I have always been afraid of going to Paris. It has such high expectations, legendary monuments, museums and croissants and pastries one can only dream about. Could it ever live up to my visions of this grand city? Also, Parisians also have a reputation for…well, not being very nice. The bulk of my French consisted of “Bonjour!” and “Merci!” which always worked perfectly at Charles de Gaulle on a layover – but I knew that I had to learn some French before my trip. Otherwise…I knew they’d hate me!
I speak Italian well, so I thought how hard could it be to learn a little French? Just enough to get by going out to eat or to a store or ask for directions. Easy, right? So I used a handy little app called Duolingo to get me started with some basic French. I partially started learning Italian with this app years ago and it’s great for people just starting to learn a language. It has great graphics, photos and exercises to help you learn and gives you feedback. I like it because it uses reading, writing, hearing/comprehension and speaking to help you understand all the ways in which the language is used. The most frustrating thing I found about French, is that they don’t pronounce half of the letters that are in words. So strange! So my pronunciation wasn’t that good, but I felt like I learned enough so that they wouldn’t hate me in Paris.
The first part of my journey took me to Amsterdam, Brugge and Brussels and I ended my trip with four days in Paris. I had high hopes, I was feeling good and I thought maybe it would surpass my expectations. And then I arrived…and Paris chewed me up and spit me out on the first day. Bad/non-existent signage, people pretending like they couldn’t hear me when I spoke French, a hotel room with only a tub (no shower), closed stores, mean hotel staff, a really bad crepe and an even more horrible cocktail to round out the evening. Day one was an utter failure.
So, I moved on to day two with hope that it couldn’t be worse than the day before. I went out for breakfast to find a cappuccino and some type of pastry…and luckily I found something similar to a cream puff with flavored frosting on top at Odette Paris. It was divine! I thought, oh this day is looking good. I had my camera and had spotted a beautiful old church nearby while eating my cream puffs and decided to head over there for some photos. Bums were everywhere and were standing at the doors so I decided I probably shouldn’t go in. Darn. Then, I decided that I should go see Notre Dame as I was closeby. The man at the door was beyond rude…and at a church! Again, pretended like he didn’t see or hear me. I couldn’t get in. I left and decided to go to another church…where they were charging admission. I just wanted to sit in peace and marvel at the architecture, not much to ask right? It just seemed like everywhere I went was a roadblock. I finally wandered for miles that day and found a park to just sit and relax. Later, my wandering led me to some shops and retail therapy – what a relief!
A girl in Brugge had told me about a restaurant in Paris that I should go to – La Vache et le Cuisiner near Sacré Cœur. I decided to head over there at sunset to see Sacre Coeur in all it’s glory before dinner. The restaurant was tiny and quaint and had an open table. I accidentally ordered an entire bottle of wine (oops!) as well as steak and frites. I decided that after the last two days I also needed profiteroles swimming in chocolate to ease the pain – it worked!
Afterwards I wandered a bit and headed to a bar in the 9th, Lulu White, that I found online. You see, after last night’s horrible cocktail debacle I needed something amazing so I spent some time searching online for the best cocktails in Paris. I walked in to a completely empty bar, ha! Not a good sign, but the atmosphere was cool, chill and reminiscent of a New Orleans style bar so I felt at home. The bartender working introduced me to the menu and we ended up chatting most of the evening since they were slow. The first drink I had was amazing, so we were off to a good start. She asked me about my travels and I told her it was my first time in Paris. She then asked, “How do you like Paris?”. I literally almost broke down in tears, but was able to maintain composure and tell her about my not-so-great experience so far.
After telling her my stories, she told me that she was from France but had lived in London for the past few years and just moved back. She told me about the differences between the French and the British, their cultures and mannerisms. I felt a whole lot better hearing things from her perspective of having lived in both places, as she confirmed some of the ways I was feeling about Paris. We talked about our shared love of Italy and Italian food, and we even spoke a bit of Italian together. Speaking Italian with a French girl in Paris – who knew?! She gave me some recommendations on where to go the next day, where to eat and most importantly the best cocktail bars in Paris. And the recommendations were amazing!
Up until that point, I almost called Delta to change my ticket and leave immediately to go home early. But after that night, I decided that I’d stay. My time in Paris took a turn for the better after that evening at Lulu White. And I’m glad I stayed, because I ended up finding some gems and parts of Paris that I loved thanks to her recommendations. She literally saved my trip. I don’t remember her name, so to me she will always be, “The girl that saved Paris”.
(Note: I just received my professional film scans back and here is one of my images that I shot at sunset on the Seine from my hotel. More images andnew galleries coming soon!)
Ciao! Or should I say, Merci!