When I landed in Paris I hit an off button on the rest of the world. I don’t remember doing it, I don’t remember how it happened, but suddenly it was Shradha & I walking through Paris, and for the most part, there wasn’t much else.
Paris is interesting because you can spend 10 seconds there and it hits you like an abrupt awakening that it is not much like the movies say it is. I mean, most things aren’t, but Paris was a lot – a lot – more.
It was the pristine against the poverty in a more obvious way than most big cities can be and it was a much higher military presence than we would have imagined – something we saw only moments after stepping off the plane. Suddenly the city of love was a city of a whole lot of other things too, and we spent three days trying to figure out what could never be completely understood.
It was also our first stop of the trip so naturally, we were a little nervous and a little bit out of our element, but nothing that wine and Jager bombs with travelling strangers couldn’t fix. So we drank in our hostel – solo travellers, friends, and tour groups – collectively trying to give each other travel tips and their mock itinerary. The great part is, if you’re at the right hostel, this can come relatively easily. Like a secret club rule within hostels and among travellers that we are all desperately looking to socialize with one another without all the awkward small talk first. So we talk about the places we’ve been and the places we’re going and we recognize we’re one in the same right now – far, far away from home and looking for a friendly face.
That first night, we tried to skinny dip in murky pond water before realizing it didn’t go up past our knees. We walked through the night and through parks that almost looked over the city but never quite did and imagined what the rest of Paris would be like by the morning as we crawled into bed too few hours before we would get up.
Sometimes, when you begin travelling you feel the aching need to do everything and anything there is to do. Even when it’s not possible, even when it will likely exhaust you, you try your best regardless. So we tried that. We walked until our feet were exhausted and then we kept walking some more, falling in love with architecture because we’ve never seen anything like this before.
We tried to check all the touristy things off our list in one day – like putting a lock with ‘Ogi & Shawdy’ scrawled on it in permanent ink on a chain link fence next to thousands of other locks. And then we ended at the Eiffel Tower – some large hunk of metal – as we liked to call it. We drank cheap wine on a picnic blanket, ate cheese and bread and stared in awe at our surroundings. It was mid-afternoon and it was hot. It was hot and our feet were sore and I think we were almost a little bit in shock.
The next day we listened to a group of really cool guys play instruments in front of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. We watched children dance in circles and toss change into an open bag and I’m pretty sure the looks on their faces was the epitome of happiness.
These are the small things – and the biggest most important things – about travelling. The tiny moments when children dance and people play instruments and the world is a beautiful, magical place and even though there is so much more to see of Paris, we weren’t ready to leave that little moment in paradise.
That was the night we decided to walk up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. The night I forgot I was afraid of heights – and the night I remembered, very, very quickly as we began walking up a metal stair case that I could see straight down through. But you can see everything from up there, and it’s interesting because in each city we travelled to we managed to find a spot with a “good view” and in each spot, even though everything from such a height becomes just like shapes in the distance, these cities are all so, so different.
When we came down from way up there we waited until the lights turned on the Tower, and in that moment, sitting on the grass, the Eiffel Tower was no longer just a hunk of metal. I’m not sure what it is about it, but when it lights up in front of your eyes, when you’re sitting beneath its enormity, it is so, so much more. There is something surreal about being there – about it being our first stop on the trip – about it being the Eiffel Tower – about the fact that we were actually together – and in that moment everything was good and exciting and exactly as it should be.
Not everything in Paris was like that. And I’m still figuring out how to write about everything – how to write enough but not too much – how to not sugar coat the mundane into something more because the mundane is fine as it is.
One of the days, we walked through a neighbourhood we probably shouldn’t have. We kept walking, street after street, trying to figure out whether we were heading towards a sketchy part of the city or whether we were heading away from it, and then all the sudden we were in it. The part of town where no other tourists linger and suddenly you stick out like a sore thumb.
At one point, a little girl stepped on my shoes because we didn’t give her change. Shradha almost kicked a dead rat when we were setting out our picnic blanket, and I’ve never had so many people try to persistently sell me something I don’t want in my life.
This isn’t to complain – this is just to try and explain a reality. A reality that sometimes when you travel you imagine that every moment will be a high – that for some strange reason travelling out rules the regular parts of life. It doesn’t. And that’s a good thing. I’m thankful for accidentally walking through a bad neighbourhood even if I wanted to get out of it at the time because that’s all part of the experience. It doesn’t all have to be good, or great. Paris can be dirty and strange and intimidating, but it was also beautiful and surreal and a perfect first stop of our trip.