I’m afraid to say that the very thought of Paris made me feel very much that: afraid. This was our first monolingual step into the continent and for me, a person who is totally language driven, it was a giant leap outside my comfort zone.
We stepped off the Eurostar into Gard du Nord and the biggest crush of people and unintelligible hub-bub I have ever encountered and I confess inside I was fighting the urge to turn tail and run. But this journey is all about personal growth (well, that’s what I told myself, anyway) so instead we went about sorting ourselves and quickly found the easiest way to do that was to ask someone. Yes, one of those scurrying (because in Paris, they walk FAST!) folk. Turns out they’re generally both awe-inspiringly good at speaking our language and heart-warmingly happy to screech to a halt and help.
We New Zealanders seem to have a thing against being tourists. Our travel stories tend to be about the time we tramped fifteen kilometres up a mountain and shared a meal with a local shepherd or escaped being mugged in an unsavoury corner of *insert large European city name here* by the skin of our teeth and our knowledge of the 1973 All Black squad. It took us a while to work out that we are tourists and there is no shame in that.
Once we’d grasped that, we then embraced the whole Hop-on, Hop-off bus deal as simply the best way to decode a city in under three days and haven’t looked back.
Our first introduction to the City of Light was via the top of the Hop On Hop Off bus, driven by the efferverscent but slightly-prone-to-roadrage Su-Su. The white-knuckle ride around the Arc d Triomphe would satisfy the staunchest of thrill-seekers, and what a view!
During dinner in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, we could see the whole La Ville-Lumière has been taken to another level by the street vendors. “Hello Bling Bling” they called as we passed, and we delightedly added that phrase (though none of their products – how many glow-in-the-dark Eiffel Towers does a girl need?!) to the Homestead vocabulary.
Of course, there are not negotiable points of interest
including the very symbol of the French capital.
The weather wasn’t always kind during our stay
but we didn’t let that slow us down.
Our feet ached as we tottered our way homewards each evening
having negotiated the metro, the buses, the cruise boats
and kilometres of Paris streets to regale Louis the barman, an Italian with the world tattooed on his bicep (“Are we on there?” one of us asked. “Of course,” he answered pointing in the vague direction of Central America. “Lift your arm!” he was directed, which he did to reveal that we had not been missed. “Oh, you’re Kiwis!” he grinned, “that explains everything!”), with our adventures.
Paris you are awesome:
From the beauty of Notre Dame to the squalor of the underground toilets not 100 metres from it’s doors;
the magnificent Seine with it’s breathtakingly ornate bridges to the family home – a plastic sheet, three or four crammed carrier bags, and a couple of duvets – tucked in a dark corner near one of them;
from the iconic landmarks to the multitude of people who curl up by them to sleep at night.
Paris is a total juxtaposition; beautiful and ugly, opulent and penurious, friendly and hostile. How fantastic that it makes no apologies for this; Paris is Paris – take it or leave it.
We took it, grabbing it with both hands.