Thursday, June 12, 2008


Once we had arrived in Paris and had taken the train from the airport to Gard du Nord (train station featured in Bourne Ultimatum), we were supposed to call our hostel so they could arrange for someone to meet us at one of metro stops. We had a few minutes left on an old phone card but after 30 minutes of trying different combinations, we still weren't able to get anything but a strange-sounding busy signal. So we went on my hunch of which station we were aiming for.

Navigating the metro was easy, and there was no question we were the local hippies. People were well dressed; we were not. People smelled good; we did not. Once we got there, nobody seemed to be looking for a Chris DuBois. I tried asking the older lady at the metro help desk if she knew of our hostel; she proudly, while keeping eye contact, 'No comprandt' - or something like that - and quickly went back to her work. I think it's French for, 'I'm a snooty bitch' but I'm not sure because I never have studied French. I swear I saw a smirk.

I finally just went for a short walk around the metro station while Emma watched the bags. Our landing site was sweet. Total Europe. Little restaurants on the cobblestone corner, with people sipping coffee from tiny cups. Four story apartment buildings with well styled facades, their ground floor often times having a flower shop or a bakery. And within minutes of looking for a sign saying 'Lucky Youth', I swanky French business dude came up and said, 'Are you looking for something? You look very lost.' He let me use his phone to call the place, translated a little bit for me, and we chatted about Tanzania (he had worked there for 3 years a while back). Booya.
So I figured this would be a good story to relate a few main items:

  • There are quite a few beautiful people in Paris, and far more beautifully dressed people.
  • There are snooty people in Paris, and there are people hoping to be so nice that they overcompensate for this notoriety.
  • The architecture in Paris is awesome, and the apartments are a big part of it, giving the impression that the city only allows this cool, 19th century look.

Once we got settled, we immediately began exploring. Our hostel was really a flat with 6 bunk beds, and we were the only ones there. It was located in Montmartre, so we quickly checked out the local tourist attraction, Sacre Couer. It's huge. And it's got a great view of the city. (That wiki link has a great panorama.) We strolled by the front steps on the way to dinner (which were featured in Amelie), and a few hundred people were chilling on the steps enjoying the view - with a bottle of wine each - and listening to a dude with a guitar and an amp. Not a bad scene.

We also checked out the nearby plaza and got some awesome . A dozen artists were sketching portraits of tourists. We hit up the Salvidor Dali museum; we were sufficiently weirded out.

Both in Montmartre and our next spot, Hotel de Champ du Mars, we really enjoyed the gradually exploration of our surroundings. And the thing that was key in this, the thing that I could talk about for a while, was Paris' newly installed public bike system. For 1 euro a day, you get a card that lets you take out a bike from any of 300-400 stations scattered across the city. The first 30 minutes for each bike is free and it's 1 euro/hour after that. This made incredibly easy to first check out the nearby bakery, fruit store, Japanese restaurant (we had hankering for miso soup... it happens). Then we were able to check out the nearby destinations, which we only really knew about because their buildings were drawn bigger on our free tourist map. Les Invalides? No idea what it is, but let's bike there and check it out.

What was amazing, and I'll never forget this about Paris, is that we would be biking along and around each corner there would be another huge, monumental building. Each would easily be the historical highlight of an United States city, and there were dozens of them!

We did plenty of museums. In general it took me about 3 hours to become weak-kneed and blurry-eyed from hunger and too many pre-impressionist, impressionist, and post-impressionist paintings. The Lourve was especially ridiculous and intimidating with all the amazing crap it has. Paintings that are 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. We also went on the first Sunday (free admission) so it was pretty stressful not getting trampled by the thousands of people going towards the Mona Lisa. I got a cold sweat at one point. The highlight was the Winged Victory, an Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the crown jewels - which such big gems they looked fake. We went to the military history museum; as you might expect from the French, there was a big emphasis on the style of garments in each period and a glossing over of how easily they were pummeled in World War II. We were much more relaxed when we moseyed over to the Rodin museum, a garden with some awesome bronze casts like the famous Thinker and Gates of Hell. And I would definitely recommend the Museum d'Orsay, too. It's got a bunch of Monets and stuff, and the museum itself looks way cooler.

Paris was impressive and totally overshot all my expectations. It was a great clincher to an amazing trip. But there's no place like home.