A recollection of a beautifully imperfect tour of a uniquely charming city.
Two years ago, my cousin and I, together with two of her friends decided to go on a European tour. Our tour included Paris, being the first stop, followed by Amsterdam, London and Dublin. Of all the cities, I praised Amsterdam a lot and my friends may have thought that I loved Amsterdam the most. Amsterdam is friendly, hip, laid back and arty. I love Amsterdam.
However, it is not Amsterdam that caught my heart. The truth is, I love Paris. I arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport on one misty morning and the guy at the immigration counter sang my name. “Noreen, Noreen Noreen, selamat pagi, terima kasih” and stamped on my passport. I smiled and Paris, opened its doors to me. What is it you say? The Paris immigration is the most difficult lot? No, that did not happen to me.
Then Paris turned its ugly face on us. Things did not go as planned. Gare du Nord, the equivalent of our KL Sentral was confusing and Metro map was not any less. Nobody wanted to help us, everything became lost in translation. The apartment that we booked messed up our reservations and we were moved to somewhere much further, about 1 hour from town. Time for sightseeing was wasted waiting for the management to sort out our reservations. By the time we found our way to Hard Rock Cafe Paris to collect our Paris Pass, it was too late for us to go to both Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower. We chose the Eiffel because it was what we came for.
But there was a bomb threat, so the Eiffel was closed. Disappointed, we walked across to the Seine River, ate crepe at the roadside stall and went on a cruise. Crepe and a tomato cheese panini sandwich were my first meal in Paris.
As our apartment was outside the city, we tried every mode of public transportation. Lucky, even if the language is foreign, it is spelled in modern English alphabets. We could read the signs (obviously). Lucky, even if we were armed only with words like “bonjour“, “merci“, “ca va” “bien” “parlez-vous anglais” “je ne comprends pas” and numbers from “un” to “cinq“, we managed to travel from one place to another. Mind you, the only person who would speak English to us in Paris was the lady at the tourist centre at Gare du Nord. Others will only speak French; even if they could speak English, it was so bad that we had to resort to sign language.
Friends who have been to Paris warned us to be careful with our belongings. The streets, they say, are filled with dog poo and many pickpockets – but I did not see any of those. I saw many walking around the stores at Champs Elysees with their cute dogs but no, no dog poo. Yes, I saw a pickpocket apprehended at the Lourve but I was too captivated by the paintings of Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana and Leonardo da Vincci’s Monalisa to actually give a damn.
Paris is just so pretty. From the Lourve to Eiffel to Notre Dame, I was mesmerized by beauty. Just chillin’ at one of the cafes at Champs Elysees and you will see just how fashionable the people are. We went around autumn and fall’s fashion with the coats, the boots, scarves and whatnots were just asking to be looked at and admired. Parisians maybe snobbish and rude at times but they are pretty. Relax your tired feet and hang around outside Galleries Lafayette and you will see the same. A whole lot of pretty people.
Paris is religion. Being a lover of cathedrals, the detailed architecture of Notre Dame will stupefy the simply mind. It is gothic architecture at its finest with stained glasses, gargoyles and chimeras. It is where the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the complex story of love, cruelty and social injustice by Victor Hugo, took place. Do not let the tragic ending of the love between Quasimodo and Esmeralda bring you down though, the cathedral is a beautiful place. I could not stop taking pictures and was just clicking away.
Paris is also food. We could not afford to eat escargots at fancy restaurants, so we cooked. Malaysians being Malaysians we brought instant noodles and chilli sauce. We cooked together and ate together, which felt very nice. When we did not, there was this quaint purple Tunisian restaurant just opposite Gare du Nord that welcomed us with open arms and kebabs. As we were always moving, we snacked on nutella crepes, madeleines, chocolate croissant and the main prize, macaroons from Laduree!
Time was limited and unfortunately for us, there was a train strike on the day we wanted to go to Versailles. We got lost in Mont Marte and completely forgotten about Moulin Rouge and Sacre Couer. We too did not have enough time to go to Musee de Orsay and swoon over my favourite work of art, Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night.
Paris is bitter because it was tough. We got lost. We could not speak the language and wasted time by staying at an apartment which was too far away from the city. On top of it all, we had to face snobbish (because she did not allow me to take pictures with her baby), rude and unhelpful people.
Nonetheless, Paris was also sweet. Paris is like the guy everybody warned you against. The mysterious dude at the office or your school that always walk alone and never talked to anyone. He may not be nice to some but he is always nice to you. When he smiles, your heart flutters. When he speaks, your heart jumps. When he leaves, you want him to stay.
Paris was the first time my cousin and I were away from home, and it was also the longest time I was away from home. The first time we stepped in a city so foreign that it hurts but we survived. That, my friends, made it all worthwhile.
Will I go to Paris again? YES. I want to fall in love with it all over again and again and again so that my love of the city never ends.
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