I was determined to make it to Paris because I thought it would be weird to spend a year in Europe and not see the Eiffel Tower; the problem was that I didn’t really want to go alone, but all of my friends had already been. Then as fate would have it, my friend Kiki called. We graduated from McKendree together and she has since been living in Kuwait so she wanted to pay me a visit in Madrid. The weekend she was scheduled to fly in I happened to find an extremely cheap flight to Paris! It was great to see her again, and we spent a night of shenanigans in Madrid before embarking on our adventure. It began to hit me that this trip would be my last – my last European flight, probably my last hostel, and of course my last new city – which was pretty sad.
We got in pretty late on Saturday night, so we enjoyed a nice dinner after getting settled in at the hostel. The food was pretty good and everything was reasonably priced (for Paris), but when we got the check it turned out that the tap water was 8 euros! That was almost the whole price of my meal! It was ridiculous, but what can you do. Once we were sufficiently hydrated we set out to find the Eiffel Tower. The scale on the map was a little deceptive, but we didn’t mind the walk so much due to the scenery. We also met some interesting characters along the way. After more than hour we finally saw it lit up in the distance. I was expecting to be disappointing by the size, but it was much more impressive than I had anticipated. It was also quite aesthetically pleasing with all the lights. We temporarily lost sight of it when we turned the corner, but when we saw it again the lights were sparkling! There was later some debate by people in our hostel if it does that every hour or only at midnight, but since we only saw it at midnight we couldn’t help. Anyway, it was pretty enchanting. I didn’t think I would be quite as moved as I was, but I guess it just occurred to me how fortunate I was to experience midnight in Paris under the Eiffel Tower. It was super cool. We finally made it to the base and it looked even more grand from the bottom. It was pretty cold, so once we were finished marveling we got a taxi back to the hostel.
They served an impressive breakfast, which was perfect fuel for another long day of walking. We started at the Louvre since it was just right around the corner. We didn’t pay to go in or anything because, you know, the Mona Lisa is supposedly overrated. The building looked cool from the outside anyway though. The only problem was that it was absolutely freezing and not to mention quite blustery, so we ended up getting tickets for a hop-on-hop-off buss tour. We the went to the Arc de Triunfe, but it started raining pretty heavily so we didn’t stay for long. By the time we made it to the Eiffel Tower we had resigned to staying in a constant state of shivering. The rain had let up, so to get warm we bought tickets to climb the stairs, which turned out to be quite a commitment. I think there were around 600 in total. We still had to take a lift to the very top though because it gets too narrow for stairs. It was cool to see the city from above, but it was soo packed and we had to wait in line for over an hour for the elevator. It was gusty on the ground, but near the top the wind was horrible. I don’t really mind lines otherwise though, and we enjoyed each others company. We made it up and took the typical pictures, then waited another 45 minutes to come down.
Paris is cool and all, but I honestly wasn’t really feeling it. I mean most of it looked just like Madrid anyway. We found some food, then went to Kiki’s most anticipated stop: the Catacombs. We had to wait in line OUTSIDE for over an hour and it actually started to sleet; the cold was literally nauseating. It was worth it though. By the time we made it through the small door we were chilled to the bone. We got our tickets then proceeded down a very narrow spiral staircase made of stone. It seemed to go on forever, and it was impossible to know where you were because it was such a sharp spiral. When we reached the bottom I knew I was going to love this place. I know its weird, but I’ve always loved unfinished basements, and we were basically in the basement of the city! We walked through damp, dimly lit, narrow passageways, and I loved it. Maybe I’ll install underground tunnels in my future house. We walked for a long time, then we came to a doorway. Outside was a sign prohibiting the usual things like backpacks and flash photography, but there was also a picture saying not to touch a skull. I had absolutely no idea what to expect at this place, I just went because Kiki had really wanted to. It turned out to be unlike anything I had ever seen.
Back in day, like the late eighteenth century or so, they had to relocate some grave yards, so I guess they decided to just stack the bones under the city. We walking in to be greeted by another narrow passageway, but instead of concrete walls on either side we were surrounded by a bunch of bones; I had no idea it would be like that! Again, I know this all probably sounds really creepy or maybe even awful, but I found it to be entirely fascinating. I honestly could have spent like an entire day down there. It did take us quite a while to walk through the whole thing. We did our best to decipher some of the stones with Latin engraving because there seemed to be some golden existential phrases on them. It was enchanting in its own special way, and probably one of the coolest experiences of my whole life.
We eventually reemerged into the cold, nearly-dark street without an idea of where we were relative to our starting point, and most importantly, our bus stop. We quickly made our way into a gift shop across the road that advertised heat and free WiFi so that we could get our bearings. Our ever-improving topography skills brought us to the stop just before the last bus of the evening came along on its route, and before long we were heading back towards the river. We hopped off a little early to grab some food at a cafe we had seen earlier in the day. You know, the food in Paris was just okay, but the wine was incredible; I thought it was even better than the stuff in Italy! By the time we left the restaurant we were practically impervious to the cold, so we decided the trek it back to the hostel. It was great to walk the streets in a different part of town and see what they had to offer. We even passed Notre Dame at one point! It felt nice to be back in the warmth of our cozy room though, and we quickly made the acquaintance of some of our roommates. It turned out that two of them were actually from Madrid! There was another girl from Russia who was studying in London, and I’m pretty sure there was someone from Italy as well. Anyway, I suppose we talked with them for longer than anticipated, so by the time we got cleaned up, we didn’t really feel like going out. It would have been fine except we had to leave for the airport around 4am, and it was Sunday night mind you, so I would have class once we got back to Madrid. We settled on a glass of wine at a nearby cafe, where we also got our travel documents in order.
I think I preferred Paris at night versus during the day, but perhaps my favorite time was last few hours of darkness before dawn. I don’t know what it was, but as we walked from our hostel to the metro everything just seemed to serene, with so much potential energy. I mean as we walked through the dimly-lit streets, we could smell fresh bread beginning to bake along with the occasional murmurs of early risers, and it just seemed like the whole neighborhood was anticipating the bustling day to come. The subway system wasn’t too bad, but of course it didn’t hold a candle to the one in Madrid. It was still dark when we arrived at the bus station, but we were just glad we made it in time. It was pretty full when we climbed aboard, so we had to sit separately. I had planned to sleep on the hour long drive, but of course I couldn’t so I settled for listening to Francoise Hardy as I watched the sun begin to rise over the French country side instead. The airport turned out be this tiny little building in the middle of nowhere, but it was sufficiently functional nonetheless.
Overall Paris was a good experience, and I’m glad I got to see it. I don’t think its the first place I’d go back to in Europe, but we definitely created some memories there that I will never forget.