Paris

To be in the city of light on New Years Eve. 

  I arrived in Paris around 5am at Charles Du Galle airport, and the first thing that shock me was all the white people! Given that I had spent the past five months in a Asian population where the white ethnicity was about 0.02%, I'd say this was a fair reaction. Other than that, I was quite excited to be in a new place, starting another journey. I took a taxi from the airport to my hostel (warning: ALWAYS agree on a price before hand! Cost me €60!), and when I arrived the sun was just barely peeking its head up. With hardly anyone walking about, at the hostel keepers suggestion I went down the street to a little bakery, where the staff had already been hard at works for hours. Now, from my previous adventures in Canada, my French only went as far as "Je vousdrais un café et un bagne" (I would like coffee and a donut), but I was also able to use some pretty intricate hand gestures to also get me some delicious fresh made baguettes! As French is used as one of the official languages of the UN and also MSF, I definitely plan to learn it in the near future, but for this short trip I managed to retrieve sustenance, which really is the the important thing. And so I watched the sun rise while eating the most delicious bread I had ever tasted, and I thought,"I'm in France."



   The first day was me gaining a feel of the city and figuring out how the metro worked. So, with my hostel excision map in hand, I started exploring! But not alone! One of the reasons I absolutely love hostels is the ability to meet new people wherever you go. Me and my new Austrailian friend Andrew met in the downstairs lobby of the hostel, neither really having plans for the day, so we set out to look about! We took the metro (which was very loud and had a bit of a scary atmosphere) to see the Arc Du Triomphe and explore the streets a bit. After about an hour it started raining, so we ducked back into a nearby metro entrance and decided to head back. 

   The Louvre. This museum is now my favorite in the entire world! (Closely seconded by the Uffizi Gallery) Right outside the Louve are a plethora of cosy cafés and the like, where you can grab breakfast, or just a snack with some coffee and read the days news! I highly reccommend this as you will not be seeing food again for several hours! We arrived at the ever iconic pyramid around 9am, and were pleasantly surprised that the entrance line was only about 30min long. As we drew closer and closer to the pyramid, both of us grew more and more excited! When we finally arrived at the entrance, we had our bags inspected and wheat through a security check (completely understandable), and descended some stairs to the ticket booth. For anyone traveling to any museum anywhere, I have two tips for you. First: bring a student ID if you have it! Major discounts! Second: spring the extra €5 for the audio guide! You will learn so much about the history of the artwork and it will enhance the experience tremendously! After retrieving our tickets,  Andrew and I spent about 7hrs meandering the halls of this marvelous collection of human ingenuity, and I still feel as though I haven't seen enough. We started in the sculptures exhibit…


   In all honesty, pictures of these immesivly beautiful figures cannot even begin to do them justice. To stand in front of one, gazing into the face, studying the expression, the contours of the body movement... One feels as if he is peering into the soul of the sculptor himself. Here's a morbid thought: What if all the figures encased in their stony confinement are actually victims of Medusa? Food for thought… As we continued our exploration, we happened to looked out a nearby window at the courtyard. We had gained entrance around 9:30am, and it was now around noon. The line had become at least 4km long, wrapping around the entire building! So for those of you planning a visit, make it early in the morning! In fact, I was unable to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower of visit the Catacombs due to the lines being so exceedingly long! Plan accordingly!




   We continued walking, admiring, and sitting back in reverie as we continued our exploration of the halls. Honestly, I had completely forgotten that the Mona Lisa was even in the Louvre until we happened upon a huge group in front of a very large, very empty white wall. I was thinking, "What on earth could they be gathering around to look at?" Upon further examination, I was able to make out a very small portrait hanging on the very large wall, and I thought, "Well I guess the rest of the wall is for his ego." It was a very big wall. After that we spent our time hopping from exhibit to exhibit, and finally wrapped up our stay around 5pm. Yes. We spent the whole day in the Louvre, and you will to if you have any sense about you! No really, plan for a whole day to be spent here. By the time we exited it was definitely time for dinner, considering our lack of lunch, so we hopped on the metro and made our way back to our hostel, stopping at an absolutly delicious pizzeria on the way. Just one word. Cheese. When we got back to our hostel we found a new group of friends already starting the nights festivities (hostel also doubled as a bar), and so I met many new friends (mostly Austrailian) and had wonderful conversation throughout the night! I promise, the best place to meet fellow travelers are hostels! (Couchsurfing also recommended)


 The next day was an effort to fit as much of the city into our day as possible! We had two more friends along with us, whic made it quadruple the fun! We started out at Notre Dame, which as expected had an extremely long line. But, even so, make sure you get in it! The line moves through very fast and you DO NOT want to miss this! The from of the building itself is a monolith, towering over you as if it's going to swallow the crowd whole. Needless to say, the interior was equally as exciting, with ceilings shooting up into the sky, and faint light filtering through the enormous stained glass windows! Absolutly make sure you go around to the back and have a look, for I believe that is truly the most beautiful part of the building! Plus, the bridge where you can lock you love away (literally) stand just to the right! Our next venture was to Sacre Coeur. The church itself was incredible, sitting on the very top of an a ending slope giving you the best view of the entire city. The dome within the church has a mural painted on the interior that will leave you standing slack jawed. One thing to be careful of here are the peddlers. 

  
  I almost got conned (as I'm this kid from small town Alabama who's ventured into new territory) by this one African man, and looking back I really want to hit myself for being foolish. So he comes up to me with this big smile on his face, takes my hand and starts tying a loop around my finger weaving a bracelet. I'm amused so I play along. He's taking to me with this really thick accent, asking me how I was liking the city, how my day was, just seeming like a really nice guy. I remember he kept saying, "Hakuna Matata", over and over again like it was every white persons dream to hear an African man quote The Lion King. He finished and tied the bracelet around my wrist, and when he asks for a donation, I was happy to give him a euro or two. When I pulled out the coin, he looks at me and says, "Do you have anything bigger, and I'll make change!" I thought he just wanted bills and not coins, so I pulled out a twenty and gave it to him expecting to get back €19. I get back €2. So here I am, visably upset as my faith in humanity has just been crushed, and I look at him with puppy dog eyes saying "That's all I have", so he reaches in and pulled out €3 more and says "Ten for the church" pointing at the Sacre Coure. Now my hurt over being duped turns to irritation and I keep on, starting to draw a crowd around me of fellow travelers who want to see the swindler, who's becoming visably nervous. His buddy comes up and says something quickly (presumably like, idiot! Your scaring away business!) so he hands back the twenty, I hand him a €1 coin and run off! I rejoined my friends, and they asked if I was alright, and I replied "Nope. My faith in humanity was crushed." But then, and elderly English gentleman and his wife come up to me and say, "I was about to step in, but you had it handled! Good job keeping on him!"  Faith in humanity restored. The moral of this story is when you go to europe, don't take anything at face value. 

 And so we continued on to the last part of our day, the Eiffel Tower. This is definitely a must see for anyone, but not necessarily a must climb! Just standing under it gives you a s feel for the brilliance of this structure. However, the line to climb is so long that you can't see the end! Yes, we made the mistake of coming during tourist season! Learn from us! So after taking in the soul of Paris, we decided to walk all the way back to our hostel, which took us over to the Arc De Triomphe, up to the Louve and onwards. I really do reccommend walking from the Arc to the Louve, or vice versa, because there are some gorgeous gardens in between! Though beware of French traffic when crossing the streets! Pedestrians are merely bumps in the road! 

   

   The last notable part of this journey was New Year's Eve! By this time we had a large group of friends at the hostel, and we all decided to go see the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight, and there was a rumor of fireworks! So, we go and buy bottles of champagne, board the metro, and join the throng of people making their way to the center of the city! Halfway there, it starts pouring! But un deterred, we buy some overpriced umbrellas from a street vendor and make our way to the tower. Good news is the tower lit up at midnight! Bad news, no fireworks. But it was still very enjoyable considering the company. Getting back to the hostel however was another challenge! As soon as the clock hit midnight, people started making a dash for the metro, soon packing it full like sardines. We spent probably another two hours making the ten minute trip back! But overall, still a memorable night! 

  The next day I boarded an overnight train headed to Venice, bidding the City of Lights adieu. 

Travelers List
What to pack? Those shoes were made for walkiin', and that's just what you'll do. ALL DAY LONG!
Money? They use the Euro, take enough for museum entrance fees and baguettes! Also take a student ID for discounted entrance fees!
What to take on a day out? Walking shoes, camera, and your hostel map of the city (make sure it also has a subway map!). No bags, and leave passport and valuables in locker at the hostel!
Danger? Bag theft common, beware of Gypsies and street performers, DO NOT go out alone at night! 
When to Go? Check on the net for NON tourist season! Very important if you want to climb the Eiffel Tower or visit the catacombs!
Must See? Plan a whole day for the Louvre! Also put Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur on your list!


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