Friday, 6 June 2014

Paris: Enchanted

I am in love.

Flying into Charles de Gaulle airport was a traveller's dream! The suitcases came out onto the luggage belt quickly and there was NO cue at the passport control counter; I mean the officer barely glanced at my passport before waving me through, and although there was a wait for a taxi, it was a short one.

From the airport experience alone, I gauged that this trip would be excellent, but as I approached the flat I'd rented in Paris (near Montmartre), I began to feel dread growing in my stomach. The area was extremely dirty, police officers were patrolling the streets and talking with people, and somewhere among the storefronts was a hammam which was camouflaging the  actual flat. As I made my way up to the flat, I smelled urine and stale cigarettes in the hallway. My renter was awesome about helping me with my luggage, but I couldn't tell if she was assisting to be helpful or to speed up the check-in process. I finally caught my breath as she complained that I was late. As I tried to get details about the internet, garbage disposal, etc...I was becoming annoyed that the renter was upset over me being late-I had made her miss her train to her home over 200km away. I had told her my arrival time and asked her how long it would take me to get through security, collect my bags and the length of the drive to her flat. She had no idea how long the drive would take, so how was I to give her my EXACT arrival time??? My welcome to France was beginning to feel lukewarm.

The renter had barely briefed me before leaving-great. Additional light fixtures weren't working, no extra pillows were left out (as I'd requested because I need to sleep sitting up-a medical issue), the bed linens were old and smelly and to make it all so much worse there were...Cockroaches. Oddly-or not-my renter was unavailable the entire evening and only returned my phone messages AFTER the payment for the flat had been processed the next day. I managed to sleep that first night somehow, but before 8am the next morning I went out and scouted the area and found a gorgeous hotel in Montmartre only two blocks from the Moulin Rouge and five minutes from Sacre Couer! 

After our rocky start, Paris and I were finally on the same page and I easily fell in love with France. It didn't have to do with Paris' reputation for being a romantic city. It was that, if it's possible, part of me felt at home. I feel that way in Japan because I can understand the idiosyncrasies that I've inherited from my father that I just thought were his own quirks, but actually made sense IN Japan. In France, however, I just felt like even though my French heritage is part of a distant past (my great-great grandmother was Métis, French-Indigenous Canadian), it was alive in me. Maybe part of it was the hospitality that I experienced. I was worried that the French people I encountered wouldn't like me. In life, I rarely care what others think of me, but something was different in France. You always hear Canadians say that French people won't even acknowledge Canadians speaking Canadian French. Not true in my case. Even my broken Québecois French wasn't horrible enough to offend them or put them off. Their smiles, politeness and genuine curiosity about where I'm from were their only reactions. Amazing! I thought that all of the French writing would be overwhelming, but it was great because I could actually understand some of it! The city was so dynamic, animated, vibrant and gorgeously rich. The history, culture, food, wine, people, sights, architecture, environment and public transit were...Heavenly. Maybe I've lived in Kuwait too long. Maybe France was just a one-time deal, but I don't think so. France was the first country I've visited in Europe and it was completely unforgettable.

Montmartre:

I ended up checking-in to the Hotel des Arts on 5 Rue Tholozé. It was awesome! They were so accommodating and helpful! Once I'd settled in I was able to de-stress and ENJOY Paris! Below are some of the sights I saw in the first, I mean second, day of my travels :P

A Room With a View: what I saw when I looked out my window at sundown. Look at colours in the sky! P.S. it wouldn't get dark there until 10pm! WOWZA! LOVED that!!!
 The Moulin Rouge! 
The line to see performances formed early!
 Beautiful flats! I know that I have a romanticized view of living in the flats in France, but they are gorgeous! I just read this article. Check it out: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27502469
 I don't know if I did the lamp posts justice. Can you see the gargoyles (??) almost swallowing (embracing??) the lights?
 Breakfast of champions at the hotel: croissant, butter (of course!) and LOTS of cheese!!!
 The view when I would turn right out of the hotel :)
A rare occasion: NO ONE on the street. This street was usually packed full of people! The hotel is about halfway down the street
Enjoying a specialty coffee at the Irish pub at the top of the street. LOVE all that whipped cream!

It wasn't long before my (former) Polish flatmate from Kuwait visited me!!! She travelled from Switzerland (YES, that's where she's living now!). Seeing her outside of Kuwait was incredible. She was radiant, and full of life! The Irish chef and I used to converse about our sentiment that Kuwait never really brought out the best in us (expats), and that we'd be interested to see our friends and colleagues outside of Kuwait so that we could know what people were really like. I saw a lot of exhaustion, weathered faces, defeat, depression and frustration in people in Kuwait. I think the best people I knew were affected negatively while they were living in that environment, unfortunately. Seeing my flatmate in a country sooo different than the one we'd met in was like the icing on the cake! There were really only three women at the university who I thought were true friends: My Lebanese roomie (who is living it up back in Lebanon!), the Georgian lady (who will be moving back to Georgia this summer!) and my Polish flatmate (who is now living and working in Switzerland and learning German!). These women were my lifelines while we were there. When I saw my Polish flatmate, I don't think we stopped talking (or walking for that matter, except when we attempted to use the metro-which we somehow did successfully!). She spoke about life as an expat in Switzerland and the ups and downs. She told me all about Switzerland and now I want to go there sooo badly!!! She spoke about travelling and we reminisced about old times in Kuwait. We laughed and may have even laughed at the horrible times, too (hindsight IS 20/20). It was so nice catching-up with her. Now I wonder where we'll meet next: Canada, Switzerland or somewhere in the middle? ;)

 The rain didn't stop us! We walked about 4 kilometres to the Arc de Triomphe
 It was under construction...It looks like it has a Band Aid on it, hehehe.
 Seafood and noodle soup at a Chinese restaurant near the hotel.
Welcome to Berko in Montmartre: http://www.berko.fr/ 
Okay, so we had to sample some sweets! Look, we needed dessert after that long walk! Cheesecake and cupcakes were on the menu!
 Yes, that blue one is a SMURF cupcake!
 Oh, hello! What? You want to go in my belly?!? Well, I can help you with that! A sampling box of three later, I was honestly feeling bloated, but whatever! They were sooo delicious!

Yes, there's still MORE to post about Paris. Apologies for not writing in ages (actually it's been a few weeks), but readjusting to life in Canada has been hectic and blogging has been at the bottom of a never-ending "To Do" list. I will try to add more about Paris VERY soon!!!

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