i hadn’t spent enough time preparing for paris, so unfortunately i paid for it a little. i had been having so much fun with my new friends in amsterdam that i hadn’t bothered to do any recon on where i was going next. i had originally planned to go straight to germany after, but last minute i had decided on a quick jaunt of paris. i simply booked a place run by Hosteling International (an organization i’m a member of which had treated me well in Iceland, and which gives me a discount when i stay at their hostels) and then i hopped on a train. as soon as i arrived, i realized that this was going to be one of the more difficult places for me to travel, and I really should have done more on the front end to make my life easier.
The first problem was that I had chosen a hostel in the near the main train station at the north side of paris, gar du nord. I had chosen it because I wanted to be somewhere with easy access and that was easily walkable from my arrival point.
word of advice: this is not a good way to travel. don’t choose your headquarters simply based off it’s proximity to a travel point. surely, this will be a factor, but if you are staying somewhere longer than 2 days, this won’t be as important, especially if you are using public transit like subways and trains which are more than adequate and safe in europe. better to pick a neighborhood that will inspire you and will be near all the things that you want to partake of or experience while you are there. that way you won’t have as many factors that take you out of the moments that are building your memories.
the problem with my hostel is that it was basically located in a fairly run down part of paris. Somewhere in the 18th arrondissement (paris is broken up by 20 districts that start in the middle and spiral outward like a snail shell around the city), i was staying right in the middle of little algeria and little india.
i have nothing against algerians or indians, and i’m sure there are plenty of cool local cultural experiences that one can partake of in this area, but that’s not what i came to paris for, and i can get indian food anywhere in the world when i want it. i came to paris to experience brilliant architecture, amazing art, good music, good wine, and sidewalk cafes filled with snobby french people smoking cigarettes throwing baguettes at each other (okay so i think the french are too apathetic about everything to ever throw a baguette at someone else. plus they’d never waste a good baguette). this neighborhood didn’t really have any of that going on (at least that i could find).
after doing a few laps around my neighborhood for a couple hours and failing to be allured by anything nearby, and also silently cursing myself for not being more diligent in my prepwork, I decided to change the gameplan.
literally, all i had wanted to do in paris was find a café with some local live music and hang out there, drink wine, meet some locals, maybe meet a french girl, eat a ton of pastries and gain at least 10 pounds, etc. and if i didn’t go to
a single museum or protected structure, i probably would have been fine with it. i wanted to try and just become part of a neighborhood, but that wasn’t going to happen here, so instead i decided to go into super-tourist mode. i was going to “checklist travel.”
right away i found a bicycle tour of the city i could jump on and get the lay of the land. charl and kim from amsterdam had strenuously recommended “fat tire bike tours” as a must-do, so i located their office and went straight there. it was a fantastic tour. our guide, a pocket-sized belgian girl named “rabine” was a little ball of commanding energy that safely and comically guided a group of over 20 through the maniacally busy streets of paris, viewing a number of key landmarks like the eiffel tower, the louvre, the jardines de tuleries, and a number of important historical buildings originating from french kings louis the 14th – 16th, and some points of interest related to napoleon bonaparte. It was a great way to spend 4 hours of your 1st day and figure out where everything in paris is at.
the next day i arose early and went straight to the palace of versailles, the residence of louis the 14th’ located outside the city. i wasn’t expecting much more than a bunch of overrated touristy french history, but actually this place is worth a stop on your trip. versailles is a 30 minute train ride outside paris and once you see it, it magnificently grabs your attention (plus, if you’re like me, i can only be in a city for so long before i need an escape. this is an easy escape from the city). louis kinda had a complex and he wanted the entire world to know of his legacy, so he commissioned building after building in his own honor throughout paris, but for his house, a simple castle wouldn’t do; he built himself a small town. the entire residence is seriously bigger than some of the towns i’ve been thru in europe now (honestly it’s so big that i don’t have any photos to really share of the property because they just don’t capture how grandiose this place is. imagine ceasar’s palace in las vegas and then multiply it by like 100 and then use the rest of the vegas strip as a backyard. now you have versailles). it’s ridiculous, but the best part is easily the expansive gardens out back from the chateaux. after a quick run through the palace, i had to get away from the crowds so i rented a bicycle and tried to get as far into the gardens as possible.
i rode for 30 minutes around the canals before finally finding a quiet spot to sit down and enjoy my own little picnic. okay, if i’m totally honest, i also tried to take this crappy little mountain bike rental off the road and down a small trail into the trees. I was doing well until I pulled my gopro camera out to try and record it and then hit a pothole and flew over the handlebars. luckily the only thing bruised was my pride. i’m a dumbass.
all in all, the gardens at versailles are a great place to spend a lazy afternoon if the weather is right. i can see why the megalomaniac louis had the place built (mainly to hunt, actually), because i would spend all my time there too if I was a king and didn’t have to actually work all day. he also had a lot of cool side gardens built that you can just get lost in, like some beautiful labyrinth full of botanical splendor and random sculptures spread throughout.
that afternoon i headed back into the city to try and find a cool neighborhood to wander around. i got off at the bastille metro exit and started walking. eventually i found a small café with a sidewalk and snobby french people with tattoos and trendy haircuts smoking cigarettes out front. i walked by the place at least 4 times, trying to muster up the courage to just go in and sit down. i don’t think anyone was paying attention, but if they had been, i’m pretty sure this is exactly what they would have thought of:
eventually i walked in and grabbed a table and ordered a beer. I stayed there for 4 hours, just people watching. At least I had been able to capture a small window into my previous ambitions of just absorbing the parisian lifestyle. content, I found my way back to the metro and wandered back to my poorly located hostel and slept soundly.
hostel not to stay at: hostel yves robert.
to get to versailles: take the RER C line (or yellow line) on the subway/metro in the direction of versailles-rive gauche, and take it to the end of the line. it’ll cost less than 10 euros if you don’t have an unlimited tourist pass (if you have an unlimited ticket, make sure it’s good for 5 ZONES. i saw people getting ticketed because they didn’t know about the zones)
fat tire bicycle tours: https://paris.fattirebiketours.com
today’s tune is a slow burner from the new album from caribou, “our love.” if you’re not familiar with caribou, this album is a very easy entry into founder daniel snaith’s brand of spacy electronic dream pop, as every track stays low to the ground and easy on the ear (read as: “our love” doesn’t try to go crazy and blow the roof off any house parties. it’s something you put on if you want to relax on your back porch with a bottle of wine and a book, or if you’ve been blogging on a bus for 10 hours straight trying to catch up on your travelogue). today’s song is the 2nd track off the album, “silver.” it’s a slow, brooding track that goes to a place for those that have gone without. dripping with unrequite and angst-filled sadness, if you’ve ever loved and lost, you’ll love this song. enjoy…