Ah, Paris… Just the sound of it conjures images of sophistication, haute couture, and romance. But is Paris really just all about these things? Well, not exactly.
Our foray into our Europe began with Paris. For some reason, it had the cheapest flights from Manila, even cheaper than Berlin or Athens which were a lot closer to Manila than Paris. After traveling from Manila for 17 hours, we were tired but eager to explore the city.
Our flight arrived at 6am so we didn’t have a choice but to dilly dally at the airport for a few hours because check-in at the lodging wasn’t until 10am.
At about 8:30am, we bought our 3-Day Transport Passes from the Tourist Information office and were finally on our way to the city itself. The trip didn’t feel real until we were on the train staring at the city sights from the windows. After eight months of planning, it was all finally coming true.
The ride from the airport to the city center was a bit long, about 45 minutes. Getting off at Gare du Nord station to switch trains towards Porte de Montreuil, we were struck by the reality of Paris: it isn’t all glitz and glamor. For one, the Metro stations frankly smelled like piss. I’m not sure if it’s because the stations were underground and were close to the sewers or if it’s because of the countless homeless people squatting there who were free to piss on anything. The walls were full of graffiti (which one might consider “art”) and the place looked really run down. Gare du Nord is one of the busiest stations in Paris, so I guess I was expecting something… cleaner, something that didn’t smell like piss, at least.
It was a little past 10am when we got to the the place where we were staying. We booked Studio Parisien, a small studio apartment using booking.com. It was actually cheaper than booking a hostel for four people and we even get to have our own kitchen and bathroom as well.
We had to figure out where it was and ask someone for directions (using hand gestures because we didn’t speak French at all). When we got there we were greeted by our host Johanna. They were still cleaning the place up when we got there but Johanna gave us the keys and told us everything we needed to know about the place. The apartment was small but big enough for four people to move about. It had two large sofa beds, a quaint kitchen, a TV, and WiFi access.
Johanna said they needed about 30 minutes to finish up cleaning, so we left our luggage there and headed out to the grocery store to buy food.
One of the reasons we chose to stay in this place is because it was walking distance from Carrefour, a European chain of supermarkets known for it’s reasonable prices. The branch near our apartment was a huge one, with the supermarket inside an entire shopping mall.
It had everything we needed. I admit I got a little bit too excited because everything was actually cheaper than I expected. A bar of exquisite cheese for €2? Yes, please! That same cheese (not Eden or Ques-O or any of those processed cheeses) in the Philippines would cost more than P250. We also bought some bread, cold cuts, yogurt, cereal bars, fruit, some microwaveable meals, and bottled water. The bottled water was a mistake because at that time we didn’t know that tap water was perfectly safe to drink from. We could’ve spent that money on more cheese instead.
After grocery shopping, we went back to the apartment to find it spotless and clean. So we decided to rest for a bit and unpack before heading out. We lost track of time and didn’t make the 1pm Sandeman Walking Tour. The group tour had already left when we got to the meeting place so we decided to just explore the city on our own.
PARIS TOURIST SPOTS AND EVERY DIRT IN BETWEEN
Walking the streets of Paris opened up even more realities. It isn’t exactly a clean city. There were cigarette butts, spit, and chewing gum all over, among other miscellaneous trash. But it was something I was willing to look over, because… FUCK YEAH I WAS IN PARIS, FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD! I was still trying to wrap my head around that fact. It still hasn’t completely sunk in yet.
Our first day in Paris was of course reserved for all those famous tourist spots.
Te Eiffel Tower has to be one of the most famous landmarks in the world. I couldn’t help but take pictures of it from different angles.
After walking for hours, we decided to rest for a bit on the Trocadero viewing spot and just marvel at the Eiffel Tower. It was, after all, one of the reasons I wanted to visit Europe. It was starting to get really cold by this time (around 7pm) and we were still jet lagged from our flight, so we decided to call it a day head back to our apartment.
Our second day in France was spent in Versailles, so I’ll be writing a separate post on that.
On our third day in Paris, we visited some other tourist spots: the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre Museum.
We passed by Nation station and had lunch there after buying food from the outdoor market.
After eating lunch on one of the park benches, we headed to Champs-Élysées, a long avenue lined up with numerous shopping places that led to the Arc de Triomphe. We went inside some stores but just went window shopping.
I could already see the Arc de Triomphe from afar and was severely disappointed that it had scaffolding on it’s top left side. I was so disappointed that I only took one photo of it.
The Louvre Museum was our next stop. Sorry to say we only took pictures outside the museum. We didn’t bother going inside. Tickets were €13 a pop and we felt like we didn’t have enough time to see the entire collection the museum offered (Some say you would need to devote an entire day to see the whole museum), so €13 was a bit too much if we would only be seeing the Mona Lisa. So we just made the most out of the museum exteriors.
We planned on seeing the Sacre Coeur after, but we were tired from the hours of walking so we decided we would just see the Sacre Coeur on our last day in Paris before our flight back home to Manila. We had an early flight to Rome the next day and we still needed to pack.
So Paris wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, given Hollywood’s portrayal of it. The tourist spots were immaculate, but underneath all that jazz, Paris was just like any other major city: overcrowded, grimy, and unsafe. We didn’t experience anything bad, but the city didn’t exactly make me feel like I could trust anyone. I was always minding my bag while we were walking and there were always these skeevy characters milling around, especially at the train stations. They seemed like they were ready to pounce on the next unsuspecting tourist.
One thing that really surprised me was that some locals didn’t seem intent on paying train fares because they were just tailgating other passengers to get in and some were actually jumping over the turnstiles! I guess that says a lot about the city. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen in Manila’s MRTs or LRTs.
But I didn’t dislike Paris entirely, because these “imperfections” made the city more real, unlike visiting Disneyland where everything was a prop. It wasn’t my favorite city but I still think it’s worth a second visit.