Eurotrip 2015 Part IV: Paris

Ah, Paris. The city of love, lights, fashion, and… pickpockets? Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, and apparently, during the hour or so we were on the metro, it started to rain, because when we emerged from underground in central Paris, it was pouring and miserably cold. Luckily, we found a taxi willing to carry four people + luggage pretty quickly, and soon we were shuttling through the wet streets to Paris to our hotel. While our taxi driver was very kind and talkative, it seemed like he didn’t speak a speck of English, so he rattled on and shot questions at us in French, to which we just chuckled helplessly. My sister took French lesson in high school, so she was the only one who could faintly understand him, but the language barrier was still formidable. Next time I come to France, I’ll be sure to pick up some basic French first.

At last we reached our hotel, a smaller place tucked into an artsy region of the Latin Quarter. While small, the hotel was rather homey with floral wallpaper and green-carpeted staircases. There was a tiny one-person elevator, which we used exactly twice: when we checked in and when we checked out. As the rain was still coming down, we stayed in for awhile to unpack and settle in. When the rain finally slowed, we ducked out under a single umbrella and found a bar to take refuge in while we enjoyed our first French meal: moules-frites! Over the next few days, it would quickly become our favorite and we ended up ordering moules-frites three or four times during our time in Paris.

The first of many moules-frites.
The first of many, many moules-frites.

Out of all the countries we visited, I have to say that France takes the throne in terms of food. From crepes to moules-frites to paninis, French cuisine is far better suited to my palate than the Czech Republic’s hearty meat dishes and England’s meat pies. Except foie gras. Cold, buttery, rich duck liver is not exactly my cup of tea.

After demolishing our mussels, we set off to the streets of Paris again — this time, the rain had stopped for good — and found a really cool tapas bar called L’Avant Comptoir for dinner. There was no official menu; instead, all the menu items hung from the ceiling, so we craned our heads back to look and decided on calamari and beef carbaccio. Yum! If you ever find yourself in Paris, I would definitely check it out. Although, fair warning, it’s standing-room only and can get quite crowded.

After that delicious meal, we just walked through the winding streets of the Latin Quarter as the sun set behind the Hausmannians. Despite Paris being a hubbub of tourist activity, walking through the Latin Quarter feels like a glimpse into the world of the locals with the plethora of small cafes lining the narrow streets. Some people say Paris is cramped, but I like the feeling of everything being close together. The tall Hausmannian buildings cultivate a sense of privacy and protection for the pedestrians down below, as if everyone is in on the same secret.

A pop of color.
A pop of color.

We started the next day with breakfast at Paul’s, which would become our choice breakfast spot for the next few days. Although it was a struggle to order in French, it was nice to start the day with fresh croissants and macarons. The hot chocolate was a bit thick for my taste, but I’m sure it would be a hit with real chocolate lovers. Next on the itinerary was a tour of major tourist destinations throughout Paris, and let me tell you, the city was dazzling in the sunlight. Puffy white clouds floated against a beautiful blue backdrop, a picturesque sky that was mirrored in the calm waters of the River Seine. Hausmann redesigned Paris to bring unity to the skyline and light and air the center of the city, and I’d say he did just that.

A view down the River Seine.
A view down the River Seine.
The Petit Palais art museum. We did not enter, but the outside is beauty enough.
The Petit Palais art museum. We did not enter, but the outside is beauty enough.

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I was excited to see the famous Love Lock Bridge, but unfortunately, it was taken down a mere two weeks before our arrival. The weight of thousands and thousands of locks on the bridge had reached a dangerous level, so the city replaced the railings of the bridge with plexiglass. That didn’t stop everyone, though, and we saw some love locks covering other bridges throughout the city. Some people are just determined to have their love immortalized in the city of love.

Love locks by the river. The boarded-up Pont des Arts can be seen in the background.
Love locks by the river. The boarded-up Pont des Arts can be seen in the background.

It was interesting to hear about the history of Paris, as Reign had taught me all about French royalty, including the Valois and Bourbon lines. It was nice to be able understand the context of our history lesson and put an actor’s face to a name. As it turned out, Antoine de Bourbon’s son, Henri IV eventually became the first Bourbon king of France, and his statue is erected on the Pont Neuf. Our tour guide gave us an interesting lesson about equestrian statues: if the front two hooves are in the air, the rider died in battle. If all four hooves are on the ground, the rider died by natural causes. And if the hooves are positioned in any other way, the rider died by unnatural causes. As Henri IV was murdered, his horse is pictured mid-step.

So regal.
So regal.

Our tour ended in the beautiful Tuileries Garden, the former royal gardens before the royal palace was relocated to Versailles. As someone who appreciates uniformity in architecture, I found the symmetry of the gardens very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Little did I know danger lurked on the horizon. As we descended the steps to plan our next destination, I was suddenly accosted by two French girls who looked about my age. They chattered incessantly in rapid French, shoving a clipboard under my nose in an attempt to get me to sign some petition. Feeling rather crowded and uncomfortable, I instinctively grabbed my purse, shaking my head and muttering no‘s and apologies under my breath. I suppose my refusal was soon made clear, as they moved onto my sister. Mom started shrieking at the girls, yelling at them to go away, and at first I was mortified. However, once they scattered, it was clear that Mom had good reason to shriek, because when my sister checked her purse… her phone was gone and the girls were nowhere to be seen. Our first run-in with the pickpockets of Paris.

Chloe was distraught as we approached a policeman/security guard on a bicycle and explained what had just transpired. He rode off in the direction we pointed, but did not return with good news. Later, when my sister googled these common incidents, we were horrified to discover that there are huge gangs of thieves that specifically target tourists. Oftentimes, the pickpockets are young girls and boys who are forced to steal a certain amount per day, or else they’re beaten. After reading about the horrifying reality of these smuggling rings, it was a little harder to hate the girls who targeted us. Nothing was taken from me, but when the thieves left, I discovered my own phone in my coat pocket, and realized that I had dodged a slim bullet. From then on, paranoia kept us on edge, and I made sure to keep tight grips on my phone and purse at all times. The City of Lights soon became The City of Potential Thieves as we warily eyed those around us. Talk about disillusionment.

The beautiful view of the Tuileries gardens... little did we know what lurked on the horizon.
The beautiful view of the Tuileries gardens… little did we know what was to come in such a tranquil place.

There was nothing we could do. My sister’s iPhone was on airplane mode, so Find My iPhone wouldn’t work even if I found wifi. With that melancholy thought, we went to the Museé d’Orsay, which perked us a up a little. The museum is housed in a former train station, which I thought was really cool, because it reminded me of that infamous scene in Gossip Girl where Chuck and Blair meet in a Paris train station.

The Museé d'Orsay.
The Museé d’Orsay.
One of the coolest pictures I took on this trip.
One of the coolest pictures I took on this trip.

After that, it was about dinnertime, so we headed to the Champs-Élysées where we had—you guessed it—moules-frites! We also visited the Abercrombie & Fitch store there, and it was absolutely incredible. Tall black-and-gold gates beckoned visitors down a gravel path with perfectly manicured hedges on both side. The store itself is enormous, boasting four floors, gilded staircases, frescoes of strong men rowing, and a large, scantily-clad statue boasting an impressive six-pack. I’ve visited the A&F store on Fifth Avenue and had thought it incredible, but that was nothing like this store, melding historic art and modern opulence into one.

Gilded gates and ripped models welcoming you into the esteemed Abercrombie & Fitch.
Gilded gates and ripped models welcoming you into the esteemed Abercrombie & Fitch.

The Champs-Élysées ends at the Arc de Triomphe, which we did not visit, as it was rush hour, and we did not feel like crossing ten lanes of traffic to get there. Even from faraway, though, the detail was impeccable. Still looks like Hell to drive around, though.

The Arc de Triomphe!
The Arc de Triomphe! See how heavy the traffic is?

After dinner, we decided to take a boat cruise down the River Seine, which started at the Eiffel Tower. I finally got to see the famed Iron Lady, and was not disappointed at all. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the Eiffel Tower was much larger than I imagined. Despite being more than a century old, it still looks very clean and modern. I like it.

No caption needed.
No caption needed.

The river cruise was really fun, and as we passed pedestrians on the side of the street or on the bridges, we always waved and were met with cheers. However, that got pretty old after the tenth bridge. It was really nice to see Paris from another perspective, and as the sky darkened, we saw the City of Lights slowly illuminate to live up to its name. It was truly beautiful, and softened the lingering resentment for the city from the pickpocket incident.

The beautiful Pont Alexandre III, as seen from the River Seine.
The beautiful Pont Alexandre III, as seen from the River Seine.

By the time we returned to the Eiffel Tower, it was lit from top to bottom, and as we stepped onto the shore, it began sparkling like a Christmas tree. It was an amazing sight, although I preferred the regular lighting to the sporadic sparkles. When the Eiffel Tower is lit with warm yellow lights, it almost appears golden like the little gold Eiffel Tower keychain I received years ago.

Beauty against a satin sky.
Beauty against a satin sky.

Paris is so different from the tall steel-and-chrome cities I normally love, but its charm lies in the uniformity of the Hausmannian buildings, an old-town charm that comes to life when the city glows with light. We returned to our hotel with lights still dancing in our eyes.

The next day, we made a quick trip to the Notre Dame Cathedral before we went to the Louvre.

We love gothic architecture.
We love gothic architecture.

Forever tourists, we checked out three of the Louvre’s most famous pieces: The Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and, of course, the Mona Lisa. You don’t have to be an artist to know that those three pieces are special.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace.
The Venus de Milo.
The Venus de Milo.

In a way, the Mona Lisa was both hard and incredibly easy to find. It was easy to locate, because there was a huge mob crowding the room it was in, but it was harder to see, because it’s quite small and, like I said, there was a huge mob around it. The crowds were insane, but somehow I managed to push my way to the front. While people often say they are disappointed by the Mona Lisa due to its size, I didn’t experience such disappointment, as I knew to expect its small canvas. Instead, I could focus on the painting itself, and I saw the artistry that led to its fame. Her coy smile was comforting, as if we were connecting about our lack of eyebrows. Here’s an idea of how small the Mona Lisa is and how ridiculous the crowds are.

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Tourist central.

After lingering awhile longer amonst the Louvre’s lesser-known works, it was time for lunch, and we had crepes on the street, like real Parisians! Apparently, crepe eating is a three-course meal for the French, and they order an appetizer, entree, and dessert crepe, but we stuck to one course, which we ate as we observed those walking past.

How chic are we?
How chic are we?
So what if I had dessert for lunch? It was delicious.
So what if I had dessert for lunch? It was delicious.

The creperie was near the metro station, so we headed there next to take a train to Versailles. However, we arrived quite early, so we spent a tense twenty minutes waiting underground, clutching our bags and suspiciously eyeing strangers all while the announcements overhead warned of pickpockets. Remember, we were still quite shaken from the thieves yesterday, and the remaining anxiety amplified in this lull. Fear permeated our minds as several shady figures boarded and stepped off trains. We were so scared that we almost skipped Versailles, but I’m glad that we didn’t, because Versailles was incredible.

Our train soon came, and an hour later, we were stepping out at Versailles. The palace was just amazing, the epitome of opulence. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The famous Hall of Mirrors. Look at the detail on the ceiling!

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As we explored the incredibly decorated rooms of the palace, we had an audio tour to explain the history of the palace. It focused heavily on Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and the fall of the French monarchy, which coincided with my World History lessons on the French Revolution. Seeing the lavish palace, I too would have hated the royals for living in such excess while their country starved. I wonder how Versailles looked when the peasants stormed it. In its current state, it’s hard to imagine violence and anger breaching its beautiful walls and peaceful gardens.

(Also sidenote: I saw many statues of my favorite characters in Reign, including Louis Conde, which Adelaide Kane had posed in front just the day before!)

Some of you may have recognized the picture for my introductory post as taken in the gardens of Versailles, which were absolutely splendid. Everything was manicured perfectly, as if not a single twig was out of place. As we weaved through the gardens, tall hedges blocking the sky, I felt like I was in the maze of the third task in the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire. Luckily, we met no blast-ended skrewts along the way.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore very much, as it was soon turning dark and we were wilting under the summer heat (one of the only days we could wear shorts and skirts!), but I think it’s okay to leave a few stones unturned, because that’s just another reason to come back!

Reflections.
Reflections.
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Gardens extending to infinity.
Conical trees! Amazing
Conical trees! Amazing.
This fountain was really pretty.
This fountain was really pretty.

We loitered in the gardens for awhile, reluctant to leave, before we headed back to the station to catch a train back to Paris. For our last dinner in Paris, we ate outside on a busy pedestrian street with a small band playing for tips across the street. It was the perfect night, and the moules-frites we ordered brought our Paris experience full circle.

The next morning (very early morning, because the taxi service was on strike), it was off to Charles du Gaulle and the eight hour flight back to the States and the stress and deadlines of real life. Leaving was bittersweet, but I know that one day I’ll be back, so it’s okay. 🙂

Although the pickpocket incident had put a bad taste in my mouth about Paris, writing this blog post made me remember that the beauty of Paris can’t be overshadowed by thieves. Of all the things they can steal, don’t let them steal your vacation. Paris is an incredible city, and it would be a shame never to visit for fear of becoming prey to the gangs that lurk the streets. Hopefully it’ll be a problem that can be soon remedied, as worker strikes are becoming commonplace in Paris in response to the frequency of pickpockets.

Anyway, this post brings an end to my Eurotrip 2015 series. I’d like to thank everyone who’s followed me through London, Cambridge, Prague, and Paris. I’ve had so much fun writing these blogs, and I can only hope that you’ve enjoyed them. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do more baking posts before school starts, as I’ll be a lot busier then (but I’ll try my best!). Please comment below what sort of content you’d like to see. Thank you!

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