As a European, it’s very unusual not to visit France, especially Paris. Most teens take the cliché school trip that includes all the usual mundane tourist traps. Anything that involves a tour guide is my idea of hell. It’s so fun to get lost and explore an entire city by foot. You might have some unexpected encounters. Let me share my experience of getting lost in Paris…
Amsterdam is an eight-hour bus trip from Paris – not exactly glamorous, but I’m endorsing a more frugal Calvinist lifestyle. I hopped on the Flixbus that departed Amsterdam at Midnight. Along the way, we picked up a group of ladies, who I believe were Ethiopian. Their aroma of musky Oud immediately made me reminisce about my time in the Middle East. One of the ladies was rather voluptuous. Honestly, I was hoping she wouldn’t sit next to me because I wanted the extra seat to curl up and sleep. She squeezed in beside me and sat down. With all my nonsensical fretting, she turned out to be very cosy in the chilly air-conditioned bus. She gladly let me snuggle up to her and 7 hours later, I woke up on the outskirts of Paris. Refugees living in tents on the side of the chaotic highway, casually brushing their teeth, preparing to start their day. Plastic rubbish and general waste was pervasive, no evidence of vegetation. It was a sobering sight. The outskirts of any metropolitan city present the true reality, as opposed to the internalised fictitious centre – opulent living quarters that often stand empty, designer shop fronts and luxurious cars. After living in The Netherlands for the past year, I had become accustomed to the compassionate mindset of the Dutch. The social fabric of society is visibly well knitted throughout the country. Resources efficiently percolate throughout each community, big or small without discrimination, ensuring each citizen has a roof above their heads – shelter, a fundamental psychological need according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Prior to my trip, I decided to make a dramatic change to my hair – embrace the au natural brunette and a short bob. I had only stepped off the bus one hour and already people were asking me for directions in Paris! I dropped my things off at my accommodation – 3 Ducks Hostel. I highly recommend this hostel – it’s well located (15th ARR), clean, friendly staff, and even the locals were enjoying a drink on their outdoor terrace – always a good sign! The August heatwave was in full swing. Of course, the first thing on my to-do list was to grab a traditional croissant from the boulangerie and sit beside the Eiffel Tower. As it was still so early in the morning, I managed to get some great shots without interruptions (as you can see above!)
The architecture in Paris is remarkable. There are many unique pieces of history from a myriad of different eras – the Middle Ages right up to the current day. I personally love Gothic architecture and Paris is the birthplace of this specific aesthetic. I chose to visit the Arc de Triomphe because from extensive research, the views appeared to surpass those from the iconic Eiffel Tower. It was a monument I always saw in movies, surrounded by a dangerous roundabout. It was panic to get onto it and a gamble to get off it! There are hundreds of martyrs’ names carved into the magnificent structure, commemorating those who fought in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Something immediately struck me – I didn’t see one female on the extensive list. I noticed this a lot with the general history of Paris.
Next on my list of Paris prerequisites was the Chateau de Versailles. There are two words to describe it – outrageously opulent! My jaw hit the ground with the excessive gold flecks that caught my eyes from every angle. You can easily reach the city of Versailles by train from Paris. The history behind the palace is very extensive. In each room there are numerous historical facts – the original drawings of its initial purpose and its evolution throughout the different monarchies and eras. Many of the ceilings are extravagantly decorated with al fresco paintings and beautiful craftsmanship.
My final stop in my historic tour was the Musée de Louvre. My visit coincided with the first Saturday of August. On this day the entrance is free. I admittedly underestimated the size of this museum and the sheer volume of visitors this gratuity would attract! I even bumped into the lady I fell asleep on in the bus from Amsterdam! You could easily spend the whole day wandering back in time…
Paris by night is full of life, especially with the balmy summer weather. Young and old, everybody is actively engaging in the street life. Everything unravels without a rigid schedule. Live jazz music playing, men and women passionately dancing, kissing, smoking, drinking, enthralled with the simple pleasures of life. I dated a Parisian guy in Amsterdam during the summer. He always remarked on the lack of affection displayed in public spaces in Amsterdam. “If I started passionately kissing you in this bar, you will see that everyone will start looking in shock.” We trialled and tested his theory. He was correct. Nevertheless, I successfully roamed the whole city of Paris until 4AM, totally alone on my first night.
A friend of a friend recommended a nice vegetarian spot for dinner. I was shocked to see the restaurant packed at nearly 11PM. I thought the kitchen would be closing and I might be lucky to grab a bite. There was a long table in the window. One man sitting alone with an extra chair. The waitress told me they were fully booked. I pointed out the empty seat in the window beside the man, his head deep in a book. In The Netherlands you wouldn’t think twice about placing two strangers together to share a communal table. There would be no pressure to verbally engage with this stranger, but an empty space should be used regardless. In Paris it was very different. “I will have to ask his permission to see if it’s okay to sit beside him.” I felt like felon! Once our eyes met, he was happy to welcome me. It wasn’t long before we started pleasantly chatting – nothing too flirtatious, yet. He was Parisian and worked in the theatre business in Germany. I was already well primed to deal with this species of Frenchman. Time passed by without even realising that the restaurant was closing. He pointed towards the door, “We should go have a drink at this little place I know.” The wedding band immediately caught my eye. What harm was there in having a drink? He took off his glasses and stood up. He was handsome – very tall, well built and in his late 30s. From our conversation, he was also intelligent, well spoken and polite.
We started walking towards this ‘little hole in the wall’ that sold organic wine. Around the corner became close to 20 minutes of brisk walking. This was either going to become a ‘Taken’ situation and I potentially required Liam Neeson on speed dial. Or else, I was going to experience a true local rendezvous in the city of love, with a married man. Talk about cliché! Then he mentioned his wife – finally. He was married. She was working abroad regularly and travelling; doing her own thing. Him the same. Two individuals engrossed in their works and no time for each other. He alluded to the fact that he didn’t mind her having external sexual escapades. The feeling was mutual from her side. But after all, he was a stranger and a previous gamble failed my natural intuition. The flirtation intensified between us – the temptation looming.
We finally arrived at the wine bar and they were closing. He was right, it was a charming place off the beaten track. The owner offered us a bottle to go. “We can get a bottle to go and take it back to my place around the corner.” The high context subtly of this Parisian man. I was playing with fire. ” We just walked past this other nice wine bar. Let’s have a wine there!” It was nearly midnight and he was so keen to order a full bottle. I knew that would be impossible, if I was to get home alone in one piece. A glass sufficed. Over an hour later the bar was closing and subsequently, our farewell. We stood beside a quiet park and embraced each other with a warm hug. His eyes full of hope that I would take him up on his implicit offer. I couldn’t help making eye contact again with his ring. Objectively, I put myself in his wife’s shoes. How would I feel? I thanked him for a lovely, spontaneous night. There was a sadness in his eyes, but serenity in my heart. Although he was the one with commitments, I couldn’t be an accomplice to his potential offence. We exchanged numbers. I walked away.
The next day I took a trip to Montmartre, a beautiful hillside spot located in the 18th quarter. The Basilica of Sacre-Coeur is a stunning white-domed church. From the first glance you can already sense its Catholic routes – more opulence, an adornment of gold and other unnecessary bits and pieces. This neighbourhood is perfect for a Sunday stroll. You can witness 360 degree views of the entire city of Paris.
In addition to a Parisian croissant, I had to sample the wonderful selection of cheeses. I found an eloquent little bistro beside the Jardin de Luxembourg. It was nicely perched beside the road, soaking up the lively city atmosphere with slow Sunday lull. It was so nice to sit back and relax with a glass of rosé, cheese and a book. However, I was often interrupted as strangers kept verbally engaging with me. One man even asked to sit with me at my table. This was a foreign concept coming from Amsterdam. I didn’t know how to reply and before long we were sitting there chatting away. Overall, I found Parisians to be very friendly and warm, but of course, things are always different when you are a young single woman. Before visiting, I brushed up on my very rusty French using Duolingo. However, most French spoke some level of English, adding to my cruel convenience. One of my 2020 goals is to keep learning French – so far so good!
I randomly stumbled upon a Georgian themed festival in Jardin de Luxembourg. Men and women were dancing in the bandstand and it reminded me of a painting that hung in my parent’s house. Jardin de Luxembourg is so different to Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. Paris feels like stepping into your parent’s ‘good room’. Home to fancy ornaments, their main objective to collect dust and be dusted, but never used. There are sections of grass in Paris that are prohibited to sit on to maintain an image of perfection. Yet, it’s a culture that embraces imperfections as beauty – the contradictions are boundless! However, Amsterdam is more inclusive in other ways. Space is used and respected by each individual. I would envision protests in Vondelpark, if one day they decided to close off certain sections of the grass to the public in order to maintain senseless aesthetics instead of practicality.
Before I departed back to Amsterdam, I made a quick stop by the Grand Mosque. I’m not religious, but I’m interested in the Islamic culture, particularly the architecture. I was surprised to pay an obligatory entrance fee, but alas and khallas, I paid. As you can see it was worth a look!
My trip to Paris was an unexpected success. I say this because so often people return from Paris with negative remarks – the food, the people, the dirt, etc., We give more attention to complaints than appraisals. I expected the worst, which made space to see the positives in my adventure.
As you can see, I have illustrated numerous pros and cons to both Paris and Amsterdam. Having been lucky enough to live and visit so many countries around the world, I often joke with friends about taking the positive attributes of each and creating an ultimate utopia. But, maybe life would become tedious or predictable? As humans, we are put on this earth to face the challenges the universe throws at us – to thrive.