Getting off the bus, there was no mistaking where I should be headed. As I marched towards the golden twinkling lights of the Tour Eiffel – my hands numb, my nose running, my head swimming from lack of sleep – I started scolding myself: Wake up! You’re finally in Paris!
Day 1: Happy New Year!
My first twelve hours in Paris were a blur. I remember sleeping the entire flight from Edinburgh, landing at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport and finding it blanketed in white. Snow had already fallen so I contented myself by touching the ice from the railing of the airport passenger stairs as we got off the plane. I remember seeing three photo booths at the arrival terminal but having to go to the next terminal just to get some cash from an ATM… then not being able to use it anyway since the SNCF train ticket machines only accepted credit cards. I remember missing the bus from the train station and having to walk down deserted Paris streets to get to my Airbnb rental. The rattling of my luggage echoed down the highway, announcing my arrival 10 minutes in advance. I remember finally reaching a populated street, passing by dogs on leashes and warm doggie winter coats.
I also remember taking a shower while it was still light out but emerging to dark streets on my way to the Tour Eiffel. Lastly, I remember collapsing from exhaustion on the warm bed, a smile on my face because I just spent the first day of the year in two countries and I was finally in Paris. My last thought: Happy new year, Jayce.
Day 2: A Rainy Day in Paris
I started the day quite late from schedule. I slept for 12 hours, recuperation after Hogmanay, the flight and the Tour Eiffel. I walked down rue Rambuteau and withdrew cash from an ATM, paranoid the whole time of being mugged at 9 o’clock in the morning. It’s not Paris, it’s me. Then, I walked to the first boulangerie I saw and bought my first authentic pain au chocolat in Paris. I exited the shop and took my first bite as a cold winter breeze caressed my face and awakened my senses even further. C’était le meilleur pain au chocolat de ma vie! It was freezing and I was eating unheated pastry yet somehow it managed to maintain its flakiness, inner softness and smooth chocolaty goodness. C’était formidable.
I was supposed to take the bus to the Sainte-Chapelle but the pain au chocolat was thirsty-making and I remembered having passed by a café earlier with what looked like a decent number of local clientele. Being the type to get easily flustered but always eager to blend in, I immediately struggled to settle on the high bar chair after the obligatory, bonjour! When I so sweetly blurted out to the barista, “une tasse de café crème, s’il vous plait,” the barista was rightfully tickled. Prompted by my outburst and baby-face, he then proceeded to speak to me like a child and asked me very slowly and loudly “ici ou là–bas?” I promptly answered “ici,” referring to the bar where coffee was cheaper. I resolved to have the guy impressed with me before I was done with my cup.
Hence, I took my sweet time with my café crème, trying to capture some photos of the café. Customers sitting at the bar came and went. When I was the only one left, Monsieur le barista raised his eyebrows twice while smiling. I turned to see if there was someone behind me, un régulier, peut-être. This made him really laugh, even turning around to imitate what I did. So, I said, “C’est moi!” exclaiming that he was making faces at me. He said yes, amazed I spoke French. We chatted about where I was from and about my heartbreakingly short stay in Paris. After a while I asked him about the pretty drink waiting by the side. He told me it was a cappuccino, then proceeded to pour the five drops of café crème left on my cup to the cappuccino and handed it over to me, telling me it was a New Year’s gift. He even volunteered to take my photo for me. At that point, I believed it was mission accomplished.
After a while, I had to get going. I was afraid of standing too long in queues under the freezing rain so I pre-booked most of my entrance tickets. I took the bus to the Sainte-Chapelle, mindful of pressing STOP since I forgot to do so the previous night on my way back from the Tour Eiffel.
From the bus stop, I walked the rest of the way to the Sainte-Chapelle, dubbed as Paris’ most beautiful church. Also one of the main reasons why I had always wanted to go to France. When I got there, the line to the ticket counter was moving fast but I was still glad that I could enter immediately since rain had already started falling. At the lower floor was a booth for renting audio guides (boo!), flyers about the Sainte-Chapelle in different languages and a sign against using selfie sticks. A crowd was gathered before the corded area of the statue of Saint Louis, the only interesting item on the Chapelle Basse.
Then it’s time for the second floor. A flight of stairs, a landing and another flight, then finally I reached the top and WOAH! I mean WOW. Just WOW. The stained-glass windows were absolutely breath-taking. So tall. So majestic. So detailed. So colorful. It was such a wonder to behold. Even in the wet and gloomy weather, everyone who came face to face with it went “wow!” in every language. I could just imagine it in sunlight in its full glory!
Since I relied heavily on Accuweather for my #EURockMyWorld tour, I specifically allotted my second day in Paris to be spent indoors. From the Sainte-Chapelle, I walked to the Conciergerie where I learned a lot about the French Revolution. Its most impressive feature, for me, were its interior lighted arches. Aside from being one of the oldest buildings in Paris, it is also famous for being the prison of the infamous Marie Antoinette. There I discovered the minted coins featuring the tourist spots of Paris. And just like the Pokémon I was trying to collect that time, I just had to get them all.
Musée du Louvre
Then it was time for the Musée du Louvre. Since I bought my ticket online, I didn’t have to queue out in the 3˚ Celsius noon. Upon entering, I finally realized that yes, that place is immense. I got a bit confused at the point de rencontre so I just chose to start at the Sully wing. There, I was greeted by a bas-relief sculpture of a Greek titan, gouging his eyes with a stake. Truly a welcoming sight. Opposite that was a full-grown titan suckling a woman’s breast (didn’t look sexual in the least bit). I went inside a small gallery of paintings then suddenly, an alarm went off. The guard I was scoping out (to ask about the Mona Lisa, ehem!) suddenly rushed off. A voice finally announced (in French, then English, then Spanish) that for security reasons, all guests are requested to proceed to the nearest exit.
Uh-oh, drama at the Louvre!
I meandered my way back to the hall and saw people stopped from entering the Sully section. The main entrance was even closed. People sat along the corridor. Since no one seemed to be panicking, I calmly made my way to the exit where I saw a couple of senior citizen ladies talking to a guard. When they were done, I asked one of the older ladies, “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” What’s happening? “C’est un exercise,” the old lady replied. Phew! My only concern – that I just got there and that the ticket was expensive – was alleviated; I was definitely seeing a lot more than a suicidal and an infantile titan.
As soon as the doors were opened, you can say I got even more FOMO. I brisk-walked around, looking for a guard to ask, “Oú est la Joconde?” Where is the Mona Lisa? I finally found a guard to ask, but to my dismay, she answered me in English. That was the first and only time I ever felt snubbed in Paris.
I made my way to the Denon Wing and straight towards the Italian paintings hall. The paintings prior to the Mona Lisa were from various artists. All very impressive. There was a section of about four to five other Da Vinci paintings, all very salient because of his signature technique. Meanwhile, seeing the Mona Lisa was, quite frankly, underwhelming. There’s a ton of people taking photos that you can’t really do anything, like contemplate the masterpiece. I think I spent more time strategizing how I could get closest to the painting (6 feet away) than wondering about that enigmatic smile.
It’s quite funny though how the corded section also served as the exit because once you reach the front of the crowd, there’s definitely no turning back.
After the Mona Lisa, I bought a commemorative coin featuring the Louvre. Happy!
The rest of the day was me taking ugly photos of masterpieces that can easily be seen online. I saw Venus de Milo and the Liberté painting. I took photos of other interesting ones like the Bataille héroïque, Les Noces de Cana, Le Radeau de la Meduse, Persée et Andromède, the Four Seasons statues and some of Michelangelo’s sculptures.
(If like me you only have 5 hours to spare inside this museum, this is the roundup of the must-see artworks inside the Louvre.)
Museums are not for everyone, but I did enjoy my stay at the Louvre. Studying art, artists and their histories doesn’t really appeal to me but I love appreciating art. I like looking at artworks and wondering what makes them special, what the artist must have been thinking and trying to achieve while creating a certain piece. No doubt, the Louvre is one of the best places to do this.
Closing time and it was time to leave the warm confines of the Louvre. Time to face the cold Paris streets once again. But first, I just had to attempt taking a photo of the pyramids of the Louvre.
Second Night in Paris
From the Louvre, I started walking towards the Arc de Triomphe (Spoiler: I never reached it). But after hours of walking around in pure caffeine with only a side of pain au chocolat, I was ravenous. I found a stall that sold crêpes at the foot of the Roue de Paris. Finally, some nourishment in the form of one giant crêpe jambon fromage, washed down with some hot cider.
At that area, I made the mistake of answering the casual question of a guy who turned out to be a tuktuk driver. He then followed me around as I made my way to the Christmas market of the Champs-Élysées. I was super cold – the hot cider did not help any – and I already wanted to go back to the Airbnb. Unfortunately, the pocket WiFi decided to breakdown at that moment so I could not search via Google Maps which was the closest bus stop that could get me home. I took the chance on a metro station where I discovered that the yellow line was good enough for me and that the train fare was 0.10 euros cheaper than a bus ride.
After my successful train ride, I was able to pass by the supermarket again where I bought a couple of bottles of mineral water plus an apple. They didn’t issue receipts and the OC in me died a little. I got back to the apartment, noticed that the restaurant across from it was full of people and decided to check it out the following day.
Inside my room, I found out that my phone contracted the touch disease. Hence the handwritten diary entry.
Thus, my first 36 hours in Paris ended. My stay had just started but I was already heart-broken about the thought of leaving. But it wasn’t right to end the day in despair as the following day held the promise of fair weather, a time to walk around the city of lights and soak in as much Paris as possible. It was definitely shaping up to be a trip to remember.
Read more: Paris on a budget: Free Paris Walking Tours
January 1 & 2, 2017
Photos were taken using iPhone 6 and GoPro Hero 4