How does one adequately describe a weekend in Paris? I took the train last Thursday afternoon to Eindhoven to meet Chantal; we were going by car so this was a convenient meeting place for the both of us. I made a remark to her shortly after we crossed the border from Belgium into France, how it was weird to think that a year ago I’d just met her and now we were in a car together driving through France. I’d love to go back and see the expression on my face if someone had told me that last September.
We made it to Paris in about five hours—we hit traffic entering the city and then had to search around a little bit for our hotel, so it was about six hours altogether in the car. We parked the car in a parking garage for the duration of our stay, as the Metro is convenient to getting wherever you might like to go and also because driving in the city is atrocious.
I wasn’t the one behind the wheel and I felt overwhelmed just sitting in the passenger seat. Two lanes going in one direction would regularly fit three cars at once, side by side, trying to merge or turn or who knows what. Adding to this medley were the motorcycles, crisscrossing through any available opening between vehicles seconds before that access was closed. The traffic circles have streets that jut out every which-way; like in Amsterdam, the street names are posted high on the sides of the buildings and are sometimes difficult to locate. In this relatively short period of being in a car in Paris, I felt sure about every ten seconds that there was going to be an accident.
The temperature was ridiculously perfect—as if to prove our good fortune, it was getting cold and the sky was dark gray today when we drove out of the city. We took full advantage of the nice weather, with most of the past few days spent outside—looking at well-known monuments and cathedrals, sitting on sidewalk terraces, walking miles upon miles.
My feet were aching by the end of each day, but that means I was able to walk off the calories from all the glorious French food.
Ah…the food. For breakfast there were croissants, made fresh at a local bakery, and café (tiny cups of espresso, so far the only type of “coffee” that I have been able to find outside of what I make myself in my dorm room). I had crepes twice—in a single day, a few hours apart—one with stewed apples and the other served with chocolate sauce. Sandwiches on a baguette for lunch, and dinner on two separate nights that consisted of an appetizer, entrée, and dessert—all for the bargain price of 10 euros. There was always a glass of red wine (or two) with dinner.
What else did I see? The inside of Notre Dame Cathedral, and City Hall (unbeknownst to us, we had booked our trip for the one weekend a year that certain buildings are open to the public—City Hall being one of them). I saw the outside of the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, but didn’t go inside either one. The people I was with had all been to Paris at various times in the past, so they had seen the museums already. I wouldn’t have minded seeing some of things inside, but not so much that I would rather have split up the group. It was fun hanging out with everyone and there was more time to see a variety of things in the city.
As for other experiences: There were expensive soft drinks. Stopping for a drink usually meant a 2-euro café (roughly $2.50) for those of us drinking espresso, and up to 3.50-euros ($4.35) for a coke. The cokes were either served already poured, or in a single-serving glass bottle.
There was the Eiffel Tower. There were storefronts on the Champs Elysees, displaying the types of clothing more commonly seen on runways. There were traveling musicians that boarded the Metro and played a few songs, hoping for monetary donations (once it was a saxophone and an accordion, another time two violinists). There was one late-night ride, packed standing room only in a hot, airless compartment.
We walked through the gay district and visited some unique shops. There was an encounter with a techno-music parade, the streets filled with sweaty revelers and curious onlookers. There were more homeless people and beggars than I’ve seen in any other city so far, and while lounging on the grass in a park there was a man with a ferret—on a leash.
There were 1-3 native French-speakers in our group (depending on how many of us were together at one time) to point out interesting destinations and to provide translations. (The extent of my French was “Bonjour,” “Au revoir,” “Merci,” “Pardon,” and “Toilette?”) There was the ability to catch up with some friends, and at the end, an invitation from one of the girls to visit her home country before I leave.