Travel: Parisian Birthday
If not now, when?Hillel
Someone once told me, birthdays are important because you are important. As I leave my teenage years behind and say hello to 20, I decided, this year, I want to feel special. After a long, stressful year, I deserved something good happening in my life. Then my best friend, B, says the magic words. ‘Let’s do it’. A day-trip to Paris just for a birthday? Sounds like a rich girl thing to do. The only problem is that we are not. But what if we did this on a budget and jumped on a coach?
August 5, 9.30 PM – London Victoria Coach Station
Picked B from work and now we’re at the station, already diving into our snack stash. I apologise to the M&Ms I’ve just dropped on the floor. It’s not you, it’s me. Half an hour to our coach, we’ve been waiting for a while. We are sitting a bit further than the gate because there is no space to sit there, and there is another coach before ours. As the number of people gets lesser, we got closer to the gate. As time gets closer to 10, we wonder why our coach is not here, only to be told by the men next to us that, they have already been taking people on the coach.
10.30 PM – On the Coach
So we’re the last ones to get on the coach, but yes, we’re doing this! Travel pillows are out, lights are off, the only problem is that we’re so on. We’re so excited, can’t stop talking. The woman next to us, 100% hates us. We’re going through London, in the night. It switches between glamourous to run down to mysterious to I wouldn’t wanna walk through here at this time of the night. London never stops to fascinates me, no matter how tiring it gets to live in it.
August 6, 00.00 AM – Folkestone Eurotunnel
Happy Birthday to me! I woke up just in time for my birthday and passport control. B jumps on me once the time hits midnight. We get off the coach to go through passport control. The lady looks at my passport, give it back and as I pass she says, ‘Happy birthday by the way. When is it again?’ and B is like ‘literally now’.
6.45 AM – Paris Bercy Bus Station
I woke up a little before we arrive at the station, unbelievable to think the city outside of my window is Paris. First time here, in case you couldn’t tell. We get off the coach, catch a bus that will take us to more central parts of the city. We have our momentary realisations of ‘girl, we’re in Paris’, but honestly, we still can’t comprehend that we just woke up in another country.
7.30 AM – Notre Dame
We’re in the area of Notre Dame, just found a place to have breakfast. I couldn’t quite calculate that most places would be closed now and that the place I found before was small and didn’t have seats. Oops. But it’s all good. We got some croissants, pain aux pistaches, orange juice and coffee. We’re nearby the Notre Dame Cathedral, and honestly, I’m feeling myself. Pastry and coffee, if that ain’t the life, y’all… After breakfast, we move on to taking photos by the bridge with Notre Dame at the back. The most ‘popular side’, let’s say, of the cathedral to take pictures still looks undamaged, but on the other side, you can see the constructions going on. It’s so sad to think of the damage and that we can’t go inside or nearer to the cathedral. However, it’s more disturbing to see how they quickly already started building it while there are more severe issues in the world like climate change, wars and famine which needs to be tackled immediately and are being ignored by the most.
9.30 AM – Musée du Louvre
We walk from Notre Dame to Musée du Louvre. Passing through Pont au Change and seeing a glimpse of Eiffel Tower while being on the River Seine is when I actually believe that I’m in Paris. The site of Musée du Louvre is fascinating, just so beautiful. The historical look meeting with the glass pyramids which gives a more modern look and the view from here of gardens and other parts of Paris. This is the moment I feel I’m living a dream. A couple is doing their wedding photoshoot. We’re doing our own photoshoot, frequently being interrupted by people trying to sell souvenirs. Let me tell you this, they are very persistent… It takes us ages to realise the museum’s actually closed for the day. Bummer, I know. I guess I’ll have to come to Paris again, then. What a shame, right? Nevermind, people say Mona Lisa is a let down anyway.
10.30 AM – Musée D’Orsay
Looks like everyone thought like us, ‘Oh we’ll just go to Musée D’Orsay across the bridge since Louvre’s close’. I guess we’re not that clever. The queue is LONG. Since we didn’t need a ticket for being students, I thought maybe we’d have a different entrance but nope. At least, it’s moving faster than we expected.
It’s an experience to see the paintings I’ve studied before, in real life. Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cabanel… Well, actually I couldn’t get to see most of my favourites from Van Gogh like The Starry Night over the Rhône because surprise surprise it’s in London now… And even the ones we saw, it’s so hard to move to the front of the crowd of people trying to take photos of it to actually to see the paintings. I’ve written an essay on Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus in the past months. Seeing it in real life, in actual proportions is so different than looking at a picture of it online or in books. I guess people who say travelling is a more valuable learning experience than school have a point.
Museum/ Gallery experiences are all about the companion. B and I are talking (and laughing) about what’s painted and how, psychologically analysing the painter and trying to make-up stories about what was happening at the moment captured. One of the best moments of this trip. Well, of course, if we leave aside the fact that most of these moments are artificially created for the photos. But we’re creative writing students, you can’t really stop our imaginations, oops.
The view from the top floor is magnificent. View of the River Seine and the city. Such a great spot for photos but everyone’s aware of it, it’s pretty hard to find space to take photos, especially ones that other people are not in.
13.30 PM – Lunch
Left Musée D’Orsay famished. I really forced us both to see the most of the place and pushed our lunchtime later to the point that my stomach’s screaming. The original plan was to have a picnic at Jardins des Tuileries, but the weather betrays us. It’s starting to rain, so we decide to find a restaurant to eat. We still pass through Pont des Arts (the bridge with the love locks) and through Jardins des Tuileries. The gardens are beautiful, but we don’t spend much time in it but look at the restaurants around it. I might say that Vegetarianism is not a big thing in Paris (yet, hopefully). We have a tough time searching for a restaurant with good vegetarian choices for B. We walk further away until the rain gets worse and we sit down at a place between Jardins des Tuileries and our next destination, Palais Garnier. B finds herself a veggie burger while I go into a little experimenting. Ends up being more than I intended. After my previous research on French food, I really wanted to try Steak Frites, so I order the first thing in the menu that says steak and fries, without really understanding the menu. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t steak. I also order some escargot. After watching videos of people trying it and either hating it or saying ‘it’s like chicken’, I thought I might brace myself and try it. It took a lot of courage, believe me. The food arrives, and I get raw meat looking food with egg on top of it. Well, it’s not just ‘looking’ it IS raw meat. I realise that it wasn’t ‘steak’ I ordered, it was ‘steak tartare’. I guess life is all about experiences. Both the steak tartare and escargot do not taste awful, but the look and the knowledge of what they are just make it hard to eat. Escargot comes with a special tong that looks exactly like the shape of a snail shell and a special thin fork. You pick up the escargot with the tong then use the fork to take the edible part from inside the shell. I feel like I’m on a hunt. When I finally manage to take it out, it’s texture is so weird. It’s like jelly. It’s a snail, no better way to put it and it’s green with all the garlic butter used. Honestly, it looks like mucus. I have a hard time actually putting it into my mouth. The tartare, again, was hard to eat because of the view. Honestly, it looks like Parisian (non-fancy) restaurants are behind the Instagram age… The taste wasn’t bad, it was mixed with some other things like lettuce but honestly, wouldn’t wanna eat it again.
4.00 PM – Palais Garnier
Because of the fastening rain, we spend a bit more time at the restaurant than we planned but eventually we accept that the rain won’t end soon so as the rain slows down a bit, we make our way to Palais Garnier a.k.a. National Opera. This place is especially exciting for B, who is a big fan Phantom of the Opera which takes places in Palais Garnier. It’s magnificent in general all golden and royal looking. However, the ceiling of the hall is like jokes. We think maybe it’s a temporary ceiling while they are doing a renovation. While most ceilings inside the building had mythological/ religious motives with fascinatingly antique golden decor, this one looked like a children’s drawing book. Another interesting thing was the two wheel sculptures by the stairs. They looked, too modern to my taste to fit into this historical opera.
5.30 PM – Champs-Élysées & Arc de Triomphe
After Palais Garnier, we walk towards Place de la Concorde where the Avenue des Champs-Élysées begins. I am the one leading the road. Still in awe of Palais Garnier and dreaming of crêpes. We cross the same road twice as we get carried away with our laughs and turn back, but we’re on the right way now. Place de la Concorde is like a roundabout but an oval one. We can’t quite tell whether to go around it or just pass across. We don’t see any crosswalks or traffic lights where we are standing. There aren’t cars coming, so we decide to pass, but all of a sudden a bunch of cars start coming at us. We start running, and the cars start honking. They have no intention in stopping, looks like they might even go over us to go wherever they are going. We make it across the road, but B’s hat flies back to the middle of the road. We were ready to say goodbye to the hat when a man gets off the car and throws the hat to us like a frisbee. It would have been a great romance story if he ran towards us to give the hat or a cool scene if the hat reached us, but if we are to have a genre, we’re a comedy. The hat doesn’t reach us. It lands back on the road, closer to us this time, so we quickly grab it and start walking up Champs-Élysées. We’re having a laughing fit. I don’t know if it’s the relief that we’re all good or that we’re ridiculous or that we knew we’d be fine or that the whole situation is funny, maybe a bit of all. We’re walking on the right side of the road and Petit Palais, then the Grand Palais appear and disappear among trees on the left. On the side we’re walking, there is Jardins des Champs-Élysées. Ahead of the green side of the avenue is what B calls ‘the Oxford Street of Paris’. Both sides are full of shops and cafés. Everything here looks posh. Even McDonald’s and H&M. The sky is clear now, and the sun is out once more before it sets in a few hours. We find a little place for crêpes. We buy chocolate ones and sit on a bench. Crêpes are delicious, it’s a very nice street with nice weather, and the Arc de Triomphe stands tall at the end of the road like a trophy. Very nice positioning of it as it symbolises triumph (and death…). The longer name for it is Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, which means the Triumphal Arch of the Star. The arc does not only stand at the end of Av. Champs-Élysées, but eleven more avenues making the plaza look like a star. I can see the star more clearly when we get closer to the arc. The city once had a good city planner, that’s for sure.
7.00 PM – Eiffel Tower
We don’t stay at the arc much, we’re already behind our schedule. We head to our final but most important destination, Eiffel Tower. We were able to see it from most places around the city, but now that we are walking towards it, it starts hiding behind buildings, but once we’re walking along the Seine, it’s there with all its glory on the other side of the river. The river and the vegetation around complimenting the tower. We pass Pont d’léna to reach the tower. It’s surrounded by people selling merchandise again, like Louvre but here, they are more in number and even more persistent. Honestly, you can’t even have a look at what they are selling. I do some souvenir shopping around. Then, we get into line to enter the site of Eiffel Tower. The tower which looked very metallic now looks very much like the colour of concrete. The light likes to play with the iron. I am not really sure what colour the tower is. Looks like the people making the souveniers agree with me. The colours of the figures varied from silver and bronze to gold and rose gold. I can’t really tell which one is the ‘right colour’. It’s admirable how the tower just accepts them all as its own. After we pass one line, we get into another one to buy our tickets to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The whole experience of Eiffel Tower is just so exciting, but when you think about it, it’s just one big queue. After buying tickets, we pass another security, wait for the lift, and once the lift takes off, one of the best experiences of my life begins. The lift is transparent, and we watch as the city gets smaller under our feet. The lift drops us on the second floor, which already looks like the top. We get into another line to take another lift to the top. The top looks more protected and closed, a bit crammed. Still a great view of the city but I think I prefer the second floor. After taking a short look around, we go back to the second floor to take some photos. Like the Musée d’Orsay, it’s hard to find a space to take photos without other people being in it. As we take photos, the sun is setting down. I feel privileged to watch the sun, set upon the City of Love from the Eiffel Tower. The only word that comes to my mind is ‘magical’.
As we quickly make our way down the tower and out of the site, the sky goes dark, and as we walk down Champ de Mars, the lights of the Eiffel Tower starts shinning like stars surrounding the tower. That’s the point I understand why this city is also called the City of Lights.
10 PM – Return
After the tower, we went for a little food shopping for the road and wine for later. Took the metro to the bus station. As the day is coming to an end, my feet are starting to show the tiredness with blisters I could feel. The coach is late (without notice by the way!). But we bring our journey to a full circle as the bus driver wishes me a happy birthday before he takes us on the coach at midnight and we head back to London where the real life is waiting for us.
This trip taught me a lot. Life doesn’t stop to wait for you. Seize moments, seize opportunities, seize the small details. Life is too short to wait for the perfect big picture. One day we’re here, and one day we’re not.
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