Paris and I were not lovers at first sight.
In fact, we were more like those awkward teenagers who begin their relationship online; everything is fine and perfect until you finally take that next step and meet face to face and…disappointment. The city was wild and scary. People were rude and the streets confusing. This was not the Paris I had gathered expectations of through the pages of books and the blur of movies.
But that was two years ago; sweet sixteen and a lifetime before such things as responsibility and experience. A lot can change – and has changed – in the two years that have passed. Paris is the final destination in our tour of Europe. And unlike two years previous, I have a pocketful of adventures that guide me and advise me as I navigate these streets once again.
My heart swells each time I spot the bronze jewel that is the Eiffel Tower; glittering slightly, looking for all the world like the one which sits on my nightstand back home. We picnic in the Luxemburg Gardens; olive metal chairs warmed by the sun as we listen to strains of brass from the bandstand, surrounded by blooms of pinks and purples. We visit the Louvre, and the Musée d'Orsay, and carry our tired feet up the steep steps of Montmartre. Each metro ride is accompanied by the sweet swell of accordions, and the none too subtle jangle of coins. This version of Paris is like that one dish you hated as a child, but have come to love as you’ve grown older. You can’t ever imagine eating plain pasta again.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of this escapade is our visit to the Shakespeare and Company book store on Rue de la Bûcherie. Here, rickety wooden ladders are gateways into the most beautiful form of wanderlust there is: the written word. Fragments of lives are scattered in the pages of each and every. They coat the buckled wooden bookcases as stories are returned with a piece of soul, a sliver of insight, the dried splotch of tears. These whispers of lives I will never get to meet, all strewn together in disarray on the wall of a cubbyhole no bigger than four foot tall and wide. They flutter under my soft exhale.
This is my church, I think as I am finally dragged out and into the adjoining coffee shop. This is my God, I think as I sip my hot chocolate, the bells of the Notre Dame ringing out behind me. This feeling is almost a religion, I think, as the afternoon heat soaks into my skin. Never do I feel more connected to something than when I escape between the bindings of a book.
As I write this now, the sky above me is coated in clouds, and the scent of rain soaked concrete is heavy in the air. Summer is rapidly dissolving into golden trees and darker nights. I am a million miles and a month after Paris, yet the city has left her imprint on me.
Paris is getting lost. Paris is macaroons. Paris is the hum of buskers and the hubbub of street vendors. Paris is aching feet but rested hearts. Paris is feeling this free and young and unburdened by all but the weight of the future. Paris is where I leave the best part of myself; stamped on cobblestones that will hold the stain long after I am gone.
This, to me, is Paris.
Things To Know, Things To See
- Take advantage of late night openings in the Louvre (Wednesday and Friday until 9.45pm) and the Musée d’Orsay (Thursday until 9.45pm). There are no queues!
- A lot of attractions in Paris – including the Palace of Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay – are free to visitors aged 18-25 who are members of the European Union*. Just bring your passport along to benefit from this.
- You don’t need to queue or buy a ticket for the Versailles gardens.
- If someone asks you to sign a form or petition around major tourist attractions, don’t. It’s a scam to distract you. Mollie almost got her purse and passport stolen outside the Eiffel Tower two years ago because of this.
- Buy all of your tourist goodies from street sellers throughout Paris. It’s so cheap – where else are you going to find five Eiffel Tower keyrings in various colours for €1?
*A note to fellow Brits who are equally devastated by the Brexit result. Technically, for the next couple of months at least, we are still members of the EU. Take advantage of this while you can!