Paris: Day 1
After an interesting night that may or may not have involved sleepwalking, Joseph and I got up bright and early at 7.30 to begin our first day in Paris. For breakfast, we walked to a nearby boulangerie (recommended to us by our Airbnb host) where we scored a free croissant in a special Saturday deal. Being used to multiplying all euro values by ten in order to obtain the rough Hong Kong equivalent, I spent an embarrassingly long time wondering why Joseph was trying to pay with change and not a 20€ bill. It was certainly the first of my finest moments.
We ate our various pastries at the Buttes-Chaumont Park, which is located five minutes away from our home. It was certainly a beautiful park, with rolling grassy hills, mock temples and rock formations, waterfalls, a bridge, lots of ducks and runners, but something in me felt that the place was a little incongruous, potentially because the graffiti that greeted us every so often seemed to oppose the vague Disney feel the park implied. Notwithstanding that fact, we did have a lot of fun walking up and down random paths and discovering some gems along the way.
Earlier on in the trip, Joseph and I decided that we both wanted to bike our way throughout the city, as opposed to using the metro or the bus. Three reasons: a) the Vélib system in Paris is incredibly well set-up and relatively cheap, considering one pays 1.7€ for an entire day’s worth of bike riding at any location; b) getting around by bike would show us so much more of the actual city; c) exercise is very important when you are in a country that is famous for its sugar. Thus, after breakfast we rented bikes and made our way to Clignancourt / Montmartre, to visit the Saturday flea market and the Sacre-Cœur. We were quite lucky that our first day happened to be a Saturday, because Saturdays meant farmers’ markets (cheese! fruits! unidentifiable but nonetheless delicious looking things!), roadside vintage stalls, and a general camaraderie in the air as Parisians enjoyed the first day of the weekend. At Clignancourt we browsed stores that sold old books, furniture, jewellery, trinkets, among a host of other things that made our budget travellers’ souls weep a little. A little up the road we discovered a very picturesque residential street, which we actually spent more time in than at the flea market itself.
After a little bit of TripAdvisor-ing (by which I mean perusing the app and trying to figure out where the ‘good’ restaurants were located), we ended up at a randomly chosen restaurant that featured the happiest waitress alive. As we ate our onion soup (me), prawns with carrot purée (Joseph), fish with mashed potatoes (me) and a slab of beef (me… only jokes), the waitress would waltz in and out of the restaurant singing along to the Billboards 50 soundtrack at the neighbouring frozen yogurt store, to the extent where the bartender asked why she was so happy. ‘It’s Saturday!’ the waitress replied, and I couldn’t agree more.
(By the way, a little reflection on the use of applications to determine where to go: although I think it’s awesome that there are so many recommendations online, especially when time is tight, ultimately I think apps like these should be used in moderation. One of the biggest negatives of things like TripAdvisor is that they make us feel obligated to follow someone else’s agenda / perception of what is ‘good’, which in turn can impact the way we respond when spontaneity becomes the inevitable option. In our case, spontaneity turned out just fine.)
The next few hours were a blur of streetside paintings, busking performances, people, beautiful architecture, stunning citywide views, people, churches, and people: in a word, a blur of all the things that make the Montmartre neighbourhood what it is. Joseph and I meandered through the streets jam-packed with artists, discussing which paintings we’d hang in our rooms if only we weren’t on a budget. At one point, Joseph struck up a conversation with a white-haired, blue-eyed man who created very minimalist ink and watercolour art. The man showed us every single one of his paintings, then assured us that it was perfectly fine to just admire the art without the intention of purchase. It was heartwarming to see how proud he was of his work, and rightly so — the way he crafted subtlety and beauty from simple brush-strokes was unparalleled, and we told him so.
Afterwards we headed to the Fondation Luis Vuitton, a modern art museum designed by Frank Gehry and located beside the Bois de Boulogne. The exhibition focus was on Chinese artists, which we found to be quite relevant to us. One particular piece that sticks out in my mind is a Minecraft-esque video of a man-made, virtual Chinese city with floating pandas and random placements of landmarks such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Taipei 101, etc. We watched the entire video and walked out feeling very dizzy (it was one of those ‘virtual rollercoaster ride’ videos) and very amused, seeing as we recognized so much in the piece.
Once again, the next few hours passed in a blur. After a very long trek to find a Vélib station in the searing 7PM (!) heat (!!) and sun (!!!), we spent a while exploring the park and the neighbouring area on bike. Then of course we headed over to the Eiffel tower, and I was terribly grateful for Joseph’s human-GPS capacities; one of my happiest moments from the day was hearing Joseph call out ‘Look!’ and looking up to see the top of the Eiffel tower peeking out from above the tree-lined road we had cycled for so long. When we actually got there, the feeling was so surreal — obviously the area was pretty touristic, but that didn’t detract from the scale of the tower, which loomed above us in its (surprisingly beautiful) burnt caramel-esque hues. We wanted to be there at sunset, so Joseph and I decided to eat dinner first and return later. Our budget plans were butchered when the last convenience store closed at 8.45PM (which we realized upon our arrival at 8.47PM), which meant we couldn’t buy cheap sandwich ingredients and instead had to resort to a restaurant. Amateurs indeed. But we thought it’d be okay to treat ourselves, just this once, seeing as we’d travelled for so long and were in utter need of a carbohydrate-laden feast featuring the holy trinity of pasta, bread and rice, which we did have, and which did break our budget travellers’ souls yet again. (Note to self: this was ONE TIME!)
The day ended perfectly. When we got back to the Eiffel tower it was getting dark, so the tower had been lit up in the colours of the French flag. This isn’t a regular occurrence — it was to commemorate the Nice attack, which was terrible and heartbreaking (I could go on about the state the world is in today, and how much I despise it, but this is not the right post in which to present these views). Amidst this sobering atmosphere Joseph taught me all about the architectural intricacies of the tower, construction lines, etc, and the most memorable thing I learnt was that there is great value in travelling with an architect. 🙂
On the 11PM bike ride home, we passed the National Assembly (also lighted up in the colours of the French flag), the Seine (where Saturday revellers were conversing by the river and enjoying late meals), several Ferris Wheels, the Place de la Concorde, and the Canal St. Martin. It was a little daunting cycling on the roads at night, especially when visibility was quite low, but it felt good to be out in the chilly nighttime air and see a quieter side of Paris. Upon returning home, we were promptly knocked out from sheer exhaustion, hearts happy with the knowledge that we’d have another full day in Paris.