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When I heard, at the very beginning of my study abroad experience, that my favorite band had just announced a show in Paris, I decided to plan my time there around that period, November 4. Originally, I was just going to go for one night because it coincided with the end of my Beirut trip, but after I had to cancel that, I was able to spend 4 days there.

I planned to go alone, mostly because all of my other friends already had plans and were not available for spontaneous Paris weekends. I booked a hotel near the music venue one night, and a youth hostel the others, printed out my train tickets before break, and spent the next few days planning what I wanted to see.

My train took off early on a Saturday morning, and I woke at the crack of dawn to find my eyes a terrible bloodred color. Having contracted pinkeye two years ago (freshman dorm thing. Everyone gets what everyone else has), I frantically searched online for any and all tricks that could relieve the symptoms. Nothing very helpful. "Don't touch your eyes. Wait."

I threw out my contacts, and set out for the train station. After awkwardly wandering around la gare, I managed to figure out how to successfully board my FIRST train ever, completely with "une correspondance" in Marseille. Three hours later, I had arrived at La Gare de Lyon in Paris, and as I stepped out onto the street, I realized I had absolutely aucune idée what to do next. I figured my best bet was to find my way to my hotel and drop all my things off, then do some sightseeing. But I had forgotten to figure out how to get from the train station to my hotel, assuming that it would be pretty easy. I checked the address, "rue Montmartre," and with relief, remembered that Montmartre was the neighborhood I wanted to visit that day. I looked at a little map I had, and realized that Montmartre was pretty far from the Gare de Lyon. Ok. Bus or métro. But where to find it....

Since I had my computer with me and it was right around lunchtime, I decided to try to find a little coffee shop to look up directions. I wandered around aimlessly for a little while, but WiFi was basically introuvable. Starting to panic a little, I finally found a little sandwich shop and as I was eating, I shyly told the young man at the counter that I needed help finding my way to Montmartre. He called a friend, who consulted  the Internet, and reported back that I was to take the 5 line to somewhere, and transfer to another line that would take me somewhere else. I hoped the directions would make sense when I got to the station de métro. When I stood up to leave, he didn't even try to ask me for my phone number or a date, which was a very refreshing change of pace from the guys in Aix, who have NO SHAME.

At the metro station, I found a map, bought un carnet de 10 billets (remembering my French teacher's instructions back at DU, thankful that I had not written off the advice as something I would never find a use for, as I am likely to do in most classes), and made my way onto the train.

When I arrived at Montmartre, I consulted my nerdy traveler's guide for directions to the rue Montmartre, realizing with a sinking heart that the "rue Montmartre," of course, was located in a completely different arrondissement. But since I was already there, I decided to make the most of things, and awkwardly hauled around my heavy suitcase for the rest of the day.

I found my way to the Sacré Cœur (pictured above; I was lucky to find it on a "rare" sunny day in Paris), and my worried state began to melt away as I was met by awe. The picturesque building stood out in stark contrast against the sky, and hoards of people lounged about on the lawn out front, picnicking and listening to the casual guitar players perched on the steps. I bought some caramelized nuts, walked around the church, and moved on to find the Dali museum. In a square just in front of the museum, I casually walked around the crowd of street artists until one woman stopped me, "Normally I charge a lot more," she explained in French, "but I would really like to draw you, so I will give you a discount." She pointed to her list of rates, then whispered a price that was so low it was impossible for me to believe she did that on a regular basis. (I'm not going to tell you what the price was because the ensuing portrait is going to be a Christmas gift for someone). I was a little hesitant, given the fact that I had no makeup on and bloodshot, itchy eyes. I agreed, but only if she promised to make me look not sick. We chatted casually for a minute, then fell into a comfortable silence as I observed the passersby, some stopping to watch her progress, and I nervously hoped it was turning out all right.

Then I went to the Dali museum, and fell in love with the work "Gala Nude Looking at the Sea Which, at a Distance of 20 Meters, Turns into the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln." After this, I headed casually back downhill to take the metro to my hotel, stopping to snap a photo of the Moulin Rouge.

I had my first bad experience with food that night (which really says a lot about both my ability to interpret menus in French, and about how good the food is here because I am generally a not-very-adventurous eater), ordering une tartare de bœuf (basically a cold, uncooked hamburger, but I didn't say anything and instead ate the whole basket of bread on the table, after eating about half of the beef dish. I was scheduled to go to another concert that night of a group I was mildly interested, and took a nap after dinner, waking a little later to find that I had a sore throat, my eyes were still in terrible condition, and all my interest was lost. I contemplated the price of the 14 euros I had spent on the ticket versus the price of my health, and went back to bed.

 The next morning, I woke with a full-blown, awful cold, but I was scheduled to meet my friend Olivia at my second hotel of the trip in a few hours, so I got up, greeted by gray skies and drizzling clouds, and found a pharmacy (medication is SO CHEAP here, while shampoo is SO EXPENSIVE. I guess they have their priorities right?). Since I had a little bit of time before I had to find Olivia, I took the metro (which I had mastered at this point) to Notre Dame and took a few pictures, but since it was Sunday, there was a loooooong line of people waiting to get in for morning mass, so I didn't even try to see inside. I got on the metro, headed to the 19e, and Olivia and I came back to the center city to go to the Musée d'Orsay.

The Impressionism exhibit was AMAZING, it was so incredible to feel so close to painters I had learned about in school my whole life. After this museum, we went to la cimetière du Père Lachaise. Among countless others, the graves of Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Molière are found there. I wish I could have had several days to walk through all the streets of what is literally an entire city of the dead. It was beautiful there!

After the cemetery, we ate dinner at a restaurant called Indiana something or other, where we had really amazing chimichangas. Then, back to the 19e for getting dressed and going to SOJA.

The show was everything I had hoped it would be, and although I loved experiencing them in a new setting, I found myself really nostalgic for my Denver friends, with whom I had gone to see the same band for my birthday back in February.

The next morning, Olivia took off early and I went to the Louvre. It wasn't really as exciting as I had hoped it would be, it was more overwhelming than anything. I wandered through the ancient Egyptian section, made the requisite pilgrimage to the Mona Lisa, then left after around an hour. At this point, I decided it was finally time to see the Eiffel Tower. My friend had warned me that when she went, it had taken almost 4 hours from waiting in line for tickets, to waiting in line to ascend, to hanging out up top, to waiting in line to descend, to actually getting down. I planned the conditions and the time was a Monday afternoon, and raining. Everyone in the world has seen thousands of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but nothing prepared me for the surprise I found when I turned the corner from the metro and was confronted with its sheer size. It had never really sunk in that this thing, at one point, was one of the tallest structures in the world.

By the time I got to the top--and was FREEZING--it was time for the sun to set. I got to see the sun as an incredible, burning RED ball drop behind the horizon, lightning striking the ground way off in the distance, and all the light of Paris slowly twinkle on.

I bought a glass of 10 euro champagne to congratulate myself on my adventure in independence, then headed back down for hot chocolate, and more importantly, dinner, because I had skipped lunch while I was waiting. When I got to the bottom, the tower was all alight, and I was both mesmerized and outraged to find that no one had ever told me the tower TWINKLES every hour on the hour at night. I stood across the street jumping up and down like a child, absolutely thrilled.

When I awoke Tuesday morning, I was sicker than ever, tired from walking around and carrying my things all weekend, and more than anything, my wallet was sore from all the simultaneous "celebrating"/moping I was had been doing. I was constantly treating myself to whatever I wanted because, heck, I was in Paris! And I had successfully made it there without incident by myself! Moping also because I was alone, and had no one to share the truly incredible experience with.

During my last couple of hours, I headed to the Champs-Elysées, and definitely did not agree with its reputation as being "one of the most beautiful streets in the whole world." I figured the people who had decided that had never been to Colorado. I got to the end, however, and was thoroughly impressed with the Arc de Triomphe. I am taking a Provençal history class in Aix, and we learned that every Roman city has one, and we had even looked at pictures/been to several down in Provence. But again, nothing prepared me for the immensity of, quote unquote, THE arc de triomphe in Paris.

Tired, cold, and sick, I finished my tour there, and headed back to the train station in southern Paris to get back on my train.

PS-- I figured out two weeks later, just before I left for Amsterdam, that I didn't have pinkeye after all. After being terrified for two weeks of all contacts and makeup, I finally brought myself around to putting in a new pair and sprucing up my appearance a little for my next trip. After a few hours, my friend Margarita goes, "OMG is your eye okay?" I headed upstairs to look in the mirror, and sure enough, they were the same shade of red I had seen two weeks ago. I started to put my contacts back in their case, but as soon as I pulled out my bottle of contact solution, I realized the problem....I had just opened a new bottle right before going to Paris, and sure enough, I had bought the wrong kind. I did a little research, and the solution I got is absolutely *not* supposed to go anywhere near your eyes. Great. I threw it away, and hung out in Amsterdam with glasses all weekend. No big deal.



12/03/2012 6:06am

madison this sounds amazing youre such a good writer and this made me miss you so much reading this.. wish i could have these adventures with you. youre such a beautiful person i love you to pieces! keep living it up over there while you still have the chance :) love you


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