Backpacking Europe 2015- Paris Part 1

January 29th, 2015

After what seems like an eternity, the bus pulls into the depot. It’s a dark, underground bus terminal. My seat mate politely shakes my hand goodbye as he departs, and I see an older gentleman there waiting for him at the stop. It’s late, around 11PM, about two hours after we were originally supposed to arrive. I disembark and grab my bag from the porter. Shifting it onto my back, I locate signs for the Metro and head to the station.

Now, I believe something in my pride was triggered by not being able to converse in any other language besides English. So when I arrive at the ticket kiosk, I decide the most dignified course of action is to try to navigate the native French menu instead of selecting English. Which is, of course, the smartest idea at 11pm after a long bus journey in a totally unfamiliar city. But it’s ok, I’ve completed 12 courses in Duolingo over the span of a couple years. Totally got this.

This little adventure costs me around €12 in incorrect tickets. After the third unsuccessful attempt, I break down and use the English menu.

Defeated and deflated I hop onto the metro. I lean on my bag sitting between my knees and look around. It’s not crowded, why would it be so late at night? There’s an amorous couple in the corner, whispering sweet nothings in French between kisses. There’s an older lady with her shopping bag, sitting quietly and reading. There’s a smattering of foreigners like myself, coming from the bus depot or the airport. Despite my grumpiness over my self-imposed inferiority, a calm starts to wash over me. I’m here. I’m in Paris. 

Barring Rome, this is one of my most fantasized cities. The city I’ve read about in countless books. The tower I’ve seen on everything from magazines to coasters. And I’m here, being funneled through its underground arteries, right through the heart of it. I breathe, no matter if I can’t properly speak the language, I’m still here.

I emerge from the tunnels in the beautiful, grand Gare du Nord. But I’m too sleepy to fully understand its splendor. I stumble out onto the streets, backpack digging into my shoulders and hips. I navigate the few blocks from the station to my hostel, St. Christopher’s Gare Du Nord.

It’s a big hostel, with a large bar downstairs filled with young people milling about and drinking. The front desk is in a tiny room adjacent to the bar and I squeeze in with a couple other arrivals to check in. The young guy at the desk is friendly and gives me my key and room/bunk number. Exhausted, I head into the elevator and straight to the room.

I arrive and there are a couple young guys in the bunk next to mine also settling in and locking bags away. As I pass by I offer up a polite “Bonjour”, and they respond in comically identical accents to mine with the same. I let out a sigh of relief, no language barrier there.

“Oh good, you’re American”.

They pause for half a beat and then one responds “Well…Canadian, but close enough” We all laugh and make introductions. They’re Graham and Alex, Canadian friends traveling together, in the early stages of their trip they’ve both been saving up for together. We begin to chat about our plans for Paris. As can be expected, we all plan to hit the same sites and with that, a travel group is born. We plan to hit the Louvre tomorrow morning and then wander about from there with whatever time we may have left after the cavernous museum.

January 30th, 2015

I wake up early to take advantage of the hostel’s free breakfast. Paris isn’t a cheap city and I’m down to the last dollars of my budget that must stretch the next 6 days in this posh city destination city. I walk downstairs with Graham and Alex and we load our plates with rolls, slices of cheese and meat, and cups of what is definitely instant coffee and settle into a table in the cavernous bar, now serving as an impromptu cafe for the bleary-eyed hostel guests.

It is here we map out the plan for the day, straight to the Louvre to get in before the crowds hit, then a stroll along the Seine and over to the Eiffel Tower just to take in the view. We’ve decided to tackle the climb up the stairs tomorrow, first thing in the morning. We scarf down our breakfast, head back to the room for our day bags, and we’re off.

Now, I could detail the cavernous Louvre, but truly, most of it was spent in quiet contemplation, moving from artwork to artwork with a silent regard for what we were witnessing. We ambled down corridors for miles, hitting many of the great masterpieces, including the Mona Lisa, overwhelmed by tourists taking selfies.

We emerged from the Louvre in the late afternoon. Starving, we stop at a kebab shop and load up on €5 worth of sliced meat, veggies, sauce and fries. We amble along the Seine, talking about anything that pops into our minds.

Then, as the light is just starting to turn blue, we turn a corner and crouching just across the river, is the Eiffel Tower.

I feel my breath catch in my throat as it looms, and the emotion that I felt crossing the walls of Rome has returned. Setting eyes upon something so iconic, and what until this moment felt so untouchable, sends chills up and down my skin. We wander across the river and a photoshoot of the giant ensues. It’s at this point Grant looks at Alex and me and says:

“What I really want to do, is have a glass of wine with a view of this.”

And with that, we set out to find a cafe. We comb the streets, finally crossing the river until we come across a tiny cafe facing the tower. We head inside and order glasses of wine, then sit outside with them at the single outdoor table.

The tower sparkles on the hour just as we sit down.

“Wow.”

The quiet exclamation slips from Grant’s lips as he stares, transfixed.

And we all get drunk not only on the wine, but on the moment.

And with that heady glee, we head back to the hostel and I collapse into bed, shivering with excitement at the thought of climbing the tower tomorrow.

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