Post starts with me landing in Paris
I know I am impractically imaginative sometimes, but this time I had outdone myself. My dreams about Paris involved me breaking into song right at the airport and greeting every random stranger with a chirpy “Bon Jour!”. If it sounds like a scene from ‘Beauty and the Beast’, it is probably because it is. I only claimed to be imaginative not original.
Anyway I landed at the Charles De Gaulle Airport (I still can’t pronounce these fancy french names without a phony accent and a half head shake!!) and my bubble burst. If any city can make you feel like a fashion nightmare in two minutes, it has got to be Paris. I had not even seen much Parisians yet and I was already caught looking at my own comfortable shoes and sweatshirt judging myself for not dressing up for the flight. It took me a whole fifteen minutes to get adjusted to being the odd one out and like any ordinary person in Pah-ree for the first time, I was impressed with everything – The lights, the flight announcements and the signboards and the advertisements. Everything’s sexy in French – isn’t it?
By the time I was out of the initial shock and my confidence was sufficiently restored, I was through immigration and struggling to find the baggage line for my flight. When I got all bags checked out and intact, the next tasks were to get some Euros and find a way to my hostel. The first part was easy. The ATM had the language option with around 10 options on the welcome screen. Money has no mother tongue after all. The second part was no smooth ride. A person as disoriented as myself, seriously what else was I expecting?
After 10 minutes with a lovely attendant at the Tourist helpdesk, I was confident of the connections I had to take and the transfers I had to make before I could get to my hostel. I had to take the RER (the line connecting the Airport to the city) to Gare du Nord and switch to Metro line 2 to Belleville (where my hostel was). Easy right? Well not so much. Getting to Gare du Nord was a breeze. The switch to the platform for the Metro line took me only 1.5 hours, lugging around my heavy trolley and backpack, around 20 times up and down the myriad of stairs and fifty elevator rides. When I actually got on the train to Belleville, I left behind seven very helpful strangers and two very pissed information desk agents.
Around 11.00 in the morning, I came out of the train tunnels of Paris and into the light of the city super excited and into crossroad. My hostel was 500m away and at that moment I was way too excited about the idea of a bed to fall into. Unfortunately, my mobile battery warning came to bite me and with no Google maps I was no better than a blind rat in figuring out the road to take. My options were to try calling the hostel, get into a cafe and charge my phone or ask a random stranger. Before I could decide, there was a very nice guy who realized I was lost and taught me the building number and street sign reading techniques (Should have been obvious from the start. But the best piece of advice, I tell ya). Armed with new skills I noisily dragged my bags through the cobbled streets and finally reached my hostel. A comfortable bed was so close. So close, till the very friendly receptionist reminded me that check-in was only from 1 ‘o clock and the bed was still being cleaned. Damn!
Sleep out of the question temporarily, I kept my bags in a locker at the reception, washed up and decided to focus on my next need. Food. Preferably Yummy. After five minutes of unsuccessfully trying to find a good place to eat, I gave up and decided to eat at the next place that served food. That place turned out to be a Lebanese Pasta place two doors near my hostel. Are you going “Whaaa” at the Lebanese pasta? I was too. But there was some form of green chilli salad/starter followed by beef Pasta that looked like fun loops more than pasta. The first bite was awful but after three spoons I was addicted and after 15 minutes I was still scraping the last shred of sauce from the bowl.
Even after the restaurant hunt and a long satisfying lunch, it was still only 12 o’ clock and now refreshed by the hearty meal, I decided to go collect my Paris Pass (which I had ordered online and was to collect at some place within the city). Took the metro this time with relative ease to the Pyramides station and got off onto a spectacular road. All buildings, with the ornate railings and the tall wooden doors with heavy door knockers , looked so out of place in this century. After two wrong turns, I landed in the right spot and collected my Pass and roamed the streets.
Since it was still early in the day (around 3.30) , I decided to do one touristy spot close by before closing for the day. The Palais Garnier, an opera house from the Napoleon era, with its majestic rotunda and just at the end of the street fit the bill perfectly. I reached the building and got my Pass scanned and learned that the next walking tour would start in 30 minutes and I was to wait in the big brown room (or something like that) where the guide would meet us. So wait I did – part sleeping, part grooming, part people-watching and mostly bored. At the end of the wait, the guide came to pick us up on the tour and the guy was awesome and the wait was totally worth it.
The main stage of the opera was okay. Maybe slightly better than okay. The entrance, the stairs and the viewing balconies though! Unbelievably beautiful and when the guide gave us a picture of the opera house as it was used then, we understood why – People don’t come to see an opera, they come to be seen. Super impressed I started to leave the building swearing to buy an awesome souvenir at the gift shop downstairs. But after checking a couple of price tags, I realized that I could be in Paris all I want but I can be nothing but Indian. An Indian on a budget too. I decided that my memories will be my souvenirs and if I one day lose my memories this blog post will have to be it instead.
The jet lag and lack of sleep was finally catching up and I got back to the hostel around 6 in the evening. I lay down planning to get up in an hour or two for dinner. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning the next day. Plans just don’t work and sometimes that just ends up being perfect.