I see london, I see france (paris, to be exact.)
Updated: Feb 8
Paris. The final trip of the semester. Home of love, baguettes, and virtually zero public bathrooms. (Just wait.)
Paris was scheduled for the end of November, and I was going with Amrutha, Katie, Morgan, Morgan’s friend Maggie who flew in for her Thanksgiving break, and Riley. We had so many fun things planned, yet somehow I was still dragging my feet to pack.
Everybody talks about the fun side of studying abroad, but not everybody talks about the downsides. I was incredibly homesick. Reid had just left after two weeks of hopping around London and Sweden with me, and I hadn’t seen my family in almost three months.
And God. The weather. The sun would disappear by 4pm every day, and so would any motivation I had to go explore the city, or much less, get errands done.
You know what they say: when it rains, it pours. And I was residing in the rainy capital of the world.
There was a part of me - a small part - that considered just staying home that weekend. But I’d booked my Eurostar ticket back in October, and dang it - I was going to see the Eiffel Tower if I had to drag myself there.
The Eurostar is kind of an odd way of transportation when it comes to London. It runs from Kings Cross Station to Paris through the English Channel, underground - and underwater. It only took us a couple hours to get there Thursday night.
Riley’s friend Natalie was studying in Paris, and lived right around the corner from our hotel. She met us there and we bought cheap bottles of wine to drink in the hotel room before going out to a Parisian speakeasy - inside a laundromat.
Lavomatic is a fully functioning laundromat during the day. But, during the night, a button on one of the washing machines turns the door into a real door. Up the stairs, a bar with swinging chairs and delicious cocktails awaited us. We shared a space with a few Swedish tourists, and one of them spilled his drink on Riley. While unfortunate, it gave way to starting a conversation.
I told them I’d just gotten back from Sweden the week before, and they were so excited.
“Skål!” I said as we clinked our drinks together, and their eyes lit up, excited to see I knew how to say “cheers” in their home language.
“You like snus?” one of them asked. (I mentioned it in my Sweden post, but snus is a smokeless tobacco product that can’t be sold anywhere other than on Swedish turf.)
“Heck yes I do,” I said, feeling a sense of pride that I’d now been 2/2 on the Swedish culture tests.
“Okay, this is a strong one, though,” the guy said, handing me a packet.
“I can handle it.” I popped it in my mouth and the night continued on. It slowly crept up on me - I felt this rush of a tobacco high - add that to my alcohol buzz, and I was not feeling too hot.
“If it’s too much take it out,” they told me.
“Nah, I’m fine,” I said, brushing them off. (Then I turned my back and spit it into my hand because sometimes you gotta be prideful like that.)
We left Lavomatic for the next bar. Riley asked to try the snus, so, against the hygiene code of ethics, he popped the little packet into his mouth. I don’t remember too much of the next bar, only that I made a beeline for the bathroom with the intent to throw up. (Crossed is not a good look on me.) I was unsuccessful, but somehow felt slightly better after splashing water on my face.
Night One in Paris and I think I was doing it right.
The next morning, nursing a beautiful Rosé headache, Riley and I stopped by a local pop-in cafe to get breakfast - quiche and a pastry. Let me tell you, I have never thought of quiche as a go-to hangover breakfast, but in the words of my generation, it sincerely “slapped.”
Riley had been to Paris in October, so he had a few things he recommended we do. One of them was to visit the Atelier des Lumières museum, where Monet’s artwork was projected onto the walls with music and made to seem like it was moving. It was a beautiful production, and relatively inexpensive.
Post-museum, we hit up Cafe Bistro La Bucherie for lunch. Yes, I got a burger and fries. Sue me. It was conveniently located next to Shakespeare & Company, a famous bookstore where the likes of Fitzgerald and William himself could be spotted, once upon a time. The bottom half was still an actual functioning bookstore, while the top was a museum. Both of these were right outside of Notre Dame, which was surreal to see since the fire had happened only months prior.
Everybody got crêpes as we headed back to the hotel for a bit of downtime, but I got a scoop of chocolate gelato instead. (Big ice cream gal, what can I say.)
That evening, Katie, Riley and I did a wine and cheese tasting. It was a unique experience because it was done via Airbnb, and the hosts were restaurant owners running this on the side. I had never done an Airbnb Experience before, so it was definitely interesting to partake in something a little more unconventional.
Riley was living his best life at the tasting. I, on the other hand, felt like I was out of place. They pretty much only served red wine, which, for the life of me, I still can’t down without gagging. (Dry wine is still a no-go for my uncultured taste buds. Riley happily switched glasses with me when the host wasn’t looking.) As for the cheese - well, some of it was good. But some of it was too distinct for me. Maybe it was because I’d been eating my shredded reduced fat Mexican cheese from Kroger every day for far too long. It remains a mystery.
After the tasting, the host showed us around an outdoor market with lots of vendors and - surprise - more wine and cheese, along with pastries. It was fun to peruse, although, nursing my full stomach, I was in no shape to buy more food at the moment.
We climbed to the top of the Arc De Triomphe. If you heard there was an elevator, you heard wrong. My quads felt like they were about to fall off by the time I’d made it to the top. (Putting those French calories to good use.)
Dinner was at a restaurant relatively near the Eiffel Tower. While a nice place, it definitely was a tourist trap on prices. I got pasta. Okay, sue me for that one, too.
The next day we got brunch at Cafe Rivoli Park. I got a basic ham and cheese sandwich, but I also got snails. (My taste buds were coming around. Finally.) I actually really enjoyed them, you know, once I got over the “snail” part. It was cool hearing Amy Winehouse, one of my favorite artists, come on the speakers as we sat there, preparing for the agenda we’d made for the day.
Macaroons. These were a must. Riley and I bought a few and I ate them all in minutes, no shame. My favorite flavor was probably the blood orange, just because it was so wild and out there.
We checked out Place De La Concorde and saw the fountain and the Obelisk, then saw the Water Lillies at Musee De L’Orangerie.
Riley and I made a quick trip to Musee D’Orsay and saw Monet’s Water Lily Pond, Green Harmony. Unfortunately the museum closed early (like an hour early. I guess Parisians just do what they want when they don’t feel like working anymore?) so we met up with Natalie for dinner.
Boulangerie Chartier is a popular spot in Paris, and there’s almost always a wait. I’m not talking about a 15-20 minute “let me take your name down” wait, I’m talking, “get in line down the street, then enter a roped off maze line” wait. Think Disney World but with baguettes.
We waited more or less an hour in line for a seat, and I was questioning whether it was worth it. Natalie insisted it would be. The draw to it was how high quality the food was, for such low prices.
My rumbling stomach kept me skeptical.
So maybe the dinner was worth it. I got pig’s feet with fries (which I used my fork for, of course) and shared some snails and cheese with my friends.
Then we got dessert - some kind of pastry with ice cream and hot fudge smothering the top. And, just because my belt buckle didn’t already feel tight enough, we got gelato and macaroons across the street. When in Paris, am I right?
We ended the night taking in the view from Basilica Du Sacre-Coeur De Montmartre, a church from centuries back.
Riley somehow talked me into going out for our final night in Paris - at 1 am. My eyes were literally half-closed, and my legs were killing me, but I'd promised we'd do it and so we were going to do it.
Not many places are open late in Paris, we found. There was one bar a five minute walk from our hotel, so we tried our luck there. A line wrapped around the outside of the building. "Americans?" the bouncer asked, eyeing us.
"Yeah," we said.
"First time here?"
"No pictures or video. You're good to go inside."
I immediately looked at Riley. What kind of bar did he find for us? He looked just as puzzled as I was. Was this some kind of strip club or something?
Inside it was sweltering hot and crowded. Just getting to the bar and ordering our two tequila shots was hard. They were playing some deep house music, and there were all sorts of odd-looking people with glitter on their face. The room was dark and faintly lit with pink and blue lights, and it had sort of a Hawaiian feel to it.
In the back corner, a woman was working some sort of booth with a sign that read, "Marché Noir," or "Black Market" in English.
Riley and I exchanged wide-eyed looks. "I'm going to find out if they're selling anything illegal," I said, laughing.
A lady saw me checking the stand out and she lit up, asking if we wanted any.
"English?" I asked.
She turned to her other friends and asked them how to say whatever she was giving out in English. "Glitter?" she asked.
Riley and I started laughing. This whole time we thought we were going to find something crazy, but all this black market sold was face glitter.
Sunday in Paris was our final day, and I was on a mission to check off one of the main items on my bucket list: the Paris Catacombs. The Catacombs aren’t for the faint of heart; not only is the attraction itself spooky and underground, the wait time is around 2 hours, more or less. Riley and I grabbed pastries to-go, and then waited in the line that morning. Unfortunately, he had other things he wanted to see more, so I endured most of the two hours alone, trying to comprehend what the other tourists were saying around me in their native tongues.
Inside, there are a few different parts to it. You have to walk down a spiraling staircase to get to the passageways. The first few tunnels are barren, with only plaques on the walls, detailing the history of the Catacombs. Once you finish that, you enter a main room with tons more information, before proceeding into the bone-laiden section.
It’s eerily quiet and kind of hard to grasp how close you are to physical human bones. I would look at them and kind of just ponder who they were, what kind of life they lived, how they died. I got a beanie as a souvenir and then stepped back into the sunlight.
I really had to pee. (Standing in line for two hours and then another 1-2 in the Catacombs themselves didn’t really allow for a bathroom break. Not to mention a bathroom to use in the first place.)
The last time I was in France (my trip to Bordeaux), I’d learned that public restrooms just aren’t really a thing in Europe, and while some cities - like London - stigmatize women publicly peeing, France was a tad bit more lenient. So when my short-lived search for a bathroom left me with no other options, I tried to find an alley to duck into and use for a second.
That’s when I saw a church across the street. There were people going down stairs outside of it into the basement. A church, I reasoned, was as good as any place for there to be a public restroom. So I followed some Parisians down inside. They were holding what seemed to be a garage sale, complete with old appliances, jewelry, clothing, kids items, and even food, ready to eat at the tables in the center. I found an older man sitting at a cash register by a door, so I ran up to him and asked if he spoke English. He gave me a frantic look that read “no,” and I tried asking for the bathrooms. It didn’t register.
“Toilets?” I asked, and his face lit up.
“Oh! Oui, oui!” He pointed me in their direction.
I decided to check out the sale while I was there. A little Parisian boy ran up to me with a clipboard and started rambling away, probably trying to sell something, when a lady next to me laughed and told him I did not speak French. He ran off.
I ended up buying a cheap ring for around 7 Euros. It wasn’t anything crazy, but I have a thing for rings, and it seemed like a cool way to remember my little adventure.
I met up with Riley and Katie to check out a Christmas Market, and I got a salami and cheese sandwich.
Riley and I decided we were going to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower. You can pay to take a ride straight to the top, or, for a decent amount less, you can climb it yourself. We did half and half - we climbed about 2/3rds of the structure before taking the elevator the rest of the way up.
Let me tell you, no amount of Stairmaster climbing prepared me for climbing the Eiffel Tower at Riley’s pace. That guy has stamina and legs to put most athletes to shame.
Seeing the Eiffel Tower at night is one of the most picturesque things I’ve witnessed. Someone even proposed while we were up there. I made sure to Facetime my family to try to give them a glimpse at what I was seeing. On the way down, Riley and I half-jogged and zig-zagged around the slower tourists. I kept thinking about how crazy a moment this was - how casual of us to just be running down the Eiffel Tower like we were. The Eiffel Tower.
We had a train to catch, so we snagged some sushi and took it with us to the train station. Unfortunately, the Eurostar was having some technical issues, so our train kept getting delayed. Riley and I ate our sushi in line, with our hands, as we stood body-to-body with other disgruntled passengers, ready to get home at a decent hour.
When we finally boarded, Riley and I sat next to each other. “Want a sip?” he asked, holding out his water bottle.
“Sure.” I took a swig. Straight wine. “Oh my God!”
“I told you I was gonna do it,” he said, laughing.
We didn’t get home until late that night. So late that Eurostar said it would provide vouchers to redeem people for the money they spent. But it was still one of the best trips I’d taken overall. By the time I got back in my little bed in London, my homesickness was all but cured. All I needed was a good weekend away with friends. I felt at home again.
Now if only Eurostar could give me a voucher that worked from the US.
- Lots of Uber (Make sure you are there ON TIME. They will cancel rides fast in Paris.)
- Train (very reliable if you take the time to learn the routes)
- Eiffel Tower (https://www.toureiffel.paris/fr) You can pay for the elevator or to climb it!
- Arc De Triomphe (http://www.paris-arc-de-triomphe.fr/) No elevator, warning.
-Musée D-orsay (https://www.musee-orsay.fr/) Most museums give student discounts.
- Musée de l'Orangerie (https://www.musee-orangerie.fr/)
- Catacombs (http://catacombes.paris.fr/) Make sure to get there early!
- Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore (https://shakespeareandcompany.com/)
- Cafe Rivoli Park (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caf%C3%A9-Rivoli-Park/156090227769542)
- Boulangerie Chartier (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d714938-Reviews-Le_Bouillon_Chartier-Paris_Ile_de_France.html) Affordable, high quality, but very busy!
- Cafe Bistro La Bucherie (http://bucherie.com/french/) A little touristy and overpriced but great location.
- Lavomatic (https://www.lavomatic.paris/)