I woke up at an ungodly 5:15 am to catch my train into London Paddington Station, then hailed my first cab over to St. Pancras International Terminal for the Eurostar to Paris! Yes, for those of you who didn’t know, I went to Paris this weekend. My friend from all the way back in junior high French class, Dale, has been studying there this semester so what better excuse to visit?
I was exhausted from the week so I pretty much slept through both train rides. Oops. Dale met me at the train station and we dropped my bag off at his place because the hostel didn’t open until later, then we traipsed off to meet some of his friends, talking nonstop because we have about five years of our lives to catch up on. Now that I think about it, we kind of never stopped talking the entire weekend.
We met his friends at Angelina for supposedly the best drinking chocolate in Paris (drinking chocolate is different from hot chocolate, look it up!). Also the most expensive, though everything is more expensive here than in Oxford. It was pretty amazing, dark and rich, you literally felt the inside of your mouth coated with dark chocolate. it was so decadent that I had a stomachache for hours. There was a line out the door and down the street, reportedly taking about an hour just to be seated. Luckily Dale’s friends had done the waiting for us and we sat right down. As for the chocolate…you could tell that they used quality dark chocolate in their drink (I believe it was from Africa) from the bitterness that practically reached black coffee standards. The texture was wonderfully smooth, but oddly drying; this was definitely not a drink to quench your thirst with. Now I can handle chocolate at 85% cacao with a smile on my face, but this drinking chocolate was so intense that even I had to use some of the flavorless whipped cream to cut into the richness. And then of course there was the resulting chocolate coma. Then we walked through the Christmas market on the Champs-Elysee. it was literally covered with people and the smells of food nearly made us puke during our chocolate coma. I swore off chocolate for the rest of my trip (that totally didn’t last).
Walking around the entirety of Paris sounded like a good idea, so we wandered down to the famous and gigantic shopping mall called the Galerie Lafayette. I’m not really one to care about shopping sites, but the Galerie Lafayette had two convincing draws: a public restroom and an incredible view of the city at night. The city stretched beneath us like an impossible maze, glowing from the streetlights placed every ten feet on the ground. The Eiffel Tower sparkled in the distance, Notre-Dame rose from the streets and the Seine wound its way through, dividing the city in two. it was magnificent. Then we continued to walk back to the hostel so I could drop off my bags, grabbed sandwiches from a random boulangerie, picked up a bottle of wine from Dale’s home stay place, and headed back to meet his friends at Pont des Artes. There we drank wine on a bridge over the Seine as Dale and his friends explained to me what their lives in Paris have been like (they are on the UC program so not as much immersion as they had hoped). Lastly, we walked back to the hostel where I completely crashed after an obscene amount of walking.
It was weird to wake up the next morning and remember that I was in France, not England. Dale and I met at a cafe that turned out to be closed so we went to a patisserie for coffee and the best chocolate croissants that I have ever tasted. Flaky, buttery, chocolatey, so yummy. Two Asian tourists asked to take pictures of us, which I thought was really bizarre, but it wasn’t going to hurt us so who cares. I didn’t want that breakfast to end, but we had other places to go than a bakery.
We took the metro (which I kept calling the Tube like a true Brit) and then walked up Montmartre to Sacre-Coeur, the basilica of the Cult of the Sacred Heart. Churches are so hard to describe in enough detail to do them justice, especially in Paris where everything is so ornate. We wandered around Montmartre a but before heading down tot he anticlimactic Moulin Rouge. The red windmill looked new and tiny and the theater is surrounded by buildings built in last 50 years. I couldn’t really imagine what it would have been like in its heyday and not looking like a tourist attraction along the lines of Madame Toussouds. The most interesting thing about it was that it was completely surrounded by every kind of sex shop you could imagine. We passed on visiting any of those obviously.
From there we walked (shocker) to Paris’s famous cemetery Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise. It is gigantic and this beautiful mix of old, decrepit, large family graves and the newer, granite, single person gravestones. Most famous people who end up buried in PAris are here. They have a few maps that attempt to guide you to the most famous ones, but even the maps they provide are inaccurate and we spent a few hours searching for everyone. We saw/sought out Balzac, Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Haussman, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Pissarro, Proust, and Oscar Wilde. Yeah it’s a bit morbid to visit a cemetery as a tourist attraction, but I see it as a way of paying my respects to these amazing people and their contributions to the world. But we didn’t think about how hungry we were until we decided to WALK to the best creperie in Paris.
Breakfast had been at 9 and we made it to the creperie around 3:30. We were lucky that it was open because most restaurants apparently close between 3 and 7 to prepare for dinner. I ordered a crepe of emmental cheese, blue cheese, goat cheese, and grapes. Delicious because it’s a crepe in Paris and because we were starving!! We stuck around for a long time, talking and quenching our dehydration, before ordering dessert crepes (c’mon, it’s PAris). Mine was stewed apples, caramel, and apple liquor set on fire. I swear the crepe could’ve made me drunk. Dale’s was an amazing chestnut cream.
We then walked over to Notre-Dame so we could go to mass and I could check that off my bucket list. It was a worthwhile and beautiful experience, regardless of my inability to understand anything said because–of course–it was all in French! Now my French was actually passable and quickly coming back, but nowhere near enough to follow mass. The service and rituals were beautiful though.
We were completely exhausted but it was only 8:00 so going home felt like a waste of time. Dale has kind of made friends with this guy who runs a movie theater so we got to see the Rum Diaries with Johnny Depp for free. It was a surprisingly good movie that made me want to read Hunter S. Thompson. Thank goodness it was in English! We called it a night after that though; it was midnight after all.
Originally, I planned to go to the Musee D’Orsay by myself Monday morning, but I read a brochure over the hostel’s version of breakfast (bread, butter, jam, and coffee) that said it wasn’t open on Mondays so I went back to sleep before walking to another museum called L’Orangerie 90 minutes away to meet Dale. L’Orangerie is a pretty small art museum, but it has 8 of Monet’s water lilies covering two room that alone are worth the 5 euro.
After the L’Orangerie, we walked to Rue du Rosiers for the best falafel either of us have ever tasted. We chose to continue our walking streak all the way to the Paris catacombs. We went through the Jardin de Luxomberg, which is so different than the English style. The sun was finally shining so the garden looked very vibrant. We made it to the catacombs only to find out that they too are not open on Mondays. So then we had to backtrack to the Pantheon, another famous church with a crypt housing Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Joan of Arc. The crypt wasn’t creepy like I expected it to be, probably because it didn’t look very crypt-like, or at least what I expected a a crypt to look like.
Next we went to the Paris Mosque for once again amazing and warm mint-honey tea. I love going to these hidden gems that people don’t normally see on vacation. I mean what tourist seeks out a mosque for mint tea? But it’s little things like that that are special in my book.
We were going to attempt to get standby tickets for the Paris Opera so we stopped by a chocoleterie for macarons (I’m so spoiled) and picked up sandwiches before hopping in the queue. Definitely a very stressful experience as we watched the lines crawl through ahead of us, our potential tickets dwindling away. We made it to the ticket booth 15 minutes before the opera was scheduled to start and literally scored two of the last 15 tickets. They also turned out to be amazing seats! The opera was in Italian with French subtitles above the stage, but I was impressed with myself for how much I could remember and read. Dale googled the storyline later and it turns out that we actually correctly understood the entire opera! Pat on the back for us! I still can’t believe our luck and that I got to see my first ever opera in Paris.
I was not going to endure another hostel breakfast regardless if it was free, so we went back to the amazing chocolate croissant and coffee place that we went to the other day. Somehow it was even better Tuesday than Sunday. I think it was warm so the chocolate was more melted and gooey. Our legs were exhausted and time was running out so we took the metro to the catacombs; thankfully they were open this time. I can’t really describe how it felt to be down there surrounded by bones other than simultaneously eerie and peaceful. Dale and I became very philosophical, talking about life and death and appreciation. Next we made a quick trip to the D’Orsay before a final macarons and sandwich stop as we parted ways at the Bastille metro station.
It was an exhausting trip, but it was also perfect. Because we walked around so much, we really got the chance to catch up and discuss everything under the sun. Thanks so much Dale!!!