Wednesday, February 25, 2009

1:32 PM: The Paris Blog, Part Un

All right. I promised. And I'm going to deliver. Here's the best blog about Paris you will ever read. I'm including the highlights and little bits and pieces of wonderful things I remember. Let me say right off that...

I love Paris.

I love Paris. No, really. Several people told me in the past that I shouldn't go to Paris, that it wasn't worth my time, that it smelled bad, that the people were unkind, that the metro system was really difficult to figure out, and that Paris was completely and utterly overrated.

Obviously, they have never been to Paris. Or they had ridiculously rotten attitudes when they were there. I thought Paris was unbelievable beautiful and historic (um, hello, the Louvre?) and totally worth every penny/pence I spent to get there. And no, I didn't smell bad. In fact, in most of the places I walked, especially down little alleyways with many cafes or markets, things smelled wonderful. I am a firm believer that the French make the best food in the world. No joke. I would fly back to Paris for one French crepe. I am not kidding. And the people are not at all unkind. The night that we got in, we had to take a train to Gare du Nord to take the metro to our hotel. It was pretty late, around 8 or 8:30 pm, and not many people were on the train. Several announcements came over the speakers, but they were in French, and none of us understood them. We stopped at a station maybe one or two stops away from Gare du Nord. A random Frenchman had noticed that we were speaking English and probably didn't understand the announcements, so he came over to us and asked if we had understood. He then explained, in very cute, broken English, that the train was stopping, and that everyone had to get off and use alternate transportation to get to where they we were going. He even told us what platform to go to next to catch a train. It was very kind of him... he didn't have to do that at all, but he did because he wanted to be helpful. And that was our first impression of the French people. Pretty awesome, I thought.

Even when we met people who didn't speak English, like little shopkeepers or restaurant waiters, they were very patient with us, and we communicated with what little we knew, hand gestures, and lots of laughing. Never once were we snubbed or treated badly. I'm a firm believer that our attitudes helped quite a bit too--we were friendly, smiled a lot, and used whatever French we knew, even if the pronunciation was terrible. We were trying, and we enjoyed it. I learned so much French, but I'm far from fluent.

Once we got off at the train station because we couldn't go any farther, we ended up exactly where we need to be anyway, and we jumped on the metro to our hotel. And, p.s., the metro isn't that hard at all. It's a bit more complicated than the tube, but if you get the tube, you'll easily get the metro. It's really not that hard. Anyway, we got off at "Oberkampf," the closest stop to our hotel, which was about 100 feet from the metro. How convenient! Our little hotel, the "Hotel Voltaire Republique," was fantastic. It seemed like a tiny hole in the wall kind of place, but the room was very clean, fairly spacious, the beds were surprisingly comfortable, and there were two balconies overlooking the street. Lovely. Truly lovely. The staff of the hotel added the cherry on top--when we checked in, we met Samuel, who works the desk at night, and he was this olive-skinned, possibly Spanish-origined Frenchman who spoke English quite well. He was very kind, very funny, and extremely helpful when we were planning out our sight-seeing days. He immediately whipped out a map and started highlighting in green all the great places to go, how to get from place to place, and when the best times to go were. It was amazing. We followed all his advice with wonderful results. Sadly, he didn't work at the desk the rest of the time we were there, so we never saw him again.

On Thursday night after we arrived, we were all very hungry, and Samuel pointed us to a little street off the Place de Republique, which was lined with little cafes and creperies that were open late and served cheap, but excellent, food. We wandered down the street, taking in casual, French atmosphere (and a great deal of cigarette smoke, like in London), until we found a small creperie with a smiling young Frenchman willing to take our orders. Like I said, the food, no matter what you get, tastes unbelievably good. I got a simple cheese and mushroom crepe. I am still craving another one. Ordering food was an adventure, but we worked it out, and everyone was happy.

We woke up early on Friday to start our French adventure (ha, that kind of rhymes...). Our first stop: Notre Dame. We rode the metro and walked the rest of the way, in time to see the sun push out from the clouds and bathe Paris in glittering sunlight. Look at my pictures on my Facebook page--you'll see what I mean. Notre Dame was much bigger than I expected, since, of course, I'm drawing what I know about it from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The windows were explosions of colour, and the ceilings seemed to stretch up and up and up forever. I have a soft spot in my heart for big cathedrals and churches. They make my breathing slow and calm, and give me reassuring little goosebumps.

Next was the part of Paris Samuel had suggested... it's the older part that not many tourists seek out because they don't really know it's there. Samuel said that these parts were "really French." And he was right. We wandered around looking at the beautiful buildings and interesting little shops, but everything was still closed. It was after 10 AM, but the French are so relaxed that they don't open anything until 11 AM. Hardly anyone was on the streets or driving cars, but the sun was up. So, we joined the sun and meandered through all the little streets until we found Samuel's "favorite street" called Rue Mouffetard. I don't even know how to describe it. It's this really, really long street that goes uphill, and there are lights strung from building to building over the top of it (it would have been lovely at night, but we were too tired to go back that late), and amazing smells from the tons and tons of little cafes, creperies, markets, sweet shops, and fruit stands made the senses go crazy. We hardly spoke at all as we walked first down the street, then turned around and went all the way up again on the other side. And Samuel was right: it was very, very French. I loved it.

We found a little indoor cafe for lunch and sat next to two old, French ladies who were eating exotic looking foods and chattering away in flowing French. I love French--such a beautiful language. After lunch, we did some more wandering and eventually made it over to the front of the Louvre. If you stand in front of it looking toward the Arc du Triomphe in the distance, the view is breathtaking, especially when the sky is radiant, sapphire blue and the sun is joyfully throwing light everywhere. About that time, Caris' brother's girlfriend (as of last Saturday, fiance) Julie had arrived on a train from her university in Angers, and Caris and Julia went to go meet her. Kristen and I walked around, stalked some American bicycling tourists, took some photos of the distance Tour Eiffel, and walked around the outside of the Louvre.

And this is the end of Part One... at least until I'm done with classes.

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