France is one of my most under-travelled areas of Europe, something that is particularly shoddy seeing as it is the country closest to the UK on the continent. Within minutes of setting foot in its capital, I was struck by the alien nature of it. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a country with zero knowledge of the language, and even the accents surrounding me were markedly different to the consonant-heavy Germans I normally hear, or the rapid-fire Spanish I’ve been endeavouring to learn. The French tongue is lilting, but the seeming non-existent plosive sounds mean that it’s virtually impossible to distinguish individual words. Essentially, how I managed to get from the airport to Gare du Nord, to find my guardian angel in the form of a French-speaking friend, is a mystery to this day.
My main reason for visiting Paris, as much as this might hurt the ears of the every Parisian culture fiend, was to catch up with a best friend I don’t see nearly enough of, especially as the Year Abroad Gods put us on opposite sides of the continent, making Paris a convenient and beautiful midway-point. Our first evening, in true student manner, resulted in getting far too tipsy far too quickly in a restaurant with live music that was greatly under-appreciated by gin-guzzling me.
Whilst hilarious and fun at the time, drinking more than I have done this year in total in one night resulted in a very un-cultural morning of me trailing behind an astonishingly perky Louisa attempting to appreciate the stunning architectural and historical sights that Paris has to offer, whilst also ducking into secluded side streets for my body to punish me for the sins of last night. On the plus-side, I can honestly say that I have seen a different side to Paris than most. For example, did you know that there are many conveniently-placed bins dotted all around Place de la Concorde?
Perhaps the only thing that would lift the claws of my nausea from my rapidly-emptying stomach was a bit of political inspiration, and Paris was only too happy to oblige. Whilst we had been studiously ignoring Trump’s Inauguration in a sort of ‘if we don’t look at it, maybe it won’t notice us’ fashion, the rest of the world hadn’t. Anti-Trump demonstrations across the US were being mirrored with Women’s Marches across the world, and we couldn’t be in Paris and not join in. Surrounded by men, women, and children from so many different backgrounds and nations was heart-warming and made me see a silver lining to the ever-increasing number of dark clouds in the political skyline. People are still here, still fighting, and still united, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience for my first political demonstration. Louisa captured some of the thoughts and feelings of the day far better than I can summarise here, but all I can say is that for that hour or so, I forgot the cold, I forgot my stomach, and I was proud to be a part of the Women’s March, Paris 2017.
Another not-so conventional activity of our day, yet another one of my favourites, was found not under the Arc de Triomph, but around the corner. Louisa’s family used to live in Paris, and we found the exact street where their home was. It was another opportunity to get off the beaten track, except this time my head wasn’t spinning.
The running theme of my trip to Paris was becoming ever clearer. Yes, we saw the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomph, and I have posed dorkily in front of the Louvre Pyramids at night. Yet I fell in love with the city where I drank tea from Shakespeare and Co. with an old school friend in front of the Notre Dame, and where I so terribly mispronounced bien that she had no idea I’d even attempted to speak French. I have pulled faces and giggled my way through a crowded French metro journey, and spent 40 minutes shopping for make up, and I wasn’t worried once about missing out on a top-recommended sight on my Very Important List Of Things To Do In Paris. I learnt a lot this weekend about enjoying your time in a place, not trying to force a place to fit into your time there, and it’s something I plan to do a lot more of.
Paris, I’m not done with you, and I’m not done with doing the stupidly pointless, yet hilariously fun things in fantastic cities either.