Well, today was our final day of sightseeing before we make the long trip back home tomorrow. We have a full day of flight tomorrow, and are due to arrive back in Huntsville around 9pm if everything goes perfectly. We are both very ready to be back home, but have had quite the journey the last 12 days. Today we travelled to Paris, and while it was a good experience, and one I am thankful I have, it was also somewhat off putting. I’ll tell you about it!
Our boat docked in Le Havre this morning, and the fog was so dense I could barely see the dock below. We rallied with the others in our tour group, and made our way to the coach around 8:30am. We opted for the “Paris on your own” tour, which was basically nothing more than an escorted coach bus into Paris and back (there was a guide, but she was only there to hand off a map and some basic instructions on how not to miss the return bus). Paris is between 2.5-3 hours from Le Havre, so much of the day was spent just getting there and back. We arrived at about noon local time, were handed our map, and then turned loose and told to be back by 5:30 or they would leave without us. We had around 4.5 hours of “free time” which in Paris, is not very much.
We were let out about .5 miles from the Eiffel Tower, but Rob and I wanted lunch first so the first thing we did was quickly find a place on google maps that had good reviews that was near to our drop off location. Rob settled on a bistro that was moderately priced and supposed to be a very typical Parisian restaurant for lunch (aka not a tourist spot). So off we went!
When we arrived, it was the peak of the working lunch hour and this place was located on a moderately busy street with a mustached maitre ‘d quickly shuffling tables and ordering his wait staff around. Business men and women were sitting outside smoking over a bottle of wine and we were walked to the very back of the restaurant when we were able to tell him we had no reservation. I’d like to think Rob and I do a fairly good job of blending in wherever we go, and keep a pretty low profile and don’t walk around reeking of tourist. And we chase after authentic experience and cuisine when we visit new places, however, I felt immediately as though everyone in that place knew exactly what we were when we walked in. If my back pack and neon nike metcons didn’t give it away, the terrified face I was wearing probably did. See, up until this point, we haven’t really had to deal with a language barrier. But here, in Paris, there is thick beautiful french, and french only. We were sat at a tiny table amongst a pretty crowded back room, and the first thing that catches my attention is a well-to-do looking woman sitting in a booth with her miniature Pomeranian in her over-sized purse. I laughed at how vivid a stereotype I had envisioned and how accurately that very vision had been delivered in the flesh before me. She looked down her nose at the menu, her dog, and us I’m sure.
The waiter came by, and could only speak a tiny bit of english. He understood that we wanted water, and brought it and then promptly left us with our menus, probably hating his misfortune of having Americans at his busy lunch hour. I was relieved to disappear from his attention for awhile though, so I could fret over trying to read the entirely french menu. I glanced up at Rob in panic, and he simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders at me. Men can be so calm!
Thankfully, google translate helped us figure out how to order a steak and some french fries. I had a brief harrowing moment when I ordered steak tartare and then googled it after the waiter had left. To my horror, I learned that dish is made of raw beef (or sometimes horse meat!) often served with a raw egg on top. Luckily, I was able to correct the order before it was too late. The waiter’s disappointment grew, as did my anxiety. Rob just calmly ate the table bread and looked amused at his choice in lunch spots.
Eventually our lunch came, and relief washed over me when it was simply a steak and french fries. I tried my best to take one picture of it without attracting the attention of those dining around us. We were probably the youngest in the place by 15 years, and quite obviously misplaced with our casual dress and english tongues. We also did not order any wine, which was also a red flag I’m sure. I noticed though, wine was available only by the bottle. Every table had a bottle and this was a Tuesday at 12:30.It was a good lunch, not sure what cuts the steak were, but they were prepared fairly well. We opted for no dessert or coffee,so we paid our tab and left (it was around 50.00 USD for what you see in the picture). We were about a 10 minutes walk from the Eiffel Tower, so that’s the direction we went.
It was incredible to see this in person, it really was. It towers above everything, and the closer you get to it, the more it disappears into the clouds. The fog had lifted somewhat from the early morning, but the day was thick with clouds and no sun peaked through. However, the magic of this monument is short lived, because when you finally walk up to it, it’s a wasteland around the base. We were warned about gypsies and pick-pockets and immediately upon entering the perimeter of the park, we were approached. It’s easy to spot them, and you can simply divert your attention and eye contact and walk away, but it requires constant awareness in every direction. When you approach the tower, it’s a sea of people both entering the main area where you can purchase tickets to go up in it, and outside in the park taking pictures and milling around. What caught my attention was the fact that this area is not paved. It’s all dirt with little grass or gravel, and it had recently rained so puddles of mud were everywhere. In addition to this, there was trash everywhere and very large crows wandering about looking for food. Some of them were big and beautiful, but some were very obviously sick, and it made me sad to see them. Along with other tourists, there were several people not native to France walking around attempting to sell trinkets. We couldn’t even stand still in one spot for very long without them approaching directly and trying to hustle you. Between those folks, and keeping your eye out for people trying to steal things off of you behind your back, it was quite honestly, an unnerving place to be. I hate to be so brutally honest about my experience in such a negative way, but it was nothing at all like I had envisioned. We only stayed about 15 minutes (in that time we were approached 6 or 7 times) and then we moved on.After the Eiffel Tower, we needed some cheering up, so we looked up a well reviewed local coffee and cake shop that wasn’t too far away. This place was exactly what we needed! A very friendly spot called Kozy Paris, with free wifi and a cheerful barista who spoke some english. Most everyone in the shop were students who appeared to be studying or socializing, so the atmosphere was something we meshed with easily. She helped us feel comfortable and welcome; I ordered a flat white (the pretty drink with the leaf in it) and Rob a cappuccino and we got a chocolate croissant to split. It was all great and it was nice to sit and relax and figure out our next move. Rob took some bites of the pastry before I could get a decent picture!
After our pleasant rest stop we had enough time to see one more main thing before needing to head back to our meeting point. The Louvre was closed (they are closed on Tuesdays, imagine that!) so we decided on the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Paris is a huge place and it’s not as easy to walk to and from different places because nothing is in a straight line and the traffic (both car and foot) is awful. Notre Dame was about 2 miles from the coffee shop, which doesn’t sound like much but likely would have taken about an hour by foot. So we called an uber and we were there in under 20 minutes. The uber drivers are very nice here, and all dress up in suit and tie. They try very hard to converse in english and also try to offer whatever radio station we want. In both uber trips, we listened to cool french rap.
This cathedral was really beautiful- I wanted to go inside but the line was really long and we didn’t have that kind of time. But they offered a gated garden walk around area so we strolled through that and walked all the way around it. I don’t know why the Eiffel Tower grounds weren’t done the same way (paved and adorned with pretty flower beds). P.S, in Paris, it’s very common to see couples making out everywhere. Standing up, laying on a blanket in some grass, on a park bench. Lots and lots of kissing everywhere; so there’s that.
Outside of the cathedral there were several souvenir shops and pop up crepe stands, so we grabbed a snack (Rob’s crepe had nutella in it).We ubered back to our bus stop and then made the 2.5 hour drive back to the ship, and so concluded our few hours in Paris. I must be brutally honest, but I did not enjoy this city very much. Perhaps we we didn’t give it a fair shot because we only spent a few rushed hours there, but Paris made me feel lonely and lost. Between worrying about being robbed by anyone that walked by, and feeling helpless to communicate positively with most people there, it was a frustrating experience. It’s a huge city, and I think Rob and I really discovered on this trip that we most prefer the quiet, serene places where we can absorb everything at an easier pace, and where the beauty is in the land, and not necessarily the buildings. We also discovered that we are not cruise people! I had taken one about 15 years ago in high school but he had never been on a cruise ship before. I am thankful this was a short three day one because we found we didn’t really enjoy that type of travel. It does offer some convenience, yes, but we constantly felt like cattle being herded around, and people just tend to act ridiculous during a cruise experience. It will also be a miracle if neither one of us develop an upper respiratory infection in the next 7-10 days because 4,500 people coughed at or near us within the last three days. 🙂
In closing, I’ve affirmed a hunch I always felt I had. Travel is special, but do not feel guilty if you cannot see the world in all the ways you may want to, or feel pressured to. What travel means to me now, is the chance to get away and appreciate somewhere else for just awhile, but mostly be reminded of all that you truly have back home, and how much it means to you. We have 18 hours of straight travel to get through today before we see our beds and our furry critters, and I am counting down each one with hopeful excitement. I will treasure all of the memories I made with Rob, but am eager to get back to the treasures at home.