Lonely leaves falling
onto glistening streets,
meeting the solid pavement
of the city of love.
First it suffocates you
then it liberates you
to wander around,
to explore its labyrinth,
to wonder about the fact that
the city’s outline represents
its inhabitants –
Paris, a place where chic bourgeoisie
and witty working-class meet
at their favorite boulangerie
to get a fresh, hot croissant.
It’s a city that derives its charme
from the equalization of contrasts,
although every corner looks different
just like the people living in it,
they all share the same sense of belongingness.
They are Paris.
In October I packed my bag pack and went to Paris for a couple of days to take a break from my thesis and explore a city that’s been on my bucket list since I was a little girl. My plan was to make it a budget trip so I only went to places that were free of charge in general/for EU-citizens under 26 and I walked about 40km during my 4 days in the city as to not spend any money on public transport (except for the train ride to Paris from the airport). Next time I would probably rely on the Metro system just a little bit. Though the workout was probably not a bad thing per se.
I landed at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle at 8 am on a mild Tuesday morning and after half an hour of trying to get a train ticket (machine only accepts coins so make sure to have enough pocket money with you) I finally was on my way to the city of lights, love and pretty much any other romanticised image. Tired and coffee-deprived as I was I first made my way to a boulangerie that sells the largest rolls a human being could possibly devour (I went for a boule aux raisins). Coffee in France tastes a lot sweeter than I expected it to. I like my coffee strong with just a hint of sweetness so I have to admit I am not the biggest fan of French coffee (though I could not live without my French press). So excusez-moi, Paris.
My favourite boulangerie was Banette which not only sold aforementioned super-boules but all sorts of baked extravaganza. Prices are super low – the boule was 1,30€! – and the carbs give you energy until lunch.
Caffeinated, I made my way to the hostel to check in and deposit my baggage before heading out to the Arc de Triomphe which was on my list of sights for the day. Since I did not want to spend any money on transportation I walked the approximately five kilometers and – quite unexpectedly – I was fortunate enough that the weather in Paris during my stay was sunny and warm. Sooo there I was in my black sweater and trousers running down Champs Elysée. I’d advise anyone to go to Paris in October if you’re not a fan of masses of tourists – I went there during the week, I think almost none of the countries in Europe had school holidays either so that only leaves you with the beloved Asian and American tourists, and you can handle them most of the time.
I noticed that Paris is a very picture-friendly city, as if the architects planned designated spots just to take photographs. In any case, you could find tourists and semi-professional photographers crammed together in particular places trying to get the best view for their pictures. Here’s my take of the Arc.
From there I walked to what Parisians once disapproved of and now accept as part of their city: the Tour Eiffel. It’s really tall, it’s a lot of metal, it’s not pretty, but somehow has a particular charme. While the city paints this super romantic picture and breathes of history, its buildings mostly dated from the 17th-19th century, as if straight out of Les Misérables, it is a late 19th century, metal tower that symbolizes the city all around the world. Admittedly, this connection seems quite paradoxical at times. Nevertheless, it’s a must see and it’s free if you don’t feel the need to get to the first or second floor of the tower – I wouldn’t recommend it anyway, too many people, and too expensive. Here’s the obligatory (second) Tour Eiffel shot – I tried to add a romantic filter 😉
After a short break next to the Tour Eiffel – where I had the super-boule which I couldn’t finish in the morning – I walked to the city centre to take a stroll around the Galerie Lafayette. This super-exclusive department store houses a million floors it seems – do take a look at the clothes hall, it looks like the inside of the foyer to the Opéra (which coincidentally is just around the corner) – but, and even more surprisingly, the store actually offers English books! And there I was thinking the French and the English were secretly still archenemies (I was naive to think so but more on that later). I ended up not buying an English book though but instead got the original version of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. It’s still lying on my night desk but I hope to read it soon.
Afterwards I went back to my hostel. I stayed at the Perfect Hostel in Rue Rodier and although I can’t complain too much, there was one major deal breaker – breakfast sucked. In a city that primes itself for the best bread -baguette – in the world you would expect fresh bread in the morning, not a stale piece of what I wouldn’t even cal bread. So I ventured out every morning after getting ready to find a new place to have le petit déjeuner. And since bread was not all too pricey I felt I could allow myself this treat on my budget trip since I was facing about 12 km of running around every single day.
On Wednesday morning I got up super early to head out to Notre Dame before all the tourist groups and busses would arrive. I felt quite flabbergasted by the sight of the cathedral. I only ever knew the building from the Disney adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame but I kind of felt taken back to a time long gone, when the space around the cathedral was dirty and the air filled with despair and desperation. Notre Drame was a place of sanctity back then, now it is a sight we cherish for its pictorial quality. Nonetheless, it’s a marvel of the city and you should definitely stop by to devour its beauty. Here’s a selfie of me in front of it:
After the obligatory selfie in front of Paris’s most beloved cathedral I walked to the Musee de Moyen Age. Entrance is free of charge for EU citizens under 26 so I walked around halls filled with artifacts of medieval Paris. They’ve got an exhibition focusing on unicorns on medieval tapestry. I guess the current unicorn-craze really is just a revival of medieval times – then again every trend seems to be just a more hyped up form of former times. The museum is housed in a beautiful building and truly deserves to hold exhibitions on the Moyen Age.
After the museum I went to the Jardin de Luxembourg where I had a nice slice of carrot cake (how very French of me 😀 ) and a much needed caffeine shot. Next, I walked for what felt like hours to get to the Place de la Bastille, which is quite underwhelming considering its historical significance. Nevertheless, I felt I owed it to the city to visit the spot where freedom ensued.
I then ventured on to the Marais quarter where I had a burger. Seriously, every city I’ve been to this year, be that Copenhagen, Dublin, and now Paris seem to have jumped on the burger-bandwagon. Crazy, but crazy delicious too. So I went to Savannah Coffee and I’m supposed to give a shout out to the lovely waiter Tom Adams. It was quite funny to meet a British waiter in Paris and have a conversation about living in the city with him. Cool dude, though, so check out Savannah Coffee.
I then kept walking around the city. Just strolling around this city kind of made me feel as if I was emerging myself with the place, I did not really feel like a tourist, it was not my mission to strike as many sights off my list as possible. I truly wanted to get a feeling for the city. Admittedly, it’s a large city, so again, I was glad when I got back to the hostel and could just put on a face mask and chit chat with my room mates.
Here are some more architectural impressions of Paris:
Something I noticed – The French love carbs. They come in flocks to the boulangeries in the morning for their croissant or pain au chocolat, at noon for their sandwiches and after work for their baguettes for dinner. Imagine having to live gluten-free here! Impossible! I think I ate my body weight in bread in Paris during these four days. Since I “missed out” on the Parisian metro system, which I heard is supposedly super easy to understand and use, and instead walked everywhere, I felt like bread was just another word for energy.
For breakfast I went to la boulangerie verte and had an amazing Viennoiese au chocolate, a kind of soft and sweet baguette with chocolate drops, and a (again over-sweetended) coffee. I then made my way to the Louvre (entrance free for EU citizens under 26!!! saves you 15€!!! which I probably spent on bread alone during my stay). I was intrigued to find out myself whether the museum really was as impressive as everybody says. And it was. I spent 3 hours walking around all these majestic paintings and sculptures and it was quite overwhelming at times. When I saw a real Turner I was close to tears. I took a seminar on Turner and Dabydeen’s rewritings of the painters’s “stories” last year and to be able to actually see one of his paintings was an emotional moment for me. However, to get back to that England-France-feud: British painters were hidden in the farthest corner of the museum basically next to the staircase so most people only pass the area. Guess, this is what you call throwing shades.
And why are there crowds around the Mona Lisa which is a seriously underwhelming sight in comparison to some of the large-scale paintings in the museum which are so much more impressive?
After 3 hours at the Louvre I was famished so I went sandwich-hunting. I found a small place called Saint Pearl which offers menus for 6,90€ (sandwich + coffee). A quite decent price for Paris I reckon. For dessert I got an éclair and yet another coffee at Dulloay. The 4,50€-éclair was a tad too expensive for my taste, but, oh my, it tasted divine. Maybe one of these treats you should have every once in a while. I took the éclair to the Jardin du Luxembourg where I had yet another break and then proceeded walking around the Latin quarter.
Something I noticed – French people are loud and very expressive. They are very direct in their actions and make their intentions very clear, unlike the British who make asking for a favour sound so ambiguous you always lean towards saying no.
Another day of museums! This time I went to the Musée Rodin and the Musée d’Orsay. Both free of charge for EU citizens under 26!
I went to the Musée d’Orsay in the morning which turned out to be a smart decision – it gets quite crammed. A beautiful building though, a former railway station, it now hosts paintings of elite artists such as Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, and many more. It’s quite a weird feeling to stand in front of these world-famous paintings. On the one hand I reckon you are supposed be super impressed, on the other hand it’s just a painting. I consider myself a lover of art so I get the fascination and I was quite impressed by all of these painters’ works. Yet, it’s always difficult to actually acknowledge the visual finesse and artistic value in front of you, especially when you “just like seeing beautiful things”.
The Musée Rodin exhibits works of the sculpturer Auguste Rodin. I think that sculptures have a different visual effect since they’re three-dimensional and sometimes look pretty much alive. So it’s quite interesting staring at a guy looking deep in thought for a couple of minutes only to realize you’re mimicking his facial expression.
After thinking about thinking I walked to the Place des Invalides where I took this picture:
Nice, eh? The rest of the day I spent at the Louvre again because the first time around I was pretty much overwhelmed by all the people and the art works. SO I decided that – since it’s free – I might as well just check out the rest. I ended up getting lost at the sculpture section though and in the end, when every sculpture looked the same to me, I decided that it was probably time to head home.
My last morning in Paris I spent running up the stairs to Sacre Coeur – on an empty stomach. Bad decision. Fortunately I got a coffee and another viennoise on my way there so I had breakfast while having a fantastic view of Paris. I would definitely recommend going up here early in the morning when you’re practically on your own. It was a really nice ending to what felt like traveling back in time and discovering a place that is just very steeped in history and marked by it everywhere you look, everywhere you go. It also reeks of urine sometimes, and you don’t know and maybe you don’t want to know where the smell comes from. But I can honestly say that I kind of fell in love with the city of love. Even though it is such a hyper-romanticised place I get why people come here with their loved ones. It’s a place that has its own peculiar charme, and puts a spell on you. You feel super chic and absorbed by all this culture surrounding you. I can a 100% recommend visiting Paris. It’s not super cheap but you can definitely spend time here without feeling like a pauper afterwards. So, if you’re still thinking of where to go during your next semester break – check out Paris! You’ll love it!
Maria was listening to Édith Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien” while writing this article.