PARIS: THE ARRIVAL
Arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport at 6.15 AM. Spent forever at the airport hunting for the train that goes to Mouton Douvernet, the stop at which we were supposed to get off at. It’s true that the French don’t speak much English. Most of them prefer conversing in French first. It was a good thing I started off with, “Excusi moi, parle vouz anglais?” which means, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
They could tell from my feeble French that I couldn’t speak the language, but the fact that I attempted earned me some kind nods from these French strangers and they did their best to lead me in the right direction anyway.
When we got out of the station, I was awestruck. All my life I’d dreamed of visiting Europe, and now that I was finally here, it felt like a dream. But that dream quickly dissipated when we pulled out our map and realized we didn’t know how to get to Cyril’s house, which was going to be our home for the next two days. I didn’t have internet on my phone so there was no way I could call Cyril or launch Google Maps.
We stopped the first woman in sight for directions, but she couldn’t speak English.
The universal language to ask for directions is to simply point at the map anyway, which was what we did.
Anyway, we found Cyril’s apartment and settled in. He had to head off to work, so Gloria and I explored Paris by ourselves. Our exhausting journey across continents didn’t phase us — we were just thrilled to be prancing around on French soil.
Despite it being a big city, Paris was still wrapped in an enigma of timelessness and sophistication. The architecture drew me in — pretty balconies adorned with flowers and brightly-painted doors that contrasted the pale brown tones of the walls — I was probably more caught up with the appearance of these random apartments than the actual tourist attractions.
We were supposed to check out the Catacombes, a popular underground museum that houses millions of skulls. It wasn’t too far away from where Cyril lived, but we got lost (even though we walked right past the entrance) and totally missed the signboard. I blame our exhausting plane ride.
But, we had a great time exploring the neighboring regions of the city. We stayed within the South of Paris, snapping photos of buildings that caught our attention and posing in the streets like total tourists. We didn’t travel 14 hours across the world to blend in, and if we were gonna stand out, might as well just go all out, you know? It’s not everyday that you get to dance on the streets of Paris or snap selfies with an amusing selfie stick.
I had a thing for McDonalds in Europe. That curiosity started in Paris. I spotted McDonalds and was like, “OK we are checking that out.”
Gloria was confused. “Why? We have McDonalds in Malaysia.”
“Maybe the French menu is different,” I insisted. And I was right… kinda.
The McDonalds in Paris sold burgers and fries and nuggets (typical McD shizz) but it also sold a salad wrap. Now that’s something Malaysian McDonalds don’t have. It also had a salad bowl, which was nothing but a bowl of greens. Just greens. No tomatoes, no grilled chicken breast, just greens. And I was amazed. Why would anyone walk into McD’s and get a plain bowl of greens? I mean, don’t they have supermarkets for that?
I kept telling Gloria this: “Paris kinda reminds me of New York City.”
Firstly, the metro (underground train) is a common mode of transport. And the underground tunnels leading to the platforms are just as dingy as the ones in New York. Well, New York’s subways are a lot worse, though. At least the Parisians have it a little better. Their platforms and trains aren’t the cleanest, but they’re fine.
Secondly, the men and women look like they just stepped right out of a Zara catalog. Polished hair, polished faces, polished bodies, polished everything.
Thirdly, I’d hate to say this, but Parisians aren’t the warmest people on first impression. But once you’ve broken that icy shell, you’ll discover how affable they really are. I mean, if you live in a big metropolis where you can’t trust anybody on the street, you tend to develop the need to protect yourself.
And that’s all the similarities I can think of. I can think of a great deal of contrasts between Paris and NYC, though.
Like how Parisian women tend to favor tiny dogs. We’d see tons of miniature chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers and other little dogs that had been scaled several sizes down from the originals. Our friend joked that these dogs weren’t really dogs. “They’re rats,” he’d chuckle.
Almost everyone bikes there. Even preppy-looking men in smart business suits and gelled hair rode bikes. I saw a woman in a flowery red dress and 5-inch scarlet stilettos cycling in the midst of the evening traffic. Respect.
We didn’t really know where we were going, and since it was approaching 4PM and we didn’t have enough time to check out the Eiffel Tower or the museums, we just decided to hop on the metro and get off at “that stop that’s by the bridge.” That stop turned out to be St. Michel.
We tried our very first crepe in the city, which was filled with Nutella, banana slices and whipped cream. It was delicious and sinfully sweet, and I felt guilt creeping up on me because I knew that was only the beginning of my crazy food adventure. That crepe was the key that unlocked my inner foodie. I started pigging out on macarons and strawberry custard tarts and gelato — on a different day. Bottom line was, that crepe was gooooood.
The Notre Dame Cathedral wasn’t far away from St. Michel, so we walked over there and got so turned off by the long line of people that we decided not to join the crowd. It was getting late and we were tired.
We met up with Cyril when he got off work, and my friendly French friend took us on a 2-hour walking tour around Paris. At the Louvre Museum, Cyril and I got into a heated argument about macarons so I threw him across the courtyard… with my bare hands.
All jokes aside, Cyril’s a really cool guy and I’m glad we stayed in touch after our college years in Arkansas. We go way back to the fall of 2010, when we were new international students at the University of Central Arkansas. We took one journalism class together and we’d go for Starbucks after class and order anything but coffee. We’d chat about life and philosophies, the things we wanted to do after college, the funkiest bands around (he was an indie music junkie) and I was really sad when he had to return to France after one semester in the States.
Two years later, we met again in New York City. Then he moved to Canada while I stayed on in NYC to work. All this while, we stayed in touch. And then finally, we met again in Paris. He had just moved to the city from the south of France, but he seemed to know the city like it was at the back of his hand.
Paris was pretty and very, very enchanting. My first day was quite magical, despite being sleep-deprived. I had a great time exploring the city on foot and photographing all the random streets and architecture. On Day Two, another adventure unraveled…