Un bref séjour à Paris: Part deux
Despite the soft blanket of gloom obscuring Paris on my first weekend, it still retained every ounce of the whimsy and charm one would expect from the city. Unfortunately, the gloom brought rains so heavy that the river Seine was flooded to unprecedented heights, and all museums (number one on my Paris to-do list) were closed for the weekend due to artifacts being moved out of the basements for conservational reasons.
C'est la vie. Referring back to my previous wisdom, the most important thing that I've learned so far in my travels is to be adaptable. Sure, the museums were closed that first weekend, but that didn't mean that there weren't ten thousand other things to do in this city.
So we did the tourist thing. Navigating the maze of the Paris subway system is both exhilarating and nightmarish, and I probably would not have survived had I not been traveling with someone who'd been around the Parisian block a few times (shoutout to you Isabel). But taxis are expensive, heavy traffic makes them far from worth the steep prices, and you can only walk so many miles per day before your feet decide that they are done. Despite the initial confusion and intimidation of public transportation in Europe, it is absolutely the cheapest and most efficient way to get around and the self-sufficiency you feel when you master it is pretty incredible.
First sight to check off the list of "I can't believe I've been there" places was, la tour Eiffel. With limited time and limited funds - we are college students after all - we had to choose which sites we would simply go to, and which we'd pay the price and take the time to explore. Given the crowds, and the heavy fog that clouded Paris, we decided to just "go to" the Eiffel Tower. Even just a quick tour around the magnificent metallic structure is stunning. I never truly realized how grand the Eiffel Tower was, until I got cramps craning my neck trying to take in the entirety of the "Iron Lady" and the silhouette she creates on the Parisian skyline.
Our next conquest of the day was scaling the windy, hidden staircase of l'Arc de Triomphe. A quick subway ride to the Champs Elysées, the most famous boulevard in Paris, full of high-end shops and cafes and a bustling tourist destination, and we were upon the Arc.
Perhaps the weather acted as a deterrent for crowds, but we hardly spent time waiting in lines on that weekend in Paris. We paid €12 each and began the 284 step ascent to the top. The Arc was started in 1806 and finished 30 years later in 1836, to memorialize those who fought for France in the French Revolutionary Wars. It's incontestably famous for its history and views.
Our final stop for day two was one filled with childhood nostalgia, and clichéd visions of hunchbacks scaling walls, tambourine-playing gypsies with coin-laced skirts and dancing goats. Yes, I'm referring to Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and yes our next stop was la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
The crisp air and impending dusk gave this ancient structure an added air of mystique, that only solidified my longing to further explore it. Unfortunately, part of traveling in groups is abiding by the "democracy rules" decision-making tactic and thus we didn't explore Notre Dame any further than the aesthetic of gargoyles and flying buttresses. The the rainbow of stained-glass windows, cavernous ceilings and the weight of its history are all at the top of my to-do list for my next Parisian adventure.
Once the sun started setting, the City of Lights illuminated, the autumn-chill-in-June set in and we were famished. Intuitively, we navigated the narrow, cobblestoned streets until we settled on Carmine Café, where I warmed up with the best bowl of soupe à l'oignon (French onion soup) that I'll probably ever eat, and a shared pizza amongst new friends.
The last day of that first weekend in Paris was the best. We traversed the city by metro (it becomes less confusing every day) and paid a worthwhile €7 to access le Palais Garnier of l'Opera de Paris, the lauded opera house of Paris made famous on the big screen by the dulcet vocals of Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum in, The Phantom of the Opera.
Le Palais Garnier is every bit as opulent as you'd expect and then some. Constructed in 1861 and inaugurated in 1875, this building is just as much a work of art as the hundreds of years worth of ballets and operas that its stage has hosted.
Though the line to actually get in the theatre was too long (and we again adhered to the democratic method of decision making) we decided not to wait. But the intricacy and extravagance of the Grand Staircase and the Grand Foyer was more than enough distract me from the disappointment I felt about not getting to see the stage. The opalescence of the colossal white granite staircase, chasmal ceilings painted with frescoes and the infinite gold accents had my head spinning and my camera flashing. I will forever be enchanted by the Palais Garnier.
With the blink of an eye, my first weekend in Paris came and went. Melancholy overcast and all, these three days have been nothing short of magic and as I sit in the Gare de Lyon, waiting to board a TGV where I'll get to take off my figurative touristy beret to actually live in a French city, I can't shake the excitement of everything yet to come.