It was sometime in mid-November that we boarded a train from Brussels to Paris. Once we were on-board, the French attendants bought us croissants and mini pastries filled with chocolate and sweet tasting jams. The train passed through green fields dotted with wildflowers and quaint Belgian villages.
It would be my second visit to the City of Romance after a family holiday there when I was 16. I remember staying in an apartment with double-opening French doors that overlooked the city before driving into the heart of France with its rolling poppy fields and light blue skies thinking how lucky I was. I felt lucky to be returning to Paris eight years later.
The train rolled into France’s famous capital just before midday. I stared out the window as we passed the less-impressive dilapidated buildings of the outer suburbs. I was preoccupied thinking of how I could grab my suitcase first and be off the train before the hoards. When you become a traveller, you’re always looking to save time. After all, who wants to wait half an hour while people slowly remove their belongings from the lockers, bumping your elbows as they go?
After ‘patiently’ waiting for our compartment to clear (on Moe’s insistence), we finally disembarked the train and found our way to a taxi. Gypsies tried to trick us out of our money while the local driver loaded our bags into the boot of the taxi – no mean feat.
We weaved through the streets of Paris with reckless abandon passing by Parisian architecture and locals methodically passing each other in the street. I was fascinated by a motorbike loaded with six boxes of clothes attached only by masking tape – something that would be flagged in Australia immediately.
We cut in front of angry locals and flew from one lane to the next. At this stage I had developed a firm belief that the locals, unlike me, were completely comfortable in chaos. We pulled up in front of our hotel moments later, an art hotel with friendly reception staff and small but perfectly formed rooms overlooking a small but charming courtyard.
After check-in it was straight on a train to the Eiffel Tower, like magnets to the giant Parisian fridge. For years people have been romanticising this rather ugly structure – myself included. We took photo after photo, doing the usual tourist snaps. We bought chocolate filled crepes from a street vendour: one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. The guilt was only minimal. The chocolate oozed attractively around my mouth as I became overwhelmed by the sheer excitement of freedom that travel never fails to bring me.
Afterwards, we hopped back on the underground and navigated toward L’arc De Triomphe where we made our way up flight after flight of stairs to be rewarded with spectacular views of Paris that extended all the way down the famous Champs-Élysées.
Moe and I wandered down the Champs-Élysées, window-shopping at expensive boutiques and trying our best to avoid the downpour. We navigated in the rain to the famous Obelisk in the centre of Place de la Concorde.
That night we dined in a local establishment with red plaid table-clothes and soft glowing candles. We drank a mellow red wine and I enjoyed the most delicious salmon I’ve ever tasted, sampled the garlic slime of snails (which are actually quite delicious) and ate the most wonderful Crème Brule my taste-buds ever had the joy to experience. The waiter was dressed in a black suit and effortlessly took our order without writing it down. Afterwards, we wandered through the dark streets of Paris down the river Seine where we stood on the famous lock bridge and marvelled at the famous Notre Dame glowing in the night. Afterwards we headed towards the Eiffel Tower with its spinning blue light piercing the darkness and making us feel dizzy with wonder.
The next morning Moe and I woke at the crack of dawn to catch the train back to Obelisk for our Intrepid Walking Tour, Secret Paris. Moe agreed to drag himself out of bed before peak hour so I wouldn’t have to suffer half an hour of piercing anxiety crammed in the midst of locals on their way to work. We wandered to a café that we’d discovered the day before where locals were side-by-side at the bar, wearing work suits and drinking espressos. We chose to drink our cappuccinos sitting down; something foreign to the French man. We were lost in conversation for an hour before we understood why no one ever sat down. They charged 12 Australian dollars a coffee for seated café-goers. We both decided that the atmosphere was well worth the money.
Outside it was Autumn and the air stung our cheeks red. We hopped from one foot to the next as we waited for Brett and Ashlee (Moe’s cousin and cousin’s girlfriend) to arrive in the square. We met our handsome French tour guide Tim moments later where he pointed out to us the most expensive hotel in Europe. He was well-spoken and had lived in Melbourne for a year. Throughout the tour we sampled macaroons from a high end grocery store, tasted a rage of cheeses (to which I suffered an allergic reaction) and delved into the most tiny and hidden streets of the city. The most unique aspect of the tour was coming across the local umbrella repairer – one of the only remaining in the city. I wandered past shops selling Manolo Blahniks and the historical residence of a man who believed in the philosopher’s stone.
We then wandered the streets of Paris together. We caught an escalator up to see the views on top of the Modern Museum of art where they had table after table covered in red roses. I bought a Parisian hat and we spent the day laughing and basking in the sun of the Louvre gardens. We got entirely lost along the Seine trying to find the Louvre before ducking for cover underneath a sandstone archway. We asked another group of tourists where we could find the Louvre. They gave us a puzzled look before saying “I think we’re standing in it aren’t we?” Sure enough, we were.
Afterwards we visited Angelina’s where we had the best hot chocolate that we’d ever tasted. We looked at unique hand-crafted pictures of Paris and scraped together our remaining change to purchase a beautiful print of the Seine.
That night we ate bread and cheese in our hotel room and drank wine brought from the local shop before heading towards the Eiffel Tower to witness the spectacular light show. Standing there watching the Eiffel Tower I had one of those moments where I was acutely aware of the fragility of life; if you don’t drink in every moment then they are likely to quickly pass you by.
The next day it was up early and on a train to the majestic Palace of Versailles. Perhaps one of my only memories from that family holiday when I was 16 is the sheer wonder I felt when arriving at this grand palace and magnificent gardens. At the time I was suffering from anxiety and there was rarely a moment I felt in control of my own body, apart from when I saw those gardens for the first time, they momentarily took my breath away. I remember eating an ice-cream in the summer by one of the fountains.
For an hour we wandered through the crammed rooms of the palace and drank in the detailed art work that hung in every room. We then made our way through the gardens. The most spectacular gardens I’ve ever come across in my life – so intricately landscaped. We wandered around eating macaroons, drinking in each other’s company and posing for photos. I danced my way through hidden lane-ways and we explored Marie Antoinette’s palatial residence.
The thing Moe and I have in common is that we both walk at the same slow pace, drinking everything in and living in the moment. The perfect travel companions.
That night we went out for a romantic dinner for two at a quiet establishment near our hotel. The ceilings were low and made of stone and red candles glowed from the centre of the table. If possible, our waiter was even more attentive than the night before. We shared an entree of snails or escargot before I again ordered the salmon dish and Moe dug in to a hearty beef stew. We ordered two desserts and ate far too much. We drank an entire bottle of wine between ourselves and struck up conversation with the American couple beside us. I talked far too much about myself and Moe listened with the kind of fervour of someone who must really love me.
The next morning it was up early again and onward to London. On the way I crammed in another Nutella crepe and drank in the beauty of the dark morning streets before the chaos of the work rush. I’d fallen in love with Paris again. Or perhaps there was something about the place that had seduced me long ago.