Saturday, 28 March 2015

France, France, Underpants

Bienvenue à Paris. The third and final stop of my Easter break adventure. A place where I attempted to use my French-speaking skills from school days many years ago. A place where I quickly learned trying and butchering the language is not the same as simply just trying and knowing when to stop. And of my French-speaking skills I will say this: I may not know what the English words for many things are, such as 'rétroprojecteur' (also affectionately known as, "un Elmo"), and most practical math and science related things, nor can I carry a proper conversation, but at least I can watch French television moderately well... And, to be fair, my inability to properly carry on a conversation is not necessarily related to the French language.

So Paris, France. The city of love. Home of many globally recognized sights. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame de Paris and well let's face it, Dan Brown's first hit novel, the Da Vinci Code. Remember during my time in Italy when I realized Dan Brown was a liar... in the case of Paris, be pretty much nailed it. And thus, here I am again, embarrassed by the fact that when I need a good read that requires no use of intellectual awareness, Dan Brown fills that void. Thoughtless reading at its finest. 

We arrived in Paris shortly after 4:00 pm. I was slightly anxious as I had booked an evening tour outside of the one I was currently on. A few of us walked the few blocks from our hotel to the Arc de Triomphe before I parted ways with them to head to my pick up spot. And that folks, was the most stressed out half an hour of my (recent) life. I like to think I've got a fairly good sense of direction, and am usually pretty good with a map, but in this instance both seemed to be failing me. The only thing that made me feel slightly okay about this, was the fact that the five or so people I asked for directions from didn't know either. But, alas, I arrived on time to check in, only to be told I had to kill a half an hour before the bus would arrive. 

So, I walked across the street to the Jardins des Tuileries, where I was almost immediately approached by a sir who insisted I be his model, because he loved my style. And that was the moment I knew he wanted money, because I had been pretty much wearing the same outfit for the last few days, and hadn't brushed my hair since the day before I left Manchester. If 'dirty hippy' was a sexy-style, as he described it, then I guess I've got it?! Anyway, the researcher in me obliged on the condition that I could ask him about his life. It turns out he was in his final year of his PhD in Art History...or so he said. In the end, the drawing looked nothing like me, but at least it was an interesting chat. By that point, I had to head back to catch the bus for my evening tour.

A shot of the Jardins des Tuileries, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
The Louvre
Dr. Marco
The first stop was a Seine River cruise. This had been recommended, but honestly, I could have done without. Don't get me wrong, it was neat to see some of the big tourist sights and gain a little history at the same time, but it was difficult to concentrate on what the guide was saying because of the very loud dance music pumping throughout the boat (and that was the moment I knew I was getting old...).  The guide had to say everything in four different languages, and for the most part I lost track of when she would start in English and when she would transition into another language. But, to be fair, I probably would have enjoyed this portion better (the cruise, not the music) had I not been tired. 

Next was the real reason I signed up for this particular tour - a trip to the second level of the Eiffel Tower. I have to say, standing at the base I felt over- and underwhelmed at the same time. It was everything I had imagined it to be, and yet not. But, being able to look out from the viewing platform at the city around me was unbelievable. I wasn't sure about doing this at night, but I'm certainly thankful that of the choice to do so during the day time hours and when I did, that I chose the one I did. The way the lights pierced the dark, evening sky was incredible. We had just over an hour, but after about half an hour or so, a gang of 16-year-olds joined, and were screaming out of what I can only assume was excitement. Had I not known better I would have thought some boy band was in my presence...because they certainly weren't excited to find the Orange Canadian amongst them! Nevertheless, it was amazing to spend some time there, and to take a quick stroll along the river before making my way back to the bus.

The final portion of the tour was a night drive around the city. It was basically the same as the river cruise, only we got sweet neon green headphones (for which I was really in need of a new pair) and lovely French music to take us through. Once again, it was neat to take in the sights, but I was pretty tired. When all was done, I boarded the metro and returned to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

The next morning, I rejoined my group and we chatted about what we'd done the night before. Then we boarded our bus for the final time for a tour of the city. For this tour, our local guide Nicolas provided a humour-filled historical interpretation of Paris. We stopped at the Arc for a photo-op, and then toured Notre-Dame. We made a final stop at Place de la Concorde, where we took a group photo, and then said good-bye to our delightful driver, Mike (seriously - I can't have any other Mike's in my life...).  Then we were once again left on our own. 

Arc de Triomphe 
Notre-Dame de Paris
Inside Notre-Dame

The group shot!
Mike, our driver (who also holds the award for whitest teeth ever),
and Arjan, our tour guide, are the two young men in the front.
I stayed with a couple I had been spending quite a bit of time with, Gracie and Bob from Florida. We went to Montparnasse Tower, a 59 story-office building with a great view of the city (well...when it wasn't foggy and rainy!). This was the moment when I learned Parisians had a sick sense of humour. In order to get a view of the Eiffel Tower from within the building, you have to cross over a panel of three screens, which as you step on it, plays a video recreating what it would be like if the floor gave way. Not. Cool.

The foggy views from Montparnasse Tower
Yep...that's a lot of dead people. 
A view of the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse.
Next we went to Le Marais, which is the Jewish area of Paris. Here we found an incredible hole-in-the-wall cafe where he had one tasty lunch! At this point the rain really began to fall, and the moment came where we needed to part ways. So off they went to the Eiffel Tower, and I went off in search of La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montremartre. Seriously, for someone who doesn't identify with religion, I sure love visiting churches! And this one sure delivered. 

To get to the Basilica, one has to climb endless stairs (kind of like my adventures in York!). But, was it ever worth it once you get there. When I went into the Basilica I found a chair and sat for a good while. This was partly because my legs were at present attempting to detach from the rest of my body, but also because I just needed a moment to take a breath, a step back, and just let myself be in that moment.

The Basilica
When I collected myself, I walked throughout the church, taking it all in. Then I made the rather naïve decision to climb the 300 stairs to the top of the Basilica. At the time I thought, pft, what's 300 stairs?, in reality my body laughed at my belief that I was as fit as I was only a few years ago... after stair 142 I thought about just settling in for the rest of my life. But, I made it, and it was well worth the (much-needed) exercise. The views were breath-taking. While it may not have been a thing that scared me, I think this visit would have made for one thing that challenged me for the day.

A view from the top. If you squint, you can see the Eiffel Tower way in the distance!

After a while, I climbed back down, found the nearest metro station, and made my way back to the hotel. My legs were pretty much hating me by this point, so I was so thankful that by the time I'd made it to my final connection, I hadn't run into anyone I knew... and then I got on the last underground only to bump into my tour guide, Arjan. I'm not sure he noticed, but throughout the entire conversation, it was taking everything for me not to topple over. But, I also chose not sit, as I was afraid I'd be unable to get up at our stop. Luckily, I made it back to the hotel in one piece, for a quick rest before our final group meeting - a drink in the Irish pub across the street.

My final activity in Paris, was one final walk to the Arc de Triomphe for some night shots, with one of my fellow travellers, Kelly (again - this is the final Kelly I will allow in my life). It was a nice evening to be out, and probably the perfect way to end this trip.

L'Arc de Triomphe

The tomb of the unknown soldier
The next morning, I woke up far earlier than I needed to, in order to have one last breakfast with some of the friends I'd made over the last few days. I've got to be honest, bus tours were never something I'd ever thought I'd participate in. And, while this will likely be the last (aside from the one I'd already booked for September) I'm really glad I did it. As a result, I met some really amazing people, and saw some places I probably would have never gone on my own. My hesitation to do another has nothing to do with the experience itself, so to speak, but more so my realization that I've become a far more independent traveller than I'd realized. It was pretty intense, and the constant needing to be upbeat and friendly was exhausting at times. But let me reiterate one final time - this was an incredible experience and I really hope I'm able to keep in touch with many of the people I met. Yet, perhaps the most significant epiphany of this trip was the result of having to answer the much dreaded question of what are you going to do when you graduate in September. And, I think I now know for sure what my post-grad plan is. Whether I fail or not, I think I need to just do it, because when else am I going to be free enough to do it?!

Anyway, I was delayed leaving Paris due to "rain in London" if you can believe it. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home, but this did not stop me from indulging in one final act of getting cultured - the opera! I went to see my fellow Acadia Alum, Rosie in her final performance at the RNCM. Amsterdam, Bruges, Paris and Shakespeare all in one marvellous week.

My next adventure is only a few hours away, so be sure to check back soon!

-the Orange Canadian

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