Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Et Enfin, à Paris!

So. This past Friday night, I finally moved into my Cincinnati house. Since then I've been unpacking, seeing friends, and getting reacquainted with college life. I have truly missed it here, and it's so good to be back. I'm sure I won't be saying that come next Wednesday, when classes actually start, but until then I am going to soak it up. And use this bit of extra time to write this godforsaken Paris post before I get in all kinds of trouble.

After returning from Mallorca, it was truly back to the grind for a bit. And by grind I mean three hour classes, turkey-and-avocado sandwiches, 24-hour living with people who were getting under my skin, and coming to terms with the four term papers I had been putting off. April was a weird time for everyone in the house I think. The time of niceties and politeness had long since worn off, and there was quite a bit of (totally petty) fighting between people behaving as schoolchildren rather than adults. So Adrianne and I basically decided to get the hell out.

After a stressful typical visit to the Gare Cornavin SBB/CFF/FFS ticket center (where you'd better believe all the attendants hated our North American, English-speaking guts), Adrianne and I finally managed to book tickets on the TGV. Because of her internship and my Eurail pass limitations, we had to take different trains, which I will revisit later..

So. On Thursday April 14, I had to run (of course) to Gare Cornavin to catch my early train to Paris. Typing this now, I'm just rolling my eyes, like "Oh my god, why was my life so freaking awesome for four months." And to think I ever complained about a second of it. Disgusting.

I remember that ride so well: fast, sleek train, listening to Daft Punk, eating my apple and looking out the window as the incredible European countryside flew by. I remember thinking that I could never get enough of riding these trains, listening to the fast-paced French and people-watching like crazy. Being careful not to be too American, speaking in French when I could, and constantly wearing black like the rest of the Europeans. Train rides were such an essential part of my European experience, and I can't help but think it funny that I was so charmed by public transportation. If only it were so efficient and widespread in the States.

Anyway, I arrived less than three hours later in the City of Light. Totally alone and unprepared in the Gare de Lyon. I didn't have any euro on me whatsoever, like an idiot, and I needed it to purchase a Paris Métro pass in order to get to our hotel. I walked around for 20 minutes or so looking for an ATM before finally asking a lady at the information booth who told me there was one outside. Okay, awesome, there are about fifty entrances/exits in Gare Lyon. Embarrassingly, I was not confident enough in my French skills to ask her to specify where outside I could find this ATM. So I walked around forever, in some kind of "alone in Paris" panic mode. It was during this time that I began to regret wearing a dress. It was apparently some kind of faux pas to show your legs in Paris in April, something that I did not and still don't understand. But I sure did get a lot of rude looks and outrageously obnoxious catcalls. Although I guess that just may be Paris. Or that tan..

I finally found an ATM after venturing several streets into the Lyon neighborhood, whichever one that is. So pathetic how much I have already forgotten. So then I had euro bills, which I soon found out is not an acceptable form of payment in the automatic machines where you purchase Métro passes. There was no change machine, so I had to communicate with a crass employee of a train station convenience store that I needed change. I was flustered beyond belief at this point, and I nearly cried when the employee made fun of me (in French) to another patron in the store. At that moment, I cursed every French man in the world.

FINALLY, I purchased my Métro card, sweating and sore from my backpack straps. My god, did I look stupid. Fortunately (and surprisingly) I had the foresight to write down the Métro path I needed to take to get to the hotel. (It is also fortunate that the Paris Métro is phenomenally logical and well-laid out.) I feel as though I don't even need to point out how fantastic of an experience it was to ascend the stairs at my stop and walk out under one of the iconic Métro signs. Absolutely priceless.

I will spare the details of how long it took to find the Hotel du Plat d'Etain (Tin Plate Hotel?); I had a map with me so I have no excuses. During my search, though, a young Roma girl (no more than 10 or 11 years old) tried to pickpocket me and very nearly succeeded. There is no good way to explain how I felt when I turned my head to see a child putting her hand in my purse. I definitely let her have it, in English of course, but I feel like some expletives are universally understood. I was angry but also sad that this girl's life required her to steal. This was one of many firsthand experiences I had with the current cultural/demographic issues in Europe. It's so easy for us in America to think of Europe as a cohesive unit, but living there for four months certainly changed my outlook.

I had some time to kill before Adrianne's arrival, so I carefully studied my map and made my way to the Centre Georges Pompidou, an art and culture complex that is absolutely stunning to look at.

The Stravinsky Fountain

Église de Saint-Eustache

"L'écoute" by Henri de Miller

Being in Paris by myself was actually kind of romantic. I just looked and looked and looked at everyone and everything. I didn't have to talk, which was strangely nice. And the street art was awesome.

Notice that he is blindfolded. Also notice that no one is showing any of their legs. And notice the cute French child
I'd like to state at this time that there is no place in the world like Paris. There is nothing like walking the streets of Paris in April. Unbelievable.

Finally, Adrianne arrived, and in all my infinite wisdom of Paris after a day of getting lost in it, I picked her up at the Métro stop, took her to our hotel, and proceeded to bitch about my hectic day. Then we partied Paris style.

We walked around Le Marais, the arrondissement/district where our hotel was located, for a while. Had some fancy, expensive dinner at some fancy, expensive French restaurant. Thank god we had learned by April to ask for tap water (as opposed to bottled water or sparkling water, because that shit is expensive). After dinner, we stopped into a market where we purchased some wine which we then consumed at various locations along our route back to the hotel. Again, nothing beats drinking wine in front of famous Paris landmarks.

Exhausted, we fell asleep pretty early so that we could squeeze a ton of touristy stuff into the next day. Which we did. And now that I think about it, I think maybe we got there on Friday instead of Thursday. In that case, we woke up on Saturday morning and took the Métro to Boulevard Hôpital where I did one of the dumbest things I have ever done.

I am very much into human rights. And taking a human rights course (under the instruction of the wonderful Dr. Cecilia Jimenez) in Geneva, Switzerland, only added to my interest in the topic and my desire to incorporate human rights work into my career. And the only reasonable thing to do when you like something a lot and feel very passionately about it is to get it permanently inked on your body, right? Right.

So I decided a while back to get the year "1948" tattooed on my wrist. Lots of cool (and horrible) things happened in 1948, but very importantly to me, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948, in Paris. The UDHR is the founding document on all rights to which human beings are inherently entitled. These things are very important to me. I had originally wanted the entire text of Article 1 on my body, but I figured that four digits would be cheaper and more reasonable than 30 words. Plus I take issue with one of the words* in Article 1 anyhow..
(Article 1 reads: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood*." Like what about sisterhood?)

Anyhow, back in Genf I had done the best research I could on tattoo parlors in Paris and I settled on one called Royal Tattoo. So Saturday morning/afternoon, Adrianne and I rolled up to the tattoo parlor, where I promptly realized I didn't really know any French verbiage about tattooing. You'd think by April in Europe I would have learned to plan ahead much better than I ever did. But no.

So we began talking in broken Frenglish about whether they could do it without an appointment, if I could use their computer to show them the font I wanted, etc. Things were cool, we managed to understand each other very well through the use of both French and English, and the artist was kind of weird in that way tattoo artists are supposed to be.

Now here is where I'm a total idiot. NOT ONCE DID I CARE TO INQUIRE ABOUT THE PRICE.

So he printed off the sticker-thing, and we moved it around on my right wrist for about five minutes until I was satisfied with the placement. He told me he would make me cry for sure, and Adrianne couldn't really watch once he turned on the apparatus that makes that abrasive drilling noise. But obviously it did not hurt in the least and took less than 10 minutes. Cool.

I walked to the counter to pay. Since "sapere aude" on my arm cost $30 in America, I was assuming that 50 euro would easily cover the four digits of black ink and a tip. 50 euro would have been steep, but it was Paris, and I accepted that it simply would be a bit more expensive there. But I was willing to pay a bit extra for the experience and the cultural relevance of getting it done in Paris.

WRONG. He went "Okay, 100 euro." I looked at him with that face like "Okay, tell me how much you really want." Obviously thinking he was joking.

"No, seriously. That is the minimum. 100 euro."

WHAT. THE. HELL. There is where, if I had been smart, I would have run. They didn't know anything about me. Not my name, not my address, not anything. I didn't sign a single piece of paper walking in. It would have been slightly morally questionable, but Adrianne and I so could have outrun that dude. And no one would have been able to track me down. And I'd still be about $150 richer.

But I paid him. I paid for that exorbitantly-priced tattoo. I even gave him a 10 euro tip for reasons I still do not understand. I said "Merci" in the least thankful way possible and walked out the door. Where I proceeded to rant to poor Adrianne for the rest of the day. Had I asked the price ahead of time, had we not been young American girls, had we spoken more French, I am positive I would never have paid that much. I felt like I had been robbed. It was ridiculous. I am still seething just thinking about it. But I did learn some very important lessons that day. Among them: always to ask the price before you get something completely non-returnable and never to trust French men.

Ugh. But I do love the ink, and it will never stop being important to me. Although I've already had enough of telling random partygoers why I have 1948 tattooed on my wrist and receiving obnoxious blank stares in return. It's a simple concept. There you have it, though, one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to me. Always ask, people. Always ask.

Thanks Eleanor Roosevelt

After that lovely event, we hit the important Parisian places. First, the Eiffel Tower, which is of course a spectacle. It's always so strange to see something right in front of you that you have seen thousands of times or more in pictures and movies. We walked all around the Champ de Mars (green space in front of the Eiffel Tower) and took bunches of pictures. We also went across the street behind the Eiffel Tower and up to the Trocadéro, the area that houses the Palais de Chaillot. The Palais de Chaillot was the physical location of the adoption of the UDHR, so that moment was of particular significance to me. There also happened to be a ridiculous comedy/breakdance show going on right outside, so we joined the large crowd and watched for awhile. After that, we sat on a bench in front of the Palais, enjoying the gorgeous day and watching some crazy guys longboard down the hill.

Tour Eiffel!

Palais de Chaillot/Trocadéro

Reflection in the Palais window

What's up French bros


Next, we hit up the Champs-Élysées (super, unbelievably crowded) and the Arc de Triomphe. After that, I do believe we had another street crèpe for dinner and made our way to the Louvre. We had decided earlier that, given our limited time in Paris, we didn't really need to go inside and wait in a long line to see the Mona Lisa. And I unfortunately don't know enough about art to appreciate an hours-long walk looking at old paintings. So we went that night (after a failed attempt to see the Tuileries Garden, which was closed) and walked around the outside. I found that one of my absolute favorite things about Paris were the infinity pools outside of the Louvre Pyramid.

Arc de Triomphe

A very crowded Champs-Élysées

My favorite Métro stop!

Horrible, blurry night pictures of the Louvre

Infinity pools!
Our final destination of the evening was the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Without question, this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Adrianne, in all her infinite wisdom (not sarcasm), had us walk up the hundreds of steps on the side rather than walk up the front. That hike was so worth it. Oh my gosh. Even thinking about seeing it right now gives me chills. Walking out of the tree-covered stair path to see the immense structure right in front of me was awe-inspiring. And not only is the basilica itself an unbelievable sight, but the view of the city from the top of the hill is, I think, the best view in Paris. With my crappy point-and-shoot, I was not able to capture even a fraction of the beauty there. But my gosh. And the sparkling Eiffel Tower light show was magical from up there. I wish we had gotten to see more of Montmartre, the "neighborhood" where the Sacré-Cœur is located. It's artsy, picturesque, and has some amazing French history. So the next time I am in Paris, I will certainly be spending some time there.

Blurry but beautiful

City of Lights. In person, the Eiffel Tower at this moment was  sparkling like a thousand diamonds

Totally exhausted, we went back to the Tin Plate and crashed for the night before our early train to Versailles. Which turned out to be a total bust.

We had a train home later that afternoon that we absolutely had to catch, so we took the first train out to Versailles and arrived before it even opened. But so did everyone else. There were already thousands of people there by the time we showed up and some of the longest lines we had ever seen. It took us a while to figure out where to collect the tickets we had purchased online, and after much deliberating, we figured that we simply didn't have enough time to go in. So we sold our tickets to these two French girls (who totally thought we were scamming them) at a bit of a discount, took a few pictures of the outside, and got back on the RER to the city center. Lame. So next time I'm in Paris, I'll need to do that as well.

Hello and goodbye Versailles

We gathered our things, threw out all the uneaten food we had drunkenly purchased Friday night, and took the Métro one last time to Gare Lyon where we had a quiet, quick TGV trip back to our beloved Genève. I was sad, though, as I realized that would be my last European adventure. If I had known how expensive it was going to be to travel (and that I would have the opportunity to do so much of it), I would have had a whole lot of lemonade stands and bake sales before departing. It was especially frustrating knowing that I had two more trips on my Eurail pass left to take that would go to waste.

But that was Paris, in less than three days. Crazy, beautiful, unforgettable.