It’s not often that you get to sit at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and watch the sunset. When I started this journal entry in March 2010, that’s where I was. I arrived in the middle of the Champs de Mars at dusk, and before long, the whole structure just lit up.
I sat there in awe for quite some time and it took about 10 minutes for it to become real to me that I was really in Paris, looking at the Eiffel Tower. This was something I’d looked forward to seeing for a long time.
Day 1: Arrival in Paris
Before Paris, I’d spent four days in London. Since this was the midpoint of a month-long spring break from uni classes, I’d spent a grand total of one night in my own bed between my time in London and Paris. Earlier that day, I woke up early in my own bed in Leeds and traveled to Paris from there as it was the cheapest way at the time. However, it would have probably made more sense for me to catch the train directly from London to Paris as it’s faster.
Upon arriving in Paris, finding the hotel was a bit of an ordeal. With a bit of help from a mate, Evan, who was using Google Maps and texting instructions to me from Leeds, I eventually made it.
Evan would actually join me in Paris, but not until the next day. I decided to dedicate the afternoon to developing my fledgeling photography skills rather than sightseeing. The rain quickly quashed this idea, though.
I got off the underground at Charles de Gaulle station, only to have the Arc du Triomphe shoot up from the ground right in front of me. After visiting the arch, I went for a walk up the Champs-Élysées. I eventually sat down for dinner in a restaurant with the cheapest bolognese I could find, and that’s where this story loops back to the top.
Day 2 – A brief introduction to Paris
Like a drill to the face, the melody of an alarm being snoozed upwards of 20 times woke me up. Ah, the joys of hostels. After an excessively long, passive-aggressive shower, I walked over to the Montmartre area and gave the Sacre-Coeur a peek while I waited for Evan to arrive. I could be wrong, but it felt like an area most visitors probably wouldn’t see.
Once Evan joined me, we headed straight to the New Europe free tour. Our tour guide was from Melbourne, so I found her accent refreshing but kind of like cheating. Jacq showed us the Notre Dame, the Ile de la Cite, and the Pont Neuf, with lots of tacky padlocks securing thousands of unwavering, unbreakable relationships.
The tour continued past the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Élysées, and the Arc du Triomphe from a distance. New Europe tours are a favourite of ours because they are free and work on a tips-only basis. They’re perfect for study abroad students living dangerously close to the poverty line. In fact, later that evening, we purchased a glorious dinner from a local convenience store and prepared it in a microwave.
Day 3 – The queues begin
The first thing on our list was heading back to the Eiffel Tower. The line was as massive as we expected, but thankfully, the line for the stairs was shorter and cheaper. We climbed to the second level, which was actually pretty cool. We had to line up again for probably 20 minutes to get a ticket for the top, so I wondered if it was indeed worth the wait.
The view from the top was spectacular, and I’m glad I went. The city is so flat, with incredible symmetry and a towering CBD way out in what felt like the suburbs.
We began our own little walking tour of the city, with highlights like a carpark tour of Ecole Militaire, Napoleon’s Grave, and Jardin du Luxembourg, a very pretty garden in the city where we saw a kid beat some guy at chess. On we walked to the Pantheon, into which we almost didn’t venture because of the “steep” €5 entry price, but it actually ended up being a highlight.
Inside, there’s a pendulum that tells time, loads of massive paintings on the walls, and a crypt with dozens of graves of famous Frenchmen. The whole place was immense, foreboding, and ornate.
We took the metro to Place de la Bastille, where we saw a hilarious fight break out in front of the opera house. Place des Vosges was next, and apparently, Parisians think it is one of the prettiest gardens in the world. I would disagree, since I thought even Luxembourg Gardens was far better. We “enjoyed” a dinner of microwavable chicken before setting out to learn night photography at the Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge.
Day 4 – Chateau de Versailles
My biggest observation from this day was that Parisians seem to hate anybody who isn’t a fellow Parisian. They know that Paris will always be one of the most visited cities in the world, so it’s time to accept that. Today, Evan and I went to Chateau de Versailles. We got off the train at about 10:30 a.m. and got in one of two lines.
After a few minutes of waiting, Evan went and checked the other line and learned that that one was to purchase tickets, while the one we were in was for entrance. So he went to buy some tickets while I waited in the entrance line to speed up what was already beginning to seem like a long process. I talked with a guy from Orlando, but he had a ticket, so when we got to the front he went on while I continued to wait.
And wait. And wait. I pulled out my iPod and listened to an album and a half before Evan rejoined me. By the time he did, it was 12:30. What a well-spent morning.
We grabbed our audio guides and walked through. Once we were inside, it was all very interesting. We saw the king and queen’s bedrooms, the Hall of Mirrors, and the gallery of giant-arse paintings of their major military battles in history. I kept an eye out but did not see the Battle of Waterloo. I guess they only wanted to highlight the victories.
The palace itself took about two hours to go through. Then we went outside to the gardens, and oh my goodness, they are huge. We had hardly covered any ground at all, but the heavens opened up and it rained heavily. We had paid to see the gardens, we’d waited in two hours of lines to see the gardens, nothing was going to stop us seeing the gardens! On a clear day in full bloom, the gardens would have been spectacular — fit for a king, even.
We caught the train back to the city, had some “dinner”, and went to the Louvre after half a bottle of cheap wine each. Evan and I do not understand or appreciate art or museums, nor do we try to do so. Certain students, ages, and education groups can get free admission, so check the Louvre website for specifics.
Once inside the Louvre, we made a beeline for the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. It took us about 10 minutes to wrap up two of the most famous pieces of art in the world. After that, we sat near the inverted pyramid and the not-so-inverted pyramid, the chalice and the phallus from the “Da Vinci Code,” and watched people take photos.
Day 5 – We’re still here
This marked the fifth day I had in Paris. In my book, that was more than enough, so we decided to take it easy and rest. After a late breakfast, we set off to the Ile de la Cite to see Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle. The line at Notre Dame was really long, so we did Saint Chappelle first. We stretched our budget to pay the €5 entry fee and found that the stained glass was really nice. However, the extensive renovations made the visit more than a little disappointing.
We got through the line at Notre Dame quite quickly, and once inside, we were welcomed with high stone arches supporting ornate ceilings high above. The walls bordered incredibly intricate stained glass windows that have stood for centuries.
Dinner continued to be magical as ever, thanks to microwavable lasagne. The night’s activities involved some more poor night photography of the Arc de Triomphe, which was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon but not completed until 1836. A final stroll down the Champs-Élysées in the rain completed our tour.
There is a lot to do in Paris, with plenty of sights for every visitor. Admittedly, I stayed on the well-beaten track this time. But I grew frustrated with the unfriendliness of some tourism operators. If I’m trying to speak your language, don’t patronise me by answering me in English. For the most part, I enjoyed my time, but I don’t feel the need to return to Paris for a very long time.
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