Feb 17 2008
I stood in a crowded metro station, being pushed and bumped by hasty Parisians, staring at the large grid on the wall full of hundreds of dots and lines, knowing that, at one of those dots, my family was waiting for me. It was my job to somehow navigate this system to retrieve them. Even after months of negotiating foreign metros, Paris’ mass transit system is bewildering – it’s huge, contains two distinct rail systems, and is not at all well marked. After hopping a wrong train, getting off at a wrong stop, and running up and down (and back up) station elevators like a crazy person, I finally located my mother, sister and brother, who sat patiently waiting in the airport terminal.
It was a tearful and excited reunion. My brother, Jamie, was mostly excited because he’d never been on a plane before and – did you know? – you get ALL THE FREE COKE YOU WANT.
But no matter how thrilled we were to be reunited and in Paris, my family hadn’t slept on the plane and Ben and I were still recovering from our heinous journey from Lisbon, so it wasn’t long after we arrived at our rented apartment that we found Jamie snoring at the foot of a bed, and the rest of us quickly followed suit.
Because my mother had never been more excited about anything in her life and because we’d found out that on the first Sunday of every month many Paris attractions are free, we didn’t sleep for long. We lured my siblings out of bed with talk of yummy pastries, bundled up against the Parisian chill, and set off.
Our first stop was, obviously, the patisserie. My sister, Lindsay, had been jealously coveting pain au chocolat ever since I’d described my daily consumption back in Nice, so we ordered an absurd number of those. Jamie ordered a baguette, which he managed to eat nearly single-handedly while mumbling in between bites about how it was the best food EVER. Between the croissants and the baguettes, it was clear that the patisserie would be a staple on our daily schedule.
We wandered the streets of Paris with no particular destination. My mother stared with rapt awe at the beautiful scenery and my sister kept stopping the group so she could snap photos. It goes without saying that Paris is, truly, a gorgeous city. I appreciated having my family there because, after five months in Europe, I tend to take such beauty for granted. It sounds horrible, and almost snobby, to say, but I hardly blink anymore when confronted with a one-thousand-year-old building or one-of-a-kind architecture. But Mom, Lindsay, and Jamie’s enthusiasm helped revitalize my own.
We found our away across the Seine River to the Musee D’Orsay, only to find that it was closing. The hordes of tourists being escorted out of the building did not stop my mother from trying to coerce a guard into letting us in, convinced that her Southern charm would work across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, Parisian men must have thicker skins, because we were denied entrance, again.
So we decided to traipse down the famous Champs D’Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately, this simple stroll ended up taking hours as Jamie insisted on going into every store that sells shoes. I’m sure Ben appreciated the male shoe-shopping companionship after months of shopping with someone who insists that those so-called “Jordans” are just overpriced sneakers. WHICH THEY ARE.
The Arc, a monument commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate French military victories, is located at one end of the Champs D’Elysees in what is the largest traffic roundabout in the world. Twelve streets radiate off the circle like spokes of a wheel. Thankfully, a clever, lawsuit-avoiding Frenchman developed an underground passage to shuffle tourists from one side of the street to the middle of the circle, so it was not necessary to put our lives in the hands of crazed motorcyclists in order to get to the Arc.
Having walked all evening, none of us were particularly thrilled about the idea of climbing nearly 300 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but the view – our first panorama of Paris – turned out to be very worth it. With the Eiffel Tower shimmering on one side, the Champs D’Elysees glowing below and the Sacre Coeur lit up in the distance, the effect was magical and we understood why Paris is called the City of Lights.
On the way home, since none of us felt much like cooking, we abandoned our budget-traveler stinginess and picked up some pizza from a nearby pizzeria. Ben and I talked the fam into getting egg pizza which, despite their initial moaning, they loved.
So our first day in Paris officially set the tone for the rest of the week: gorging ourselves on bread, cheese, and (mostly) chocolate, while perhaps trying to fit in a few sites in between.