Creepers, Cheaters, and Kindness in Paris

Five Days in Paris

I arrived in Paris in the early afternoon and checked into the hostel. Again, we weren’t able to access our rooms until later because they were cleaning, but at least we got to drop off our luggage. Kacy and I then searched for a gluten free place for her to eat. However, it was not an easy place to find. We asked several people and no one seemed to know where it was. In desperation, I asked an unfriendly looking man, “Pardon monsieur. Où est [insert name of street]?

He ignored me and kept walking. Didn’t even say a word. We were feeling pretty lost, but then a woman came up to us. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Where are you looking to go?” she asked.

We told her and she pulled out the most epic book of Paris I’ve ever seen in my life. It had ever road and different quadrants and it was glorious. She looked it up and then pointed us in the right direction. We didn’t ask her for directions, but she was still kind enough to stop and help us. “Merci, merci,” we said as we walked the right way.

Like any big city, Paris had mean people, but it also was filled with incredibly nice people. Unfortunately, we got to the gluten free place and it was closed so that was a little disappointing for Kacy I’m sure.

Our first stop in Paris was Notre Dame. Kacy had been to Paris for a few days before the start of the semester so she had a good idea where all of the main monuments were. She showed me around. We saw the Pont Alexandre, Bastille square, the Paris opera (there was a man playing a panio – right outside the opera – not even kidding), the Champs-Élysées and the Arch de Triomphe. Lastly, we saw the Eiffel Tower. Every hour at night, it sparkles. It was beautiful.

Pont Alexandre

Pont Alexandre

Pont Alexandre

Pont Alexandre

My first view of the Eiffel Tower

My first view of the Eiffel Tower

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Paris Opera

Paris Opera

Champs-Elysees

Champs-Elysees

Arch de Triomphe

Arch de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

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I’ve spent fourteen years learning about some of these places. It was truly amazing to see them, to know that they are real. They’re not just flat images on a glossy page of a textbook. I could touch them.

The second day in Paris was a little more interesting, particularly the shower. In Rennes, we had a private shower in the hostel. In Paris, it was a community shower. And it had a sign, saying to keep pressing a button for hot water…and we were on the top floor. I’m not even kidding. I pressed that button for fifteen minutes before the water got lukewarm. It was freezing, but I did it. Then, I walked out of the shower and got the shock of my life. A man, not a boy, but a man (probably in his forties, maybe fifties) was staring at me. In his underwear. He looked a little disappointed because I was fully clothed. Sorry old to disappoint you creepy old man. I don’t walk around naked. He stared for a few seconds and then ran away. He didn’t walk away. He ran away. It was strange and, to make matters worse, I’d heard other girls talking about him too. Thankfully, I didn’t run into him again.

Never a good sign when you have to keep pressing a button for hot water

Never a good sign when you have to keep pressing a button for hot water

I spent the rest of my day at Versailles, which was a really neat place. I found an online deal where I could buy two tickets for the price of one and it gave us access to all of Versailles and to Marie Antoinette’s estate too, which was a great deal. Moral of the story: always do research – it saves time and money! As you can imagine, Versailles was quite ornate and it’s incredible to think about the work they’ve done to restore and to preserve it.  We walked from the main house to the gardens, which had snow and the fountains were frozen. One day, though, I will go back to Versailles in the summer and see the gardens in full bloom.

Versailles

Versailles

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Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

Snow in the famous gardens of Versailles

Snow in the famous gardens of Versailles

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Swan on our way to the estate

Swan on our way to the estate

Versailles, uprooted tree

Versailles, uprooted tree

Marie Antoinette’s estate was a good twenty minute walk from the main building, but it was equally ornate. I didn’t get a chance to see her farm because it is closed during the off-season, so that’s another good reason why I should come back in the summer!

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After Versailles, we went to the Musée d’Orsay, which was once an old train station. The museum itself was really cool, but what was even cooler was the fact that I knew some of the artists in the museum. I am not an art history person and I really don’t appreciate art as much as I should. But I did have a project in high school on French art and I was familiar with Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet…and, the guy I did my project on, Manet. Guess what? I saw one of Manet’s paintings, one of his most famous paintings, “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.” I was super excited because I did my project on this.

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We went to Montmatre after that and I saw the La Basilique du Sacré Coeur. Near there, there is an artist square, which is a really cool place to check out too, if you’re ever in Paris.

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Artist square

Artist square

The next day, I was on my own. I had to send something via FedEx to the United States and it was extremely expensive. I had the chance to walk in the garden in front of the Louvre and it was there that I met some cheaters. I’m not talking about the men who keep trying to sell you mini Eiffel Towers for one euro. I’m talking about pickpockets, the clever people. There was a man walking in front of me and a woman stopped in front of him. She held out her hand.

Did you drop this?” she asked.

He ignored her and I realized why. It was ruse. I walked a little bit further and another woman approached me and tried the same thing. She was holding a gold ring and asked, “Did you drop this?

I ignored her and kept walking, but if I had stopped, she would have distracted me as she took my wallet or other valuables. After I rejected her, I saw her join her friend, the other woman who tried the ruse on the man. Apparently, they were a team.

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I went to the Eiffel Tower and took it to the very top. Like most things we saw, it was under construction. I was most amazed by how much stuff fit on to the tower. There were several restaurants, boutiques, restrooms, a museum, a little movie room…it was so big! The elevator going to the top was also glass, which scared me to be going up to fast. I closed my eyes, but when we went down, I was able to watch. That elevator moves quickly though!

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I met up with Kacy and we went to Saint Denis to see dead kings, but we arrived too late. Then, we met with Julia, my pen pal from high school.

Me and Julia
Me and Julia

The next day, I went to the Jardin de Luxembourg and saw the Statue of Liberty. We were in the Quartier Latin, which is a place I’ve wanted to see for a long time. There, you can see the Sorbonne, which is a very famous university in France. We also saw the Pantheon and several churches. We went to so many churches. I can’t list all of them!

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We went to the national library, which I know isn’t a huge tourist attraction, but it was still something I wanted to see. One of my college professors talked about it in class and I wanted to see it in person. We weren’t able to see the books because you have to have a library card, but we were able to see the expositions that they had. It’s a big library with four skyscrapers designed to look like open books.

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We also went to the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where many famous people are buried. I saw the graves of Chopin, Moliere, Fontaine, Balzac, and Oscar Wilde. We met some creepy old men in the cemetery and I’m still not sure what they wanted. They told us to visit John, up the hill. I have no clue what that means.

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Is this a scary black cat in a cemetery?

Is this a scary black cat in a cemetery?

Nope. He was really sweet and just wanted to be pet.

Nope. He was really sweet and just wanted to be pet.

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Then I went to the Louvre by myself (Kacy had already been). I was able to get in for free, but then I didn’t have a map of the Louvre. I literally wandered around the Louvre for ten minutes and realized that I might not be able to find my way out. It’s huge. One room led to another to another and another. I asked a museum worker for a map and thankfully he gave me one. Since I went later during the day and since it was the off-season, the Louvre wasn’t very busy. In fact, I was in some rooms by myself. I saw some famous stuff, but I’m not very interested in religious paintings so I quickly moved along that part of the museum. I was more interested in the Roman and Greek art and sculptures.

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Me and Mona

Me and Mona

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Then began my last full day in Paris, which started at two in the morning. The room I was in at the hostel had four beds, but Kacy and I had been alone. Except for the fact that some old woman was waking me up. And she was talking to me. At two in the morning, I’m not very good at processing any language. What language was she speaking? English? French? French. Okay. Now, what did she want? She could climb to the upper bunk because of her foot so I climbed up to the top bunk and climbed into the sheets. She tucked me in. I’m not kidding. In the morning, I went to breakfast and she was gone by the time I came back. It was strange. Youth hostels aren’t just for youths. Apparently, anyone can check into a youth hostel.

Our room in the hostel in Paris

Our room in the hostel in Paris

After breakfast, we went to the catacombs. We went very far underground and the tunnels were very long. It’s amazing to see all of the bones, decoratively placed. It’s also a little sad to think that these bones were once people and, now, no one knows their name. They’re just another pile of bones.

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I said goodbye to the Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower. We went to Saint Chapelle, which is known for their stained glass. It was cool, but I’m glad I got in for free. It’s rather small. I went to Centre Pompidou, which has modern and contemporary art and that was my favorite art museum. I discovered I really like contemporary art, especially at the Centre Pompidou. The art invited me to challenge my notion of perception and of reality. For example, there was an exhibit that you could walk through and the way the poles were painted changed your concept of space. There was also an exhibit filled with spices and was quite overpowering smell.

Spices

Spices

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Is this art?

Is this art?

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So, that was Paris. There were creepers, cheaters, but also kindness. I also found that people in Paris expected kindness in return. An old lady couldn’t get her metro card to work and she couldn’t find anyone to help her, so she did the only logical thing. She jumped the barrier. The problem? She was easily seventy, maybe older. She saw me and said, “Help me over!

I helped her and then walked away with the realization that I helped an old lady jump a metro barrier. I became an accomplice to the crime. Also in the metro, there was a lady with a stroller. Unfortunately, Paris is not a very accessible city and there wasn’t an elevator. So, she did the only thing she could. She asked me to help her carrying her sleeping baby in the stroller down the stairs.

I’m so glad that I got to go to the city I’d learned about for years. It was really remarkable.

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And then, I went to Strasbourg…