After our game on Wednesday night where we fell to Fribourg (by quite a bit), we found out we would have off from basketball for four days. I decided I needed to get away from Nyon for a little while. So, in the spur of the moment I decided to take a leap and discover a place I loved in movies and plays but had never been to: Paris.
Wednesday night I mentioned my excursion to my friends back home, most of whom exclaimed “You should really do it!” and one who said, “You’re SO Eat, Pray, Love.” That night I booked my train ticket, booked my hotel, started studying a map of Paris’s historical landmarks and subway systems, while trying to figure out what I most wanted to see on my two-day trip.
I didn’t sleep much Thursday night; I was far too excited. I picked out two outfits I thought would do me justice among the Parisians with Anastasia’s “Paris Holds the Key” song singing in the background of my apartment. I finished packing ‘Big Bertha’ (also known as my big red bag) and went over my plan of attack one more time: I was going to start out at Notre Dame, then make my way to the Eiffel Tower on Friday; Saturday I was set to see Musée D’Orsay and then head over to the Louvre, maybe even hit up the Arc de Triomphe if I had enough time. I set my alarm for 7:30am (the earliest I’ve gotten up since coming back to Switzerland after Christmas), put on Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and tried to sleep.
The next morning I just made it to the train on time, only to find out that we were delayed and I would miss my connection into Paris. Flustered and frustrated I went into the train station where my ticket was altered for the next available connection…three hours later. My two-day trip turned into an even shorter one-and-a-half and I questioned whether it was worth going at all. Straightening up and trying to relax, I ate lunch at my usual restaurant and restructured my plan of attack in my head. I wanted terribly to see Notre Dame’s stain glass rose windows at sunset; a goal that I saw slipping out of my reach.
I boarded the 1:09 train, settled down and started thinking. I thought of my favorite movies, Ratatouille and Moulin Rouge, and wondered if Paris would be anything like the Paris depicted in movies. Then I thought of my favorite play, Les Misérables, and hoped that it wouldn’t be. I thought of how interesting it was that a lot of my ‘favorites’ took place in Paris and how fitting it was that I should venture there on my own.
As our train pulled into “Gare de Lyon,” I took one more deep breath and prepared myself for the hustle and bustle of the city. As soon as my foot touched hard ground I was off…a race against the sunset, which was already lowering in the sky. I somehow managed to find my way to the right subway line, boarded the RER A, switched to the RER B at Châtelet, and headed towards St. Michel Notre Dame. I didn’t make it in time to see the sunset against the rose windows, but it didn’t matter. As soon as I climbed the steps from the metro, my first view of Paris was breathtaking. I found myself standing there with my eyes fixed upon the two towers of Notre Dame.
The construction of Notre Dame started in 1163, that fact alone bewildered me. I looked at the architecture of the building, the three portals (Le Portail de la Vierge, Le Portail du Jugement, and Le Portail Sainte-Anne), and thought about how much time and talent it must have taken to construct the amazing statues and scenes I was still gazing my eyes upon in 2011. Inside the cathedral there were rooms where priests were waiting through glass doors for confessions (there were signs outside stating which languages the priests spoke), beautiful images along the side of the altar showing the different sightings of Christ, statues of the Saints with places to light candles underneath, thirty-seven different representations of the Virgin Mary, and mass being recited in Latin.
After visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral I decided to walk along the Seine River towards my hotel. I guess I should mention that although I took two pictures of google maps on my phone and had a pretty good idea of the area, I did not have an actual road map, and I had no idea how to get to the next metro station. After an hour of walking along the Seine and seeing the Hotel de Ville sparkle (literally sparkle- there is a light show), the cold wind started depleting my body of its warmth and I decided I needed to find my hotel. I walked back to the Notre Dame metro I’d come from and figured out which line to take to get to Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel stop. While buying my ticket to board the subway, a man came up to me; first he told me I was beautiful (this part’s okay – I’ll take it), but then he touched my hair. Now I don’t know when this became acceptable, and I’m not sure in what culture touching a stranger's hair is okay, but it’s not okay in my culture and it’s definitely not okay with me. I quickly fired back with a “Don’t touch me,” to which he got the hint and ran away. One good thing about Paris is that there are hundreds of people around you, especially at the metro. I quickly gathered myself and headed onwards towards the Eiffel Tower.
I think it’s pretty amazing that I was able to find my way to my hotel without a map. I get lost for hours trying to figure out Nyon, Switzerland, but somehow mastered the Paris metro like I’d lived there all my life. Throughout the course of my trip I did not get off one stop early even once, nor head in the wrong direction. Up until two days before my trip I had no idea of the layout of Paris and by the end I was giving other tourists directions (and correct ones at that)!
Walking from the metro I got to see the École Militaire (this was a tell-tale sign that I was close to my hotel as it advertised it’s location as across the street from the École Militaire station). Looking at the building, I couldn’t help but think back to seventh grade when I had a project on Greek columns; my Dad spent the day driving me all around town trying to find examples of each… who knew all he had to do was fly me to Paris and I would have found all three within ten minutes? I remembered the three styles (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) and mentally noted each as I passed them.
I got to my hotel a little before 9pm and asked the manager what time checkout was the next morning and if he could recommend a good place for me to eat. He gave me my very own tourist map and a few business cards of local restaurants and showed me how to get to them. When he took me to the one-person elevator he told me checkout was at noon but that I could leave my luggage until my departure, then looked at me quizzically. I smiled, said my best “Merci” and headed up to my room to ‘unpack.’ You might be wondering two things: how big IS Bertha and what could I possibly have fit in there? I’ll tell you! Bertha is big enough to fit: a change of clothes (a pair of jeans and a sweater), toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, makeup, chapstick, hairbrush, water bottle, eight rice cakes, wallet, camera, Flip camcorder, two cell phones (one European, one American), cell phone charger, outlet adapter, sunglasses, socks, Kindle, gloves, and an Ipod. I fit all of that stuff in there proudly!
After taking what I could out of Bertha and thawing a little, I looked out my window to see what view I had. To my amazement I poked my head out and saw the Eiffel Tower, standing in all its glory less than a mile away. Sabrina’s father is right when he says, “You know, it’s not every girl that’s lucky enough to go to Paris.” I briefly reflected about how if my agent hadn’t found me, or I hadn’t said yes to Switzerland, or if I’d given up after my first month in Europe and gone home, I might have never made it here. Being able to open my hotel window and see the Eiffel Tower standing there literally made me giggle and jump around in my hotel room. I ventured back out, had a delicious dinner (minced meat with raw egg and a Bordeaux wine AND actually spoke French with the waiter!), and headed towards the Eiffel Tower.
|View from Hotel (light show)|
I understand now why Parisians didn’t like the Eiffel Tower when it first went up; it doesn’t actually scream, “I fit in with the rest of Paris.” It’s tall, and iron, and I didn’t see any gargoyles or statues built into or around it. Plus, every hour on the hour at night it lights up…like REALLY brightly. I understand that today it’s considered a beacon for "La Ville-Lumière" (the City of Light), but if I was living in Paris in 1889 and saw this thing going up I don’t know how I’d feel about it. However, in the year 2011, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I originally wanted to climb it, but to be honest my feet were killing me (I picked the wrong shoes to walk around Paris in) and I was freezing. So, I rode up to the second level in the elevator (it was really windy out and the top wasn’t open), and looked out at Paris. I spotted the École Militaire, Parc du Champ de Mars, la Seine, and a soccer stadium (hey, the French love their soccer). The moon was two days past full, the sky clear, and the stars bright, but I was cold. I savored the moment as best as I could, but was ready to head back to my hotel. I stayed up to watch the light show one more time from my hotel window and fell soundly asleep by midnight.