As my Erasmus semester was slowly coming to an end I decided to spend my last weekend in Paris to see the French capital I already heard so much about for myself.
My trip started quite early in the morning. As my bus departed at 4:30 am I decided I wouldn’t sleep at all that night. I was just going to stay awake. So that’s what I did. Marching to the bus at night it was cold and dark, I was shivering the whole time and couldn’t wait to hop onto the bus. There I fell asleep instantly. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride ever, but I was glad to get some sleep at least. Around midday we already reached Paris.
First day in the city
In terms of accommodation I opted for couch surfing – which is an app where a stranger literally offers you his couch – and couldn’t have made a better choice. I met my hosts, a couple, at the Bibliotheque François Mitterrand, the national library. Their apartment was in the 13th arrondissement which is a rather new and modern district a lot of Parisians don’t even consider to be a “real” district of Paris. This district has a new and modern scent to it, which is already visible looking at the national library. This building consists of four high glass towers – it is huge, but still a strange building for a national library.
When my host picked me up we got along great right from the start. He and his girlfriend were so nice and welcoming I instantly felt at home. Both were originally from Bordeaux but moved to Paris a few years ago. As I am doing my Erasmus exchange semester in Bordeaux as well we soon started to exchange our experiences about this city.
A quick sightseeing tour
Right after I arrived we went on and intense sightseeing tour through Paris. We met up with another friend of them (also from Bordeaux) then they showed me the most important sights within the area. We rushed through it a bit, but I’m glad we did it that quickly because like that I already got a great overview of the city in only a few hours.
We went along the Seine, the river flowing through Paris, and they showed me the many bridges over the river. They also pointed out the Pont des Arts where you could see a lot of lovelocks around the bridges rail not so long ago. With these lovelocks couples could leave a sign for their endless love. The locks, however, have already been taken down as they were too heavy and became an unsupportable weight for the bridge. After learning about the bridges history we went on to Notre Dame and we even could go inside for free! This famous church is beautiful and has a huge colourful glass window with an amazing mosaic you can only see from inside.
After Notre Dame we proceeded to the Louvre, the biggest museum in Paris and the 3rd biggest museum in the world. Especially the pyramid shaped glass entry is known all over the world – and also a place where you can find lots of tourists taking pictures. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go inside as you have to sacrifice one day at least to see everything there is to see – and I didn’t have that much time. Leaving the Louvre behind we walked through the Jardin de la Tuileries until we reached the Roue de Paris, a big fairy’s wheel which was already lighting up as it was getting darker. Not only because I was already late, but because a lot of clouds appeared in the sky, letting no light through anymore. Here our sightseeing tour came to an end. While he was guiding me through Paris, my host looked up all the important information about the buildings on Wikipedia to tell me about the sight we were visiting. He really was the perfect guide.
As it had already been a long day, we decided to go for a beer. We went to a nice little bar where we could sit outside to watch some people getting crazy about a fountain near us. They were stripping down their clothes until the had nothing on but their underwear to climb up the fountain to take a picture. Well, what people wouldn’t do if it wasn’t for Instagram. When we finished our beers, it was already time to go home, a nice day of a lot of walking came to an end. When I hit the pillow on my host’s couch I fell asleep almost immediately.
Second day in Paris
The next day it was my hosts girlfriends birthday so I went to discover the city by myself. It was a Sunday, not a lot of people were out in the streets. Walking down the streets I wondered if Paris was always empty like this as I imagined more tourists to be around. But it was calm, it was quiet. Good for me, I thought, then there shouldn’t be so many people out doing some sightseeing. I should be mistaken.
The first thing I had to see was, of course, the Eiffel tower. You can also go up the tower to enjoy a view over Paris, but I decided not to as there were a lot of people waiting already. However, I got a lot of pictures from the outside. The Eiffel tower was constructed due to the World’s Fair in 1889 by Gustav Eiffel. A truly impressive sight – but also the most visited one, of course.
L’Arc de Triomphe
50 meters high and constructed for the people who died during the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon. To get to the arch you have to go through a tunnel under the street as I it is surrounded by a very busy roundabout you can’t cross without putting your life in serious danger. But once you are there you can even go up on top of the arch! It is completely for free if you’re under 26 years old. So, as it was for free I went up there. On top I had an amazing view over the whole city of Paris – I could spot the Eiffel tower as well and many other outstanding buildings. I looked around for a while, just absorbing the city’s beauty. On top of the arch there is a little museum as well where you can learn a lot more about the arche’s history.
Jo and Nana Cakes
After my visit it was already time to have lunch – and as I was in Paris I had to check out as many vegan options as I possibly could. The city is full of vegan friendly restaurants I simply couldn’t resist to try out. I found the vegan patisserie Jo and Nana Cakes online and went there right away – definitely recommendable. Standing behind the vitrine I couldn’t chose what to eat because everything just looked so freakin good. In the end, however, I settled for a delicious peanutbutter cake. As I was the only customer and alone with the vendor we soon started talking. I told him that I was currently doing an exchange semester in Bordeaux and I was just here for a few days. He mentioned he was originally from Mexico but came to France 20 years ago. We kept talking for a while and I was really surprised that I wasn’t experiencing the stereotypical Parisian I have been warned of. I guess you all know the clichée – not friendly at all and stressed. Well, it’s true if you look around in the metro and in the streets, but there are exceptions. Then another guy entered and soon engaged in our discussion as well. Both of them gave me tips about where to go in Paris and which vegan places to check out. After a while of talking I already had to leave because I still wanted to see a lot of the city – but I left with the nice feeling of being welcome here.
Hôtel des invalides
This huge complex with a dome in front was constructed during the era of Louis XIV. It was built for the disabled veterans of the war. Not only to give them a home but also to prevent them from living in the streets and ending up posing a danger to others. Today a part has been transformed into a museum where you can learn a lot about weapons and wars. The cathedral in front is the place where Napolean is burried. You can spot its huge golden cupola from hundreds of meters away. Behind Napoleans crypta there has been constructed another dome – the soldiers dome honoring the soldiers who fought for the kingdom of France. In the large courtyard you can still see a lot of remains from wartime – old canons lining up one after another, armor plates and much more. You really feel like placed back in time seeing all these arms and reading the engravings in the walls honoring the soldiers.
Conference with Jean Laval
The original purpose why I even came to Paris was this particular conference – a talk about how to become the best version of yourself and how to reach your goals. Might not sound that original, but I assure you, it was definitely worth going. Shortly before I entered the building I saw a girl checking her phone and looking around a bit lost like me.
– She must be looking for the same thing as me, I thought.
– Hey, you’re searching for the conference of Jean Laval too? She asked right after that thought popped into my mind.
– Yes – you too?
We got along instantly, chatting the whole time and getting to know each other. The conference itself was truly amazing. For everybody who is interested in self-development (and speaks French) I would strongly recommend you check out Jean Laval on YouTube. Hearing him is motivational and a real inspiration at the same time. As he only talks about his own experiences and what really works for him, he also knows a lot about everyathing he’s talking about. You know these people who seem like they’ve life all figured out? How have a lot of energy and no desire to slow down? Yes, exactly, these people are extraordinary. Even more is listening to them for two hours straight. When the conference was over a lot of people came forward and gave him a hug. We all knew that he loves hugs from his YouTube videos and so the girl I met before and I went forward to hug and thank him as well.
A new friend on the way
Afterwards she and I decided to go out to eat. We went for Korean food which I’ve never tried before and kept talking about our experience at the conference we just had. It was incredible how well we connected right from the start – especially because we met in this particular way. After dinner we went for ice cream and she invited me to eat it at her place as she just lived next doors. We stayed there for a while talking how we really want to attend the next conference in September – and how much more focused on our goals we will be then. I can only hope we both will make it – for me it’s a good reason to come back to Paris as well!
Third day in Paris
The next day, Monday, should already be my last day in Paris! So the first thing I wanted to check out was a vegan breakfast place called Cloud Cakes where they offered coffee and Croissants – something I could never eat before so I was really excited to try it for the first time in years. It was delicious, another very recommandable place in Paris.
At first I wanted to go to the Sacre Coeur. On my way I passed through a district at the metro station Barbés Rochechouart. In this particular district I didn’t feel that save in Paris for the first time. I felt people looking at me, I was a bit afraid to pull out my phone, as the guys from yesterday told me that it’s quite common there that someone will just grab your phone and run off with it. As I would be completely lost without mine, I did better to keep it in my jacket. Crossing this part of town quickly I took the bus to the Sacre Coeur and was amazed instantly. This church with its white walls and cupolas was built on the hill of Montmatre. Its unique architecture has made it a place thousands of tourists want to visit – even in the rain. When I went there it was raining heavily, but that didn’t stop anyone from visiting it.
Montmatre itself, the town of the Sacre Coeur, is a fascinating little town. It is the only Place in Paris where everybody knows each other as it is situated on top of a hill and a bit apart from the rest of Paris. People of Montmatre also like to refer to themselves as “I am from Montmatre”, rather then “I am from Paris”. The city itself is really cute – and touristy as well. The streets are crammed with tiny little boutiques, shops and tourist traps. A lot of street vendor where walking around just waiting for a good-hearted tourist to fall for their strategies. I tried not to get caught, but eventually ended up paying for an armband, as the guy had simply just started braiding it directly on my arm and I couldn’t escape. However, as braiding these bands was probably their only job, they somehow had to earn money as well. So I gave him 2 euros for his work and proceeded my way.
About the Champs Elysée I was a bit disappointed. I thought it might be possible to go inside and see the building from closer as it is possible in the Austrian parliament. But no – you have to stay outside. You could just look through a tiny fence, that was it. Not much to see there. Just a lot of policemen was standing outside – as they generally are iall over Paris. Among the most important buildings you will always see armed soldiers or police officers. That was something I’m so not used to. In Bordeaux, you don’t really see military in the streets and Austria is not that fond of its military either. The funny thing is I didn’t feel much safer – I just start thinking about why it is even necessary – and once you do that then you start to worry.
The Pantheon was not less guarded by the military. It is a huge building, high pillars marking the entrance. It was constructed by due to Louis XV who dedicated it to Geneviève, the patron of Paris. The crypt of the Pantheon is the last resting place for a lot of great men and women of the nation, for example Victor Hugo, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau. You can even walk into some of the graves. There you’ll see coffins made out of stone, the many men and women of the nation laying in front of you. A lot of engravings on the walls honoring the dead, a cold coming from all the graves. Steps and voices echoing down there while you slowly make your way throgh the graves
Last evening in Paris
After visiting the Pantheon it was time to meet up with a friend I got to know in Vienna through chouchsurfing, but who was originally from Paris. It’s really nice when you have friends everywhere, so you can just call them up and hang out for a while – to see how they change and keep track of how they are doing. We exchanged some news over a beer before I already had to go home to my hosts as I had promised to cook for them the night before. Couch surfing is all about the cultural exchange so I really wanted to offer them something from my side as well – I mean, they did let me sleep at their place for free three nights long. So I made them dinner with couscous and sweet potatoes and in the meantime I learned a bit more about the French comedy. First we were just watching the news, then we soon switched to Gad Elmaleh, a comedian widely known in France. We had a great time watching him, my hosts explaining me his jokes about France when I didn’t get it right away. A great comedian I will definitely keep on watching. How do people say – if you understand the humor of a language you really have mastered it – and this was the best way to practice.
Time to go back
The next day I already had to leave. Again, my trip was over way to soon. However, as I had changed my tickets a lot of times before leaving I was convinced my bus was departing at 11am – it was not. It was leaving at 7:30 I woke up at 8 – already too late. So I had to buy some new tickets for the train this time. All in all I spent my last day in Paris at the Gare de Montpellier. But well, as all the trains in France are striking right now maybe that’s a good place to learn about the French as well.
What I really liked about Paris was that it has so many different faces, so many different factettes. On the one hand, people in the metro are mostly grumpy and trapped in their little own misery world, on the other hand I found so many nice people it is heart-warming. It is a big city with millions of habitants, but at the same time there is Montmatre where everybody knows each other. It has a long history, but also some really new districts. All in all I think of Paris as a very diverse city where there’s simply room for everything and everyone.