When I arrived in Paris I actually had specific directions to the hostel. After all, it was huge city and the hostel was tucked away in one of the neighbourhoods northeast of the city center. I wasn’t going to wing it late at night on my first day. It would be like trying to improv the trip from Grand Central to a random address in Brooklyn.
St. Christopher’s hostel (a chain, you’ll find them around Europe) sits on the Rue de Crimee, at one end of the Bassin de la Villette, a large pool which looked like one part of a waterway to connect ships to the Seine. I got to the hostel with surprising ease. Unfortunately, the elevator was broken and I was on the 5th floor. Great. I huffed up the 5 flights with my packs and was surprised to find a 12-share that actually was big enough for a 12 people. It was a huge room overlooking the street with windows covering two walls. The bunk beds were almost built into the walls, like cubby holes, and they even came with curtains! It was a very different setup than most of the hostels I had been to so far.
You also get a discount on a drink whenever you check in, so I went down to the bar to cash it in. The beer was still pretty expensive. Each St. Chris comes with a restaurant/bar on the ground floor run by the same company. Unfortunately, they substitute the restaurant for a kitchen, but depending on who you ask, they’ll let you snag plates and silverware to take up to your room if you need to. They also give you a free breakfast, which also helps to make up for the lack of self-catering facilities.
With the help of my LP, I planned out the next couple days. I was eager to try out some of the French I learned in school and I was excited about finally getting to visit Paris. I started taking French classes in middle school and a favorite teaching tool of language teachers at the time were these tutorial videos of young French actors and actresses acting out everyday situations. Like, “Hello Edouard, would you like to go to the cinema this afternoon?” Or “Yes Michel, I will drive my red car there.” Besides the enthralling conversation, what I most appreciated were the scenes of French cities and countrysides, and the museums and landmarks. The travel bug got me early, and it started with Paris. Finally, 15 years later, I was getting the chance to see those things in person and put my French to practical use.
The next morning I woke up early to beat the line at the Louvre. Unfortunately, when I got there I realized it was a holiday and the museum was closed. I did, however, find something that few people see: the iconic Pyramid entrance to the Louvre almost completely deserted (they had reserved some staff to stand at the entrance and tell people the museum is closed.
Instead, I walked past the Arc de triomphe de Carrousel, turned just before the Jardin de Tuileries and walked along the Seine to the Musee D’Orsay.
The museum was incredible. It’s located in an old railway station, the Gare d’Orsay, and is home to a staggering collection of paintings, sculptures, artifacts and elementary school students on field trips. I spent several hours in there, mostly going through the endless exhibits of Impressionist paintings, while still taking time to shoot the interesting architecture and layout.
As the morning wore on, the lines to get into the museum grew, the two cafes burst through capacity and the halls and exhibits were cluttered with visitors. Fortunately, I had reached my Impressionism saturation point and was ready to go by the time the crowd hit it’s climax.
I walked further down the Seine until I reached the Pont de la Concorde bridge, which leads to the Place de la Concorde, home to the Obelisque de Louxor. The Obelisk was a gift from the Egyptian viceroy in the 1831. It is 3,300 years old and originall stood at the entrance to the Luxor Temple. King Louis-Phillipe had it placed at the center of the Place de la Concorde to replace the guillotine which stood there during the Revolution. I found it amazing that such an old relic would be placed in such a public and vulnerable spot, left to withstand the exhaust and fumes of the roundabout that encircles it.
(Crooked, I know. Almost all of my Paris pictures haven’t been corrected yet, since there are a lot of photos for me to go through and each is a laborious task. So as I finish, I’ll try to update them in the post, but they will definitely be available in the gallery)
I decided to keep walking, all the way to the historic Montmartre district, home to the Moulin Rouge, when I came upon something interesting.
A line to nowhere. I was puzzled. Everyone clearly knew that there wasn’t anything at the head of the line, but people were intently standing there anyway. And I seemed to be the only person wondering what they were waiting for. I considered joining them to find out, when I saw the first few people cross the street, walk down half a block of one side of the square, cross another street and walk into a museum. It seems it was a line for a special exhibit at a museum, but since the museum was on a busy street, there wasn’t any room to stand in line outside the building itself without risking spilling onto the street. So they chose this open space at the center of the square. Still pretty funny, though.
I stopped at a bakery for a quick sandwhich (french bakeries … ohhh bring it on baby), and then finally got to Montmartre. I was looking for the way to the popular Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, but Montmartre is a maze of streets that loop and wind up the hill to the church. I finally got there and found that the grounds of the church are a popular hangout for lovers, photographers, musicians and scammers alike.
But most of all, I think everyone came there to get a glimpse of the sunset.
I made my way down the hill in front of the church, past the din and bright lights of cheap merchandise stands and nightclubs.
Don’t get the wrong impression, not all of Montmartre is that flashy. There are countless quiet cafes and restaurants, flanked by independent galleries and artist studios. After all, this was the home to such heavyweights as Van Gogh, Picasso and Degas.
I walked all the way back to the hostel, unable to find an open supermarket, and instead had to settle for an awful salad at the St. Chris restaurant. I decided to try the Louvre again the next day, and I knew it would have to be an early morning if I was to beat the crowds.