When I decided to meet some friends in Spain for a Climbing trip and saw that Charles de Gaulle airport was the most affordable entry point to Europe, I figured I would arrive a few days early, travel solo for my first two days, and take photos of my favorite city. Having only ever traveled with a boyfriend, friends or family, I forgot what a pain it was to have a bunch of heavy luggage. This inconvenience is exemplified by European public transport, which is primarily cement steps, long narrow hallways and tiny entrances in and out of each area. This information must have also slipped my mind when planning the trip because I arrived with four decent sized bags and a cumulative 100 pounds of weight, give or take a few pounds. Mind you I weigh 104 pounds.
My first day was overwhelming to put it lightly. I had written instructions to my Airbnb which seemed simple enough to follow, but I forgot the small fact of holding onto my metro ticket to exit the station or switch from train to metro, as I needed to do from the airport. I arrived at Gare du Nor ticketless, exhausted, and sweaty only to find that my credit cards would not work with their ticket machines because it does not require a pin, cash was not an option, and because everything was automated, I didn't even have anyone to help me. Exasperated, I left the train station and made my way outside into the snow and ice, in search of a cab. I didn’t care what the price was, I hadn’t eaten in 12 hours, I was exhausted, and I needed to drop my luggage and find some food.
Fortunately, the cab ride across most of Paris didn’t even cost me 11 euro and planted me safely outside the entrance to my temporary studio apartment. First thing first, I needed something to eat. Looking at my phone to see I didn’t have much charge left I also discovered there was no WiFi. My computer was dead; my phone was on the way to dead, I had no means of communicating with anyone and did I mention I had forgotten a plug adaptor? My inexpensive food run turned into 50 euros worth of an adaptor, SIM card, data and healthy snacks for Spain.
Back to the studio once again, I wanted more than anything to explore the city and felt a hint of guilt at my desire to nap, but I had barely slept on my red-eye flight, and I needed at least an hour to rest. I set the alarm and instantly passed out. Waking up around 3, I took a shower, dressed, packed up stuff for the day and night and hit the streets. I had planned to meet one of my best friend's cousins for dinner in the Marais, where he lived, at seven so I decided to explore until then.
Knowing my final destination would be the Marais, I was grateful that one of my favorite museums was the Centre de Georges Pompidou, located in the heart of Marais. Almost directly north of my flat, my feet first took me to one of two islands situated in the Seine where I caught the views of the Notre Dam under the early evening glow. The dense clouds which had blanketed the skies all day began to lift and the sun's rays peeked through bit by bit. I know if I quickened my pace I could make it to the top floor of the Pompidou just in time to catch the sunset over Paris.
In a city often stricken by clouds and rain all winter, I had never seen a winter sunset. With each escalator I ascended, the clouds lifted more, revealing a hazy orange sky and thousands of snow-covered rooftops. I felt as if I was transported back in time to a chiaroscuro painting with the extreme shading of dark and light over the historic city.
For the next two hours I explored every level of the museum, loving the diversity and oddness of so many of the exhibits.
Although I had apparently met Austin in high school, I had no recollection, but we clicked immediately and didn’t stop talking for the next four hours. He had been cooped up working all day and had overeaten for lunch and was wondering if I wouldn’t mind a walk. For the next hour, we walked all over the city as he pointed out historic sights and told stories from the past. When it I was time to find food we had many options to choose from of course but ultimately settled for a crepe restaurant- that he had believed to be a seafood restaurant- but we stayed nonetheless. Eating outside in sub 30-degree temperatures under blankets and heat lamp, we sipped vin chaud and ate delicious crepes. The next stop was a speakeasy located within a taco shop. In the front of the building, it was bright, white and loud. The area was cramped, and everyone was snacking on tacos and chips while eating margaritas. Towards the kitchen, there was a faint trace of a door, which he opened to reveal a dimly lit stone cavern with lively music, many people, and a bar. He ordered us cocktails, and we made our way to a couch to drink them. By this point, I was utterly exhausted and ready to retreat to my flat. It was over 40 minutes of walking to my final destination but Paris at night alone is unforgettable.
The next morning, just as the weather had forecasted, I woke up to beautiful light snow falling in my favorite city. My primary objective was to get to the climbing gym, but I intended to walk the majority of the 8 + miles while bypassing some of my favorite spots and exploring new neighborhoods.
I arrived back at the house late that night, I had been gone all day and was utterly exhausted. It was quite the process of getting into the house, with a combo lock on the main entry and a different locking system on the main door, and I stepped up to the doorway with multiple bags, freezing and ready to get inside. Only, I couldn't find my key. My phone was almost dead, I had no way in the house, and with my final 1%, i made a desperate text to my ex-boyfriend to get on Airbnb and contact the hosts because he knew my passwords. With that text, my phone died, and I nearly prepared to sleep on the stoop outside my apartment. Frustrated at myself and my stupidity, I took everything out my bag onto the ground in the final effort. There, at the bottom of my bag, was the dang key. Idiot- I thought. I only hoped that my ex-boyfriend had not reached the hosts. I rushed inside, got on my computer and was happy to know that he had just asked a question of me and had not yet reached the hosts. Bedtime, at last, I collapsed in relief.
The next day was departure day, and I was determined not to pay the taxi fare and figure out the public transport system from my apartment, all the way to the airport. I had a crash pad, a massive rolling suitcase that weighed in at exactly 50 lbs, all my camera equipment, and a carry on bag. The funny thing is, the public transport in Paris is not handicap friendly, which essentially means it is not luggage friendly. Huffing, puffing and sweating, the Parisiens who passed me must have taken so much pity that people always stopped to carry my bags, help me open doors, or even give me directions. I was blown away by their friendly manner and willingness to help- I was assuming they would just stare and wonder why a girl with so much luggage cannot afford a taxi?
In any event, I had a LOVELY time in my favorite city, made a new friend, explored new parts of the town and was able to adjust to the time zone just in time for my second leg in Spain!