I went to Paris with low expectations.
Yeah, you read that right.
Paris has always been a dream destination of mine. I love the history, and the architecture, and the generally romantic and magical portrayal of it in the media. My bathroom at home is Paris themed, so naturally, I always pictured myself there: elegant, poised, sipping wine in a fancy cafe and eating chocolate eclairs. You know. Like this:
I have lots of friends that studied abroad who said Paris was 1) dirty and 2) overrated. Of course I wanted to see it in my time abroad, but my picture-perfect French dream had already been somewhat shattered before I boarded the plane.
My four days in Paris picked up all of those pieces and put them right back together in ways that I could never have imagined. Paris is not really dirty. Paris is definitely not overrated.
Paris is like being locked in a film scene. It’s everything the books and movies promise. I found myself standing inside of pictures that I had ogled over for most of my life. I feel so fortunate to have been able to share this trip with four of my best friends, and I can’t wait to share our adventures there with all of you!
Before we get into my writing, my friend Rachel and I made a video of our time in Paris. We spent a lot of time on it and it captures our experiences (and shows the fun we had!) in ways that I just can’t write them. We took more videos than pictures, so please watch below it if you’d like to see a little more of our trip!
Day 1: The Major Sights
Thursday night we got to Paris and made our way to our cute, one room, very hippie AirBNB. I aspire to have a flat just like it one day 😉 This is where I saw my friend Molly for the first time since before Christmas (she’s studying in Galway!) and it was so nice to reunite!
Friday morning, we woke up semi-early and Ubered to the city center. When I saw the Eiffel Tower, I had a major “I can’t believe this is my life” moment. It’s a feeling I can’t put into words, so I’m not going to even try, but I encourage you to chase it yourself in any way that you can. I think that’s been my favorite part of being abroad, these little “reality-check” moments where my eyes water and my heart leaps and I realize just how far I’ve come!
We found a precious little cafe as close to underneath the Eiffel Tower as you can get. I had an omelette, which is a huge thing in Paris. Every restaurant serves eggs and the omelettes are amazing!
Caroline and Andrea decided to take a tour of the Eiffel Tower, but Molly, Rachel, and I opted to walk around and explore on our own. We had a little photoshoot, which was kind of hard because there was lots of construction on the frontside of the Eiffel Tower. The entire front lawn where people typically take pictures was fenced off, but we made it work!
Our little trio then made our way to Champs Elysees, with the intent of walking to the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the infamous street. We had to take the metro there (which is, yes, very dirty compared to Madrid’s. After being in Brussels and now Paris, I can confirm that Madrid is exceptionally clean and sleek). Paris is definitely not walkable, so our metro pass was our best investment of the weekend!
I could walk the streets of Paris forever and never get bored. Everything is so picturesque and beautiful, especially the tops of the buildings, which have a rounded shape and lots of chimneys. We went into Laduree, a pretty fancy restaurant, and pretended that we fit in! I got a glass of wine and a giant chocolate macaron.
We then met up with Andrea and Caroline and walked to the Arc de Triomphe. It was so much bigger than the Arco de la Victoria (the one by our apartment in Spain) and we were surprised to see that people were walking around on the top!
Next stop: Notre Dame. I don’t think that I realized the extent of the damage from the fire until I was actually standing there, looking at it. I remember reading that only the roof had suffered damage from the fire, but that’s clearly not the case. The entire backside of the cathedral is being supported by a giant wooden structure. You can’t really get anywhere near it. Around it is a fence with pictures of the fire and information about the repairs happening inside. It was sort of like a makeshift museum, and the atmosphere was very solemn. It was scary and humbling to be standing beneath such a crucial piece of history that was in such a fragile state. Definitely a reminder that even the greatest feats of humanity will fall. I’m grateful that I got to see the Notre Dame, even though it wasn’t in the state that I had hoped.
The area surrounding the cathedral is probably my favorite in the city. Street artists and booksellers line the river, and there are stands selling crepes that are made right in front of you! I got one with nutella and strawberries, and bought a little painting to remind me of our trip.
Because we’re broke college students, we did a lot of research before Paris to see what discounts we could get with our EU student visas. We found that the Louvre is free to visitors under 26 every Friday night, so that’s where we headed next!
To get to the Louvre, you have to cross what was once the Love Lock Bridge. This is where couples have put padlocks for years as a way to leave their marks on the city, but they had to take the bridge down because all of the locks were making it too heavy. People still leave locks on the new light poles, which was cool to see.
Entering the Louvre was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life, and I was trying so hard not to cry (haha!) There was someone playing the violin right outside the gate, the sky was just darkening to the point that it was a gentle, matte indigo, and the glass pyramid structures in the middle were glowing pink. I love art, and being at the most famous museum in the world about put me over the edge. I got to see pieces that I had studied extensively in my AP Art History class, like “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” and “Liberty Leading the People”. We also saw “Mona Lisa”, from the side, because there was a giant line just to stand directly in front of it. “Mona Lisa” is small and underwhelming, and was the least interesting piece in the entire museum. So. Yeah! We had lots of fun “analyzing” the pained expressions of the people in the paintings and exploring the museum which we learned used to be a palace!
We finished the night with another dinner right by the Eiffel Tower (our bank accounts were hurting, yes, but we would make up for it by eating McDonald’s the next day). The tower lit up in a sparkling lights show every hour, and it was the perfect end to a magical day.
Day 2: Dark Sunrises and Dead People!!
Something you’re going to learn about Rachel and I is that we have a problematic desire to see everything, even when we don’t have time to see everything. That means that we get very little sleep! Yaaaaaay!
The two of us woke up before the crack of dawn, in the pouring rain, to see the sunrise over the Eiffel Tower. We went to a beautiful plaza, set back quite a ways from the park, with the most incredible, unobstructed view. We were the only people crazy enough to be out in the rain at an ungodly time of the morning, and also the only people stupid enough to think that we might catch a sunrise when the sky is completely obstructed by stormclouds. Oops!
This was probably my favorite memory from our trip, though, because we had so much fun running around an empty street and taking “dramatic” pictures with our umbrella! Afterwards, once we realized that the sun was, indeed, up, even though we couldn’t see it, we walked across the street to get coffee, crepes, and croissants (the holy trinity!)
We were pretty near the Latin Quarter, so decided to check it out. We saw the outside of a lovely church and the Pantheon, but that was really all there was to see, so we started our walk to the Catacombs!
Walking through the Catacombs was the single oddest experience that I have ever had. We started our journey in a dimly lit quarry and ended up deep below the city, surrounded by human skulls and femurs. These are not decorations or recreations. They are the real remains of people that died in the Black Plague, the French Revolution, and all of the time in between. There are no barricades to separate us from the bones. They’re just there, methodically stacked, as they have been for over 300 years. We only got to see 1.7 km of the Catacombs… and they extend for well over 200 km below the city. If that isn’t scary, I don’t know what is. See below: me realizing that these were actual people with bodies and families and memories and passions and that now they were nameless, faceless, skeletons in a tunnel below the ground, their stories forgotten to literally everyone. Existential!! Crisis!!! Commence!!!!
To nullify our discomfort at staring dead people in their empty eye sockets ( 🙂 ) we went to McDonald’s, because that’s what you do, I guess! Side note: “french fries” were mediocre here, and at every single restaurant I went to. They have virtually no salt and are pretty soggy and unexciting. A bit of a letdown after Belgium, who fries should definitely be named after.
There were a few more churches that we wanted to see, the first being Saint Chapelle, which was built to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. This is where the crown of thorns that Jesus wore is typically housed, but when we went, it was locked in storage in the Louvre for some reason. It was still impressive to see; the chapel is small, but is entirely covered in stained glass windows.
We then went to Sacre-Couer, the Basilica of Paris. There are so many churches in this city. The only things more numerous than the churches are the naked statues!
Sacre-Couer is at the top of a massive hill, which we had to climb a nasty set of steps to get to (see the video to catch a glimpse of that). It was well worth it, though, for the beautiful view of the city. We popped inside the Basilica, but mass was going on, so we promptly left.
I bought a beret from someone selling them on the street, and we quickly learned that I do not rock a beret. I looked like Christopher Columbus, or a pancake, or maybe a strange mixture of both. Oh well. We tried.
At dinner, Rachel and I split a cheese plate which was incredible!
We booked a night cruise on the River Seine, which was cold and rainy but oh so worth it. Rachel and I were the only two people who braved the rain to sit on the top. We wanted the unobstructed view, even at the risk of looking stupid! We saw so much more of the city and eventually the rain stopped so we could get some decent pictures (yay!)
There are carousels everywhere in Paris. I got this little video of one illuminated by the Eiffel Tower. I think it illustrates how picturesque, yet playful and unexpected this city is.
Day 3: Versailles
We took a day trip to Versailles, expecting to spend most of the day there. Once again, we picked the one free day of the entire month to go (I am a professional trip planner now, thanks).
I think I would have liked Versailles better in the summer, when the gardens were blooming and standing outside was more pleasant. The inside of the palace was definitely beautiful. The artwork, especially on the ceilings, was very impressive, and it was neat to see some little hidden touches in the palace, like the tunnel Marie Antoinette used to sneak out of her bedroom during the March on Versailles. Lots of the rooms were kind of empty, though, and seemed to only be showcasing art (which was done in similar styles and got repetitive after a while). I’m happy I got to see it, but the Royal Palace of Madrid is way prettier, in my opinion!
When we got back to Paris, Rachel and I walked around the historic district where much of the French Revolution took place. We made our way to Place de Tertre, where ultra-talented street artists set up shop to sell their work. We poked around for a long time before going back home around 5. Everybody was so tired, so we just went to dinner across from our AirBNB (where we had a creme brulee) and spent the rest of the night drinking wine and playing Uno in our apartment.
Day 4: Disneyland Paris
Rachel, Andrea, and I spent out last day in Disneyland, which, if you know me at all, you know is such a dream come true! We went on lots of rides, including some specific to DLP (Phantom Manor was everything I had dreamed of and more!) and even stopped to watch the Frozen parade. Even though we only had 8 hours and didn’t get to see everything, it was nice to be somewhere semi-familiar. I felt more “home” than I have since coming abroad… thanks, Mom and Dad, for raising me in a Disney family!
We flew home that night, and while I was sad to leave, I think we were all kind of ready to be back in Madrid, where people are nicer and we (generally) understand the language! Au revoir, Paris. Thank you for the time of our lives.
Things Paris Taught Me That I Want to Carry Forever:
- Some things really are as good as the cliches. Those things are magical. Always seek those things.
- We have to work to preserve art.
- The food you buy off of random street stands is always the best food.
- Dress up all fancy and pretend you belong. You do belong.
- People don’t owe you bilinguality. If you’re going to go to another country, you need to be respectful enough to learn enough of the native language to get around.
- It’s okay to look stupid, as long as you’re having fun and trying your best!
- We have to make our lives matter now, because they are somehow the only permanent thing that we have as individuals, but are so fleetingly temporary in the grand scheme of things.
- The dreams you had as a little girl are never out of reach.
- At the end of the day, we always come back to the light.