Weekend in Paris, March 27th-March 30th
If I could use one word to describe the city of Paris, it would be elegant. Many of the cities I have traveled to surprised me: I was not expecting Paris to look like it did, but I don’t know what I had been expecting.
Unfortunately, our hostel was a bit far away from anything we wanted to do or see all weekend, but thankfully the Paris Metro had a stop right across the street from where we were staying. Our flight out of Rome was at seven in the morning, so we had a full day to explore Paris when we arrived to the freezing, foggy weather. For some reason, though, this is the kind of weather I associate with Paris. Dana, Brenna, and I dropped our stuff and immediately headed to the Montmarte area, where Sacre Couer is. This is a really artsy area, full of cafes, art galleries, and artist vendors, where I bought a little painting. After eating some lunch, we took the metro to L’Arc de Triomphe and climbed up to the top of it. Chris told me to climb this rather than the Eiffel Tower, because from here you can see the Eiffel Tower. And the view was phenomenal. Sacre Couer looked like some kind of middle-eastern temple on a hill: it is clearly the highest point in the city. The light was hitting the white domes of the church so it was illuminated against the grey skies. The Eiffel Tower towered above everything else, making it visible from every area of the city. We could see all the way down the Champs de'Lysses to the Louvre, and could even see the top of Notre Dame.
We climbed down the stairs and started to walk down the Champs de'Lysses, feeling thoroughly inadequate against the French women who are even more impeccably dressed than Italian women, if that is even possible. The walk was gorgeous, the huge boulevard leading you directly to the Louvre. And oh, the Louvre, the amazing Louvre. I was taken with the sheer size of the building, not realizing that it extended even beyond the courtyard where the glass pyramid is located. It is a gorgeous building in and of itself, and therefore appropriate that it holds the biggest art collection in the world. Despite our exhaustion, we went on Friday night because it is free for students. And let me just say this: the tour of the Louvre was the single most overwhelming experience of my entire life. It was sensory overload when we walked into the huge lobby with entrances to three different wings, each with three floors and each with a more priceless art collection than the next. It took us forever to find the Mona Lisa, and when we did, I was pleasantly surprised. I had heard all kinds of criticism about this famous painting: it is the size of a postcard, it’s not worth it, you can only see it from twenty feet away, and other gripes from people who had a less-than stellar experience with DaVinci’s painting. I would like to thoroughly denounce all of these disappointed claims: I personally thought the Mona Lisa was amazing, and certainly lived up to my expectations. Brenna, Dana, and I shoved ourselves through the crowd right up to the front so we got a great view of it, and it ended up being a lot bigger than I expected. After this wild goose chase to find the Mona Lisa, we were thoroughly beat and nearly fell asleep waiting for our other friends.
As if we had not run around the city enough that day, the other girls we met up with wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower at night. They were finished with the Louvre at ten, and the Eiffel Tower closes at eleven, so we literally ran to the metro and ran to the Eiffel Tower. Brenna and I didn’t go up the tower, we just sat by it and marveled at this amazing architectural achievement. Pictures just don’t do the intricacies of the Eiffel Tower justice, and at night it is even more spectacular. Nothing compares to the experience of sitting underneath one of the massive pillars, even if we froze to death.
The next morning, we got up super early to get a jumpstart on our day. It started off well with the most incredible pastry of my life. We then went to the Musee D’Orsay, which is a train station-turned museum, filled with works of art by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Lautrec, and much more manageable than the Louvre. It was a nice change of pace to be in the presence of impressionist paintings rather than crucifixions, annunciations, adorations, nativity scenes, and other religious artwork that dominates Renaissance art. I was really looking forward to see Monet’s Water Lilies, but the painting was on loan to an art museum in Givenchy.
From the Musee D’Orsay, we hopped on the RER, Paris’ regional train, and went out to Versailles, which is definitely everything it is cracked up to be. We paid a bit more for a private tour of King Louis XV private apartments (which you do not get to see on your own), but first had time to walk around the palace by ourselves. Everything in the palace is overly ornate, overdone in excess: excess in color, in gold plating, in elaborate chandeliers. Even the expanse of the gardens, perfectly geometrically designed (after the Italian Renaissance gardens, mind you), were beautifully lavish.
That night we went back to Montmarte for dinner, found a cute little restaurant that served French onion soup and croq monsieurs. When we sat down, the host told us that he did not want to hear us making too much noise. Well, put twelve hungry girls in the middle of a tiny restaurant and we’re bound to make some kind of racket. I don’t think the French people dining around us were too fond of us after that.
We got up early again on Sunday morning to get to the market at La Motte Piquet, where we bought fresh strawberries and pain au chocolat for breakfast. This market literally has everything, from the fresh catch of the day to shoes for sale. We were in awe of the colors bursting from the fruit stands and the pungent stench of cheese that pretty much takes Paris by storm.
We then went down to explore Notre Dame. The gothic architecture of the cathedral has an extremely ominous complexity that is not found anywhere in Italy, only emphasized by the gargoyles lining the top. Even the interior of the cathedral had an extremely creepy feeling. The inside of the cathedral was so cold we could see our breath. The long nave seemed to be never-ending and appeared to swallow the altar and the priest who was performing mass.
After visiting Notre Dame, we walked to see the Pompidou: a strange modern art building that does NOT fit in with the motif of Paris. We walked around the Jewish Quarter for a while, the only section of town with shops that were open. We basked in the sun in Plaç de Voges for a while before trekking to Angelina where we proceeded to drink the best hot chocolate of our entire lives. They do hot chocolate correctly in Paris: they gave us a huge pitcher for the three of us, complete with a gigantic bowl of whipped cream and ice water. But it was so rich we could not even finish all of it.
For dinner, we went back to Montmarte to a fondue place on the recommendation of some of my friends who are studying in Toulouse, France. It is a tiny room, that an probably seat about forty people at a time, serving a fixed menu complete with aperitifs, fondue, and wine out of baby bottles. None of us could keep a straight face when we started to drink, and were easily the loudest ones in the jam-packed room, laughing hysterically at the concept of three 21-year-old girls drinking wine out of baby bottles.
Brenna and I took Dana to the Eiffel Tower because she went back to the hostel early the other night, and she was just as astounded as we had been the first night. What we did not tell her was that every hour on the hour, the lights of the Eiffel Tower blink like crazy, giving it a sparkling effect. Dana was thrilled and jumped up and down like a toddler. On our way back to the metro, we stopped to get our first French crepe, which was utterly phenomenal. I resolved then and there never to eat a crepe again unless it was in France.
When I told Stefani I was going to Paris, she told me to go to the bar where she hung out while she was studying there. Against our better judgment and our body temperatures, I dragged Brenna and Dana to The Long Hop for a drink or two. As per Steffy’s request, we asked for Eric, but the bartender told us he was fired two years ago because he was too nice to girls. Gio, the bartender, seemed honored that we showed up anyway, and gave us each a few free drinks.
Our flight on Monday did not leave until eight that night, so we had a relaxing day to explore areas of the city we had not yet seen. We checked out of our hostel and dragged our stuff with us all day. We went to the Luxembourg Gardens and walked around there for a bit—we saw a movie being filmed! It looked like it was set in the 1800s, and they must have done about ten takes while we were standing there watching.
For our last meal in Paris, we wanted to have a picnic around the Eiffel Tower with baguettes and cheese. We literally spent an hour and a half running around Paris trying to find a cheese shop. It should not be that hard to find a fromagerie in a city that is renowned for its cheese. Ideally, we wanted to buy cheese from the artisan who makes it for Presiden Sarkozy, but it was closed two days in a row! Eventually we found a place and bought some brie, some other cheese with caraway seeds, and a few slices of salami. So after our cheese-and-baguette quest, we found a bench near the Eiffel Tower and picnicked there until it was time to head to the bus station.
I know it’s cheesy, but everything about Paris really was magical.