You look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there's nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe…”

Thus rambles Gil Pender in the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris.  Though I feel the same way about New York, Paris has definitely grown on me in the past few days of my European adventure.  I both began and ended my trip in Paris.  This time around, I saw many more sites and ate much more food than I ever had before in Paris.

In 2008, I traveled with a group of friends in my study abroad group from Montpellier to Paris for a quick trip and “les 20k de Paris,” an almost-half-marathon that starts and finishes beneath the Eiffel tower.  Needless to say, after running 12 miles through the streets of the famed city, we were a little too exhausted for sightseeing.  My impressions of Paris were limited to that one exhausting October, so I thought the city deserved another go. 

My new Paris experience began on a Wednesday morning after a long night flight from Conakry.  I indulged in some Starbucks in the airport, and then took the long metro RER ride to my hotel in the Montmartre neighborhood.  I was a little nervous to test my Africanized French on the Parisians, who are notorious for switching to English whenever they hear an off-mark accent.  Miraculously, my French wasn’t as destroyed as I had thought, and not a single person spoke back to me in English during my entire stay in the city of lights.  I did let one “Awa” slip (a typical Guinean response for “Oui”) when I was buying my metro pass, and I nearly said “Invitation” (the courtesy phrase offering to share your meal  when you find yourself eating in front of someone else) to a total stranger on the metro.  I went through the silly African salutations accidently when I met up for coffee with an old friend, but other than that, I think I survived linguistically.

After freshening up at my hotel, I headed over to the Jewish quarter for some fun thrift-store shopping.  One place, the “Kilo Store,” sold items by their weight according to the shop’s current rate of one “kilo” of clothes.  I bought a sparkly, striped vest for a certain special occasion later on in the week.  Leaving the store, I was stopped on the street a few blocks away by a girl who spotted my “Kilo Store” shopping bag.  I happily gave directions back to where I had come from, proud to have looked like I knew where I was going.  It was the first of many occasions where I would be mistaken for a real local- something that NEVER happens to me in Guinea.   It’s fun to blend in sometimes.


I treated myself to an afternoon patisserie from a boulangerie (bakery) and continued my shopping at the French grocery/convenient store, Monoprix.  I had a quick dinner that night of a seafood salad, then I headed out to meet an ‘old’ friend from my study abroad program in Montpellier.  We caught up on the Champs-Elysees, which I had never seen at night.  The famous avenue was pretty hopping at night, with stores and lights illuminating the street like a mix of 5th avenue and Times Square.  I was even able to catch a peek at the lit-up Eiffel Tower, a stunning sight in the dark.  After our group had convened at the meeting spot, we went on a long walk away from the expensive and touristy Champs-Elysees bars.  Unfortunately, to escape the higher prices, we wandered and wandered, but it was wonderful weather for an evening of strolling around the streets of Paris.  The city was pretty alive for a Wednesday night, and the slight chill filled my craving for fall the weather that I would be missing back in Guinea.  We finally arrived at a bar near the St. Lazare train station (a long ways from the Champs-Elysees!) where “Happy Hour” prices were severed until midnight.   

The next morning, I enjoyed the modern comforts of the hotel, sleeping in until eight, then taking a long warm shower and watching French television as I breakfasted on some of my Monoprix purchases from the day before.  I left to explore the hotel’s neighborhood a little more and found you can see the Sacre-Coeur from the street and buy any type of musical instrument your heart desired.  I then took the Metro to the Marrais neighborhood, and then relaxed with a coffee at very Parisian café.  Finally, around ten thirty, I got back on the RER towards the famed estate of Louis XIV.

After obsessing throughout high school over the French musical “Le Roi Soleil” (The Sun King), I still don’t know why I put off visiting Versailles until now.  I’ve never been much of a history nerd, but I gobbled up all things Louis XIV, and going to see Versailles in person was a must-do on my Paris list.  Amidst the throngs of tourists, I wandered through the decadent halls of the Versailles palace with my French audio guide (I was still seeing how long I could get by without being pegged as an American).  I strolled through the gardens, enjoying another day of perfect early-fall weather and a strawberry ice cream cone.  After a few hours of exploring, I grabbed lunch the town of Versailles, then returned back to Paris-centre for some daytime Champs-Elysees fun.  I met up with an old work friend, and then went inside several high-end shops, tried on expensive dresses at middle-range places, and bought a few items at lower-cost chain stores like Zara and Mango.  I watched street performers, people taking wedding photos by the Arc de Triomphe, hundreds of Parisians and tourists wandering down the famous street.  Before I knew it, it was past dinner time, so I metro’d back to Montmartre and grabbed a late dinner at a trendy sushi place near my hotel. 

Friday morning, I woke up with a mission: to find the restaurant ‘Breakfast In America,’ an American diner based in Paris.  I headed down to the Latin Quarter by the university and after a few wrong turns, found the place itself.  I filled my cravings for a real, American breakfast (pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee!) and enjoyed the diner-replica touristy atmosphere.  From BIA, I walked over to the Seine, past Notre-Dame, to another place on my to-do list: Shakespeare & Company bookstore.  An English-language bookstore that Hemmingway famously frequented, this place was one of the coolest spots I’ve been to in Paris.  Hundreds of new and used books line the shelves, upstairs even features a ‘classics’ library, an old piano for playing pleasure, and a meeting area for book clubs and writer-events.  The smell, the feel, the look, this place oozed of history, literature, and culture.  

From the Place de Chatelet, I took a subway to another spot that had been on my Paris to-do list for years: Père Lachaise cemetery.  With 110 acres filled with graves and mausoleums, it’s easy to get lost among the hundreds of famous dead people.  With leaves just beginning to change colors and the daylight peeking through the trees, wandering the cemetery was truly beautiful.  Some of my favorite graves to be found were those of Victor Hugo, Gertrude Stein, Rossini, Jim Morrison, and Oscar Wilde.  The final two’s tombstones are currently gated off so the public can’t get too close, but the gates apparently don’t stop the determined who want to leave their mark at these famous landmarks. 


Beyond the cemetery’s walls, funeral homes and tombstone stores line the streets, and I noticed in a few, Doors t-shirts are for sale.  Probably the only place in the world you can get your Jim Morrison souvenirs and your funeral arrangements made in the same place.

I grabbed a small Panini for lunch before heading back on the metro towards Montmarte, this time going actually all the way up the “Mont” part of it.  The Sacre-Coeur rests on the crest of a large hill, overlooking Paris.   Surrounding the famous church is a very fun neighborhood of winding alleys and cobblestone streets filled with street performers, souvenir shops, and musical cafes.  Here, as I walked determinedly (yet totally lost) through the streets, I was stopped for directions again, this time by a French couple, where I had to confess I didn’t have a clue where I was going.  After circling a few blocks, I finally made it to the Paris Dali museum, which I enjoyed in all its weirdness for an hour or so.  I left Montmartre after visiting the Sacre-Coeur and taking in the beautiful view to go meet up with another old friend for coffee by the St. Lazare train station. 

After coffee, I returned to my hotel to freshen up, then returned to the area by the Seine that I had visited that morning.  I met up with a large group for dinner at a small, charming restaurant across from the Notre Dame, aptly named “Auberge de Notre Dame.”  In true French form, we began dinner at 8:30, and stayed at the table through courses and conversation until a little after midnight.  We started with an aperitif; I then had a salad topped with warm chevre cheese to start.  My main course was a lamb steak with vegetables and potatoes, with red wine to accompany, of course.   I finished off with a chocolate fondant dessert, a rich cake with melted dark chocolate on the inside.  Enjoying every decadent bite, I don’t know how the time passed so fast.


I returned to my hotel a little before one, and fell asleep warm, full, and content.  The next day… well let’s just say I would have to get up bright and early to put on my “Poker Face.”


To be continued….