If you had told high school Mary that I would spend the Thanksgiving of my sophomore year of college in Paris, she would have laughed at you. And yet, one thing lead to another, and it somehow ended up happening. Even once I knew I was going to Spain, I was in no way sure that I would get to Paris. I knew it was an expensive city, so I didn’t get my hopes up. However, my friend Shannon’s family hosted some “friends of friends” in Chicago over the summer, and they live in Paris. Luckily, they were eager to return the favor. So we booked some cheap flights and we were going to Paris! I wasn’t even sure it was real until we had been there at least 24 hours. Sophie, the mother of the friends of Shannon’s, was incredibly generous and made what would have been an amazing weekend and absolutely unforgettable one. (She is also sweet, and funny, and the whole family was just fun to be with.) I will now attempt to give a run down of our long weekend in Paris- we got to do everything we wanted to do and more! As my mom told me, “You live a charmed life, kid.” And I know it! It’s still sinking in that we were actually there. For pictures, click here.
We arrived at the airport in Paris around 10:30 on Thursday night (there was no class on Friday), and Sophie and Jean-Loup were there to meet us. We got to take a taxi back to the apartment, which was a lot nicer than trying to navigate the bus situation our first five minutes in France! The apartment where we stayed was adorable. I was ready to move in. We could see the Eiffel Tower from the table and from our bedroom. It was magical. On Friday morning, after eating fresh eggs while staring at the Eiffel Tower, Shannon and I struck out on our own. The apartment was directly adjacent to a metro stop, so we quickly figured out how to navigate the Paris metro. That first morning, we initially went in the wrong direction for two stops, but that was an easy mistake to fix. After that, we used the metro to get everywhere without any mishap- and for a girl who grew up with absolutely zero public transportation, that is an achievement! Our first stop was the Musee d’Orsay, which was a beautiful art museum. We saw Van Gogh’s famous self portrait. The colors of the impressionists and neo-impressionists were particularly striking in person. After that, we headed to the gardens of the Louvre (we went inside the Louvre on a different day). They were beautiful, but I bet they are amazing in the summer and spring. Then we got some delicious baguette sandwiches before trekking across town to see the Sacre Coeur (which I very embarrassingly called the Sacre Bleu later that day). I didn’t know anything about this church other than it was big. And boy, was it. We went up a lot of stairs to get up to the building and the view was amazing. Inside, there was amazing art and architecture. At this point we were pretty tired, but decided to march onwards. We took the metro to the Luxembourg Gardens and enjoyed them briefly before they closed. Again, I’m sure this place is very different in the summer, but there is a definite ~mood~ of Parisian gardens in late November at dusk.
The way they close the park is by sending a group of police officers (maybe just security workers?) into the park, and then they split up before all blowing their whistles and pushing everybody out. As we were ushered out, we noticed a beautiful building right down the street, so we decided to check in out. It turns out it was the Pantheon, which we had been meaning to see anyway, so we stopped in. We saw the crypt of Marie and Pierre Curie, which was interesting. The walls inside the Pantheon are painted with the life of St. Genevieve and it was beautiful. After that, we took the metro home and were greeted with a home cooked meal. Get this- they don’t eat casein in this family, just like me! So I could eat everything they made and they helped me order the right things at restaurants. What are the odds!
So basically we saw all the non-major sites of Paris in a day. The next morning, we got up early to see the Catacombs. Shannon really wanted to see them, so we were excited. We got there before they opened and still waited over an hour to get in. It was about 40 degrees, so that was not ideal. I can’t imagine what the lines are like in the summer if they are like this during the “off” season. The Catacombs were definitely interesting, but I don’t think I would do the wait and buy the ticket to see it again. It sent Shannon into an existential crisis, but we got that under control after a few hours. At this point it was raining, but that was okay because we were off to the Louvre. We met up the family, which now included some cousins who were in Paris for the weekend, so we were 11 total. Luckily, Jean-Loup is an expert in Greek and Roman antiquities, so he took us on a little tour. The staff told him he needed a badge if he wanted to explain things, so we whispered. I had no concept of how big the Louvre is. I thought, “Yeah, it’s big. Like El Prado in Madrid.” But this place is the size of a city. I’m pretty sure the entirety of my home town could be in this building at once and no one would be touching each other. It was insane. The downstairs is literally like a city street. It is crazy! We actually weren’t planning on going to the Louvre because we heard that it was too huge to see anything, so don’t bother. But I disagree! The building itself is beautiful, so even if you don’t have much time and/or aren’t an art buff, it is definitely worth it. The Mona Lisa was small, crowded, and covered by glass, but it was still cool to see it! It is just impressive to be surrounded by that much art and history. After the Louvre, they told us they wanted to take us to a show, and they told us we would be able to understand it. They said it was a surprise, so we were pretty excited. They took us to the circus! The acts were incredible- we had a great time. After that, they took us to a fancy Parisian dinner. Any meal that starts with champagne is a good one, in my opinion. I had a sea bass with winter vegetables that was to die for. I was close to falling asleep in my plate at this point, as it had been a pretty long two days. I slept well that night!
The next day was a big one. It was finally supposed to clear up, so we were going to the Eiffel Tower!! We were going to be spending all day with the family. We started the day by going to a science center to see an Imax movie about Humpback Whales. That definitely was not something I thought I would be doing in Paris, but it was cool! Whales are my second favorite animal, so no complaints here. After that, we went to the tower. Just seeing it up close feels magical, even if you’re seeing it from a security line. We waited in a security line, then in a ticket line, then in two separate elevator lines to get up to the top. Luckily, it was beautiful (if very cold) out. The only bad part was waiting for the elevator to the summit while on the second story. The wind was brutal. Even with our coats, hats, and scarves it was bitterly cold. Our friends who were also in Paris this weekend said that the day before it was snowing at the top (melting before it hit the ground.) But wow was it worth it. I know it’s not a very original idea to be extremely impressed by the Eiffel Tower and its view, but there’s a reason it’s so popular. The view was absolutely breathtaking.
After warming up with some lunch (another baguette sandwich) in a cafe, we headed to the island where Notre Dame is. It was a very cute area, and we had some delicious ice cream which is apparently famous. I had a dark chocolate sorbet which was amazing, even though it was really too cold to have frozen desserts. We all toured Notre Dame together, and Shannon and I stayed for mass. It is a very impressive cathedral. It was one of the most beautiful masses I’ve been to since I’ve been here (maybe ever?). In Spain, masses tend to be short, with minimal or no music, very cut and dry. At Notre Dame they had four beautiful classically trained singers whose voices filled the enormous space effortlessly. The mass was packed and it was very powerful, even though I didn’t understand any of the French (obviously). Luckily they had handouts with the readings in English, so we could follow along. After mass, we headed back to the apartment and were treated to delivered Thai food. Asturias doesn’t have any food that isn’t Asturian food, so I have been deprived of my Pad Thai. It was so delicious!
The next day, Monday, was our last day in Paris. Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so we had the morning to catch a few last things. We went to see the Arc de Triomphe, but elected not to go up into it. Then we walked through an impressive commercial district on our way to see the Grand Palais. Again, it was impressive from the outside, but we decided not to go in. From there, we could see the golden dome of Les Invalides, so we decided to go investigate. In doing so, we crossed Pont Alexandre III, which was a nice surprise! It is a bridge adorned with tons of golden statues, and we took the opportunity to take some pictures, even though the wind coming off of the Seine was not terribly pleasant. After we had investigated Les Invalides, we took the metro to the Galleries of Lafayette, which is a huge shopping mall. Sophie had told us it was impressive, and it really was! It was 7 stories, and in the middle of the place there was a giant Christmas-tree-like cone of candy which rose to meet the glass ceiling. It felt like Oz or Wonderland, and I couldn’t afford anything in the whole place. The had a free VR rollercoaster “experience” set up for Christmas that we did, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to get our picture with French Santa. We ate lunch there (Asian food again), before heading back to the apartment to get our bags. Before we knew it, we were in a taxi to the airport with Sophie and Jean-Loup and we were on our way back to Spain. It was an amazing and action packed four days that went by in an instant. This trip literally could not have gone any better. It was a wonderful experience that I am so thankful to have had. I will always remember my Thanksgiving weekend in Paris, and the incredible sites, amazing people, and beautiful generosity I encountered there. I will be back once I learn French!
Although my time in Spain is drawing to close 😦 I still have a substantial amount of adventuring to do before I’m home for Christmas. Stay tuned!