I have always wanted to start a story with a semi-dramatic entrance like this, so here we go:
She was 23, young, full of adventure and she had a hunger to experience life; she was blissfully unaware of the adventure that laid ahead. To her it was travelling to Paris, not the city of love, just Paris, where art, history, literature and fashion come together and call Paris home… she wanted to experience life and not just stand aside and watch…
Ok, ok enough with the overly-dramatic-over-exaggerating-cheesy entrance (more drama to follow… not really #bazinga)
As you could have guessed by now, I had the privilege (yes, it was/is? A privilege) to visit Paris in 2012 and it was mainly a solo trip. Paris is apparently a strange place to go when you travel alone, or so I have been told, as it is called the city of love… (Just to clarify, I cannot travel to a place called the city of love if I do not have a loved one with me. That is just ridiculous). Anyway, I have an absolute love of travelling, like a ridiculous love of travelling; it might even board on obsession. By all means, I do not consider myself a traveler, I’ve been a tourist before, and to me this was a travelling opportunity, I wanted to be a traveler, not just a tourist.
The first question you ask is probably: “why alone” (and if was not the first question, sorry for putting you in the generalized box of human behavior #not). I enjoy travelling on my own, or maybe I used to, I am not sure. Nevertheless, back in 2012, I surely did. I wanted to do it on my own, to spend some time with myself, experience Europe, and maybe somehow to prove to myself I can do something like travelling alone.
Traveling alone to Paris somehow unleashed a monster, I had my first experience of arriving alone in a foreign country in 2009 (I was meeting my Mom in London, after she spent some time in Finland doing research #toomuchinfo). In Paris, I had my second “shot”, and I somehow realized I was addicted to this feeling… the feeling that lasts between 6 – 24 hours upon arriving in a new country…:
- Orientating yourself,
- Listening to people speak and interact;
- Figuring out the public transport system;
- Observing new behaviors, and
- Seeing new things (like the way they write street’s names, or have signage for no smoking),
These seem barely significant, but it is what I love about the first 6 – 24 hours in a new country, city or town. Looking at “life” from a stranger’s point of view, and knowing that in less than 24 hours you will somehow become more comfortable, and the “new” still be new, but it won’t be like the first time you saw it. I am slightly addicted to that uncomfortable first 24 hours’, uncomfortably in the most positive sense, that balance between being in awe, and having a nerve wrecking thought about orientating yourself. However, that doesn’t explain why alone, here comes the alone explanation situation…
Alone the experience above is so much more intense, because you have no one to help you (yes there are strangers, but no sidekick by your side). When you Google reasons to travel alone, you get quite a few lists from those who have travelled alone, each of them stating their subjective truth, and to every traveler, the reason for travelling alone might be different, my reasons for travelling alone was very simple (I think… maybe… maybe not… I am going to type them now, and you are going to read them now, so let’s see if they are in fact so simple).
- I believe that being alone is good for you (but maybe that is just the introvert speaking)
- It is easier to fully experience and absorb where you are.
- It is quite empowering.
- The planning is a bit easier (there are no trade –offs or convincing).
- The planning of what you want to see is up to you.
- This is going to sound bad, but you can be completely selfish
- You can change your schedule last minute.
- You can stay on budget (yes, I was still a student, post grad, but still a student)
- You can take a nap without feeling guilty for not doing “touristy” things (I love my naps).
- You spend a lot of time reflecting.
- Comfort zone, what comfort zone?
When you travel alone, you only have yourself, and the strangers around you to keep you company… and by keeping company, I do not necessarily mean talking to them. However, when you look at people, they can almost become characters in the stories you create.
I need a connection sentence (golden thread), but I do not have one, so this one will be my connection sentence…
Ok, so now we know why alone (FYI, alone is for any type of travel, locally, abroad, visiting a new town 100km from where you live, it does not have to be to a foreign land). Why do I always deflect from the topic?
Oh, but Paris isn’t for changing planes, it’s… it’s for changing your outlook, for… for throwing open the windows and letting in… letting in la vie en rose. —Sabrina (Sabrina, 1954)
Sabrina’s quote was definitely not the idea, but the idea behind her quote was. I am not sure why I chose Paris, perhaps because of the beauty, the idea of Paris, the fashion, the romance, the art, the history or maybe all of these, and my mom’s influence with her love of France.
- My Mom
My mom is a proper Francophile; she can speak fluent French, knows most of their history and geography, I remember as a child how she just talked about France, all her booklets and how she had a love for a country she has never visited before, I could not comprehend. She eventually visited France a few years ago. Maybe a part of me was curious to see and experience the “magic” my mom was talking about.
- Regina Spektor
There was another reason, which is ridiculous… Ok, so I LOVE (in Capitals) Regina Spektor’s music, and by virtue, her songs. She wrote a song: Düsseldorf… (I love saying umlaut, you know the ü) where she sings about places and what she experienced, Paris was one of them. There is something about the song, and I can’t put my finger on it (obviously not, it is abstract) maybe the fact that I actually listened to the song and heard the lyrics and they resonated, with the traveler in me. I wanted to travel where she traveled, experience what she had experienced, and I wanted create my own version of Düsseldorf (I know this might sound really silly, like bat crap crazy, apparently that is not a nice thing to type, but I just did… #sorrynotsorry #IneedToWatchLesBigBangTheory).
In Dusseldorf I met a clown
His nose, it was red
In Gelterkinden I forgot to frown
Then remembered again
In Paris I saw a big fish
Swimming slow in the Seine
It made me hopeful that someday our
Water will be breathable again
In Frankfurt I heard ein zwei drei
Counting cookies and no one was shot
In Berlin stopped by the polizai
For drunk driving and everyone smiled
In Prague I knew I’d been a witch
Burnt alive, a pyre of Soviet kitsch
It made me miss my Moscow mother
It made me miss my New York nothing
In Montpelier I stayed in a chateau
A boy climbed into my bed and he knew no boundaries
And in Amsterdam I got quite crazy
Might have been all the tulips and canals
Or it might have been all that hash, and in
Barcelona, buenos dias, chocolate, le Picasso
And in Brussels, clean-cut hostel
And in London, me and the French existentialistsâ?¦
In Corsica I floated away
All the way to Marseilles
I should have held an afterparty
For all the thoughts I didn’t say
In Dusseldorf I met a dwarf
With bad breath and a really good tan
In Gelterkinden I remembered how to laugh
And I never ever forgot it againâ?¦
I am desperately trying to remember Paris… I remember some of the moments, but not all of them, I think once again establishing why I want to blog about my travels, to remember them (and to share them you know, for those days that you are bored, and accidentally click on a link that leads you to a blog, like this one just did). I cannot remember what my full itinerary was, what I did, bought or ate or even whom I met, but I remember how I felt.
Being alone in Paris was liberating, the walking was light, dreaming was effortless (it can sometimes truly take an effort to dream, especially of you are a realist like me) my thoughts seemed to drift off at the slight sight of something beautiful, and I remember creating stories for the different faces I saw. Paris was not about the cliche’s, the Eiffel tower, people in love, roses, coffee or croissants, it was the French manner in how everything was done, so elegant and full of grace, yet so honest and without pretense. Buildings were both beautifully elegant, and crooked and crammed; yet, it created a picturesque view, where every component just seemed to fit.
Disclaimer: I accidentally formatted my iPod (which I used to take photos), just after I returned from my trip, luckily I had them printed, and these are the only copies I have left – photos of photos, and few that somehow survived.
When I travel, I have my travel journals, where I detail my daily interactions, what I did, where I went. However, I have come to learn that they detail some of the immediate emotions, the surroundings and happenings, but now, looking at those events in retrospect, they somehow seem incomplete, as if the full atmosphere and emotional impact is lacking.
Here is a few of my favourite places, moments and experiences in Paris:
1. Pavillon Republique Les Halles
Pavillon Republique Les Halles was the shabby old hotel where I stayed, I remember the concierge with his thick French accent, the smell of the small elevator, almost big enough for one person, and the smell of the small corridor to my room. My room had a “balcony”, which was actually just a big windowsill, with a barrier; off course, I climbed through the window to view the world from my “balcony”, where I saw the most beautiful views. I saw the beautiful pattern of the cobblestones in the tiny street below, the apartment block opposite the hotel, with all their windows telling a different story.
It was winter and still dark when I woke up, and I remember viewing the city from my “balcony”, and how it came to life. In the building across the street, Parisians started their day, not as tourists or travelers, but as those who call Paris home. Different apartments would “light” up as the kitchen lights was switched on, in one kitchen, a “Madame” was busy making coffee, later to be joined by her Monsieur. In another window the light was already on, an old man, sitting barefoot with his feet on the coffee table, as he shook his newspaper straight… and so, one by one, they started their day (typing this, I realize it sounds super creepy). I somehow wished I were one of them, ready to start my day in Paris, making coffee, getting a croissant from the boulangerie, and going to work, being Parisian.
2. Le Relais Magenta
My days started with me making my way down to the hotel lobby with the clickety clakcety sound of the elevator, and going to the Le Relais Magenta, just below the apartment blocks I just mentioned. Here, Arri would happily greet, “bonjour mademoiselle”, and I, in a very non-French-accent would greet, “bonjour Arri, un croissant et, un café, s’il vous plait”. Arri owned the brasserie and in the brasserie, he had memorabilia sent to him from some of the people he had met around the world. He would listen to my plans for the day and make a few recommendations, and at night, when I came back Arri would greet again, “Bonsoir Mademoiselle”, and eagerly ask what I did the day. There was nothing fancy about the boulangerie, but I remember it warmly, the colour of red and white tablecloths, and the small chairs scattered around the tables.
Of course, I went to the Louvre… You cannot be in Paris, be an art fanatic, having read The Da Vinci Code and not go to the Louvre. I walked through Jardin des Tuileries and slowly saw the Louvre materialize before my eyes. The contrast of the modern glass pyramid with the Renaissance style palace architecture was beautiful. Inside the walls of paintings felt like a dream, like I was Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole and just seeing all the art surrounding you, no matter where you walked or turned. I slowly made sense of the gallery, and found my way to the Mona Lisa; she was not a disappointment, as I could barely see her, she was like the changing bull in New York somewhere hidden behind the sea of tourists… It was at this moment that I wished I had secret access to the Louvre, where I could enter the museum at night and spend my time looking at the French impressionists, Post Impressionists, Pure impressionists, taking my time looking at Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Pissaro, Van Gogh, and yes, even the Mona Lisa.
4. Eiffel Tower
The first time I saw the Eiffel tower, was from above the Arc de Triomphe where there is this stunning view of the tower. Everywhere I walked in Paris I tried to see if I could see the tower… Walking along a small road, I wasn’t sure where it lead, until I reached the end and there, in all its stature stood the Eiffel tower. I had a freak out moment, yes it was touristy, but good golly miss molly, seeing the architecture is breathtaking, looking at all the components, the structure, and I stood in awe, imaging the design of the tower, and how detailed every part of the design had to be. Knowing how this was an absolute beacon of Paris.
5. Arc de Triomphe
Walking down or up, not sure, well walking to the Arc de Triomphe is along the Champs Elysees, you are surrounded by Christmas markets, designer stores like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabana, and even ice cream vendors in the middle of winter. It is quite a walk, and you can see the majestic Arc de Triompe from afar. I know I am writing breath taking or beautiful the whole time, but it was truly breath taking, seeing the Arc and walking up the stairwell to the top. Looking at every design feature, seeing the tomb of the Unnamed Soldier, and standing in center point of the classic wheel and spoke pattern, and knowing how even though it stands here, in all its majesty with its feet firm in the foundation of Paris, the city still moves around it in all its void.
6. Notre Dame
I saved the best for last: the Notre Dame. I do not yet have the vocabulary to describe the Notre dame (but I am going to try…) but believe in the next 5 – 10 years I will have it. I was intimidated by this building, which stood at the age of 850 years in 2012 when I visited. Standing in front of this building, which has survived wars, economic decline, political turmoil, happiness, romance, relationships and lives, The Notre Dame was still there. There is so much detail, designs, gargoyles, patterns, saints and disciples, it seemed haunted, and full of life. I just sat in front of the building, soaking up as much as I could, off course trying to draw the Notre Dame, but that I will not show you… it is quite embarrassing. I could not get enough; I walk in, around, up, down, inside, and outside the building, trying to absorb as much as I could. This was by far one of my favourite moments in Paris, If I could go anywhere in Paris, and see only one thing, it would be the Notre Dame.
The places I’ve just described are quite touristy, but my experience was far from being a tourist. Walking around Paris, seeing all the places I’ve read about and experiencing them for myself, was significant. I often wonder how life would be like if I lived in Paris… would I also be one of those people making my coffee in the morning, walking downstairs to get my newspaper…
For the biggest part of my life, I truly do not think that I am a romantic, I am much too logic for that, but then I think of Paris, and think, it should not be called the city of love, but the city of romance, as even the smallest part of you, becomes a romantic in the city, being in love with life (no, not like those pins you see on pinterest that is semi-philosophical), but being truly Romanized by life… falling in love with life, like La Vie en Rose, looking at life through rose colored glasses.
When I think of Paris, I think of Sabrina (Sabrina 1954)
I have learned how to live… how to be in the world and of the world… and not just to stand aside and watch. And I will never, never again run away from life… or from love, either…
|My Desk, My Bed, My Desk, My Bed… Cape Town|
|La Vie en Rose – Daniela Andrade (acoustic Version)|