One day in June of 2015, I found myself in Paris, after having spent two days in London and a week in Helsinki. This was my first trip to Europe and I was both excited and exhausted since I was nearing the end of my trip. The flight to Paris was uneventful and I was surprised to not have to pass through customs upon entry. My funds were low so I had to figure out how to take the subway to my hotel. On the train, a young woman is speaking to her boyfriend in English, then turns to me and asks me a question in French. I respond in English, and they get on the train. I watch them briefly, wondering if they are on their honeymoon, they seem so into each other. We get off at the same stop and take the elevator together.
“Where are you from” she asks.
“I live in California right now” I said.
“Oh wow, I’m from Seattle, but I’ve been here for about a month. I met him here,” she says, referring to the the man she was with. “Where are you staying, maybe we could meet for coffee sometime,” she says.
I tell her that I will only be there for two days.
“Well it was nice to meet you, enjoy your trip.”
When I finally arrive at my stop
it is close to midnight in the city of light, and I struggle to carry my heavy suitcase up and down the dozens of staircases that make up the Paris subway. A stranger helps me carry it up the final staircase, “Merci beaucoup” I say.
I was supposed to stay at a Hotel Excelsior, but when I arrived I found out they had cancelled my reservation, because they had tried to charge my credit card a couple days before and I was low on funds. They had given away my room and had none left. The concierge was very nice and found me a room in the same price range at a hotel down the street. This concierge was very nice as well and gave me a larger room at no extra charge.
I could finally relax. In theory. But with only one full day in Paris, I needed to have a plan.
Salvador Dali Museum
Bois de Vincennes
Chateau de Vincennes
I came across this picture when researching my trip. It was used in an Airbnb ad that said it was close to the Bois de Vincennes. My French is not the best, but for some reason I never thought to look up the meaning of bois… it means woods. I thought it referred to the structure itself. I wanted to go there.
So the following day, when I woke and got dressed I headed towards Monmartre to find the Salvador Dali museum. The closest subway stop was Sacre Coeur. I hadn’t intended to go there but I had to stop and take a few pictures. I rode the lift to the top and ended up going inside; bought a book from the gift shop. Afterwards, I found the Salvador Dali museum and admired his portrayal of Alice in Wonderland, as well as his series of melting clocks. I explored Monmartre and passed the artists doing portraits. I did not have the time or money to sit for one.
Next on my list was the Louvre. On exiting the subway, I found myself in a very modern shopping mall attached to the museum. I bought a ticket and entered, searching for a few pieces in the short time I had before they closed. I wanted to see the Mona Lisa, of course, and the Nike of Samothrace as well as the Venus de Milo. I wandered around in awe, still in disbelief that I was in Paris in the Louvre. The Mona Lisa is so much smaller than I had imagined. I had thought it would be much larger due to its fame. People were crowded up next to the rope preventing us from getting too close. Everyone was taking selfies. Myself included :-).
In the Louvre shopping center, I ordered from a McDonald’s machine, since I had not taken the time to eat. A man came up to me and asked me if I knew where he could get halal food. He asked if I wanted to help him find some. Seemed like it would have been an interesting adventure, but I still had places to see and not much time, so I politely declined.
I took the train again, this time to Vincennes and saw the castle, the château de Vincennes. I walked around briefly and studied my map because now I needed to find the Bois de Vincennes, and that structure I had seen from the picture. Back to the subway and even though my feet were killing me from walking all day (I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, as usual) I continued on my quest because I had somehow gotten it into my head that I had to find it.
I get off of the train again and am now at an entrance to the Bois de Vincennes. There is a map, but no picture of what I am searching for. I begin to walk. And walk. Until I feel like I can’t walk anymore so I stop and sit on a bench. And then walk some more. I come across a lake, which I walk around. I see signs for a Buddhist temple and I continue to walk. Still no signs of the structure. There are families, people on bikes, people walking. It is still light out, by now it is about 7 or 8 pm. I continue to walk, watching, observing, searching, for something. For this piece of architecture that reminds me of a castle, that I have come all this way to find. That I am not even sure how to find. There are swans in the lake. I decide to call it swan lake. It’s real name is Lac Daumesnil. I continue on, now exhausted. I decide to go down a street, leaving the park and the woods behind. I pass theVincennes Zoo, and sit down again.
It is definitely close to 9:00 by now, and still no sign of the structure, and I am almost completely lost. All I can do is continue walking, so I do, slowly because it is all I can manage with my aching feet. A little later I come across a bus stop which has a map, it seems that if I keep going straight I will eventually run into a subway stop. Now, with a plan, I keep going, deciding to give up on my quest and just try to find my way home (back to the hotel). A bus passes, but I am nowhere near the stop anymore and it passes me by. I continue my journey now just to find my way out of this maze, this labyrinth. Just a little farther, I keep telling my feet, don’t let me down now. And soon I see the lake again, and suddenly there, in the distance, I see it, what I now know is the Temple of Love. I had finally found it at the end of my journey. It was beautiful, and definitely worth the hours I spent looking for it. I took a few pictures and finally continued on. It was time to find my way home because I still had one more place on my list.
Back at the hotel, I searched for the best place to go to see the Eiffel Tower. Turned out I just had to take the subway to Trocadero. I left around 11:30 pm. The directions had said to walk straight upon exiting the subway, so I did. As the building ended, I looked to the left and there is was, as if it had just appeared out of thin air. Much larger than I had expected. I follow the sounds of the crowd of tourists taking pictures and make my way to the front so I can join them. A few minutes later, the lights begin to flash. I had come just in time for the light show. I stayed after most people had gone, somehow unable to bring myself to leave quite yet. I had to go closer, though the courtyard, past the Seine because I couldn’t believe this was real, that I was actually in Paris, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I found myself wishing my mom could have been there with me, felt the tears begin to form behind my eyes as I tried not to let them fall. I don’t know how long I was there, an hour maybe. I finally said goodbye, not wanting to miss the last train and be forced to take a cab like I had in London. (I stayed out late in Picadilly Circus and people kept trying to lure me into unmarked taxis…)
The next day, I made my way to the Charles de Gaulle and boarded the 13 hour flight to San Francisco. My vacation was over, time to re-enter the life I once knew.