I will forever regret only spending about 24 hours in Paris.
I mean, the logic behind that decision was sound—Leslie had already been there, lodging is ridiculously expensive (yes, even hostels!), and there were lots of other places where we knew we were going to want to spend more time.
But Paris isn’t really the sort of place where you can make decisions based on logic. After all, it’s a city of romance. It’s made for decisions of the heart, and mine fell head over heels in love.
Our hostel was very close to the Louvre, so naturally, that was our first stop. We did not pay to go inside because of limited funds and limited time, but the building itself is extraordinary. Statues of famous artists line the walls of the inner courtyard, and the Pyramide du Louvre was just as impressive as it seems. Did you know that if you stand in just the right spot, the pyramid disappears? I didn’t—at least not until long after our trip, when my cousins Kami and Rock went to Paris and Rock got this fantastic shot.
From there, we walked over to Île de la Cité, one of only two natural islands in the Seine. While I didn’t much love the smell of urine and alcohol, which seemed to accost us anew with every change in the breeze, walking along the Seine did provide some lovely views. This was where I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, and Leslie and I had fun inspecting the millions of love locks that coat the banisters of nearly every bridge.
Île de la Cité is home to Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. We didn’t see any hunchbacks, but we did see plenty of statues, awe-inspiring architecture, and massive stained-glass windows. Notre Dame is free to enter, but it equals or surpasses the grandeur of many of the other churches and cathedrals I visited during my time in Europe.
As dusk fell, we walked the streets of Paris on our way to find the Eiffel Tower. The row houses along the river reminded me of Amsterdam, and the Arcades made me homesick for Newcastle. I especially loved the riverside stalls for the bouquinistes, with their used books and old prints and stamps. There is nothing quite like the smell of old leather and paper to make my heart go pitter patter.
My sister Katelyn speaks French and gave me some useful tips for visiting Paris. Among them was, “Don’t stay out under the Eiffel Tower at night.”
We honestly didn’t plan to stay out that late, but our adventure around Paris took long enough that by the time we found a place to buy some bread and cheese for dinner, darkness was already falling. We found a spot on the lawn by the tower and watched as the night lights came on.
I don’t think I ever realized how utterly massive this structure is. Photos do not do it justice. I think I understood that to be tall enough to be seen from many parts of the city, this thing would have to be gigantic, but it wasn’t until we were standing under it that I realized just what “gigantic” really means.
And then it did this:
Leslie can attest to the fact that I was like a kid on Christmas. I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower sparkles at night! It was fabulous.
All day, we had been seeing street vendors trying to sell chintzy Paris souvenirs. I kept saying, “I kind of want one of those Eiffel Tower statues…” I really wanted one after we saw the tower sparkle, and Leslie finally convinced me to listen to my heart.
So I found a vendor who had some for sale, and asked how much.
“Five euros,” he said.
Uh, nope. Not for a 6″ plastic statue.
But then I remembered that we were in Europe, and they still believe in haggling over there (sometimes…).
So I said, “Will you take three?”
He frowned. “Four.”
I thought about it for a moment while some other customers came up to view his wares. I was about to accept his “deal” (and admit that I’m awful at haggling), but then he said, “Three, then. But no less.”
Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s bad at haggling, but I’m not complaining. I happily paid him my €3 and went on my merry way. My mini Eiffel Tower doesn’t sparkle, but it does light up with pretty colors. I love it.
The next morning, we donned our heavy packs and ventured out onto one of three rainy days on our entire trip. (Seriously, we really lucked out, weather wise.) We went for a brief glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe and the traffic circle with 12 exits. Twelve. Exits. Americans can’t even handle traffic circles with the regular four exits, so I don’t know how the French handle a whopping twelve. Leslie knows alllll about that traffic circle, don’t you? 😉
Our last adventure in Paris took us to Sacre Coeur, another impressive cathedral at the top of a tall, steep hill. Partway up the hill, the rain started to get pretty heavy, so we stepped inside a little chocolate shop to wait until it let up.
After buying some macarons for a *cough* healthy mid-morning snack, we determined that the rain had let up enough for us to continue on our way up the hill. As we tried to exit the shop, two men blocked our way.
“What time is it?” one of them barked.
He was wearing a watch.
“I don’t know,” I said. I wasn’t about to pull my phone out of my pocket. I ain’t no dummy.
“No no no,” he said. “What time is it?” he asked, as if I hadn’t understood his perfect English the first time around.
“I said I don’t know,” I said.
They tried it with Leslie, too, and she told them the same thing. Opting for a different tactic, they said, “What is your name?”
My name is Carlotta Gotta Go, and this is my friend Seeya Neveragain. We pushed past them and hurried up the hill toward Sacre Coeur, carefully checking our pockets once we were safe.
But they weren’t the worst con men we would meet that morning. As we climbed the steps marking our final ascent to Sacre Coeur, the path was suddenly blocked by twenty men with thick African accents.
“Friendship bracelet for you,” they would say as they grabbed people’s wrists. “It’s for free, it’s for free!”
I had heard of this con before and knew that they’d try to tie three strands of barely braided embroidery floss around your wrist. And if they managed to do so, they’d demand payment—usually upwards of €20. I somehow managed to keep my wrists free, but Leslie had to wrest hers out of the firm grip of an especially pushy fellow. It was terrifying. I thought maybe they were targeting girls, but then I saw them grab the wrist of a guy who was easily twice as big as any of them. Yikes!
But Sacre Coeur was definitely worth the obstacles we had to overcome to get there. They don’t allow photography inside, but you can see what it looks like here. Despite the pesky con men, it was a perfect place to end our visit to Paris, with a gorgeous cathedral and a view of the entire city.
Twenty-four hours definitely wasn’t long enough. I will be back, Paris. Je promets.
Read more about my grand adventure with Leslie here.