Last August, after a rather stressful beginning to our summer, Edward and I were in great need of a holiday. We had our hearts and minds set on Paris.
We spent a few days shopping around and finally booked flights and a beautiful hotel in the heart of Montmartre. It all seemed so perfect: early trip down to London to catch our flight to Orly, a private cab ride from the airport to our hotel, and four sunny days to explore and photograph one of the most iconic cities in the world.
Edward has visited Paris several times before but it was the first time for me and my expectations were high. I’ve always loved all things French: the cuisine, the literature, the language… I spent most of my teenage years reading French classics and soaking in the grandeur of French history; I was utterly excited to visit the place where my favourite characters – fictional or not – had lived. I thought my love for the City of Lights would be instant.
That’s not exactly how it happened…
The first day of the trip was a series of misadventures. It started with a delayed flight; the plane had landed at the wrong airport the night before and needed to pick up passengers at the right airport before flying back to London for us… We finally arrived in Paris and, after a scary drive around the city, to our hotel. I was just checking us in when I felt a sharp pain on my right foot; it took me a few seconds to realise I had been stung by a bee. Inside the hotel lobby!
After making sure I was not going into anaphylactic shock anytime soon, we went upstairs to our room to freshen up. My foot was swollen and painful but it was nothing I couldn’t manage so we headed out to explore Montmartre.
We were sat near Sacré-Coeur eating fresh baguettes and admiring the view when a flock of young girls circled us, hands out and jabbering in a broken French. While I was trying to figure out what they were saying, one of them grabbed my bag; I was thankfully able to take it back before a passing Frenchman came to our rescue and dispersed them.
We were a bit shocked but determined to not let this ruin our first day in Paris. We finished our picnic and agreed to spend the afternoon in a much quieter place. Once we reached the subway station, we opted for a visit to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.
The cemetery was a good choice; it was calm and fresh with a slight autumn feel despite the sunny 30°C weather. We wandered around for a long time, snapping photos and admiring the graves. We looked for the famous ones – Chopin, Honoré de Balzac, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison especially – but with the park closing early, we lacked time.
We spent that first evening on Avenue des Champs-Élysées – the French equivalent of Oxford Street. I was in the mood to do a bit of shopping (I was desperate to find that French eau de toilette I wore when Edward and I met for the first time) and after walking nearly 25K, we were both keen for comfy chairs and some nice food. We finally decided on a small Italian café with a view on the Arc de Triomphe, where we refuelled on delicious pasta.
It was a lovely evening, especially after such a frantic day, but I was still not struck by the coup de foudre I was expecting…
I woke up on the second morning of our stay with a painfully throbbing foot. A cold shower, a bucket of ice and some paracetamol made it slightly better but wearing shoes was still torture. Nevermind, I soldiered on!
After a breakfast of fresh croissants, we headed for the Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower; Edward is not a fan of heights but I wanted to go up and he had promised to come with me. We were already through the security queue when we found out that the third floor was closed. The night before, the Tower and surrounding area had been evacuated on suspicion of a terrorist attack and everyone was still – understandably – on alert. We decided not to wait through a second queue and had a lovely walk around the Parc du Champ de Mars instead. We ended the afternoon with a visit to Notre-Dame de Paris and a walk by the Seine.
At night, we headed for the Louvre. It was one of the places I really wanted to see whilst in Paris… I have always been a French history nerd; I am mostly interested in the years between the reign of Louis XIII and the Revolution, and especially fascinated with Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette. The Louvre has been the theatre of so many historical events and it’s something you can almost feel when you stand nearby. We arrived from the back and crossed the Cour Carrée before stepping into the Cour Napoléon where the famous pyramids are. It was dusk and the declining light was reflecting on the glass and water, creating beautiful shadows on the walls of the palace. I think this was one of my favourite moments whilst in Paris; we truly enjoyed those few minutes of calm and quietness in an otherwise busy city.
The bee sting had provoked a systemic reaction and by the third day, it was in full effect. I felt nauseated, I had cramps, achy joints and was nursing a massive headache; all pleasant stuff when travelling! We decided for a lay-in that morning and left the hotel around noon for a late breakfast and a stop at the pharmacy. I felt a bit better after taking some painkillers and antihistamines, and we headed once again for the Champs-Élysées. If we couldn’t go up the Eiffel Tower, we could at least climb the 284 steps up the Arc de Triomphe! This was actually another of my ‘coup de coeur’ from the trip. The platform at the top of the arch offers a stunning panoramic view of Paris; it was beautiful on a sunny afternoon but I would love to visit again at night.
Edward convinced me that we couldn’t visit Paris and not bring back some macarons so we made our way to the Ladurée outlet near the Pont des Arts. Unfortunately for us, it was closed for the summer. We thought we would have to fly back to England ‘macaron-less’ but we stumbled upon a little chocolaterie selling the treats and bought a box to bring back home. We also stopped at a lovely bookstore where I found beautiful vintage-looking postcards to send to my dad and sister back in Canada.
After late afternoon snacks and drinks on the rooftop bar back at our hotel, we took the train to Montparnasse. The Tour Montparnasse boasts one of the best views on the city and I was very excited to photograph the Parisian skyline at dusk. Unfortunately, the whole thing was a bit of a let-down. The queue was not too bad so I hoped it would be quiet at the top… I was so wrong!
It was crowded with tourists and the stunning view was barely visible behind a forest of selfie sticks. We finally managed to find a tiny spot and took a few snaps of the city at dusk whilst being pushed by a couple next to us; they were seemingly annoyed at us for shooting with our ‘big cameras’ but they had been filming the scene for at least 45 minutes (according to their camera live-view screen)… Can you hear my eyes rolling!?
By then I was annoyed, tired, anxious and my foot was killing me so we decided to call it quit and go hunting for food. We found a charming burger place just across the street from the tower and sat down for a delicious and much-needed meal. It was a lovely way to end the day and after a last stop at the Louvre, we headed back to our hotel.
Our return flight was in the early evening so our last day was almost a full one. By that time my foot had taken a life of its own and I was fearing an infection, so we kept our itinerary short and simple.
We first headed to our ‘habitual’ breakfast place only to find out it was closed. We found another café and after a some long minutes trying to order in ‘franglish’, we finally got croissants and drinks to go and made our way to the Jardins du Luxembourg. It was another of my coup de coeur in Paris… The gardens were beautiful. We spent a couple of hours strolling around, discovering new exotic plants, visiting the beehives, observing chess players and admiring the miniature boats sailing on the pond. We truly had a lovely time, but I have to admit I was happy to go back to the hotel and chill on the rooftop one last time whilst waiting for our cab…
Unfortunately, the end of our trip was as chaotic as the beginning…
There had been a misunderstanding with the cab company on the pick-up time (and by that I mean that they never said when they would pick us up so we waited at the hotel for hours) and when our driver arrived, the hotel staff didn’t notify us. We nearly missed our transport and even after catching the driver as he was to leave, I had to argue with the dispatch for him to accept to take us even if we were ‘late’. We made it to the airport just in time to go through security and catch our flight.
The return to England wasn’t too smooth either. One of the joys of travelling with a non-EU passport is the epic queue on arrival… I waited for nearly two hours to get my passport and visa stamped. The only good thing to come out of this was that I became friends with the fellow Canadian/Québécois who was waiting next to me!
Needless to say, after walking 70K in three days, flying for two hours and waiting in line for two more, my foot had doubled size. It was also of a worryingly weird colour so our first stop after leaving the airport was the A&E. Thankfully there was no infection and I was sent home after a couple of hours with a prescription for antihistamines, a tube of hydrocortisone and a note from the doctor saying that I couldn’t work for a few days as I had to keep my foot up and in ice for a few days.
I’ve had better holidays!
I did fall in love with the City of Lights but I also got to see a side of it I wasn’t expecting. There are many migrants begging on the streets, and I am not saying that to complain. Back in Canada, I worked for many years with a marginalised clientele to reduce poverty and homelessness amongst immigrants and born-citizens alike. Canada welcomes refugees with open arms and it was a heartbreaking cultural shock for me to see how migrants were treated in France. I don’t want to expend too much on this because it is a sensitive subject and I am certainly not an expert on the matter; I was simply expecting something different from a country built on the principle of liberté, égalité, fraternité.
This was eight months ago. It was not a pleasant trip… Not only because of my misadventure with the bee and other little snags along the way, but because I am not sure how I feel about the city itself. I still desperately want to go back and hopefully, get a chance to do it right. Next time, I’ll be prepared – and I certainly won’t be travelling in August!