In the United States people often have getaway weekends when they treat themselves to several days of no work and complete escape from the daily hum-drum of life. At home a getaway weekend would often consist of a trip to the beach to soak up some sunshine and embrace the laid back spirit of Santa Cruz people. While I absolutely love the beach it can’t compete with a getaway to Paris.
This weekend three friends and I took a trip to Paris for less than 48 hours. While that may seem absolutely ridiculous to go to a different country and especially to a city so grand as Paris for such a short period of time, Paris is only about two hours by plane from Seville.
We flew Ryan Air, a budget European airline, for the first time to get to Paris. We were all a bit nervous about the experience since there are such strict regulations and we’ve heard bad experiences from others. Your carry-on bag dimensions have to be exactly what they state and less than 10kg. When you go through security, everyone has to drop his or her bag into a baggage slot to make sure it fits the requirements. Unlike other airlines you can only have one carry-on bag so your purse, laptop bag and any other bags you might be carrying have to fit within the designated dimensions and weight limit. Since we had done so much research we were well prepared for those regulations. Another thing is that you don’t have a seat assignment or even the security of definitely having a seat on the plane unless you want to pay an extra ten Euros. Instead of paying the extra we stood in a line which operated on a first come first served basis, much like the way the seat assignment works on the plane. After having our boarding passes scanned for the first time, we waited in a passageway and then continued to outside. Droplets of rain fell from the sky, forming a huge lake right where the line was. Picture this: an American girl standing on the base that holds the handrail into the ground, balancing as best as she can yet trying to keep her butt away from the handrail because that is wet too. That was me!
We arrived in the city of Paris after a bus ride from the Beauvais airport, about an hour bus ride. Since my friends and I are very organized people, we had a plan set out already to visit the Arc de Triomphe immediately after arriving since it is located close to where the bus dropped us. With our directions printed out, we followed the street signs directing us to the Arc de Triomphe. We didn’t print out a map of the entire city of Paris since we thought it would be much easier to just find a tourist map once we arrived. Mapless but with directions of French streets, we searched for the Arc de Triomphe. Once the street came to an end, we knew that we had either missed our destination or we had directions to the wrong place. It turns out there is a hotel called “Hilton Arc de Triomphe” that Google gave me directions to when I merely typed in “Arc de Triomphe.” Lesson learned: always check that the addresses match up to what they should be and don’t assume that Google Maps knows everything.
Despite not finding the Arc de Triomphe, we stopped at an adorable French restaurant for lunch. The waitresses there didn’t really speak English but nonetheless our waitress tried to describe certain things to us since none of us spoke French. Of all of us I spoke the most thanks to my third through sixth grade French classes in which I remember random words such as chat, chien, parles voiz aignlais?, the numbers and the alphabet. I ordered a delicious green salad which I had been missing that was topped with ham, cheese and tomatoes. From my previous time in Paris which was around six years ago when I visited with my family, I had a negative view of the French people since they were very rude and disrespectful toward me. Already this stereotype that I formed in my past was changed by the sweet nature of our waitress. She helped us learn the French word for water, d’lou, and also gave us directions of how to get to the nearest metro.
Along our way we experienced public toilets in Paris. Many public restrooms require you to pay something in order to use it but luckily those in Paris were free of charge. We saw a man exit the bathroom so I knew no one was in there. However, there was a readout with information about the status of the bathroom. It read “Vacant,” “Occupied,” “Wash Cycle” and “Out of Order.” After the man exited the status switched from Occupied to Wash Cycle. What wash cycle meant, I had no idea. Instead I waited for the status to read out vacant and then proceeded to enter. After entering the bathroom, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was toilet paper and a sink to wash your hands. However, I was also nervous that the bathroom door was going to randomly open on me since everything was so automated. No worries, the door didn’t open on me! Between every person the bathroom cleans itself through the wash cycle, a very neat system. Our bathroom adventure was a cultural experience in which we experienced our first very French thing and something that the French public have as part of their lives.
Our hostel, Aloha Hostel, was a great experience. Similar to other hostels I’ve stayed in, the four of us shared a room with an American college student who was on spring break visiting friends. My three friends had never traveled through Europe before and had never stayed in a hostel before so it was quite an experience for them. I was a little nervous about what the hostel would be like since some hostels are very classy and others you can’t understand why you would be paying to stay there. Luckily ours was a very clean, comfortable environment that was sufficient for all of us.
After settling into our hostel, we ventured out to find the Arc de Triomphe, our mission for Friday. On our way, we passed the Eiffel Tower which was such an amazing, gorgeous sight. My friend Shannon said that if we didn’t do anything else on our list other than see the Eiffel Tower, she really wouldn’t care. At night the Eiffel Tower is lit and at 7:15 p.m. the lights started flickering! So many amazing buildings throughout the world have light displays at nighttime. The Eiffel Tower sparkling reminded me of Sydney’s Opera House that had a light display when I visited this summer with vibrant colors highlighting the detailed architecture. Staring up at the magnificent structure of the Eiffel Tower from the Champ de Mars, young people enjoyed bottles of wines and each others’ company, very similar to the botellón culture of Spain. Throughout my trip I noticed many similarities between the French and Spanish culture, taking note of the differences.
On our walk to the Arc de Triomphe, we were exposed to much of the French lifestyle. Similar to in Seville, children and young people lounged on the grass of plazas and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine. Elderly men played bocce ball as their afternoon entertainment. Homeless men slept in sleeping bags along the sidewalk. Something else that amazed me was the abundance of plant and flower shops in Paris. Almost every block there was a shop with gorgeous flowers displayed in the window or plants outside the shop’s front. We stumbled upon a car show across from the Eiffel Tower which was a neat thing to see, with many Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis strewn along the street.
Finally after all day of searching for the Arc de Triomphe, we found it. Just after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1806, Napoleon declared that his soldiers would march through the arches of the Arc de Triomphe into victory. The primary purpose of the arc is to glorify the armies of the Republic and the Empire. Searching for the crosswalk to arrive at the circular center around which cars drove, we realized that we had to access the Arc de Triomphe by going through an underground passageway, a neat concept. We climbed to the top of the arc and had an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower at night as well as the famous shopping street Champs Elysees and the rest of Paris.
Ready for some dinner, we stopped at a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant. Another shocking thing to me is that there are many Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Paris. I have never knownParisto have many Asian influences but through the immigration pattern, many people of Asian descent must have come to Paris. After realizing the Asian food phenomenon, I took notice of the abundance of Asian people as well.
After a full day of traveling and exploring Paris we headed back to our hostel to get some rest for a busy next day that followed. Only half a day in Paris and what an adventure we’ve had already!
A student at Lehigh University, I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the spring semester of 2012. I posted about my adventures and cultural experiences at SenseSeville.
Next time, I'll discuss the rest of my vacation in Paris.