… and I was surprised. Not entirely pleasantly, or unpleasantly. Just surprised.
Let me preface this by saying that I was not, AM not, a girly girl, hell-bent on a dreamy Paris sojourn, with romantic ideals of picnics in the park, walking hand in hand, sipping champagne, blah blah blah. My mother, bless her, is also obsessed with Paris, in the most absurd way; I can’t even begin to tell you how many phallic Eiffel Towers feature in her house… She went, she saw, she fell utterly in love. My relationship with Paris was a little more… volatile.
Husband and I arrived in Paris as our final stop in a four week trip around Egypt and a bit of Europe in March/April 2013. Europe was, at the time, experiencing an unseasonable cold spring, which we were actually quite enjoying, despite the fact that our clothing was not at all equipped for it.
Off the train from London, we were immediately met by thieves and degenerates posing as cab drivers. After a near miss with a guy who put our bags in the back of his “cab” and then demanded €50, we grabbed them out of the boot and made our way to a more legitimate looking taxi rank.
Our hotel, while it had an absolutely magnificent view of the Tower, was not great. A thermostat that was set to a very high temperature and couldn’t be turned off (it got to a point one night that, while the rain on the roads outside was turning to ice, we were lying on the floor in our underwear with the windows wide open, trying to cool down), a bathroom sink that was perpetually clogged, and elevators that would struggle to fit even Kate Moss, it was an “interesting” stay.
We thought it best to forget the hotel, leave our stuff, go explore. Not 500m walk from the hotel, a dapper looking gentleman strolled past us, and promptly spat on my boot walking past. Didn’t realise French men were so charming.
I also didn’t realise the incredible amount of homelessness or poverty in Paris; train stations were essentially accommodation for the poor souls, beggars on every corner. Paris was a dirty, gritty city, not some beautiful storybook town.
It’s funny, little things like that all kept adding up and adding to my hatred of this city, but it really wasn’t all that bad… It’s kind of like a break up I think – the longer it’s been and the more distance I’ve had between the place, the more I feel like it was actually kind of ok!
And it was – one day, we bought a beautiful French stick from Fauchon and made prosciutto and cheese baguettes to take to the park and eat under the Eiffel Tower.. That was something amazing! So was the lovely French wine that went down with it. It was so nice to finally stop at the end of this crazy trip, sit back, and just unwind a little with the simple pleasure of a picnic.
Another huge highlight was the night we looked at each other and realised, holy crap, we are eating fresh Nutella crepes, under the Eiffel Tower, in Paris…. Wow! We both suddenly started giggling uncontrollably at the fact that we were finally, finally living out our travel dreams!
My fondest memory though, I think, was emerging from our hotel, wrapping my red cloak around me and raising my umbrella over my head, stepping out onto the cold, grey, wet cobblestones in my old, trustworthy tan boots, and looking up to see restaurants, cafés, florists, businessmen with newspapers held haphazardly over their heads, book stores, ladies smoking, dogs in coats… It was sensory overload, and that was something I really enjoyed. I also loved their café culture – the way people would actually stop, sit down, relax over their hot drinks, instead of demanding them in a take away cup and rushing off, iPhone in hand, to their next very important engagement. People got it here, they got the importance of slowing down and enjoying the little moments in life, without being surgically attached to their phones. I wish I’d had more time to enjoy that too.
In hindsight, it was a stupid idea to go to Paris with someone (husband) who had already decided to absolutely, passionately, unapologetically hate the city before we even got there, solely because he knew my mother loved it so much (it’s not that he’s horribly nasty or hates my mum, he just automatically hates anything that people talk up too much!), so that added to my lack of enjoyment. I didn’t absolutely love it, but I feel it’s a city worth a second chance, and I would go back, probably alone if the opportunity presented, and try not to let the shit get to me so much.
There was, of course, so much more to Paris than my musings thus far, and no doubt I’ll write more about that trip later, but for now let me say, neutrally, that Paris wasn’t what I expected!