First Afternoon and Evening in France
After a long, groggy taxi ride to North Paris, we arrived at what Dan dubbed our ‘hotel box’. Perhaps the smallest room I have stayed in, although Dan thinks that our first room in New York was just as bad. Situated next to Gare du Nord train station, we soon discovered that no power-napping would occur with the honking of horns and screeching of brakes along the railway. I thanked the god of croissants (and the little medical student doctor in Wattle Grove) for the sleeping pills I had in my bag.
We headed off towards the main tourist attractions with assistance from a French lady who saw us huddled beneath an awning, trying to find our way. Turns out we were ‘en route’ and that Dan had his bearings (this time!). What was most interesting, at this point, was that we were walking through what seemed like a French ghetto. Groups of large black men were at every corner. Being ignorant, western, English (only) speakers, it was hard to tell if they were passionate or aggressive. We crossed the road a few times just to be safe.
The first moment I fell in love with France was when we looked out over La Seine river on the bridge, Pont au Change. The weather was perfect, the sky was turning to pinky hues and the water was flanked with old, grand buildings. We tried to track down Sainte Chapelle, but the entrance was deceptive and we kept circling ‘The Palace of Justice’. Eventually, we turned our attention to finding The Cathedral of Notre Dame. We waltzed in without a line and the rest, for me, gets kinda hazy. Writing this now, we haven’t returned to the cathedral, but of all amazing places we have been, there is something haunting about this place and I feel like when we return it will be my favourite. The reason the experience was hazy (apart from the candle smoke engulfing the room) was that I was so hungry I had stabbing pains in my tummy and was getting dizzy. Apparently, I did not eat enough plane food. We left Notre Dame speaking of how the place was even more epic because of the organ playing. Rejected by a busy restaurant named Quasimodo’s (they were no longer serving food), we made our way into a narrow street and sat outside beside climbing ivy. The place was called Au Vieux Paris d'Arcole.
I accidentally ordered an entire plate of raw salmon (not my favourite) and Dan had delicious duck. The highlight was the waiter occasionally serenading a couple with his operatic voice. He didn’t try it with us, probably because we were the only non-French speakers, which I’m sure some other customers found mildly amusing. The waiter repeated some words we attempted to remind us of our terrible accents. ‘L’addition’. Laaadission!
With a little more energy, we walked towards the sound of music. It was a dance party outside Hotel De Ville. There were only a few clusters of people dancing, but a lot of singing along to 'Fade Out Line'. It’s weird how some songs become so famous overseas. It turns out that this was part of the weekend celebration of Bastille Day. The building was grandiose and the perfect place for a DJ stage. I had a little wiggle and Dan caught it on video.
Realising we were too cramped to really dance and that the camera gear was too at risk, we made our way through the seemingly endless crowd towards the empty road that Dan could see, but I could not. Half way home it began raining and we caught a taxi the rest of the way. That was the first time it became clear that our location was on one of those awkward roads that you can’t directly turn into. We paid for it in taxi time.
For an evening where we planned to do nothing at all, it turned out beautiful and interesting. We fell asleep and woke up to the sound of trains and people riding their Saturday night into the morning. It was a good day.
Paris Day Two
With the intention of visiting Sainte Chapelle, our morning began with a long and confusing walk. Fortunately it took us past a bakery that had the perfect almond croissant for me and the perfect Nutella pastry for Dan. We debated the prospect of getting bicycles to show ourselves around town but I didn’t think it was necessary. Obviously I was just scared! Walking in the wrong direction, we stumbled across something fascinating and confronting. We found ourselves stopping at the Statue of Marianne at Place de la Republique. On closer look we saw it was covered with graffiti, especially the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’ after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. There was a real sombre tone and a feeling of being a part of history. It was strange because everything historic in France seems to be from another era but this was only in January this year. I’m glad we got lost.
After a nearby brunch of Quiche du jour, we decided to follow our original itinerary and head up to the Opera Garnier. This was absolutely breathtaking. Marble, manikins and many chandeliers. Red velvet, ornate banisters and winding banisters. The photos speak for this one. I enjoyed taking pictures of other couples and sitting on what felt like a little throne overlooking the opera stage. The tourists were packed into the opera galleries and despite a desire to break into the higher balconies, everything was roped off, to the point where playing dumb was impossible if we got caught (according to Dan!). I am proud of my photos of this place, especially the ones of Dan in his element!
The next stop was to Sainte Chapelle- the only reason we knew the entrance was because we discovered it too late on our first night. We waited in line for ages and this lead to another line outside the chapel where tickets were available. Dan went to find a bathroom after seeing the ridiculous line and returned half an hour later, just as I was reaching the ticket booth. I spent my time taking photos of people in line, hoping they would turn around and have interesting faces. The chapel is spectacular and becomes more so when you think about how each piece of stained glass was handmade. The extravagance of the Catholic church continues to blow my mind. 1113 pieces of glass were used to build the 15 windows in the upper chapel. There was a lady sitting on the side pew just shooshing everyone. Dan had little reverence. He was in photographer heaven.
After a power nap, we got ready for a fancy dinner I’d booked before we even bought our plane tickets. It was a restaurant at Montparnasse Tower called Ciel de Paris. I wore my high school formal dress and despite the heavy eye bags, felt pretty darn good. When we couldn’t find the entrance to the restaurant, an employee onlooker walked us all the way there. People have been incredibly helpful. We sat directly overlooking the Eiffel Tower. The waiter brought us cheese bread and creamed cheese with bread sticks to keep us busy as we drank a gorgeous champagne. It was very romantic and Dan was impressed with view. My favourite part was the lobster soup entrée. I tried to eat it when it was just foam and a few pieces of lobster, but the waitress stopped me before it was too late and poured the rest of the soup in the bowl. It was delicious. Dan spent most the time taking photos out the window and then apologised but couldn’t help himself anyway. It was the perfect view.
Once the meal was over, we asked for access to the observation deck and got tickets for a discount, cutting the queues and heading straight up the elevator. It was a beautiful night. Teenagers sat in the middle of the deck chilling out and taking in the view. Photographers fought for the best spot and played show and tell with their camera gear. Dan was part of that battle and dialogue. Paris looked like a map and all the gardens and palaces looked even more impressive because they were so distinct from so far. I entertained myself most of the time as Dan was gearing for the best shot. There was so much to take in on each angle. I made a little pact with the ferris wheel in the distance that I would visit before I left. We got some cute shots of each other up on the deck. We were conspicuous because we were taking the whole process rather seriously, and both looked fabulous (apart from my eye bags). People were watching Dan shoot, so he must have had that pro vibe. There was a smattering of rain and considering we had been there for hours, we decided to call it a night.
Paris Day Three
We woke up too early. But not early enough for sunrise. Dan said before the trip to give him the sunrise and sunset for his photography and that we could do whatever I wanted in between. I was awake from 4am, mostly because I couldn’t sleep, but also I wanted to catch the Louvre at a time nobody was there. Dan could compose the most interesting shots that way. Two hours later, I dragged him out of bed to make sure he didn’t regret not having the scene to himself. The taxi driver seemed surprised we had our heart set on The Louvre so far before opening hours. It was secluded and mildly fenced off, with a place for us to sneak through. We weren’t so adventurous. A couple of tourists, a cleaner and security guards with big guns were already walking around the place.
It was overcast and the rain had only just cleared. Dan took photos of me in the purple dress. The lighting was unimpressive because there was no sun. But we had a play anyhow. A man approached us and sat really close to Dan, commenting on his beautiful photos and watching a few, telling me to laugh for the camera. We said goodbye to him many times, but he kept finding something else to say. Eventually he rode off on his bicycle. He was nice, but perhaps a little strange. It is hard to know.
It was 8am and Dan was really hungry, so we head off to get food in a nearby café. When we returned, there was a huge winding line around The Louvre, divided into those with tickets and those without. That really bummed us out.
After being rejected from a section of the museum because of Dan’s serious camera gear, we concealed the tripod in his backpack, and proceeding up a new set of escalators, away from the lady who insisted we lock the tripod away in what looked like a coat room. The first section passed Renaissance statues and busts that embellished an already impressive foyer. We stayed here longer than most places. I took photos of nude butts. The passageway lead to ornate recreations of Napolean’s living space. Room after room of elaborate décor followed. More sections of antique jewellery and pieces with dates from centuries ago left us wowed. But we were weary from our early start. We made our way towards the Mona Lisa, like every real tourist.
The crowd was insane and Dan was put off by it all, but it didn’t faze me. In fact, it made it all the more special, like some artistic pilgrimage to the shrine of the Mona Lisa. I was in awe and showed it with silent reverie. Even though I was being shoved at either side. Everybody says that the painting is quite small, so I found it to be bigger than expected. After researching the history of the Mona Lisa and where it has lived (and how it was repatriated or stolen at some point) I found the experience to be more meaningful. The following galleries were impressive too. We took pictures of some paintings that had both political and religious agendas. We wondered why some paintings are so famous and others aren’t.
We were both so tired we went home to rest. And then came the loveliest night. After researching amazing restaurants, we were dropped off at a location a few streets from the Eiffel Tower. Usually phone reservations are made, but they had a spot outside for us. I wasn’t thrilled with the entrée, but the main meal and dessert were divine! We had pork shoulder that was obviously slow cooked for hours. I have never had nicer meat. It was topped with mashed potato and what may have been a plum or apple sauce. Dan and I said ‘Oh my God’ at least five times through that meal. For desert I had chocolate fondant pudding (my favourite) done better than anywhere ever (although I remember a French restaurant in Ireland being amazing too). We were buzzing with the endorphins of yumminess.
On the short walk to the Eiffel Tower, Dan told me about how it was built during the Industrial Revolution. I was curious as to why the architecture was so different to everything else. There was my answer.
Dan set up again, in usual fashion, finding the perfect spot, waiting for the perfect light. On the way back from the bathroom I wanted to touch the tower, so climbed up the base of one of the legs and had a feel. Dan followed me after shooting an angle I’d discovered near some water. I made him get a tripod shot of us together in front of the tower. They are adorable.
Dan decided that the underside of the tower would be a unique angle, so he set up right in the centre. I wondered up to the carousel and decided that I wanted to play on it because it was pretty and looked like something from the 1920s. I fetched Dan and we both bought tickets, his plan being to get some shots of the Eiffel Tower swirling behind me. Pulling funny faces and responding to Dan’s instructions to look like a crazy kid ended up being a cute and funny moment. I worried that despite my thigh grip, I gave some of the onlookers a show. I really wish I wore pants!
We returned to the tower a final time and after a few more goofy shots, we got a taxi back to our ever-comfier hotel box.