“Eat Everything.”

I’ve been out travelling the world for the past three weeks.  As such, I’ve had zero time to keep up with my blog. It also means that it’s been so long since the first week in Ireland, that I’m less inspired to write about it right now. So, this means that my blog’s timeline will be all jumbled as I feel like writing about Paris first, which happened to be my last stop on my trip. It probably won’t mess with the story-telling too much (fingers crossed). Also: I’m going to try to pack in a lot of info in, but I’m still going to missing a lot of stuff. I apologize in advance if it seems disjointed.

When my sister announced on Facebook that she had booked her flight to Vienna to come visit me, my wise aunt offered this advice: “Eat everything.” I don’t know if I could ever sum up the European experience any better than that. And so, with that mindset, I took on Paris. (I encourage you to press ‘Play’ on your Amélie soundtrack now.) Allons-y!

For 60 Euros you can explore Paris Euro-Disney, hop on any ride that will twirl, spin, flip, delight, and terrify you. Or, for free, you can just drive around the Arc de Triomphe instead.

My experience in Paris started with the Illuminations Tour, our coach drove us around city as the sun set and the buildings lit up. We drove down the Champs D’Elysée (or the road of rubies and diamonds), past Napoleon’s tomb, the Louvre, and around and around and around the Arc de Triomphe. From our seats at the front of our coach, we had a full view of how horrifying driving there really is. First, there are no lanes. Second, there are no rules. Third, there is even less mercy. We were braced to our seats for every near miss with a taxi, squealed at every motorcyclist that cut dangerously between two cars, and stared agog at every suit clad gentleman calmly riding his bike through the twisted rodeo of automobiles.

Our final stop was the Eiffel Tower. As it glittered above me against the night sky, I was hit with a wave of realization: I’m in Europe. Mind you, there was a few more expletives involved. It was as if the past three months had been a dream that I’ve just been floating through. But it was here it finally hit me. I felt exactly how you should in Europe, full of vitality, possibilities, and excitement. The feeling was bubbling inside of me like a bottle of champagne, and I was ready to pop. I wanted to jump, dance, scream. Instead, I found myself clutching the railing of the elevator with sweaty palms, eyes fixated on the ever-retreating ground as I headed to the top of the Eiffel Tower to take photos of the Parisienne night. Once the vertigo subsided, I could have stayed up there forever looking out over the glowing city below me. Hollywood painted Paris for me in the most glamorous shades, and here it was staring me back in the face. I was in the City of Love, but completely in love with the city.

The next morning we had the option of joining a bike tour, and after how much I enjoyed the one in Innis Mor (sorry, time jumble. Basically, had a really great bike tour in Ireland.), I was all for it. Our Kiwi tour guide led us around the sites, taking “safe” routes around the city (and by safe, we mean just relatively speaking in comparison to the Arc). He taught us the importance of STREET DOMINATION (it had to be yelled), that essentially meant we had to ride in a swarm, presumably because it’d be harder for cars to pick us off like animals in the sahara (I half expected David Attenborough to begin narrating). We also learned the Palm of Power, which was just extending your palm to oncoming traffic to slow them down. Now, if that didn’t work, you were to wag your finger at them disapprovingly. Right. As I had experienced first hand the wrath of Paris drivers the night previous, I was less assured that this would really work. We did make it out alive, so I guess there’s something to be said for it.

We also went for a very brief tour of the high end French perfumery Fragonard. It was more like a sales pitch so we would buy all of their goods at the end. Unfortunately, the French tend toward floral scents, which more often than not make me gag (it took me several rounds through the entire perfume section of the Bay to find the non-florally perfume that I wear). Although, I apparently smell like flowers anyways, as I got stung twice while in Paris. The first time, it flew right down the top of my dress (which, in its defence, did have embroidered flowers on it). The second time, I was walking down the street, trying to look as chic and Parisienne as possible, when a bee flew headlong inside my shoe. I flailed wildly, throwing both my parcel and suitcase across the sidewalk. All in front of a packed cafe. So much for chic. But I swore a few times in French, hoping in vain to at least maintain my Parisienne air.

Everyone says the Parisiennes are rude, but with the exception of one hotel worker (who I will get to later), I only had the best experiences with them. It may have been because I was a) always in a group of pretty girls from my tour and b) speaking to them in French instead of just slow and loud English. Although, at times my French was a bit like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial: “You got your German in my French!” “No, you got your French in my German!” My “oú” (where) became “wo”, my “desolé” (sorry) became “entschuldigung“, and my “cinquante-six” (fifty six) became “sixundcinquante,” the last one being a REALLY an odd blend of German and French. It was like flipping through translation radios at the UN, and it even got confusing for me. Even still, it was just plain cool to be able to use my French to ask directions, to read signs, or to simply converse with a taxi driver. But mainly, I used it just to order food.

I’ve never really been one for museums. If you set two plates before me, one containing a French baguette and the other tickets to an amazing museum exhibition, I would ask through a full mouth, brushing crumbs from my lips, “…Can I eat the tickets, too?” Boo hiss! I know! How dare I go to Paris and not be first in line to elbow my way through an elderly asian tour group to get to the Mona Lisa?! Quite easily actually. I did end up seeing it, of course, but compared to the bottles of wine, crème brûlée, and escargot I consumed, it was far from the highlight of my trip. I guess my travel style is less about being cultured and more about being a part of the culture. I’d rather walk around the streets or find a cafe to sit, read, and drink a cafe allongée. I’d much rather eat the local cuisine, than wait in huge lines to walk around the 8 billionth church I’ve seen since I came to Europe. Especially given the beautiful weather we had in Paris, the last thing I wanted to do was be inside, pretending to understand a piece of Italian art. Maybe if I went with an art history major who could explain to me what it all meant, I’d be a lot more keen. However, my experience in the Louvre can be summed up as: baby Jesus, dying Jesus, Jesus and Mary combo, sometimes BOTH baby and dying Jesus, and the Mona Lisa.  Because I paid my dues and saw the Louvre, I figured it was high time for me to explore Paris the way I wanted to: shopping.

Our Paris tour was supposed to last only 3 days, but I decided that I would spend another two on my own. I booked one of the only hostels available at that time, but was wary from the very beginning as it wasn’t in the safest of areas. When I looked up the address it said, “Rue de crim’e” (which, if you ask me, is just a really conveniently placed apostrophe).  Two other Canadian girls who had joined the Paris extension part of our tour had a hotel room for the next two nights, so they invited me to save my time and money (and potentially my life), and I made a nest of blankets of their floor. On our last day all together, they decided to oblige my urge to shop, and after a delicious French lunch complete with two bottles of wine, we hit the streets.

Turns out Paris is expensive. Who knew! Despite the urge to throw budgeting to the wind just for the chance to have something from Paris, it always came down to that ring/skirt/shirt/dress or another bottle of wine. The latter always won. I only bought one souvenir from Paris, but in a completely myopic lapse, it’s liquid and I only have carry-on luggage. Well, its state could really be up for debate as I’d argue it was a solid, but debates don’t get you far with airport security. So, I decided to mail it to myself in Vienna, but surprise! All post offices are closed on Sundays and they don’t believe in drop boxes. I went to the hotel and asked them, in English, if they would be able to put it in the mail for me tomorrow. The man at the counter asked another who called me all kinds of French synonyms with idiots and saying that it was my problem, too bad so sad. I turned to him and said, “M’excusez, je suis canadienne, alors, je comprends tout que tu viens de dire.” (Excuse me, I’m Canadian, and so I can understand everything that you just said) He stopped short and his face changed to match his maroon uniform, but his position didn’t change. I was SOL. I was just going to have to hope there was some way I could mail it from the airport, seduce a security guard, or just hope for some stroke of luck.

Luck came in the form of a Slovakian girl. I was using Ryanair to fly around Europe (which at times isn’t even worth the low price). However, Ryanair only uses the cheapest airports to fly in and out of. Since they don’t land in Vienna, they fly instead in and out of Bratislava (a 70 minute bus ride away). To fly from Paris, I had to go to Paris Beauvais, which was also a 70 minute bus ride outside of the city. While I was waiting for the bus to take me to the airport, this girl approached me to ask where she could buy tickets for the bus. She told me she was headed to Bratislava and I said that I was, too, so she could just stick with me. After a brief chat we went our separate ways, that was, until we got to the airport. I was getting desperate with my bottle of liquid, so in a final Hail Mary, I approached her tentatively. “Are you….checking your bag?” I said, innocently. “Yes, I am,” she replied. “…Would you possibly…put this in your bag?” I blinked my doe eyes. “Sure.” NOW for one, I’m pretty sure that goes again Airport Safety 101, but my God, I could have hugged her until she died.

Speaking of airport safety, while we were lining up to check in at Beauvais, security suddenly appeared from nowhere, and began to quickly usher us outside and to the parking lot across the street. Without telling us what was going on, we watched them evacuate all the stores, and close metal blinds across the windows. We sat, murmuring nervously for 20 or 30 minutes, until we received the all clear to head back inside. Safe? I have no idea what happened, but perhaps that’s for the best. A few friends from exchange found themselves in Marrakesh last Thursday, the 28th. They’d eaten earlier that day at the restaurant where the bomb was set off and arrived back there just 15 minutes after it happened. Fortunately, they’re all okay. In comparison to that, a brief airport evacuation seems like nothing.

I’m definitely glad to be back in Vienna. I think I told “Well, in Vienna…” stories way more than was welcome over the past three weeks. However, the travel bug has definitely bitten and I’m already getting ready for Melissa to come as Italy awaits.

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About j.ball

I took all the thoughts rumtumbling in my head, and I put them in this blog.
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