"Mesdames et Messieurs, je vous rappelle qu'il est interdit de fumer dans la gare!" The now familiar call echoed through the gare de Paris Nord. I had just arrived in Paris, and it was 1pm. I had until 5:30, when I was meeting an old friend, to explore Paris. Bags in hand, I walked out of the gare and into the street. Then stopped. Looked left, looked right. Stood still for a few moments. Then, feeling stupid for standing in the middle of the road looking around, I took off with a purpose down the left of the sidewalk. After a few turns, I stopped again, at a loss of what to do. The streets were so crowded with people and cars, I had no idea where to go, and I was alone. I thought, "man, Paris is so big, there are so many people, where should I go, I don't know where I should walk, what I should see, what if I get lost..." etc. I was having a mini panic in the streets of Paris. I walked aimlessly for about another ten minutes, slowly getting more upset, looking around, probably looking 100% like the confused tourist that I was, before I stopped myself. "This is ridiculous. You are in Paris, the beautiful city, and instead of enjoying it, you're stressing about where to go and walking no where. Pull it together." So, I decided to make a definitive plan: have lunch. I walked back to the train station, as I could orient myself from there, and sat down in a restaurant to order a typically French meal: a crepe. While waiting for my food to come, I decided to do a little google search on my phone using the cafe's wifi, and made a set plan of where to go and what to see. Once my hunger had been satisfied, and feeling a lot better for having a meal and a plan, I was ready to continue walking, and this time I was determined to enjoy it. I had a plan: head to the Opera. So, hoisting my bags, I set off.
The Opera building was beautiful. I somehow neglected to take any photos, but I walked inside and outside around the building, and I can tell you, if you ever find yourself in Paris you will want to see this formidable monument. There are stone statues outside adorning the walls, and detailed stone carvings covering the walls. Inside, the ceiling is painted with angelic representations of religious and mythological scenes. Outside, there is a staircase descending one side of the building, and at the base of the stairs was a man singing and playing guitar. He was surprisingly good, so I sat on the stairs among the small crowd gathered to listen to him and enjoyed the music, the sun, and the French language for a while.
After listening for about half an hour, I started to slowly make my way back up the winding roads of Paris, stopping to look in little boutiques and to get a coffee and pastry at a boulangerie, and finally arriving at the church where my friend and I had agreed to meet. Once I had dropped my bags off at her flat, where she very kindly let me stay, we walked outside again to get a drink at a brasserie near her house (just juice today) and then decided to see a movie. The movie theatre we went to was pretty unique: there were two theaters separated by a canal, and to get from one to the other you had to take a boat across the river. Cool! We didn't get to try out the boats, unfortunately, because they were under maintenance, but they looked like fun. We saw 'Le Labyrinthe de Silence', a movie in German with French subtitles about how the German people uncovered the hidden secret of Auschwitz after the holocaust. It was a little challenging at first to follow, but once I got into the swing of darting my gaze for a quick few seconds at the subtitles and then looking up at the scene, it was pretty easy to understand. I strongly recommend the film, but it is hard to watch - very emotional. Thus ended my first day in Paris.
The second day I was there, I took in some of the most famous tourist attractions. See the photos below
Day two in Paris was May 16 - my birthday. I started off the day with a walk to Montmartre, a large hill topped by the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur. I walked up and around, admired the outside of the Basilica, and then strolled down the hill a while. Montmartre is a very touristy area, and was full of portrait painters and caricature artists drawing the people perched, remaining studiously still, on the small stools in front of the easels. There were also many little souvenir shops dotting the sidewalks. I ducked into one to buy some posters for my room. Nice. After wandering around Montmartre for a few hours, I walked back down the hill towards my friends flat, stopping at the Museum of Chocolate (yes, that is a real place!) on the way. I bought some chocolate (surprise, I know) and macaroons as a birthday treat. Then, I met up with my friend. We had a quick lunch, then went to the Musee Quai Branly, which is full of a permanent exhibit showcasing art from all over the world and had a special exhibit on global tattoos and tattoo artists. This was very interesting, if a little gruesome (they had pieces of tattooed skin removed post mortem on display...). It was night of the museums in Paris, which meant that all the museums were open all night, with special exhibitions for the occasion. This would have been great to visit, but even at 6:30pm ish, when we left Quai Branly, the crowds were crazy long, so we skipped that and decided to get nutella crepes instead. The crepe vendor gave me a free one as it was my birthday. :) We never actually walked to the base of the Tour Eiffel, but the structure was right next to Quai Branly, so we had a nice view of it.
After eating crepes, we strolled around the Jardins des Tuilleries for a while, then walked to look at the Louvre and the Musee D'Orsay. It must have been the day for brides, because we saw at least six of them getting their photographs taken, both with and without grooms, on the Champs Elysee and in front of the Louvre. We strolled around the gardens and admired the ornate architecture of the Louvre, then sat for a while on the edge of a foundation and took in the view. The sun was setting, sending golden light over the buildings, and it was a beautiful ending to my last night in Paris.