I flew from Tallinn to the City of Light to meet my friend Virginie, one of my favourite people in the world. I first met her when I was doing a high school year abroad in France back in 2004. She was a counsellor at the camp I attended before moving in with my host family, and we kept in touch throughout the year. In 2005-2006, we both attended universities in Montreal and we had great fun together. She came to visit my family in Ottawa, and we went on a road trip with a few other friends from France to Tadoussac, north of Quebec City. I was thrilled to see her again in Paris!
Virginie kindly arranged for me to stay at her brother’s apartment in Saint-Ouen, a close suburb of Paris. I ended up staying in the city for about 12 days in total. I had to arrange visas for some of my future travels, and that took some time. But Paris is hardly the worst place in the world to be stuck on a trip!
I had been to Paris a few times already, and I didn’t feel the pressing need to climb the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe again, or to wade through the giant sea of humanity at the Louvre. Instead, I took it easy. On my first day in Paris, I joined Virginie and her sister Hélène at the Louis Vuitton building on the Champs-Élysées. There is an art gallery at the top of the building, where Virginie’s friend was running a dance workshop. She led our group (about 15 people) in dance through the entire exhibit. It was neat!
As luck would have it, that night the Tour de France was coming in. Now normally, I don’t give a hoot about bike races. In fact, I still don’t. But I do appreciate a party atmosphere, and that evening the mood in Paris was electric. I joined Virginie’s other sister and her boyfriend, and we found a prime spot in the Jardin des Tuileries where we could watch the cyclists do their sprint laps around the Champs-Élysées. I managed to snag a photo during one of the earlier laps, before the race got too fast.
During my first week in the city, I kept busy by ticking things off a list entitled “What I Would Do in Paris if I Ever Had Enough Time.” I visited the Musée d’Orsay, found Edith Piaf at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and settled down to read a book at Place des Vosges and the Jardin du Luxembourg. I spent one unbelievably toasty afternoon sitting in a fountain under the Eiffel Tower and watching the world go by. When I was finished with that fountain, I sat in another one at the Trocadéro. Did I mention how hot it was?
The best part of the week was seeing old friends. Virginie and I met up with one friend from the Tadoussac trip, and they took me to see Montmartre by night. We met up with another road trip friend the next evening, and we spent hours talking by the river. It made me so happy to see these people again after seven years.
Virgine and I went to Eurodisney, which was fantastic! Since they had forecasted thunderstorms that never materialized, there was hardly anyone there. I didn’t wait at all for Space Mountain! Although the parks are much smaller than the ones in Orlando (which I had visited in 2004), the attractions are identical and awesome.
One afternoon, I met up with Mikaël, a friend that I had made in Laos, and we visited the catacombs together. Despite living in Paris his whole life, he had never been before. We waited in line for an hour, and we were some of the last people to make it in before they closed for the day. It is decidedly creepy down there. After trudging down 130 steps and walking through a seemingly endless tunnel, you finally reach the ossuary, where there are millions of bones and skulls, some arranged in arches or other formations.
A few days later, I met Mikaël again along with his friend Julien, who I had also met in Laos. We spent a lovely afternoon hanging out at the Jardin du Luxembourg. I loved seeing them again, and hearing about their lives. They are the ones who introduced me to Verlan (C’est ouf! C’est chelou!)
I had a wonderful time meeting Virginie’s friends. One night, we had a fabulous dinner at a Korean restaurant, and then headed out to karaoke afterward. Another night, we had a picnic at Paris-Plages (a temporary beach along the Seine set up in summer), then went to a bar where you could play board games (Jungle Speed!) I also spent a great day with Virginie’s sister Hélène. She took me to her aquafit class, which I loved, and to the market, where I indulged in my passion for raspberries.
Virginie works at a retirement home, and she invited to come give a presentation to the residents about my trip. It was a wonderful but challenging experience. I learned how hard it is to give a presentation in your second language. It is one thing to know exactly what you are going to say, but it is another thing entirely to be spontaneous. I think I did a reasonably good job, and Virginie tells me they enjoyed it. I loved speaking with some of the residents before and after the presentation, and hearing their stories as well.
It’s interesting to me how my standards have altered with each new living situation on my trip. When I was in New Zealand staying exclusively in dorms, I used to get excited over the smallest of luxuries:
“Yes! There are only two other people in my room and not sixteen!”
“Fabulous! I have an outlet beside my bed! And a bottom bunk!”
“The communal kitchen has a real stove, not just burners! I’m so happy!”
When I hit Southeast Asia, my standards just plummeted:
“There are no lizards crawling around in my bed? Aces!”
“There is an actual toilet! Not a hole in the ground, not a toilet seat on top of a hole, but a toilet that goes whoosh when you flush it! Fantastic!”
“Who cares if the shower is cold? At least there’s a shower at all!”
But then, after travelling around with my parents in hotels for a bit, I started to get uppity:
“The breakfast buffet was okay, but I wish they had orange AND apple juice”
“The bathtub is nice, but I’d rather a Jacuzzi like at that last place”
“Would it kill them to put chocolates on our pillows?”
After my parents left, and I was alone again, my standards dropped accordingly:
“Super! I didn’t get woken up by the drunk parade at 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30 a.m.!”
“Nice! The guy in the bed next to me didn’t puke into his sheets tonight!”
“An en-suite bathroom attached to the dorm? Is this the Hilton?”
I like to think that one skill I gained from this trip is adaptability.