City of Lights…

by sam on 12/16/2006

So, after much wrangling this morning with the easyjet website, much of which involved the fact that they kept rejecting my American Express card (which makes no sense, as I was able to use it 20 minutes later to book a hotel on Expedia) and my having to break out the backup, never used, Mastercard, I can now safely say that I’ll be spending Christmas weekend in Paris. Because it takes a whole hour to fly there. How cool is that?!

We get a four day weekend for the christmas holiday here, because apparently the 26th is also of religious significance in Italy. I have no idea what significance, as I am not even christian, let alone catholic, but four days seemed like a good enough amount of time to jet off to another city for a few days, particularly when everything in this city will be closed anyway. I had been thinking I should go to London, just to sate my apparently monthly need to speak english, but I’ve been to London plenty for work, and I was just there in May.

I have been to Paris before, twice, but the last time I was there was in the year 1999, and that was only for a day stopover between legs of my post-bar exam three-week bicycle trip through the French countryside. So it seemed like a good idea. Plus, it will (hopefully) make me actually like the city for once.

The first time I went to Paris was when I backpacked/Eurailed through Europe between college and law school, which is now over ten years ago. The first part of my trip, I was travelling with a "friend" from college who had been living in London for six months (and had previously studied in Paris). Unfortunately, said "friend" spent all of the money she was supposedly saving for the trip on a TEFL course, so that she could go to Korea and teach english for two years. Which was great for her, but severely limited her ability to do just about anything on our trip. So I met up with her in London, where she was living, so that was free. Then we went to Paris. We travelled by ferry, which was a high-speed catamaran-type boat, and I spent the entire way over just absolutely seasick. Just thinking about it now, ten years later, I still get green. We finally get dropped off by the bus, in the middle of Paris (not at the train station like our ticket said), with no French money, at five in the morning. This was years before the Euro conversion, so we had to change money every time we went over a border. So we finally, laboriously, find an ATM, and make our way to the cheapest hotel in the guidebook (remember, friend with very little money).

This hotel…well. About the only good thing you could say about it was that it had a great location. It was right down the street from the Pantheon, so it was easy to go other places. But the hotel itself. Friend and I got a "double" room that still managed to involve us having to share a bed. I have never been so happy to have a sleeping bag in my life – not because I had a problem sharing a bed with a friend, I’ve done that plenty, but because the bed itself was so disgusting that the only way that I could even go near it was to essentially wear a giant body condom. Oh, and the room had a distinctly funny smell. The bathroom was literally in the middle of a stairwell, and the shower…

…sorry, I had to go be nauseous again. You had to pay to use the shower, which we did on the first day, and when we got the key for the shower "room", we realized that we just wouldn’t be showering for our entire stint in Paris. This building was about 100 years old, and the shower had likely never been cleaned. So. three nights in Paris, no bathing. This is after an overnight trip from London, and a plan to take another overnight train to Amsterdam at the end. Which means that by the time I got to Holland, I hadn’t showered for almost a full week. A week which started with repeated vomiting off the side of a boat.

I saw lots of really great things in Paris (as was the case with all famous buildings everywhere I went, Notre Dame was of course covered in scaffolding), and I fully agree that it’s a beautiful city. But the hotel just overwhelmed things. Oh, and the fact that I was counting on my french-speaking friend to show me around? Well, the fact that she had no money, and had seen everything before, meant that she sat around our hotel room for three days (pointedly mentioning that she wouldn’t have even come to paris but for my wanting to) while I went out and did stuff. We lived on bread and cheese. But the kicker? was the last day, when we were leaving. We had saved the Musee D’Orsay for the last day, figuring that we could check our backpacks at the coatcheck and wander around for a few hours until our train. So we traipsed, in the rain, to the MD’O, to discover that the museum workers’ union had called a city-wide strike. So it was closed.

The second time I was in Paris, when I only had a day? I figured that I could check out the MD’O because I had already seen the Louvre and other stuff. So, I traipsed over there again (in much better weather), to discover that the darn place is closed on Mondays. Monday being the only day I was in Paris. I did have an excellent dinner in chinatown that night with a bunch of the bike tour guides who were also in town, but that whole thing was more like a layover than a trip.

So, I feel like I have to go for a few days just to redeem Paris for myself in my head. I’ve already checked the website, and the MD’O is open on both Sunday and Tuesday, even though it’s christmas, so I’m getting in come hell or high water. Seriously. that place has become my white whale. Ten years I’ve been trying to see those friggin’ paintings!

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