Much like London, our first impression of Paris was a little stressful. We arrived at the Gare du Nord train station, which was full of people everywhere and it was difficult to figure out where to go.
This was my first experience in a country where I couldn’t speak the language. Everywhere else I’ve ever been is either English-speaking or Spanish-speaking, and it was more disorienting to not understand the language than I expected. It gave me a new perspective on how exhausting and alienating it must be to live in a place where the language is unfamiliar.
Luckily for me, David took French in high school and can understand enough to get around. He asked an employee in the train station (in French) how to find the metro line we needed, and the guy pretended like he couldn’t understand him. That was our first experience of the culture difference in Paris. The general feeling everywhere else we went in Europe was that people were friendly or at least just not concerned about us at all, but in Paris they seemed more actively annoyed that we were there.
Eventually we figured out where we were supposed to go and made it to our hotel, Hotel Champerret Elysees. It was one of the nicest places we stayed in Europe. There was even a little tiny elevator! Some things we thought were interesting were that our room had two beds that were just pushed together, and the toilet and shower were in separate places of the room.
Once we settled in, we walked over to the Arc de Triomphe. On our way, a lady stopped us on the sidewalk to ask us the time in French, so we must have looked local. The Arc de Triomphe was impressive, but difficult to explore. You have to walk underground to get to it because it’s surrounded by a giant roundabout with no lanes marked. We kept seeing military people walking around the big sites carrying large guns. It was a little alarming and made us wonder if that was normal procedure or if there was something going on.
From far away, the Eiffel Tower looked smaller than we expected. As we got closer, we realized it actually is enormous and really very impressive. We grabbed some ham and cheese crepes from a place on the street and walked closer. We sat in the park right by the Eiffel Tower for a while and just looked at it and took some pictures. It was kind of surreal to actually be sitting in front of it, but the effect was thrown off by all the people walking around constantly trying to sell you souvenirs or alcohol.
We headed back to our hotel and stopped to have dinner at a restaurant right across the street from it. We sat outside on the patio and had some really great French wine with burrata and a salad. By the time we were eating there, it was pretty late, and there were still all kinds of people out walking around. We discovered that our waiter was Venezuelan, so he spoke French with David, Spanish with me, and we all spoke English together. It was a fun, unique experience.
The next morning, we slept in a little and took the metro to the Sainte-Chapelle area. We found a boulangerie over there and ordered a croque monsieur, croissant, pan au chocolat, apple tart, and cafe cremes. Once we had our food, we walked back over to Sainte-Chapelle and ate on a bench. We went into the lower chapel first, and were surprised to see there was a gift shop inside of it. The upper chapel was the place with the beautiful, intricate windows. They were incredible, and 70% of them are original from the 13th century.
When we finished there, we walked over to Notre Dame and explored there. The line was quite long to get in because of security checking bags, but it moved fairly quickly. It also had beautiful windows, and I was surprised how dark it was inside. Once again, there were lots of police with big guns walking around, and another gift shop inside the church.
After Notre Dame, we walked over to the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries. We decided not to go into the Louvre because we were short on time, but planned to find some iced coffee and relax in the gardens for a bit. We got some street crepes on the way again, sugar and lemon for me and Nutella for David. Finding iced coffee turned out to be more difficult than we expected. We tried several different places and finally found some – for 6 Euro each! We walked around the first English bookstore on the continent and got some of the famed macarons at Ladurée. Truthfully, I think macarons from Joy in Dallas are even better!
After finding our coffee, we walked over through the gardens to the Musée de l’Orangerie. There were two rooms with big panels of Monet’s Water Lilies and lots of other Impressionist paintings. They were so beautiful. It was one of my favorite things we saw in Paris. When we finished exploring the museum, we walked back to the gardens and David took a nap in one of the reclining chairs and I read my book. Once he woke up, we started walking over to the Latin Quarter to find a restaurant for dinner. We tried to eat at an Italian place, but they said they would come outside to take our order and never did, so we left. We ended up at a French brasserie called le Petit Cluny, ate dinner there, and then headed back to our hotel.
On our last morning in Paris, we got to have breakfast with some friends who are currently living there. We took the metro to their apartment with our suitcases, as we would have to head to the airport after eating with them. It was hard to find a place that was open on a Sunday morning. We found a place that looked cute and was open, and we were nearly the only people in it. We had coffee, orange juice, bread, and omelettes for breakfast. It was great to spend time with them, and a fun experience to see friendly faces in a far-away place.
Once we retrieved our bags from their apartment, we took the metro back to Gare du Nord, and then the RER to the airport. It was really hard to figure out where to check in at the airport. There was a hallway with a ton of different airline counters, and then a tiny sign we finally found telling us to go down an escalator into the basement for the British Airways counter. They made me check my carry on bag because it was too big, even though I had taken the same carry on bag on three planes already that trip. By that time, I was not feeling thrilled with the Paris airport. Another strange thing there was that we had to have our boarding passes scanned to buy anything at the airport.
To be frank, Paris was my least favorite place we visited on our trip. I’m glad we got to see it, but I’m not in a hurry to go back. Every experience we had seemed to be just slightly colored by unfriendly people, and it felt especially dirty there after being in Ireland and the UK.
We had a quick flight back to London, long layover at Heathrow, and then got on a giant plane to New York. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a plane that large before. Our attendant was Scottish, and David bonded with him by complaining about English temperaments. We were in the first row of the back section of the plane, so we ended up with lots of extra leg room for the long flight. Everything went smoothly until close to the end, when there were storms up and down the East Coast and we had to reroute. We landed 45 minutes later than scheduled, which was already fairly late New York time, then sat on the plane for an hour while we waited for a gate. The bridge to the jetway was broken, so we had to wait for them to repair that. We came through customs and then had to wait for our bags that they made us check at the Paris airport, and found out that the bag loader broke down and they had to wait for a new one. Once we finally had them, we discovered that my Uber app was not working, and we had to wait for a taxi. The girl in front of us took the last one, and we had to wait for a new round to show up. By the time we finally got to Grace’s apartment in Brooklyn, it was 2:30 am and we were exhausted. Our landing experience was quite a welcome back to the United States!