My first trip to Europe came as a pleasant surprise. It was in 2003, the year I graduated from college. Rather than give me money, my grandparents handed me a travel brochure for Go Ahead Tours and said, “Pick one.” The only requirement was that I find a travel companion willing to pay his or her own way (which I did, thanks to a willing-to-travel sister and a generous father who helped pay half of her ticket). To this day, I still consider one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I’ve read that most people say that one of the greatest uses of money is travel, because it creates memories that last a lifetime. I’d have to say that I agree. I’ve never regretted a dollar spent on a vacation.
It did not take me long to decide on the Paris City Stay, a tour that allowed the traveller to see Paris at their own pace, but with the convenience of an English-speaking guide. For a first time Europe traveller, it was ideal. I booked up on the trip right away, and eagerly (and a bit anxiously) awaited the day that would take me to the city I had always wanted to see in person. I tried to brush up on my limited knowledge of French, and stocked up on outfits that I hoped would be enough to make me less like a tourist or, at the very least, a classy traveller. I did not want to be one of those people who expected everyone in a foreign country to cater to me.
I left two days after my college graduation. Bachelor’s degree in hand (not literally, of course), and no job lined up (but plenty of money from graduation gifts), I boarded a plane to Paris, my sister in tow. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Flying isn’t exactly my favorite means of travel, but I try to pretend it doesn’t scare me since it’s the most convenient way to get most of the places I want to go. I settled into the overnight flight with plenty of reading material, as this was before the days of built in TVs on airplanes.
The first thing I noticed about Paris was that you could not see the Eiffel Tower from the plane. Naturally its the first thing one thinks of when they imagine Paris in their mind, the Eiffel Tower looming over the entire city. I felt like seeing the Eiffel Tower would mean that I was really, finally in Paris. However, on that first tiring day, I was only able to catch a brief glimpse of the tower from the Louvre.
I don’t say all this to be negative. In fact, not seeing the Eiffel Tower right away made me look at Paris a little differently, and to see other things that made it so quintessentially French and the one place I had dreamed of going my entire life. I noticed the wrought iron gates that graced most of the windows, the slanted roofs in shades of green and beige, the sidewalk cafes with all the seats placed facing the street, making them ideal for people watching. Even in my “I’m in a new country,” shell-shocked state, I was pretty happy to be there.
We stayed at the Hotel Ronceray Opera. During our first hours in Paris, we met up with Patrick, the tour guide and met the other six members of the group. After a brief group meeting,in which we decided upon our optional excusions (river cruise, a trip to Monet’s home in Giverny and a trip to Versailles), we headed out on a brief tour of Paris. It started with the Opera House, which we admired from the outside before walking in the direction of the Louvre. On our way, we passed the Ritz and were able to follow the Rose Line through the streets of Paris.
Our brief orientation tour over, my sister and I stayed near the Louvre for a bit, and then headed back to the hotel to settle in and explore the neighborhood. Our hotel was situated in an alley called Passage Verdeau, a passageway which stretched through one block and came out on the other side (there was another across the street). Inside it was lined with little shops selling all manner of products from little posters to books to kitchen supplies. If I recall correctly, there was also a slightly creepy wax museum that had displays in the passageway. Knowing about this passageway actually proved very helpful this past summer, when mom and I were stuck in the rain on Bastille Day (unfortunately, due to the holiday, most of the stores were closed, though we did find Comptoire de la Famille, a lovely kitchen and home store, that we were able to browse).
Once we had finished exploring, we had a quick dinner and then headed back to the hotel to go to bed. The day had been long and tiring, but I was looking forward to seeing more of Paris the next day.
In the next installment: Paris, Day Two.