France

November 2009 

France is a country I’ve always wanted to visit but never made a real effort to get there until now. While in Italy visiting a friend, I happened to come across the RyanAir website and found flights from Milan to Paris for about $8Euro which at the time was about $15US. Without a second thought I bought the tickets and told my friend I was going to “hop over to Paris for a few days”. She laughed and said I was the only person she knew who would fly all the way to Italy by myself and then decide halfway through to “hop over to Paris” for a few days to check it out.

This was my first solo international adventure and I wanted to take advantage of my time overseas, seeing and experiencing as much as I possibly could. I also couldn’t turn down the $15 plane ticket to be able to see Paris, even if only for about 48 hours. My friend Cecilia dropped me off at the airport in Milan and I waited to board my flight to Paris. I met a very nice young man who was sitting next to me, who wasn’t too difficult to look at either, but didn’t speak a lick of English. Instead he spoke to me in Italian, I spoke to him in English and we somehow met in the middle with my very limited knowledge of the Spanish language. He was traveling to Paris with his dad and we enjoyed the company for the quick flight. Upon landing, I took a bus from the airport into the city of Paris which took about 45 minute. Around the 40 minute mark we turned this corner and directly to our right was my very first glimpse of the incredible Eiffel Tower. It literally took my breath away. Seeing this magnificent structure on TV, in movies and in magazines in no way had prepared me for seeing it in real life, now directly in front of me. I ooh’d and ahh’d (probably not so silently) and sat anxiously in my seat to await the next stop so I could get off the bus and go explore. The bus finally stopped at a metro station and I hopped off and found my way via metro to the stop for the Eiffel Tower using the 4 French words I knew to ask for help when needed and the signage on the train.

Stepping off the metro, walking up the steps and around the corner was surreal. To be greeted face to face by this massive structure is a feeling and memory I’ll never forget. Since it was only myself and my backpack, I took a deep breath and followed the crowd of people moving towards the base where you can buy tickets for the elevator ride up. It was a bit drizzly outside and quite cold so there weren’t very many people waiting in line (thankfully) so I ended up waiting about 30 minutes before waiting another few minutes for my turn in the elevator. I heard a few of the people near me talking about how they should have just “walked up” and I assumed they were joking until a little while later when I saw people really were able to walk up the first few levels of the Tower to the lower viewing deck. If my memory serves me right, there are three main viewing areas from the Tower. I was able to visit the first two but the third was closed due to high winds that day. I was actually ok with this, because the view from the second platform was a large enough dose of ‘heights’ for me for one day. I’m not a huge fan of high places, but I will say the views from up there are exquisite. You can see Paris in all it’s glory: and she is a beautiful city.

After a few hours of wandering around, taking photos and buying souvenirs in the gift shop, I took the elevator back down and found my way back to the metro. I had printed instructions of how to get there before I left Milan so felt confident on the train I knew where I was going. That confidence was quickly depleted as my train flew past its intended stop due to construction on the line. I quietly freaked out to myself while getting off at the next available stop. With my hostel address in hand, I did my best to walk underneath the train line and follow it back to the stop I was supposed to get off at. When it no longer became possible for me to do that, I freaked out a little more and this time a little more loudly. The four words of French I know unfortunately didn’t include, “How do I get to my hostel from here?” and when attempting to ask for help in English didn’t go over well either, I just kept walking. It took me about an hour but I eventually found my way to the Peace & Love hostel which came highly recommended to me by my brother who had stayed there a few years earlier.

I checked in and began my climb to the top floor since they don’t have an elevator. I introduced myself to the other travelers in the room and settled into my bunk for the evening. The next morning I woke up early and caught a train back towards the city center so I could walk along the Champs Elysees, eat some amazing (vegan) French food and see the sights. I splurged on the $80 hop on/hop off bus tour of the city and was not disappointed as it took me to Notre Dame, Napoleon’s tomb, Palais Garnier which is the gorgeous gold opera house, The Arc de Triomphe, Musee Rodin which houses ‘The Thinker’ statue and a handful of other iconic Parisian landmarks. It started to rain in the early afternoon so I invested another $5 in a cheap plastic poncho and toughed it out. (Growing up in the Pacific Northwest you learn to not let a little rain stop you.) I treated myself to lunch at one of the many restaurants along Champs Elysees and sat drinking coke from a glass bottle while people watching for a couple of hours before it started to get dark and I needed to find my way back to my hostel. It took a little while but I managed to find my way back and was delighted to see it all lit up, illuminating the Seine River which flows nearby.

The next day I spent walking around the few places I didn’t get to the day before, finding a café which sold vegan croissants and proper espresso. I indulged in both before catching the bus back to the airport. It was here I learned our flight had been delayed 3 hours and it was also here I realized I had no idea how to communicate this with my friend in Milan who was going to be picking me up. I sat down next to a young Italian guy my age also stuck at the airport and in my best Spanish/Italian asked if he had a cell phone I could borrow to call Cecilia and alert her about the flight. My first few attempts didn’t go through, but eventually I was able to get ahold of her and by the time we landed in Milan I was very happy to see her.

I loved my 48 hour solo adventure through Paris and can’t wait to get back here someday to do more exploring.