I've been a terrible blogger. To make it up to you all, I will be doing two posts tonight, one about my trip to Paris and one about Toulon. I hope you're really bored tonight or looking for a distraction, because this may take a while.
Let's talk Paris.
Ellen, Izabela, Kentucky, Mike, Brendan and I set off at 4:15 A.M. to catch our buses to our coach to the airport. They all had a ticket for 5:20, while mine was for 5:40, because I am apparently the only efficient one of the group and I ordered my ticket as soon as we decided to leave at 5:40, and it sold out before they did. It worked out fine though, because even though the bus driver wouldn't let me on their bus, a knight in shining armor showed up. Really, he was just a very nice bus driver of a different bus who saw me, asked if I tried to get on that bus, and demanded that bus driver let me on so I wouldn't be waiting outside alone til the next bus came. See, nice people do exist in London!
We get to the airport, go through security, and we're off. Once in the Paris airport, our skills were put to the test: can we figure out how to get to our hostel by navigating the Paris metro lines? Well, yes, we did... but thank goodness we weren't on a time limit, because it took a little while. We got there fine though, to our LOVELY hostel in the middle of the red light district by the Moulon Rouge, crowded with catcalling refugees. The hostel itself was decent enough: I have never stayed in a hostel before, so I had nothing to compare it to, but it seemed a little sketchy to me. Maybe that's just how hostels are. Either way, I slept with my suitcase on my bed next to me just in case.
We were a short walk away from Montmartre, the hill leading up to Basilica of the Sacre Coeur. Mike and Brendan were stopped on the way up by refugees who grabbed them, pulled them back, and forcefully tied friendship bracelets on their wrists and wanted money for it. This began Mike's battle with all the "eccentric" of the French: the refugees, and more importantly, the gypsies.
We ate lunch, where I finally got to try a Croque Monsieur, which I have wanted to do since first hearing about them from my French textbook in 8th grade. A Croque Monsieur is literally translated to "Mr. Crunchy," and it is an open-faced ham and cheese toasted sandwich. I upgraded to a Croque Madame though, which has a fried egg on top. Delicious, and well worth the six year wait.
I was our main source of communication in French on the trip, which anybody reading this who took French with me can get a good laugh about. It's honestly so surprising how much of the language comes back to you though. Sure, I can't hold a thoughtful conversation with anybody, but I was able to get us by with ordering in restaurants and whatnot. Everybody was really nice and helpful about it too (except one girl, but forget about her), unlike the stereotype of Parisians being really rude about the language barrier. As long as you make an honest effort to speak the language, they don't mind filling in some words and helping. They just don't like the tourists who come to their country and want them to drop their language and culture to accommodate you, which I can totally agree with and understand.
Our next stop was, of course, the Eiffel Tower. It was so much bigger than I had imagined, so it was pretty magnificent in that regard. However, it looks pretty dull in the daytime. Nighttime though? My goodness. A funny moment was when Mike's parents called, and he's like, "Yeah, I'm in Paris, I'm underneath the Eiffel Tower right now." How many times will you ever get to answer a phone call like that? We walked along the green in front of the tower and sat on a bench to watch some dogs play for a while. Then, if I remember correctly, we went back to the hostel for a nap before dinner.
Dinner was absolutely delicious. I got a steak, and a creme brulee for dessert (because I couldn't leave Paris without getting creme brulee). Then, an older man comes over holding roses to sell and hands me one. I say "No, merci," because I didn't want to buy one. He keeps holding it out for me, and now I'm starting to get annoyed, until he tells me someone bought it for me. I turn around, and the chef in the kitchen winks at me. I turned around real quick. I thank the man, and everyone proceeds to pick on me. "It's always wasted on the taken girls!" The waiter came over, and in his broken English tells me, "My friend says... he loves you?" Ah, he does, huh? He knows so much about me, I'm sure. When we were leaving, he says to me, "See you soon!" ...excuse me, sir?! HOW ARE YOU GOING TO FIND ME?!
We walked around Paris that night, along the Seine River, seeing the Louvre and Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Paris is absolutely gorgeous at night, and completely empty. It was definitely my favorite part of the trip, walking around that night.
Paris, to be honest, is not a very nice city in the daytime. It's very dirty, and the people are pretty sketchy looking. It was not a beautiful city in the daylight. Also, if you've seen one city, you've seen them all. There were a couple street corners that if you took a snapshot of them and said it was London, nobody would argue. It's all the same. At night though, when the Eiffel tower literally sparkles and you're walking along the river, it's a whole different city.
The next day, we wanted to do outdoor activities because it was looking like a really nice day. We went to the Eiffel Tower again, because Ellen, Izabela, Mike, and Brendan wanted to go to the top. I wanted to save this for when I go with Steve, and Kentucky didn't want to spend the money, so we were going to wait outside for them somewhere. We stood in line, and then realized that the sign said the top was closed, so they just said they'd do it the next day. We stopped at the ATM there, and that is where we were first attacked by the gypsies.
"Speak English," an almost sweet but way too eerie and soul-sucking voice says behind me.
I turn around and it's an old woman gypsy holding an index card written in English, probably with some sob story to make me give her money. I wasn't buying it. Clever gypsies, hanging out around the ATM at the Eiffel Tower, where tourists who clearly have money on them are. You'll never get me though, I don't buy into those tricks. I was able to shake off people asking for my money in Morocco, damn it, and I will not be defeated by a gypsy.
Mike, however, was not as confident in his gypsy fighting abilities as I was. I don't know where his intense fear of gypsies came from, but I had to go back to the ATM with him so I could shake them off for him.
Mike's face turns to panic. "No, merci," I say forcefully to the gypsy. She isn't budging.
She's getting closer. "No!" Every time she started to talk, I said "No!" Mike is wide-eyed and hyperventilating slightly as the gypsy is an inch away from him and his money. Eventually, she left, and we were safe.
After the Eiffel Tower failure, we went to the Arc de Triomphe. This was also much bigger in person than I imagine it being, and much more intricate. The detailing on the Arc is absolutely amazing. It's on the Champs Elysees, so we walked down that next to the Ferris wheel, stopping for lunch and window shopping along the way. The Ferris wheel is the biggest in France, and while it isn't as big or as pretty as the London Eye, it had a great view of Paris.
After that, we walked to the Louvre and waited in line, only to find out that it was only going to be open for another half hour. Another Paris failure. We then went to Notre Dame, and walked through the cathedral. Although I can't appreciate cathedrals on a religious standpoint, I love seeing the architecture and the stained glass. I find them to be absolutely beautiful buildings, and Notre Dame epitomizes Gothic style cathedrals.
We had the best dinner though at a truly authentic Parisian restaurant where they literally spoke no English. This adorable old lady waited on us, and she cooked our food too! I got the biggest omelette I have ever seen in my life, filled with ham, cheese, tomato sauce, and potatoes. It was all delicious, and it was such a cute place.
We closed out our night on a cruise of the Seine River. It was gorgeous to see all of Paris at night along the river, despite sharing a boat with an 8th grade class trip. I can't emphasize how gorgeous the Eiffel Tower is when it sparkles every hour.
The next day, we tried to go to the Louvre but apparently it is closed on Tuesdays. While this just meant they would have to go Wednesday, this was my last day because I was going back a day early to make it out to Toulon the next day. It's okay though, because I know my parents will want to go to the Louvre when we go to Paris in April. Mike, Brendan, Ellen, and Izabela wanted to try the Eiffel Tower again, so they went to do that and Kentucky and I went to the Musee D'Orsay. I love museums, so I was absolutely eating it up, especially since they had a whole room on Van Gogh and a ton of Monet paintings. I have a new favorite painting now too... I don't think anything will be above "Starry Night" for me, but now Winslow Homer's "Nuit D'ete" (Summer Night) is a close second.
After the museum, Kentucky and I went to the Luxembourg Gardens, which were so pretty even in the winter. I can only imagine how nice it will be there in the Spring. We watch some old men play bocce ball, and just sat and talked for a while. We got some food in the gardens, and then headed back for the hostel so I could gather my stuff to go. Remember the girl who was too afraid to leave her flat in London for fear of getting lost? Yeah, she was able to navigate the Paris metro to the train station, take a train to the airport, get through the Parisian airport to board her plane to London, get through London Luton to catch her bus to Victoria, get to the Victoria underground stop, and take the tube back home all by herself. Yeah, that's right. So, I'm not afraid to get lost anymore, right? Absolutely not. I'm still terrified. But, little accomplishments.
I sat next to this young man named Chris on the plane, who was one of the first people from England to truly be nice to me (besides that fabulous bus driver). He said he loved Americans actually, and he had nothing but high opinions of them. That was a refreshing change. I talked to him about London for a while, and how much it depresses me that nobody smiles and everyone is just so gray and miserable like the weather. He told me that London needs more people like me to walk around and smile, so never stop smiling. That was maybe one of the best moments of my time abroad.
So what is my overall view of Paris? Well, to be honest, I didn't like it. Maybe it was the fact that I was sick, maybe it was the fact that I had to wear my glasses the whole time because my travel contact solution disintegrated the protective layer on my contacts, or maybe it's that it was so cold there. I feel like the reason is just that I really don't like cities, and Paris is a dirty one at that. I never realized it until I came here and had to live in a city that I really just don't like them. I had only ever done day trips to New York, and had no problem with it, but I never had to live there. I miss nature. I like having a yard, and gardens, and seeing trees and plants naturally occurring instead of being planted in a park. I didn't feel comfortable walking around Paris at some points, like entering and leaving the hostel where we literally had a boy/girl arm-linking buddy system so we wouldn't get harassed (thanks, Mike!). Overall, I just thought that besides the obvious landmarks, it looked like a dirtier version of London, and it only became beautiful at night.
And the fashion? What fashion? Honestly, for a fashion capital, I was so unimpressed. This is Paris we're talking about, and I did not see one, not ONE person who's fashion sense impressed me. At all. London is much more fashionable. Everybody in London seems to have their own style: everybody dresses differently, but it all works and it's all interesting. Everybody in Paris was dressed so dull. Not even "basic," just dull.
So, in conclusion, my middle school obsession with Paris was a bust. I should have gone when I was 12, it would have been so much more magical. Still, either way, Paris: Conquered.