A few months ago I found a cheap flight to Paris out of SJC, and after about a week of weighing the pros/cons and drafting multiple spreadsheets, I bought the tickets and booked a hostel.
day one: settling in, walking tour, musée d’orsay, hostel club
The trip got off to a bumpy start, both literally and figuratively.
Flying in and out of Heathrow for the layover was extraordinarily turbulent. I don’t know if I’d ever experienced that level of turbulence in my life–a sensation akin to a roller coaster-turn-bumper car. I was so sick to my stomach I felt nauseous for a good 20 minutes after landing and walking around the airport. Takeoff out of Heathrow wasn’t much better, as we were accelerating on the runway it felt like the plane was being pushed from side to side and wasn’t able to go in a straight line.
The journey got easier once I landed in CDG. It was really easy to figure out where to go for customs and for the train into town. The train itself was pretty straightforward, but once I got out of the train station I got turned around and walked in circles for about 15 minutes before I found my bearings and was able to locate the hostel. Checking in was a little strange, the girl behind the front desk seemed surprised that I’d booked 9 nights and asked if I was “really” planning on staying that long.
Met a few of the women in my 10 bed female only dorm, all of whom seemed to be reasonably nice. There was one my age from Michigan who had just finished doing a few months abroad in France as an English language teaching assistant, and one from Algeria who is in Paris on a business trip. I also met two women from Switzerland who are in the middle of their winter vacation. I went out to get a quick bite to eat, came back, showered, and went to bed relatively early since I hadn’t slept for so many hours.
I was awoken at 2am by the girl in the bunk on top of mine trying to get the rolling locker out from underneath my bunk. It shook the entire bed and I forgot that I was in Paris and thought that I was experiencing an earthquake back at home. I wasn’t able to fall back asleep until about 5am. Not 30 minutes later, the Swiss girls came storming back into the room arguing in Swiss-German at normal speaking volume. I got a total of 6 hours of sleep over a ~48 hour period.
I got out of bed around 7 and tried to get ready really quietly so I could go down to the bar and get the included breakfast. Breakfast opened 10 minutes later than advertised, but there was a decent selection and I felt relatively satisfied. I made a friend, Fernanda, a woman from Mexico City who owns 3 bars and plays as a linebacker on a club football team in her free time. I told her about my plans to go on a free walking tour, and she decided to tag along. We walked downtown, took some neat pictures, and then parted ways for the actual tour since it was more convenient for her to stick with a Spanish-speaking tour.
We regrouped after the tour and decided to go to Musee D’Orsay. She seemed to want to go through the exhibits much quicker than I did, so we lost each other relatively early on and I wasn’t able to find her again. I thought the museum was pretty cool, definitely enjoyed the uppermost level of impressionist art the most.
I was so hungry after the museum I decided to go to the first brasserie I saw for a late lunch, which ended up being Le Solferino. I ordered a glass of red wine and their menu d’jour, where the main was fish with tomato sauce and rice, and the dessert was a vanilla creme base with a toasted marshmallow meringue thing. The fish was edible but not very flavorful, but the dessert was absolutely awful. I couldn’t eat more than a third of it. Overall, I felt like the meal was overpriced and not very good, but the wine and baguette were great so it wasn’t a complete letdown.
From my late lunch/early dinner, I walked through one of the really expensive shopping districts before taking the metro back to the hostel. I met Sophie, a half German and half Argentinian girl living in Berlin, and Claudia, a Chinese Peruvian living in Lima. We decided to team up and go down to the hostel bar together. It was a good time, the music was alright and the people we met were friendly. We danced around until 2am when the music got worse and felt it was time to go. I’m really glad I was able to have that experience with them, it turned an otherwise mediocre day into a really fun, memorable one. I slept a lot better than the previous night.
day two: modern art, portrait photography, musée de louvre, best gratin ever
I had breakfast with Sophie around 9am at the hostel before heading over to Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, a modern art museum that popped up on Google Maps when we were looking at going to the catacombs. The museum was interesting, the exhibits were pretty small compared to the other modern art museums I’ve been to, but there were a couple pieces I really enjoyed. One of the rooms on their first floor was dedicated to a Freddy Mamani, a Colombian architect who became famous for designing very unique houses incorporating a lot of different indigenous designs. Sophie and I also spent some time taking portraits of each other outside of the museum which was a lot of fun.
Around noon we headed back to the hostel so Sophie could grab her things and get to the airport for a flight back to Berlin. After we parted ways, I took the metro to the Louvre and waited in line for about 15 minutes to get through security (which isn’t bad at all, considering it was the afternoon on a drizzly Sunday). I opted to rent an audio guide, and I’m super glad I did. The audio guide itself is on a Nintendo 3DS XL, and I really appreciated the ability to use the geolocation feature to help get the correct commentary for the pieces I was looking at. I got to see the Mona Lisa, which after years of being warned from others about how small and disappointing it is, I was pleasantly surprised that it’s just a normal sized painting. I spent just over 3 hours there and I felt like I got to see everything I wanted to see.
I picked up three macarons from a Laudrée in the shopping center below the Louvre–pistachio, rose, and orange blossom. They were pretty pricey (€2,10 a piece), but I figured it’d be a nice treat. I learned my lesson from my previous meal out and decided to consult Trip Advisor, where I found Bistro des Augustins about a kilometer away from the Louvre. The walk to the restaurant took me along the seine, and it was absolutely beautiful!
I ordered the Landais Gratin (potatoes, cream, egg, goat cheese, sliced duck breast, garlic, and herbs) and a glass of Brouilly, both of which were absolutely delicious. The meal totaled €17,50, a full €10 less than the ridiculously disappointing meal the day before.
I left totally stuffed and with lots of fuel to help me on my ~3.5km walk back to the hostel. I visited the Notre Dame all lit up and observed a portion of their Sunday evening service, and also walked through the Marais district and got to experience some of that culture as well.