How to get lost in Paris

Despite my difficulties navigating the gigantic urban sprawl that is Paris a couple weeks ago, I’m glad I visited. Growing up in North Texas and even studying abroad in Sevilla, I haven’t been to a big city since I was eight and living in Chicago.

Both the size and grandeur of Paris amazed and delighted me. I felt transported back in time as I walked the streets and passed the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sacre Coeur. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to live there and see such sights every day on the commute to work.

(Pro tip: Buy a metro pass as soon as you get to Paris. Buying tickets every time you want to take the metro is a huge pain, and it’s cheaper to buy three or five days’ worth.)

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My friend Kathleen and I stayed in a quaint little hotel called Hotel de la Mare, where the cheerful owner brought us a basket of croissants every morning for breakfast. Even though the hotel was about a 15-minute walk uphill from the nearest metro stop (Ménilmontant), it was both affordable and comfortable.

Our first stop on our tour of Paris was the Sacre Coeur, a white domed cathedral on the top of a hill overlooking the Montmartre neighborhood. From the top, we had a view of the Paris skyline. A man was selling roasted, glazed nuts at the top, and they were delicious. I also found a purple beret at a souvenir shop nearby, for only 4. Go Frogs!

(P.S. Nutella crepes are delicious.)

Our next stop, the Eiffel Tower, was much bigger than I expected. It looks small from far away, but up close the giant iron structure looms over the Seine. I’ll upload photos once my friend uploads them from her camera, since my GoPro died as soon as we got there. Since we’re both afraid of heights and the line for going to the top was insane, we opted out. (Pro tip: buy tickets in advance.)

Nearby, we found a bridge with several locks attached. Thinking it was the famous “Bridge of Sighs,” we bought locks for 3 each and locked them onto the bridge. I wrote my name and my boyfriend’s on mine, and Kathleen wrote “Me, myself, and I,” which cracked us both up. Apparently, though, many bridges on the Seine have locks attached to them, and only one is the original Bridge of Sighs.

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Locks of love!

Luckily, we soon located the real bridge, Pont Alexandre III, across from the Louvre. Since we had kept the keys, we were able to detach our locks and move them to the correct bridge. (There was almost no room, though, since someone had boarded up the sides of the bridge because it was so full of locks.) We heard a rumor that some poor guy has to go in and cut off all the locks every once a while, because their weight causes too much strain on the bridge. It’s insane.

I don’t have any of my own photos from Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe, partly because Kathleen and I couldn’t figure out how to cross the gigantic roundabout street to get to the enormous monument. Like the Eiffel Tower, it was also way bigger than I imagined.

Note the impossibly wide street that encircles the whole monument. We walked all the way around it in an attempt to find a crosswalk. (Hint: There were none.)

Finally, we realized that all that walking had been for nothing. The entrance is close to the nearest metro stop (Charles de Gaulle), and you have to descend some stairs that look awfully like another metro station. Then you walk down a long hallway to find the ticket area. Unfortunately, it was the weekend so we couldn’t even see the end of the line. We decided seeing the Arc up close wasn’t worth the wait.

Then, because Kathleen and I are both art lovers, we had to visit the Louvre. Due to the museum’s size (with 70,000 artworks spread across more than 650,000 square feet of gallery space), we probably only saw a third of the artworks. However, we did see the Mona Lisa, “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix, and the Nike of Samothrace (one of my favorite sculptures). I apologize for the blurriness of my Mona Lisa selfie, since there were about fifty people swarming the painting and it was difficult to get close.

After the Louvre, we stumbled upon a nearby cathedral called Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the neighborhood where Kathleen’s mom lived when she studied abroad in Paris in college. The church was a bit dark, but the inside was nevertheless beautiful. It’s supposed to house the tomb of the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, but we didn’t end up seeing it anywhere.

Then came Notre Dame. I was excited to see the cathedral that first entered my imagination after Disney’s adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but unfortunately we spotted neither Esmeralda nor Quasimodo. Kathleen and I took pictures with her purple TCU flag (again, photos to come), even though the wind made it necessary for two kindhearted ladies to help us out by offering to hold the corners. I was a little disappointed that the inside was about the same as any other cathedral I’ve visited, but the outside was gorgeous.

Even though it took us two tries (it closes early), next we toured the Musée d’Orsay, which is a converted train station that houses a lot of Impressionist paintings. The building itself was awesome–the giant clock was my favorite part–and I loved getting to see some Van Goghs and Monets. And like all the museums we visited in Paris, it was completely free!

For our last big landmark, we took a train to Versailles. After waiting in a seemingly endless line that looped around several times, we made it inside. Like the Musée d’Orsay, it was free for students. The impossible grandeur of the former royal château helped me understand some of the righteous anger behind the French Revolution. Walking through Marie Antoinette‘s bedroom was both sad and surreal.

I’m sure the Versailles gardens are more beautiful in the summer, but even in winter they were pretty amazing. Although fair warning: It’s a bad idea to walk through the gardens in an attempt to leave Versailles, because they go on forever and you will get lost and have to ask a French person for directions.

On our last day in Paris, we strolled down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which had some of the most expensive stores I’ve ever seen. Kathleen had a painfully awkward experience with a French shop owner who called her beautiful and asked her why she didn’t have a boyfriend (later revealing that he was married, like that would make it better).

But once we escaped, we drowned our sorrows with coffee and gigantic macaroons. I’d never tried a macaroon before, but the strawberry and chocolate ones I tried were wonderful. I probably couldn’t eat them on a regular basis, though, because they’re a little too sweet even for me. We finally fulfilled the hypothetical advice of that one girl back home: “You’re gonna wanna buy that macaroon.”

And we did.

Then it was back to Spain and lovely, familiar Sevilla. The strange thing about arriving back in my host city is how much like “home” it felt. I don’t feel like I’m living in a strange country anymore; Sevilla now feels as much like home as TCU does. (To be fair, I have been here for about two months now.)

As soon as Kathleen and I heard people speaking Spanish, we sighed in relief. Navigating Paris without knowing more than “bonjour” and “merci” was tough, and it was nice to be back in a country where we could depend on our language skills if we got lost. Plus, Sevilla is just so friendly, it’s way cheaper than Paris (since it’s the NYC of France), and the climate is definitely warmer than in France.

I’d definitely visit Paris again, but not without a guide who’s fluent in French.

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