Paris was the only city on my European tour I had been to before. I have so much love for this city, I’ll take any chance I can to see it again and again. In fact, I would spend the longest time of any city I selected for my journey here. By design. I wanted to experience la vie Parisienne and be immersed in my langue maternelle, French.
I arrived Gare de Lyon, from Lyon, Monday evening at rush hour. Suitcase, carry-on and backpack in tow, I knew the Metro wouldn’t be the way to get to my destination – all those stairs! I had heard of moto taxis on my previous visit to La Ville Lumière, last May. Upon queuing at the actual taxi line, a man wearing a motorcycle helmet accosted me: “Taxi madame?”. To myself: “I should do it. The weather is decent and this isn’t something I can do everyday”. After a few exchanges about efficiency, destination and price, I responded: “Oui messieur! On y va!”. All of my luggage and I climbed onboard a comfortable cruiser motorcycle safely behind career professional driver Leon. Seeing the city at dusk without any obstruction would be one of the coolest experiences of my visit to Paris.
To enhance my integration into Paris, I selected an AirBnB in the 19ème arrondissement, far enough away from all the major tourist spots, but all of it easily accessible via Metro. (And I did work that Metro!). Checking into Alice and Charles’ place, I overcame the biggest luggage-related obstacle of my trip so far: climbing 72 stairs to their 4th floor flat, with said suitcase, carry-on and backpack still in tow. This is Paris. For the rest of the week, the stairs proved to be a great way to get some steps. At the end of my stay, I strategically distributed the weight across all 3 vessels for my final descent to the ground floor of 2 rue Hassard.
Charles, an experienced world traveler vacating his home for me for the week, helped carry my suitcase the last 30 steps or so, welcomed me, then quaintly asked: “What do you have in here?”. Listen here Charles, this is the deal: I’m a classic over-packer. Inspired by my girl Mara who similarly traveled Europe last September in only a carry-on suitcase and coached by my consulting mentor and friend Linda, who vagabonds from continent to continent for work also only in a carry-on suitcase, I thought I had done a pretty good job with my clothing and luggage selection.
However, in reality, I had also over-packed for this trip… Charles and I giggled as he departed with a medium hand luggage containing everything he would need for the next 6 days.
I came to observe the simplicity of Charles and Alice’s lifestyle over the following few days: clean, comfortable, minimalist. In contrast, my recently cleansed and purged main (of 3 total) closets in Reston is four times the size of the one closet they share… I began to wonder: could I actually live like this? Perhaps… Do I need all this stuff? The answer, obviously no, left me with some serious food for thought for my return home: simplify.
As has become my tradition, upon arrival in a new city, after getting settled in my hébergement, I head to the local grocery store for some basics supplies. Paris had just recovered from one of its biggest snow storms in decades and the bareness of my local Simply Market reminded me of the days following DC’s 2010 Snowmageddon. People are people. I chatted with the man in line in front of me. He was the first of every-single-Parisian-person-I-would-speak-to-all-week-to-say: “Vous êtes du Canada?!” Évidemment. I must have heard it at least 100 times throughout my stay in Paris. Charming and coquettish in real time; in retrospect, a super top conversation starter with complete strangers. I heard so many compliments on my accent, and on my place of birth. I chose to not explain the intricacies of my Can-American bi-culturalism. In Paris, I was Canadian. Simplicité.
The first night in a new city is also usually dedicated to writing about the previous city, planning for the days ahead, and drinking a good bottle of wine. My plan for Paris was simple: check out a few new neighborhoods, hang out in cool cafés for some naturally Parisian people-watching, enjoy some good wine at happy hour, linger at my favorite sites, and appreciate some classic art.
First priority however, get my eyes on la Tour Eiffel as soon as possible. Always. On Tuesday, I headed to the 14ème arrondissement and let my fear of missing out take over my fear of heights: atop La Tour Montparnasse’s 59 floors is the most beautiful view of Paris. To add to the romance of it all, as soon as I reached the terrace, it started to snow. The wind was howling and it was cold. Yet I stared at this beautiful structure that moves me every single time I visit for a good half hour. I hung out indoors on the 57th floor, interacting with digital displays carefully located throughout the space, learning about the city’s buildings and sites.
After a soupe à l’onion gratinée for an early dinner on French standards, I made my way to the base of the tower to spend more quality time in her presence. My eyes on the Eiffel Tower. Simplicity.
On Valentine’s Day, I was in need of some serious personal care and maintenance: on a long stroll through the neighborhood, I treated myself to a manicure and got a much needed haircut. I headed back into the flat for a bite to eat, to rest my feet and to get ready for the evening’s main event: I was taking myself to the theater.
I arrived the Theatre Montorgeuil early to ensure myself a good seat for general admission to Jamais le Deuxième Soir. I stood in line in the rain and witnessed passers-by eagerly, I imagined, on their way to meet their loved one, equipped with all of their Valentine’s Day necessities: helium balloons, flowers, wine and baguette in hands. Malgré la pluie, love was in the air. Simplicité.
As the theater filled up, I quickly observed that I was the only single person in attendance. I was also for sure the only non-French person there. Juxtaposed against my choice to spend Valentine’s Day alone in Paris, I took a moment to reflect on how I felt when I found myself around people again in my hotel in Vienna and how delightful visiting with the Jelepis family in Lyon had been. As the crowd’s anticipation built for the imminent performance’s commencement, my thoughts also drifted to the many comments I had heard as I planned and so far recounted my adventures: “You are traveling alone?” Yes. Absolutely. Why not? I love it! By the end of the play, I was satisfied with my understanding of almost every plot line and I felt part of the community, having laughed with the French at about 85% of the jokes. I scored my overall performance with an A- : B+ for comprehension, A for a simple style.
On Thursday, I needed to sleep in and then sit with the voices: it was time to write. I found quaint Lomi Café in a previously undiscovered neighborhood and spent most of the afternoon there. Posting about the place and my activities on LinkedIn would later prove to be a really good move.
In the evening, I took advantage of the Musée d’Orsay’s late hours to visit with classic artists of the past. In the presence of Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Bazille, Renoir, Gaugin, and even Van Gogh, I nostalgically had a moment of loneliness: I missed my Maman. While I enjoy being alone, you are the only person in the world I would take along for the entire ride. I focused on my appreciation for the vastness of the space: this museum is simply my favorite in the entire world.
Friday, I motivated early to visit the artists of the present. A never before visited classical Paris venue, Le Grand Palais hosted a 5 day exhibition, Art Capital. Finally a sunshiny day in Paris, I had serendipitously selected the perfect day to attend. The space was bursting with the oeuvres of French and International art communities, historically organized by genre in salons but also equally packed with artworks of independent French artists. And it was filled with amazing light to play with. Up and down the Palais’ main show floor staircase, I simply pretended to be a photographer.
No visit to Paris is acceptable without a sight of l’Arc de Triomphe. I headed to the monument to catch another beautiful dusk moment. I imagined the exhaustion of Tour de France cyclists circling around the cobbled stones de l’Étoile in July, as is tradition every year.
Upon arriving in Munich, some 17 days prior, I had elected to invest in an international data package for the 30+ day duration of my visit to Europe. I don’t know how people can get around without it! It’s proven to be a wise decision to power my navigation in every city so far, as well as to stay in touch with my loved ones.
But on that Friday evening, it would be the gift that keeps on giving when an old Washington DC colleague, Drew, living in Paris for the last 8 years, reached out in response to my LinkedIn post. Life puts you where you need to be. Drew, his good friend Michel and I would spend the evening in (read: close down!) a lovely traditional jazz club in Montmartre, Bab-Ilo, listening to music, drinking beer, reminiscing about our past, talking about the expat life in Paris, talking about being from Paris, talking about le beau bordel qu’est l’Europe et la sauvagerie de la ville de Paris.
Paris, it’s simple: you never let me down. You are by far the most culturally diverse city I have ever experienced, and you keep me grounded as I observe myself: French Canadian, American, and definitely culturally curious… Always a good idea.
À la prochaine! Et maintenant, London.