Au Revoir, Paris …

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Friday, September 21st.

Europe, Croatia 495Nathalie promptly arrives around 9 a.m., as previously discussed.

My exit isn’t hasty, as we spend some time chatting about how the last six days has been for both of us.

She’s happy about how her week has gone, having been able to spend time with her boyfriend, and to work on a screenplay she’s been trying to write.

Just listening to her, I feel myself tearing up a bit at having to trek back to Toronto, and also having had the privilege of meeting such a sweet person as Nathalie.

Saying our goodbyes, I head out. The morning is crisp – actually, the coldest it’s been so far since I arrived in Europe 17 days ago. I snap a few final pictures outside the Pompidou Centre, have a sugar-laden breakfast at a nearby Starbucks to kill some time, then heave my backpack onto my back and navigate my way through the metro system to Charles de Gaulle airport.

I check in, to be told my flight is boarding about an hour earlier than my itinerary states. Despite booking it across to my gate, the plane STILL ends up leaving 40 minutes late. Which in the end means I miss my connecting flight in Montreal.

The line at customs takes forever to move, and the queue for missed flights and connections seems to take about twice as long. Behind me, one hell of a sourpuss is muttering and cussing about our predicament – and he’s only flying a half-hour to Ottawa. At least I manage to have a pleasant conversation with a guy slightly in front of me, who also happens to be going to Ottawa and is taking it a lot better.

I get a flight out which is leaving much sooner than I expect, and before I know it, I’m back in Toronto and in the company of my parents, who’ve come to pick me up.

What a wonderful, frustrating, blurry whirlwind. And it’s over. Just two more days and back to work I go.

And not too much longer until I start daydreaming about where to go next.

Dernier Jour.

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Thursday, September 20th.

Europe, Croatia 469This is it – my last day.

I’m so tired. There’s so much I have to do, that I WANT to do. And the thought of returning home and back to reality ignites a fresh bout of melancholy.

Darlene’s gone off to (teach) a class today, but says she can meet me in the afternoon for a drink atop the roof of the Pompidou Centre.

I put my sadness aside and go visit Notre-Dame cathedral, since it’s a must-see site when you’re here. The lineup is long, but it moves somewhat swiftly.

I notice the detailed, intricate carvings of the archways as I pass through the doors.

Europe, Croatia 486The interior’s just as beautiful as you can imagine – the enormous stained glass panels, the mammoth pillars and soaring ceilings.

There’s also a mass taking place, so the cathedral is really busy. I shuffle my way around the periphery. I want to go up to the dome, the way I did with Sacré-Coeur. But one look at the queue snaking all the way down the street, and I nix that idea.

I decide to make my way over to the Pompidou Centre, so I can figure out exactly where I’m supposed to meet Darlene. I’m secretly glad we’re meeting here, as I’ve been meaning to go inside each time I’ve passed by here in the last several days.

This goal’s short-lived, though, as I only make it into the lobby when I get a text from Darlene. Can I meet her at a nearby metro station?

So out I go and over to Boulevard de Sébastopol (getting lost along the way).

Eventually Darlene and I meet, then head over, down a side street, and to a bistro she suggests we check out.

The place is tiny; our best bet’s to sit at one of the tables just outside. There’s only one left, crammed between two parties already partway through their lunches.

It turns out space won’t be the only thing we’re sharing on this lunch hour. We find ourselves in conversation with a man sitting to the right of us. Or rather, he and Darlene carry the bulk of the conversation, while I listen and try to follow. He speaks almost entirely in French, although it seems he understands a bit of English.

Admittedly, when our interaction starts, I’m inclined to give this Parisian stranger the side-eye. But after a while, I let my guard down a bit, realizing how nice it is to have some interaction with a nice Parisian (which is, perhaps, an outdated stereotype).

As he eats his hearty meal, sips his wine and drags on his cigarette, the man speaks of this home just outside Paris proper, and shows us pictures (on his phone) of this lovely house and garden, as well as a photo of his pet crow. (I’m absolutely not kidding.)

In speaking with our lunchtime companion, Darlene mentions her frustration with finding steady work; he says he can try to help, and takes her phone number.

After lunch, we take a walk down Rue de Rivoli for a bit of shopping. We head to Promod (which, according to Darlene, is similar to Stitches in Canada), so she can return a blouse she’s bought. She ends up buying a super-cute shirt-dress and a scarf, while I unexpectedly buy a really pretty patterned scarf with tassles. We poke around a couple of other trendy French stores, and before we know it, it’s time to go.

We say our goodbyes and hug; then, for me, it’s off to Opéra métro station to get my host Nathalie some “thank you” cookies, as a show of appreciation her for letting me stay in her flat.

Back at the flat, I catch my breath and begin the long, tedious tasks of cleaning the apartment and packing for the long trip home. The weariness and melancholy sets in – I can feel its weight on me.

I make a run to the grocery store down the street to find a few items. This is easy enough. But when I’m waiting in line at the cash register, I’m seized by the sense of awkwardness and discomfort from the day before – this time, it’s because of the staff (a handful of staff employees in their twenties). I get the sense they’re joking around … but for whatever reason – and perhaps this is me misinterpreting what’s going on – I get the feeling that I’m part of the joke. I don’t know why. But that’s the second time it’s happened while I’ve travelled.

The rest of my night’s anti-climactic – I go on an uninspired search for dinner and eat it back at the flat. I do a couple more pre-travel tasks before I lay my head down for the night. It’s going to be an early start, as Nathalie arrives at 9 a.m.

A Great View + Art in Montmartre

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Europe, Croatia 434Wednesday, September 19th.

After another late start, I head up to Montmarte, and my first stop: Sacré-Cœur Basilica.

Once I climb the stairs, side-step the small group of kids trying to stop people to convince them to donate to a charity for which they`re canvassing (it`s a front – they`re pickpockets), I see – of course – that the place is crowded with fellow tourists by the time I enter.

It`s simply massive. I don`t take very many pictures, save for the exterior and the crypt – which, unlike the Panthéon, isn`t filled with anyone or anything I recognize, but is actually creepy.

I ascend to the dome, which requires climbing some 360 steps.

I have to stop several times, because I am clearly out of shape and breath. As I get closer to the top, the air is cool and crisp (a welcome relief to me, because I am sweating – surprise!) and the sun’s quite bright.

Europe, Croatia 451It’s certainly worth the exertion. The view at the top is spectacular.

Below, there are a couple of wedding parties having their pictures taken, and a busker on the steps, entertaining a large group with song covers.

After leaving Sacré-Cœur, I walk around, trying to find the Salvador Dalí exhibition (called Espace Dalí Montmartre).

It’s not actually on my must-see list – until several days ago, I’d no idea it even existed. But Darlene suggested it when we hung out earlier in the week, so I thought I’d give it a try. If I can find it.

And, full disclosure: My previous knowledge of Dalí is limited to reproduction posters, and the odd (so to speak) photos of the artist himself.

Europe, Croatia 456But after visiting the exhibition, I have to say I develop a bit more respect for (and understanding of) Dalí and his life story, the bond between Dalí and his wife Gala, and the symbolism behind certain images synonymous with his work (such as the melting clock).

Do I completely understand him now? No – don’t kid yourself. He certainly was an odd duck. But I appreciate him more than I did before.

I wander around a bit before stopping for lunch off one of the winding side-streets.

I order an omelette – which comes with fries (this is a first for me), and some tea, as the chill the air has persisted so far today.

Stuffed, I go in search of Montmartre Cemetery. And make wrong turn, after wrong turn, after wrong turn.

But FINALLY – perhaps some 30 minutes or so later – I do.

Europe, Croatia 467The place is much bigger than I’ve realized, with tombstones crowded together like teeth. But beautiful nonetheless – particularly with the crisp fall chill in the air.

I attempt to find a couple of famous gravestones – those of composer Hector Berlioz and filmmaker François Truffaut. There are a couple of signs with maps pointing out where famous graves are located, each assigned a number (I suppose, to make the search easier).

But between my ever-reliable poor sense of direction and the sheer number of graves, packed together like patrons in a really popular restaurant, it’s fruitless.

But it’s interesting to see all the different headstones, both grandiose and small – even seeing graves as from as recently as last year (and you wouldn’t think there’d be any space left). I see a handful of people walking amongst the graves. There are others who I think act as caretakers who help maintain the neatness of the grounds. And there are cats perched atop gravestones here and there, gazing almost with judgement.

Europe, Croatia 462It’s around 5 p.m. when I leave the cemetery, stopping by a nearby Internet café to touch base with Darlene (I’m meeting up with her and one of her Parisian friends for dinner), then back to the flat for a nap.

I meet Darlene in the Oberkampf district (not pictured) – which she describes as sort of being akin to the way Toronto’s Queen Street West may have been a while back (and perhaps what parts of it are like now) – it’s up-and-coming, but not quite gentrified.

Eventually two of Darlene’s friends show up and we go to this Senegalese restaurant – kind of crowded and loud – for dinner and conversation. And by “conversation”, I mean it flip-flops between English and French, for my benefit.

I contribute where I can in English and try to follow along when the others are conversing in French, catching the essence of what the others are saying. But the noisiness only contributes to my difficulty in following the discussion.

I definitely feel very much like a more socially-awkward version of myself, one I’m not used to.  But, I suppose, this is what it feels like to be a “fish out of water”.

Darlene stays overnight at my vacation flat, because her friend/roommate Laurent has company over, and we spent the remaining time chatting until we fall asleep.

Random Sights, Random People

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Europe, Croatia 399Tuesday, September 18th.

First stop today: the Montparnasse Tower – hated by Parisians, but known for views that rival those of the Eiffel Tower, for a fraction of the wait time.

Luckily, I’d bought my ticket at the tourist visitors’ centre the day before, so when I arrive this afternoon, I only have to wait seven minutes in line before boarding the elevator for an ear-popping 38-second ride up to the 56th-floor observation deck.

To be able to just look out as far as the eye can see, in any direction, is simply marvelous.

But the views don’t stop there. I take a few flights of stairs up to the 59th floor – the tower’s roof. The view up here is even better than indoors/downstairs – and it includes a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. (Thank you, Fat Tire Bike Tour guide for the suggestion!)

Europe, Croatia 418After, I head over to the Musée d’Orsay – a site I would say is more than worth the price of admission.

This building (which, I believe, used to be a train station) is, in itself, a work of art. The only thing that takes away from its beauty for me, on this day, are the crowds, and the signs which suggest I should be on guard in case of pickpockets. In the scheme of things, though, this is minor.

I don’t need to visit the Louvre. All those works by Cézanne, Manet, Monet and Van Gogh, the impressionist and pontilist art, the sculptures … these are all the treasures I need to see. Perhaps I’ll take on the Louvre on my next trip to Paris.

Later in the afternoon, I decide to head to Notre-Dame … but when I arrive, I discover it’s closed.

So I wander around near the Seine and try to find the Canadian pub Darlene and Laurent mentioned the day before … but to no avail.

Europe, Croatia 421With two strikes under my belt, I take the steps down to the path by the river and start walking.

I pass clusters of kids and young people sharing wine, and couples sharing moments of affection, the strong smell of urine stinging my nose.

I walk as far as I can until the path ends, then ascend to street level.

I try to walk further so I can find that Islamic centre Nathalie spoke of a couple of days earlier, but I think I just end up walking alongside the side of  the Louvre that faces the river.

Europe, Croatia 424Perhaps the one thing I come across on my walk which catches me by surprise, is the glint coming off one of the pedestrian bridges in the near distance.

I get closer and discover the Pont des Arts, known as the Lover’s Bridge, for its many locks that couples attach to the bridge’s chain-link fencing.

On my way back, I decide to do one final search for the Great Canadian Pub before going “home” for the night.

As I’m about to give up and cross the street – there it is.

I actually hesitate, because I’m not sure if I have the right place – it doesn’t match the visual I have in my mind. I’m also on the fence as to whether I want to go in. In the end, I do – I tell myself I’m having a drink, then heading “home” to sleep.

The place is packed, except for a couple stools at the bar. Between the blare of the TVs and the noisiness of the bar, I can’t really hear any English being spoken. Despite the jersey displayed in one corner and some paraphernalia scattered around the bar (the “Canadian” decor), there’s a UEFA soccer match which, I can only presume, is a big one.

Europe, Croatia 430I place my drink order (a Strongbow) with one of the bartenders, a French guy wearing a Moosehead Beer t-shirt.

And for a while, I just sit there, listening. I think I detect English being spoken by two guys to my left … and, listening a bit longer, I hear a couple on my right, definitely speaking English. Straining to hear, I think they might be Canadian, which perks me up a bit.

My suspicion’s confirmed when I overhear the guy speaking to the bartender in the Moosehead shirt.

So, mustering up some courage, I wait for a lull in their conversation, and, SUCCESS. Turns out they’re originally from Sarnia, but live in Toronto. They’re heading to a wedding in Hungary, but decided to spend a couple of days by themselves in Paris. Who would have thought I’d actually find Canadians in the Canadian-themed bar in Paris?

So we chat for a bit; they generously buy me a drink. A bit later, they step outside for a smoke (and, as it turns out, to finish their drinks and take off).

After we part ways, I return inside … and end up chatting to the guys who are sitting to my left. Julian and Dave are American ex-pats who had come here for school, but have been here ever since.

So we talk about Paris, music by French bands we recognize (at least, Julian and I do), and make other small talk. Eventually Julian leaves, so it’s just me and Dave. When the place thins out, Dave suggests we go elsewhere. First we check out this bar that looks really cool on the inside, but is about 40 minutes away from closing for the night.

Then we head over to another place he knows which – from what I can tell, and what he tells me – could be a Russian-owned establishment. The interior looks like it could be some sort of boom-boom dance club with tables – except it’s empty.

So, one more drink … and then we part ways.

(What? Did you think something ELSE happened?)

I head home, ready for some much-needed sleep. Tomorrow’s another day, and I’ve got another part of town to see.

Waterlilies, Tombs, and Happy Hour (Parisian Style)

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Monday, September 17th.

My long walk home has ruined my plans to get an early start on the day and tick off some of the places on my list.

I eventually get myself in order, and head down to the tourist information office.

After tolerating a long line to get a museum pass, followed by a(n awkward) bite to eat at a nearby bagel place, my first stop is the Musée de l’Orangerie, which houses eight of Monet’s “Waterlilies” paintings in two rooms specially designed to best view the works.

Europe, Croatia 370To my recollection, I’m sure I’ve only seen reproductions of Monet’s works, so I’m surprised at how large they are.

I love the variety of colours used, and I don’t feel rushed as I study each work from one end to another.

There’s also a lower level, which showcases many other paints from artists varying from  Cézanne to Picasso. (I’m sure technically I’m not supposed to, but … *coughs nervously*)

After, I hop on the métro and head over to the Panthéon.

The architecture of the lobby and main level itself – from floor to dome – is a sight to behold.

Europe, Croatia 379Also neat to see? Foucault’s Pendulum. Or, rather, an exact copy of the original, which has been swinging permanently in the Panthéon for 17 years. I’ve heard of the pendulum, but have never seen one up close. Nor has it ever occurred to me that it would be this big.

I head into the crypt of the Panthéon, to visit the final resting places of a number of France’s most well-known names.

I visit the corner that Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau share; I peek in on Louis Braille and Marie Curie (in different sections, of course).

Europe, Croatia 381And the hallways – despite the echoes of the voices of yammering tourists (and shushing by staff) – are immaculate and sleek (and this is me describing a crypt).

Outside the Panthéon, I need to kill time before I go to meet Darlene for drinks. And I’m kind of hungry. So in a moment of weakness, I duck into a McDonald’s. I usually try to stay away from the familiar (or ubitquitous) when I travel. But today, I think I’m at a breaking point. I’m craving grease and batter.

Heading out, I ride the métro to Saint-Michel station, but get a bit lost (surprised?), then dawdle in Shakespeare & Company, so I’m late when it’s time to meet Darlene.

When I finally find her, it turns out she’s brought her roommate Laurent with her. They take me right into the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood. Many bar and restaurant terraces are already full to the brim with happy-hour-goers, drinking and smoking, by the time we get there.

So now, we’re waffling between finding indoor seats at one of the French restaurants surrounding us, or trying to find the Canadian bar (which I think is called the Great Canadian Pub – someone can correct me if I’m wrong) where ex-pats are known to hang out.

We pick a French restaurant and hastily file inside. Our server’s super-friendly and he provides us with popcorn and olives to accompany our drinks.

Laurent’s really friendly. Originally from the north of France (not sure if his easygoing nature’s a direct product of being from outside Paris), he’s working as – of all things – a spam programmer, but is on the hunt for another, less questionable job.

We don’t hang out too late, as Darlene has to get back to working on her freelance project.

I return to my neighbourhood and grab a bite at one of the local restaurants. Given my late night on Sunday, I opt to turn in comparatively early.

Tomorrow, I aim to make up for a bit of lost time.

Round Trips & Missed Connections

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Europe, Croatia 334Sunday, September 16th.

My goal today is to see the Eiffel Tower and then go on a bike tour.

It happens … sort of.

By the time I figure out how to navigate the métro and make my way over, I realize there’s no way I’m going to make it up the tower and back down in time for the tour.

After inhaling a (not-so) cheap hotdog, I find folks with the Paris branch of Fat Tire Tours who, when they’ve gathered enough interested tourists, take us to their office (which are NOT, as you might think, located at the Eiffel Tower, but a short distance away).

While waiting in line to pay and pick a bike, I start chatting with a few people … and discover that there are a group of Canadians on the same tour as me.


There’s one couple who live in the west-end of Toronto. A pair of sisters from Kincardine, Ontario. A Torontonian who’s now living in New York.

To run into this many strangers at once, from my own country – while on a random tour, no less – fills my heart with a little bit of happiness and pride.

Europe, Croatia 341While my bike tour experience in Berlin was nicer in terms of the size of the tour group, Paris is much better, in terms of the space designated for bikes to travel on streets and sidewalks.

The tour starts at the far end of the Champ de Mars, in front of the École Militaire, and winds its way around, passing by such points of interest as the Dôme des Invalides, the Rodin Museum and Place de la Concorde.

Our guide offers choice facts from history as well as pop culture, and even provides a tip or two we may want to use for our sightseeing strategies.

We stop partway through the tour for a drink at the restaurant in the Tuileries Garden; I have a refreshing glass of white wine and a delicious crêpe. And we’re off again, passing by the Louvre on our way back.

The tour’s done by 7:30 p.m. By this time, I’ve bonded a bit with the sisters from Kincardine, Mary and Leah. I’m planning on going back to my flat to take a breather, but they’re leaving almost immediately for the night tour, which has a different route.

We want to meet up and explore after they’ve finished, which won’t be until about 11:30 p.m. Mary has a cell phone, but it’s dead. So we take a chance and plan to meet at 11:30 under the Eiffel Tower, near the spot where the tour company was collecting tourists earlier.

The sisters take off; I stay behind at the Fat Bike centre, to make a list of the places we’d passed on the tour, that I want to visit on foot.

What I don’t realize is that Paris’ métro system slows down considerably in the evening – especially on a Sunday.

By the time I return, it’s 11:45 p.m., with no sight of Mary or Leah.

I hang around for an extra half-hour, in hopes that perhaps they’re late in returning, or maybe they’re wandering around nearby.

Europe, Croatia 359I’m even lucky to see the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle for a full five minutes. Despite what Parisians might think, I quite like it. I mean, it IS the City of Lights after all.

But I never see Mary and Leah. I won’t see them ever again. I suppose my gift of randomly running into people has either waned with time … or it just doesn’t work in Paris.

I head back to the métro, where I’m faced with another problem.

The station is closed.


I try to get my weary synapses to fire. Looking at my map, I take a chance and walk until I come across the next station that’s open and will get me “home”.

I find a station I’m able to access. But the métro line I need ride to get “home” isn’t working.

I consult my smudged, repeatedly-folded pocket transit map and opt to try another line. I hop on the next train and ride it to one of the major interchange stations.

The thing about those interchange stations? They’re huge. Even if you know where you’re going, it takes forever to get from point A to point B. Especially in Paris.

I’m working with the added disadvantage of being new to the system, and – coupled with being directionally challenged – heightens my sense of panic at trying to get to the other line as fast as I can. But it’s all in vain.

Cursing under my breath, I return the way I’ve come, hoping to ride the line in the opposite direction. But that, too, has also now stopped running.

Europe, Croatia 362A loud, piercing alarm screeches throughout the station – probably a tactic to get those late-night stragglers to leave the station.

In any case, I’m tired and screwed.

I eventually surface at street level, directly facing the Arc de Triomphe.

Since I have to accept the fact it’s going to be a long trip, I do the only thing I feel I can do at 1:30 a.m.:

I pull out my camera and snap a photo.

I take a couple of resigned breaths, look at my detailed map of Paris, and start walking.

I walk along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the expensive shops and the late-night stragglers grabbing their last drinks for the night, until I hit Place de la Concorde.

After snapping a few more photos – and getting Europe, Croatia 365myself turned around a couple of times – I figure out where I am and find my way back to Rue de la Rivoli and, eventually, “home”.

It only takes an hour, which is better than I expect.

It is said that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps I was meant to get lost. Did I just see what I was meant to see – Paris at night? Or was there something more?

One thing’s for certain: my walk that first day – along with the bike tour – has come in extremely handy.

My Parisian Orientation

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Saturday, September 15th.

Unlike Berlin – where I spent the first couple of days feeling completely out of sorts, directionally challenged and frustrated – I decide to use this day to get myself on the right track before even attempting to go sightseeing.

Also, my friend Darlene (she’s from Toronto, but living as an ex-pat in Paris) has touched base with me and we’re supposed to meet for coffee. She’s also been kind enough to suggest that I should find a local mobile phone carrier for a SIM card.

Which means navigating/braving that terrible, multi-level monstrosity of a mall from the day before.

After a few wrong turns, I find my way into its depths and find a mobile carrier which – relatively speaking – turns out to be much more customer friendly.

This small hurdle cleared, I take a walk to see if I can find my way around. I begin with Rue Saint-Martin, and just start walking. I make a left here, and take a right there, then try to find my way back. Which I accomplish. Sort of.

I then take a longer walk to see if I can find a main street and navigate using the map from my travel guide.

After a couple more wrong turns, I find Rue de Rivoli and just walk west – past all sorts of shops, past the Louvre (which makes me cuss aloud at the sheer number of blocks it inhabits – it’s well over 60,000 square feet!) until I get to (what I will later discover to be) Place de la Concorde.

I check the time and figure I have just enough time to get back before my orientation walk with Nathalie. I return to the flat sweaty, winded (from taking all of those stairs – Nathalie’s flat is on the fourth floor of her building) and with 10 or so minutes to spare.

Natalie arrives. She’s a smaller, somewhat slight woman, and today, she’s dressed in black. She admits a bit sheepishly that she’s overdressed for what’s turned out to be an unusually warm day for Paris. (Perhaps I’ve brought the warmth with me?)

We begin with our neighbourhood – she shows me places she recommends for good pizza and chocolates, and even if I want to listen some jazz one evening.

She takes me out of the arrondisement (we’re in the Marais), showing me buildings that house two theatres in the area, and then over the bridge to Île Saint-Louis, where she points out all the tourists lined up for Berthillon ice cream (which she says, contrary to what guidebooks might say, is NOT, in fact, the best).

Europe, Croatia 397She also points out Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ oldest English-language bookstore, and recommends a walk along the Seine which – if followed correctly – will lead me to an Islamic centre that serves tea and sweets.

On the river below us, we notice a group of boats that – as Nathalie reckons – is up from the South, for some sort of special event. We don’t get too close, though – Nathalie warns (with a glint in her eye) that southern French cuisine is quite rich.

We walk around the Latin Quarter- but not for very long, as it’s packed with other tourists. So we return to the other side, crossing another bridge. Nathalie allows me to get another look at the two theatres we passed earlier, gives me a brief overview of their importance, and points out a statue I can use as a landmark when I’m on my own.

We see two protests taking place – one for Syria, and another one I’m not entirely sure of. It’s turns out it’s a group of illegal workers who are demonstrating to demand that the French government grant them papers to allow them to live (and work) here.

We pass them, and back into our neighbourhood. Nathalie takes me to “the best ice cream” she’s ever had – an Italian-styled gelateria called Pozzeto.  And man, is it EVER good.

I’ve told Nathalie about my frustration with – and desire to – write, so she shows me a couple of other spots to sit and write, or meet other writers.

We finally part ways; she tells me to call her at any time, if I have any questions. (I decide to keep my calling to a minimum. I feel I’ve pestered her enough leading up to this trip.)

At the flat I check my phone – Darlene’s attempted to e-mail me. So I call her back, then head out to meet her.

I take the train out to the suburb of Bourg-la-Reine, where she’s staying with a friend. When I arrive, Darlene’s been working on a transcription project and is fighting with her computer, which started giving her grief the moment we hung up.

I let her pick away at the transcription bit longer (while my tired feet rest), before she gives up for the moment, and we go out for a walk.

Europe, Croatia 328She takes me to this ENORMOUS park, called Parc des Sceaux. It’s absolutely beautiful – like something out of a 19th-century novel, set on the grounds of a wealthy French estate.

Between the fountains and manicured trees, and I haven’t even seen the Tuileries yet, all I can think is, FORGET THAT. THIS is a park.

We don’t stay very long, as the park’s closing and the sun’s setting. So we head to a local Japanese restaurant for dinner, which Darlene was first introduced to by her current roommate/shelter-saviour, Laurent, who happens to be out of town visiting friends in northern France. Funnily enough, he actually calls Darlene midway through dinner to check up on her, and is nice enough to say hi to me.

I’m also introduced to sashimi – although tentatively, since my previous experiences with it have almost never ended well – in return for sharing part of my dinner.

Darlene even tries to get me to practice my French-language skills, which are much worse than I originally thought. Not only it is frustrating for me to form sentences (albeit short ones), just hearing it come out of my mouth is painful, to say the least.

By the time our meal ends, Darlene isn’t feeling so well, so we make a hasty exit, where she helps get me a ticket back into town.

Despite the short time together, it’s still comforting to see another familiar face after swimming through a sea of strangers.

Touchdown in Paris

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Friday, September 14th.

I oversleep a bit this morning, clean up the flat and finish packing. I’m convinced my exit will be uneventful, but I’m dawdling by the time my host, Michael, appears at the flat. I take a few moments to thank him for his hospitality and allowing me to use his flat during my stay.

I arrive at Schoenfeld Airport, where I have my first easyJet experience. It’s … interesting. Especially the part with no assigned seating. I’m in a crush of passengers, essentially boarding a Greyhound bus with wings.

I’m eventually wedged between a twentysomething blonde – who’s wedged herself as close to the window as her slight little frame would allow – and a blond German guy in shorts, who tucks into a bag of fast food at the first opportunity. Ah, well. At least it’s a short flight.

Once safely landed at Orly Airport, I manage to navigate the luggage carousels, and the information booth, whose agent was quite helpful in directing me towards the shuttle train into the city centre.

I get to one of the main train hubs (Châtelet – Les Halles – with little difficulty … until I surface in the midst of a massive shopping mall.

Sure, there are multiple signs and escalators. But – sweaty and tired – where do I exit? Where on earth do I turn?

Just when I’m ready to just throw up my hands and let out a growl of frustration, a young woman approaches me and starts speaking French.

What should have happened (as I had been imagining in my mind for at least a month prior) was that I should have been expressing my desire to get the hell out of this place – in French.

What actually happens is that I say nothing, and a look of anxiety has likely crossed my face; the woman almost instantly switches to English. Turns out she’s a North American in Paris learning French and – as it happens – lives near the Pompidou Centre, which is the direction in which I need to go.

She graciously shepherds me out of the mall and across the Boulevard de Sébastopol, and I can see Rue Saint-Martin just off in the distance.

I make a couple of missteps, but finally head in the direction of the rental flat I’m staying in. I’m just about to set down my backpack and ring my host when I hear (the French version of) my name being called behind me.

It’s my host, Nathalie, sitting at a table outside a bar across the street, wearing a very snazzy (and almost too-warm-looking) red jacket.

“Bonjour!” I exclaim, my voice dripping with relief, and cross the street.

I sit; Nathalie helps me order me a “welcome” rum-and-coke”. We sit there – she in her sharp jacket, and I in my grubby, sweat-laden travel wear – under a somewhat grey, cloudy sky, getting acquainted. I feel very shy and extremely self-conscious (and awkward) at not being able to break into fluent French with relative ease. But I suppose that’s all right.

After our drink, Nathalie takes me to the flat, gives me the five-cent tour, shows me where everything is – including a “welcome” package of little chocolates, meringues, and THE loveliest tea. We make arrangements to meet the next day, so she can show me around the area.

And then I’m alone, in a very quiet flat. No TV. No CD player (despite there being a number of CDs). I poke around, unpack some basics and put those away.

I work through some initial anxiety and go to grab dinner at the nearest place I can find. I’m not yet ready to sit in a restaurant by myself. Which is strange, considering I did so in Berlin with a bit less worry.

The last thing I remember before getting ready for bed, is just sitting in the lone chair in Nathalie’s apartment in the middle of her flat, not doing a thing.

Just sitting there, listening to silence and the muffled, faraway sounds of the neighbourhood beyond the shut window.

And – possibly outwardly, probably inwardly – smiling.