I flew to Paris, France from Poznan, Poland on June 5th, 2013 with Wizz Air – a discount airline that nickles and dimes you for every little extra involved with flying on an airplane (checked baggage, checking in at the airport, priority boarding, etc). I avoided these extra fees by packing everything I would need for my week-long trip to France in a small black backpack that, with my tripod attached to the outside, just barely exceeded the maximum allowed measurements for carry-on baggage. Luckily, no one at the airport ever asked to measure my bag (or weight it), so I managed to get on the plane (and fly back to Poland a week later) without having to pay an extra fees.
When I arrived in Paris, I quickly realized that I was not at the city’s main Charles DeGaulle Airport, as I thought I would be, but at a much smaller airport far from the city. I hadn’t done much research into my flight to Paris, so I had unknowingly booked a ticket to the Paris Beauvais Airport, which is about an hour and a half away from the center of Paris by bus.
Following the direction of just about everyone disembarking on my flight, I bought a bus ticket, waited in a short line, and then jumped on the second bus to pull up to the curb. As soon as I was on board, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until the bus had reached its destination on the far west side of Paris.
Now off the bus, I began walking. After figuring out where I was on the map of Paris’ center, I walked for several kilometers until I found the front door to the apartment where I would be staying for the next three nights. I was about a half hour early, so I killed time by walking around the neighborhood – my heavy loaded backpack on my back the entire time.
At 5 PM sharp I was met by a short Latino woman who introduced herself as Alejandra and asked if I spoke French or Spanish. I said “no” to both.
Alejandra then walked me up an old, steep, narrow staircase that spiraled up a dark hallway to the 7th story attic area. Here, I was directed toward a small room no bigger than my bathroom back home. It was an old closet that had been converted into a tiny living space. I couldn’t believe that this was the place I was renting… or that there were other people in this very same attic who actually lived there all the time. The place was incredibly small… and there were rat traps on the floor in the hallway!
Alejandra spoke to me in French and after a few minutes of failing to understand much of anything she was saying, I told her to speak in Spanish. While my Spanish isn’t great, it’s a whole lot better than my French… and now I was actually able to understand most of what she was saying (although I could say very little in return).
After checking me in to my closet-sized apartment, I said goodbye to Alejandra and closed the door. I was exhausted from waking up early, the flight, the bus ride, the walk across town, and just being in a big city again (I am not a city person). So the first thing I did was fall asleep.
Around 8:30 PM I woke up and realized I had not eaten anything all day long. So I walked down the long, narrow staircase and returned to the street. Nearby, I found a diner and ordered a vegetarian pizza to go. I sat in the restaurant and waited. Five minutes later I was back out the door and on my way back up the stairs to my attic apartment. (The photo above shows the view from the one and only window inside my tiny Parisian apartment.)
The next morning I woke up, took a shower, and used the shared bathroom in the hallway to get ready for the day. There wasn’t a mirror in my apartment or in the bathroom, so I went for three full days in Paris without seeing myself in a mirror. I did not feel very good about myself while walking around the city.
While I know there are a lot of interesting things to see and do in Paris, the thing I was most interested in doing (after a little online research) was touring the underground catacombs, where thousands of bones have been sorted and stored.
On my way there (I avoided the Metro, as I usually do), I walked across a bridge covered in locks (something I have seen in several different cities all around the world, although the “Love Locks” in Paris were easily the most impressive).
Then I walked through the Louvre, although I didn’t actually go inside.
When I finally found the entrance to the catacombs, I had to wait in a long line for about two hours before I was able to enter the underground chambers. While in line, I met a woman who was from Australia, but was in Europe to participate in a bicycle tour of her own. So I walked around the catacombs with her and then said goodbye once our tour of the underground area was over.
On the way back to my apartment, I walked through the Luxembourg Gardens. Like almost all of the parks in Paris, the place was beautiful, but terribly overcrowded.
That night I stayed in my apartment and ate some sandwiches I purchased from a small shop nearby.
The next day I went to the Musée d’Art Moderne and enjoyed the one and only real exhibit they had there about street artist, Keith Haring. I particularly enjoyed this one piece of his, which was the inspiration for a later piece he did titled “FREE SOUTH AFRICA” in which a large black majority stomps out the white controlling minority. In this particular piece, the Christian cross is used as a sort of weapon, and shoved back at the whites.
After visiting the Museum of Modern Art, I walked a short distance over to the Eiffel Tower. It was kind of strange seeing the towel for the first time in my entire life, because I have seen it so many times before in photos and movies and on television. I don’t know if I was impressed by the structure of completely underwhelmed.
I thought about paying to go up to the top of the tower (it wasn’t that expensive), but the lines to get up to the top were incredibly long and I didn’t want to have to stand in line for several hours to get up to the top. I thought about taking the stairs, but I still had to wait in a long line to buy a ticket to access the stairs, so that too was not an option. Instead, I simply walked under the Eiffel Tower and walked all around it.
The following day I woke up early, packed up my things, and took a train to the Charles DeGaulle airport, where I met Rob and we began our week long bicycle tour of France’s Loire Valley together.
After our tour was over, Rob and I returned to Paris for just one night. We shared a hotel room together, walked around the city both together and alone, ate dinner at a local restaurant, and then said goodbye to one another the following morning.
This was my first time in Paris and it probably won’t be my last. As much as I would like to say I loved my time in the city, the truth is, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Big cities (like Paris, London, New York, etc) are not my favorite places to be. I liked the Loire Valley, but I did not enjoy my time in Paris. Too many people, too few trees, and almost no privacy.
What about you? Have you ever been to Paris? What did you think of the city? What do you like most about Paris? Or what do you like least? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.