Once we dropped our bags and had a drink and a chat with our host, we headed out to discover Paris. Our first stop was Champ de Mars and as we turned the corner to get there we got our first glimpse of the humongous thing that is the Eiffel Tower. I was a bit disappointed by it’s peak. But the rest of it is magnificent and it’s pretty hard to believe we were actually there since it’s such a renowned place.
We decided we’d climb it to the top and get a nice view of the city. Nearing the tower we saw more and more sellers of goods that try to sell you a thousand small Eiffel towers as well as any other thing they might think of. But there were literary one every square meter … a bit annoying. We waited in line and climbed to the 2nd floor in an elevator … by now our feet can take way less stairs than they used to, I think our knees would have had a nervous breakdown at the mere thought of all those steps ;).
Someone fainted during the ascension and there was some waiting around but then we got out and were amazed by the beauty of the city. I had been told by a French that Paris is all grey with some small patches of green here and there but I though this made it so much more beautiful. The whole view was grey (although it looked whitish) with some touches of green and it felt so pure and ancient and grand that we fell in love with it. Then we waited about 45 minutes to get up to the highest part of the tower and all around were written how far away in that direction was which city. We were at more than 700 km from Dublin, our first stop, and quite a few more kilometers from home. The top floor was nice, just for saying we were there and also for being so high up but then with the crowd and the view being already spectacular on the 2nd floor and all the waiting, you could just pay to go to the 2nd floor and be very happy about it.
Champ de Mars and French clichés
When we finally got back down (and were offered to buy roses by one of those vendors I talked about …. which by the way we didn’t) we were pretty hungry and got to a grocery store we saw nearby to buy a French baguette, some cheese, some pâté and some fruits and went back to the Champ de Mars to have dinner with the Eiffel tower as a backdrop. The Champ de Mars on their own are not very impressive although very nice. The thing about french gardens and parks is that there is very often more sand than grass, and when there is grass you can’t sit on it. But on the Champ de Mars we did find a proper grass spot to sit on and after being offered twice to buy wine beer cigarettes from those same vendors (which once more we didn’t) we ate our typically French food and enjoyed the scenery. By the time we were done, the night had fallen and we saw the lights on the Tower.
Side note, we bought some Harbo Smurf gummies and although they didn’t taste particularly good we enjoyed eating them because they were funny.
Arc de Triomphe
We were somewhat bummed that the night had fallen because we could take considerably less pictures but we still walked to the Arc de Triomphe, after getting a bit lost and blessing the lamp we brought along to light up the maps on the bus stops. And then there it was, huge, surrounded by about 3 to 4 rows of cars turning around in an endless circle. Exactly like you’d imagine.
After some pictures we walked down the Avenue des Champs Élysées. And for those of you that don’t know, it’s not a field, it’s not a parc. It’s a street with tons of shops of everything you could want to buy. It was past 10 at night and shops were still open. Therefore Joe Dassin had it right “Au soleil, sous la pluie, a midi ou a minuit, vous trouverez tout ce que voulez aux Champs Élysées”.
We also saw that Tiësto was to play a gig at the Queen club and that there was a technoparade on saturday but the tickets were all sold out for the first and the second was after we’d leave Paris. We were therefore pretty bummed but don’t worry we did make up for it later during our stay.
Montmartre et le Moulin Rouge
On Thursday morning, even though the forecast was rainy we planned a big walk to all the stuff we didn’t get a chance to see on the first night. It ended up being sunny and very hot. Our luck kept going. We decided to stop at the train station to book our seats for our next train but there was a strike and the office wasn’t open. We walked to Montmartre and bought our first sandwich in a bakery. Sandwiches in France are made on baguette bread. Everything in France is baguette bread in fact … morning toast, lunch and dinner …. We sat in a park and ate while marvelling at the combination of Pickles and Salami. We also heard someone play the accordion and it felt so cliché!
Then we went up the hill to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and visited our first church in a while. It was very nice and we thought there were a lot more praying people in it than we’d seen in the whole UK.
Afterwards, we walked in the streets of Montmartre, bought some postcards (Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec :D), saw a typically french waiter with stripped trousers and braces and headed towards the Moulin Rouge to marvel at the renowned cabaret. Of course we didn’t eat there but we’re not rich so that’s not a surprise 😉
L’Opéra et La Madeleine
After the Moulin Rouge we took the metro to Opéra and saw the magnificent building that hosts the renowned Opéra de Paris. We then walked all the way to a big Greek Temple that is in fact a catholic Church called La Madeleine. We were very surprised by it’s form and it’s grandeur inside. Once again, praying people where present.
Place de la Concorde, Le Jardin des Tuileries et le Louvre
Our next stop was Place de la Concorde which we didn’t to see on our first walk on the Champs Élysées because we were too tired to keep going. Place de la Concorde is huuuuuge. Generally speaking the streets are pretty wide in Paris (the main ones at least) but that Place was big for big. In the middle was an Obelisk with egyptian hieroglyphs on it, as well as a fountain.
On one side was the Avenue des Champs Éysées, on the other is le Jardin des Tuileries which had a bunch of statues, an octagonal fountain and more sand and trees. We actually sat there and had an ice cream. This garden leads to the Louvre.
Once in front of the Louvre Pyramid you see perfectly aligned the Obelisk from Place de la Concorde and further down the road the Arc de Triomphe. Very impressive. The Louvre in itself is also quite a sight and we decided we’d leave it for our stay in december because we could not muster the courage to get lost in a museum again. The Pyramids and the fountains are a very pretty modern sight though.
Notre Dame de Paris
After the Louvre we headed towards l’île de la Cité which is a small island in the middle of the Seine river. We also both agreed that although Paris is lovely it’s also very smelly and that was quite a turn off. We walked on the Pont Neuf, which is the oldest bridge remaining in Paris and walked almost the whole length on the island before finding our way to the Cathedral. Notre Dame de Paris was quite a sight. It’s big and has so many stories surrounding it. There was also a huge crowd in front of it and we lost each other for a few minutes. We found it very useful being both tall we were easier to find.
Sadly the towers were closed so we didn’t get to see the gargoyles up close but we did see the stained glass windows and the general grandeur of the place.
Le jardin du Luxembourg
As a last stop for the day we picked up another sandwich and headed to the Jardin du Luxembourg to sit and eat peacefully, on a bench. This garden was one of the most impressive with flowers, potted palm trees, fountains and the like. We liked it a lot. Then we took the metro back to the boat and spent a pretty uneventful night, although calling home made us go to bed pretty late.
Our luck fails at last
On Friday morning we were supposed to have rain again and it looked like we might escape it again so we planned a trip to Versailles to see the gardens and Castle. But we first needed to stop at a train station to book our seats which we couldn’t do the day before because of the Strike. So we took the water bus and got off at the train station that was to bring us to Versailles and queued to book our seats for Strasbourg at the same time. After a good 25 minutes we were told there were no more places reserved for Eurail pass holders and we should have book in advance. He was offering us to pay full price for a ticket (over €70 each) or a train on sunday morning at 6.24, or to go see at the train station form which the train to Strasbourg actually departs to see if there was a possibility to get a transfer somewhere.
Pretty bummed we took the metro to the other train station and queued there for another 25 minutes to learn that we could pay only €18 because they often had too little places reserved for pass holders. We were very relieved but this had made us late on our schedule by at least 2 hours. Therefore we wouldn’t have had time to get to Versailles, visit, come back and move our stuff to the new host in time. We decided to skip Versailles.
We decided we’d stay in town and visit the Catacombs and the Père Lachaise cemetery instead so we took the metro and headed to the Catacombs. When we entered the underground it was still sunny but when we got out at the other end it was pouring pretty heavily and we hurried inside the Catacombs. The service there was pretty bad. Their card machine had broken so we had to pay cash but they didn’t have change for big notes and the people were generally unfriendly but we managed to get our tickets and head down.
The place in itself is 500m walk away by underground dimly lit tunnels of an old Quarry. It’s pretty spooky. The ossuary is creepy because of all the skulls and bones and the fact that someone actually took the time to arrange them into a tourist attraction. There is also an inscription on the door to the ossuary that says “Stop. This is the realm of the dead” or something of the like that we thought reminded us way too much of the Lord of the Rings. Generally the ceiling was pretty low and dripping and there was a plaque that said maybe Jean de la Fontaine’s remounts were in the ossuary but then we saw that he had a tomb in the Père Lachaise cemetery and found it pretty suspicious.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
To keep on the same theme we headed to the Père Lachaise Cemetery next. It was still drizzling but with the trees we were doing pretty good. The only problem is we got there 1 hour before it closed and we didn’t buy a map so we wandered in the cemetery, a bit lost and only managed to find Eugène Delacroix’s tomb before having to head out.
New Hosts and French night out
That night we packed our stuff and headed to another host’s place. We spent an hour on the metro because of some technical problem and arrived pretty late but the guys were very friendly and they offered us a few drinks and dinner (although we had already ate). We tasted Martini for the first time as well as some Chinese rose alcohol which they used as a dare. It was 54%. They were pretty surprised when I liked it haha. Felix also tasted some North Korean Alcohol that smelled like potatoes. Then we headed to a pub and had a beer and talked for a few hours. I discovered the Hoegaarden which is pretty good and Félix had a Désperados, a tequila beer. In the end we walked back home and got to sleep past 4.30.
This morning was a bit harder on the waking up because the train was at 11.24 but we made it and also made some friends out of our French hosts which is often the most precious thing about Couchsurfing. We would never have experience Paris this way if it wasn’t for couches and we liked it a lot! Now Félix is hungover and I’m not but he did have two more glasses of Martini and a potato drink that I didn’t.