Two days after I dropped Ryan at the airport, I woke up before the sun and got on a bus to…Paris!
It was a six hour ride, which was rather pleasant until the bus driver yelled at me to wake up from my nap so that a rather large man could sit next to me. Finally we got to Paris and I had two hours to kill until my next bus to Rennes, where my great friend Khali is studying this semester.
My first few minutes in Paris did not give me the best impression of the city. I got off and walked over to the metro station (lugging my suitcase along), where I was met by a long line. Since the Brussels Airport attack the week before, they were checking everyone’s bags before entering the station. The man checking the bags was very nice and patient, but then two men walked past the line (I don’t think they had realized what it was for) and the worker said “Hey! Come back here so I can check your bags!” (in French). One of the men FREAKED out yelling “YOU DO NOT SAY ‘HEY’ TO ME LIKE THAT!” (in English, weirdly). They got into a verbal fight and it started turning physical when people separated them, as they yelled “F*** YOU!” over and over again. Then an old French woman started yelling in French and it was all very chaotic. I felt really alone and scared because I was in a place I had NEVER been before, with not a strong command of the language, all alone.
I pushed through it, and got on the metro! It’s the little things…then I got off at a stop across the river from the Eiffel Tower, and tried to find it. After walking around for a while, I turned a corner and–BAM! There it was. It was one of the most surreal moments of my trip so far, and I’m not the kind of person who has romanticized Paris their whole life.
I walked around for a while longer (that dang suitcase rumbling along behind me), then went to another metro stop, which took me to my other bus station. Who would have thought that the metro would have taken so much time?! My other bus ride was really nice, full of beautiful scenes of the French countryside.
I got to Rennes after I’m not sure how long of a ride but it felt pretty long, then Khali picked me up at the bus station! I was so happy to see her, especially after my long day. She took me to her host mom’s apartment, where she has been staying during her time in France. The apartment was très chic, and her host mom, Ghislaine was so sweet and generous, she made us tea. Khali and I spent the night catching up, it was great.
Khali showed me all around Rennes the next day, it is a beautiful city (much more of a city than I was expecting) that has a quirky medieval feel to it! I loved it.
Ghislaine made us dinner that night, which was 3 or 4 courses despite it being just casual dinner between the three of us! Ghislaine speaks very limited English, so we only spoke in French. With a little help from Khali, we had full-on conversations about the Netherlands, what I’m studying, and traveling…IN FRENCH! It was so empowering and satisfying. I kept slipping up and using Dutch words though, it’s hard to keep multiple languages straight.
The next day, Thursday, was a really crazy day. Every Thursday recently, the French hold nationwide protests regarding labor laws (I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind it), shutting down public transportation and filling the streets with angry people. We got to the bus station that morning, and luckily my bus to Mont Saint-Michel was still running! I was so happy. I have been waiting years to go to that place, ever since I learned about it in my French class. Being there was yet another surreal moment, which filled me with happiness and contentment! On that trip, traveling alone was so refreshing and enjoyable. I walked around the small, crooked streets and around the abbey, everything was breathtaking.
After the bus ride back to Rennes (one hour) was when things started to get interesting. Khali was in class, so we made a meeting spot and time, to which I had to take the metro. I tried to get into the metro station, but there were again people searching bags, and a mob of people protesting (LA GREVE!) outside. They weren’t letting people into the metro unless they had tickets already, and I had to buy mine inside so after some arguing in French, I convinced the lady to let me in. The machines to get tickets were entirely in French with no English option (thank god they aren’t like that in the Netherlands), so I couldn’t understand how to buy a ticket. It turns out that you could only buy train tickets from those particular machines. Even though I had very little idea of bearings of the city of Rennes, I resolved to walk! This was an extremely trying test of trust in my sense of direction. It’s a good thing I didn’t inherit my mom’s sense of direction 😉
I was walking down the only road I was familiar with when I came upon the most people I have ever seen in one place. They were all yelling angrily and holding signs (once again, EVERYTHING WAS IN FRENCH which made it 10x scarier!). I kept to the side and pushed through them until I reached a row of police with riot shields. Unfortunately I didn’t know any other way to get to my meeting spot with Khali, so I had to turn around and go back through the protesters. When I was crossing through the middle of them to get to the other side of the road, they threw smoke bombs and all started screaming and running in the opposite direction of the police. For those of you who are directionally challenged that means RIGHT TOWARDS ME. I almost got trampled. It was definitely the scariest moment of my life up until this point. I thought I was going to die (this is not me exaggerating like I usually do).
I ran as far away from this as I could as soon as the smoke cleared up. I somehow made it to the meeting spot (20 minutes late) but Khali wasn’t there. I ran around to cafes trying to get wifi so I could get in touch with Khali, but none of them would work. I decided to go to the cafe that we had went to yesterday, and 15 minutes later, KHALI WALKED IN! I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see someone.
At this point, we had to hurry back to the apartment so I could get my suitcase, then run to the bus station to catch my bus back to Paris. Like I said before, public transportation was extremely limited due to the greve, so the bus to the apartment was running very infrequently. We walked the route of the bus to the apartment hoping we would catch one, and we did! We RAN and got my suitcase, said bye to Ghislaine, and then ran back to the bus stop, just to watch it race by. It was very disheartening. We waited at the bus stop hoping one would come before my bus to Paris left, and finally one came. It took much longer than usual to get there but we got to the station with 3 minutes to spare! YAY!
That night, I met my friend Kate from Clark at our AirBNB. It was quite a process physically getting into the apartment (I got there at 11 and we didn’t get in until 1 am), but we made it and I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well.
Friday morning we got up nice and early and left for a day of crossing off all of the very tourist-y things to do in Paris. We started the day off with Sainte-Chapelle, which had the most stunning stained glass I’ve ever seen-Khali described it best, it feels like the inside of a jewelry box. It can’t be captured on film!
The next stop was Notre Dame! I hate to say it, but since I’ve been in so many churches and cathedrals in Europe, they have all started to look the same on the inside, and Notre Dame is no exception. The only thing that really interested me was how old the building is–construction started in the year 1163! Being outside of the cathedral was nice because you could feel everyone’s excitement to be there. We also saw a movie being filmed!
We walked across Pont des Arts (the one with all the locks) and Kate and I signed our initials on one and locked one on, now we have to be friends forever 😉 we found out later that people selling locks at that bridge are notorious for pick-pocketing…luckily we did not experience that!
We walked over to the Louvre, which was super busy! We got in for free (shout out to being a resident of the EU) and headed straight for the Mona Lisa, then Venus de Milo. Another thing about traveling so much is that going into so many museums can be tiring and monotonous…so we did a brisk walk-through of the museum and saw a lot of things, but nothing too in-depth. It was perfect!
After our whirlwind museum tour, we got some sandwiches (the French know how to do sandwiches) and sat in the Jardin des Tuileries. It was incredibly peaceful and we even had a view of the Eiffel Tower!
We went over to the Musee de l’Orangerie, which is now my favorite museum. It was just big enough where it was do-able in 45 minutes to an hour, but contains so many powerful works and is an impressive collection. It has works by Monet (most notably 8 water lily paintings), Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir…all the big guys!
After this, we walked down the entire Champs Elysees. It was such a beautiful day out, and we got crepes so what could be a better afternoon in Paris?!
Kate and I went back to the apartment and made some dinner for Khali’s arrival–she had class Friday morning so she had to come a bit later, but she has been to Paris quite a few times now so we got all the typical stuff out of the way without her! We ate dinner on the balcony of our apartment and watched the sunset, with a view of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. It was breathtaking and perfect in every way! We ended the night with getting Creme Brulet (REAL CREME BRULET!) and a stroll by the Eiffel Tower.
Saturday was our day for the Palace of Versailles! Of course, this was the one day of my trip when the weather was bad-pretty rainy and very cold. We still had fun! Versailles is giant and learning the history of it through the audio guides was really fun.
On the train back, we got off at the Eiffel Tower and climbed to the middle section. We got some more crepes (CREPES ARE AMAZING OKAY?), ate by the Seine River and people watched. There was also a flea market going on next to us, so we walked through that before heading out when the rain got worse!
We cooked our own dinner again and ate on our balcony (what a hard life I have) then went to Sacre Coeur to watch the sunset. It was cloudy and rainy like I said, so the sunset wasn’t the best but the view was amazing. We saw the whole city light up as the sun went down. We also moseyed around Montmartre, which is a fantastic little place. Our night was complete with a performance on the metro home: a man with an accordion, and a woman singing songs with a microphone. It was so fun and we didn’t want to leave!
Sunday morning we leisurely got up and went to the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed to the top (surprisingly this was more of a workout than the Eiffel Tower), and of course, the view was horrible. JUST KIDDING IT WAS AMAZING, this was my favorite part of the trip! I loved it up there. We had fruit salads at a small cafe for lunch, then got macaroons at a famous place called Laudree and ate them at the Jardin des Tuileries!
The three of us went back to the apartment to pack up, said goodbye (until we are all back in the US, crazy!) and went our separate ways. It was such a fantastic trip and I could not have asked for better travel companions than these two!