Paris, France

This was part of a collection of blog posts written in the spring of 2015 during my semester abroad in Seville, Spain.

We arrived in Paris’ Gare du Nord (train station) around 6 p.m. Our plan was to arrive, connect to wifi and route our journey to the hotel, which was located by the Tour Eiffel in the seventh arrondissement (district). Once we realized there was no wifi available at the train station, we worked with old school methods of paper maps and asking people (with our extremely limited French language skills). After two metro (subway) transfers and about seven blocks walking, we arrived safely to our hotel, which was pure luxury compared to our London hostel experience.

We dropped our bags, pulled out our map and made an itinerary for the trip, circling our must-dos and routing transportation from point to point. Then, we hit the town – heading straight for the Tour Eiffel.  We made a pit stop for some cheese, raspberries and rosé champagne (all of the bakeries were closed so we couldn’t get a baguette), then we picnicked on a bench and watched the Tour Eiffel sparkle.

After we finished our picnic, we were still pretty hungry so we went to a little pizzeria on our way back to the hotel and had another picnic in the hotel room. It was a nice change of pace from constantly eating out and on the go. Then we went to sleep to be ready for the jam-packed day ahead. We woke up and were out the door by 9:45 a.m. We stopped by a bakery at the end our street to grab breakfast. I had a quiche Lorraine and Katie had a chocolate croissant. It was a delicious start to the day. With breakfast in hand, we headed toward the Arc de Triomphe because we were going to start our day at the Arc then walk down Champs-Élysées (the most famous shopping street in Paris) to the Louvre. To get to the Arc, e walked down Avenue George V. It is lined with designer stores but more interestingly, with designer headquarters where models live. It was a beautiful way to start the morning.

We arrived at the Arc de Triomphe, took some pictures in the middle of the [very busy] street, then walked through the tunnel to the Arc (it is located in the middle of a roundabout so there is a tunnel that runs under the road). Paris offers free access to its main attractions to many people, including students who have Visas (allows one to be in a country for an extended period of time) for European countries, so we were able to climb to the top for free. We learned a bit of history, snapped some nice photos and got a stellar leg workout. Then, we were off down Champs-Élysées passing all the top designers and iconic French brands (Louis Vuitton, Ladurée, Longchamp, etc.) en route to the Louvre. Of course, we stopped for macarons at Ladurée and grabbed a crepe from a street cart – I ordered one with strawberry marmalade and Katie got one with salted caramel.

 Finally, the Louvre was in sight but we decided we needed a little cafe au lait before meeting and greeting the Mona Lisa. As we approached the Louvre, we realized we were going to be in line quite a while so Katie held our place while I ran and got two mini baguettes – one chocolate and one olive. By the time we finished enjoying our treats it was time to make our way (for free) through the famous and humungous art museum. We headed straight for the Mona Lisa, passing the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Veronese’s The Wedding Feast at Cana along the way. Finally, we saw her. A lot of my friends said the painting was disappointingly small and hid behind thick glass but we didn’t seem to think this was the case. It was the size a a pretty normal painting, and we were able to see it quite well. It was interesting to me that people were swarming the area (myself included) solely to view and take a photo of this piece of art. It was also a bit disappointing that no one took time to really admire the artwork, rather, it was more important to most to get a good picture of or with it. That being said, it was a really neat moment. We saw a lot of art on our journey to and from the Mona Lisa and decided that while one could walk around the Louvre for days, we wanted to explore more of Paris.

Before we left the area, we agreed we had to do the oh-so cliché photo of pointing to the top of the Louvre.  It is a competitive process because everyone wants to get this photo so people usually start to line up behind the little concrete platforms surrounding the museum. I told Katie to go first so she handed me her purse and took a running start to hop onto one of the little platforms.  Her foot didn’t make it up to the top, and she ended up tripping and catching herself on top of the platform. I completely lost it and immediately started crying from laughing so hard. Katie was keeled over laughing and in pain but mostly laughing. We couldn’t breathe or talk. There was a German family behind us who were waiting to take a photo on the platform. We could tell they were trying to be polite and not laugh but then the father cracked and started laughing. My eyes were so watery from laughing that I could hardly see the photo I was taking but we recouped, posed and snapped the iconic photo with belly aches from laughing so hard.

We left the Louvre and took the metro to the fourth arrondissement, which is near the Notre Dame. We walked around the neighborhood and browsed cute boutiques. Then, we had a late lunch at a little cafe (around 4 p.m.) of croque-monsieur, French fries, salad and peach tea.

After lunch, we started toward the Notre Dame. On our way, we crossed over the love lock bridge and decided to buy a lock to commemorate a fantastic trip and friendship (because we still hadn’t found Spanish boyfriends). After throwing the key in the Seine (river), we went to enter Notre Dame, only to find an incredibly long line. While waiting in line, I realized there are two fantastic entrepreneurial opportunities waiting to be tapped in the place (plaza/square) of the Notre Dame. First, there should definitely be people dressed up as Quasimodo and Esmeralda from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Second, instead of selling tiny replicas of the Tour Eiffel, the street vendors should stand in line and sell their place once they are close enough to the front (classic Vatican move). If the whole “real-world” thing doesn’t work out, I may pursue those genius (trademarked) ideas.

It was about 6 p.m., and we were patiently standing in about the middle of the line. Then, people started saying they were not letting anyone else enter because Mass was starting. So, I told Katie to stay in line while I went to check out the situation closer to the entrance doors. I noticed they were still letting people in – mostly angry elderly women who were saying they needed to go in for Mass and nuns, priests and monks. So, I found a nun who seemed determined to get in and pulled Katie out of line. We bee lined behind the nun, saying “la messe, la messe,” (the mass, the mass) and made it into the cathedral. (Thanks, Sister!) Inside was gorgeous. I don’t think they were actually having Mass, I think it might have just been a service for Holy Week, but it added a lot to the atmosphere. There were low echoes of song bellowing through the high-ceilinged cathedral. It was truly magnificent. Katie and I both lit candles in front of the Virgin Mary then were on our way.

We jumped on the metro and headed back to our hotel to drop off our shopping bags and picked up a baguette and cheese along the way.  I met someone from Appleton, Wisconsin, in the cheese store – such a small world. It was 7:50 p.m. and we were racing the sun to get to the Tour Eiffel in time to take some photos (the sun was scheduled to set at 8:21 p.m.). We made it, hopped the fence (like everyone does) to get onto the grass for the perfect view and angles We took turns posing and asking strangers to take pictures of us together. After a thorough photo shoot, we sat on a bench, ate our goodies and again, watched the light show. We also shamelessly bought light up replicas of the Tour Eiffel because we bargained an A+ price and they are fun.

After saying au revoir (goodbye) to the Tour Eiffel, we walked back to our street and ate at a brasserie. It was wonderful. I had a side salad, escargot and a glass of white wine while Katie had a small tenderloin (we never have steak in Sevilla) and a glass of red wine. Then, we shared a creme brûlée. We returned to the hotel to pack away all of our new purchases from our seven days of extreme travel. By the grace of God, we were both able to fit everything into our backpacks and carry-on suitcases. We fell asleep laughing and reminiscing about the crazy adventures we had just experienced and talking about how fortunate we were to have had the opportunity to study abroad and travel.

We woke up on Thursday at 6:40 a.m. and were at the front desk asking for a taxi by 7 a.m. We ran down to the bakery to grab breakfast – I ordered a chocolate croissant, Katie ordered a doughnut-type pastry and we both ordered cafe au lait. The coffee was made on a Nespresso machine, which we had learned are very popular in Europe. We made it back to our hotel just in time to jump in the cab for the airport.  We left Paris, passing the Tour Eiffel one last time. We arrived at the airport at 7:40 a.m. for our 9:30 a.m. flight. The check-in line was very long but luckily we made it. They did made us check our bags but we were happy to do so because they were so heavy to roll around and they did it free of charge – a very rare occurrence.  We got to our gate, I connected to wifi and learned my parents had landed in Madrid and were awaiting their flight to Sevilla. I boarded the plane feeling extremely blessed, grateful, worldly and excited.