The first time travelling without family or a school figure to keep an eye on things is dauntingly exciting. On the morning of New Years Day 2013 I had a cheap coach ticket booked to spend a few days in Paris with a friend. With nothing more than a rucksack and a hangover I set off on my first adventure of this kind, feeling all the freedom in the world (except my dad had made me promise to text him every day).
Of course as two, slightly naive, 18 year olds we were bound to find ourselves in trouble. But, as with many things in life, when travelling you learn on the go: picking up tips, tales and invaluable experience.
Our first mistake was to leave booking our accommodation so late. This was silly especially at that time of year when everywhere was fully booked, leaving only the ridiculously expensive or the dirt cheap. Naturally we went for the dirt cheap, staying at a place called Hotel Richard. I use the phrase “dirt cheap” because the place was in fact unclean. The bedding provided was a stained blanket, so we slept under our coats. The window was permanently ajar, our neighbouring guests were noisy, but in a city as expensive as Paris, and for a two star hotel, I suppose we got what we paid for. Not that it was worth it.
Upon arrival we were left by the coach in the middle of nowhere. This is different from when I used Megabus to Amsterdam, as directions to travel from the stop to the city centre were provided. In Paris, however, the same company left us to our own devices. Which sadly for us was a terrible outcome, as we struggled to decipher the Paris metro system (the London underground is much simpler!), and we found ourselves wandering down some empty streets at night until we found our hotel, but not before befriending a strange man in the process, and being rescued by another man. Lesson learnt: have clear directions at hand. This sounds obvious in hindsight, but we stepped off our coach with only vague directions and a map, and our naivety almost landed ourselves in bother.
Luckily, although guidebooks warned us of the criminal side of Paris, we were only scammed once, losing 5 euros in the process. Which is quite good seeing as they tried to grab my purse, and that would have been my money gone. As in any city, a cautious nature and a bit of common sense to not have your valuables on show will get you by safely. Also if anyone approaches you with what you think is a petition to sign, and you can’t communicate with them, don’t sign. Because you might find out then you just promised to donate about 20 euros to an unknown (and non-existent) cause. And if you try to push them away with 5 euros, they won’t like it and will try to take your purse.
With these experiences it almost sounds like we had a terrible time in Paris, especially as we discovered our budgets were too small for such an expensive city and nearly ran out of money. But despite these mishaps which were a result of our own gullibility, Paris was an amazing city to be in. We walked up Montmarte and fell in love with the view; explored the city’s steamy side with the Moulin Rouge and the shops nearby; we wandered next to the river and crossed the bridge covered in padlocks- exploring the market stalls alongside offering books, artwork and even some vintage French porn.
I fangirled when viewing the stunning Palais Garnier, the opera house in which ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was set, and when I saw Victor Hugo’s resting place in the Pantheon. We saw beautiful churches (accidentally temporarily joining a funeral), visited the bustling Louvre to see both the strange and beautiful artwork on display, and admired the Notre Dame from all angles.
Paris has too much to see in just a few days, and there is even more than just the typical touristic locations. As literature students, and this is something for anyone who appreciates the tranquility of reading, we had to visit the famous bookshop Shakespeare and Company which is bursting with books and has a cat. We also discovered a restaurant which is now one of my favourites in the world: ‘Au Limonaire’. A tiny little place tucked away on a street called Cité Bergère, it has the type of cosy atmosphere where tables are close together, but not uncomfortably so. The menu was reasonably priced, and the food was delicious. Visitors however, tend to come for the music. There is a little stage, and the night we were there we chatted to one of the musicians. It turned out he was from Manchester, having moved to Paris a few years ago. He and his band-mate performed music that was amazing and utterly insane. They sang a mixture of French, Spanish, and ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. So for a memorable evening I would recommend that tiny, brilliant restaurant.
We ended our trip by visiting the Pére Lachaise Cemetery, which involved us getting lost again because it is towards the edge of the city, so towards the edge it wasn’t on our map. The grave of Oscar Wilde had recently been restored as so many kisses had been given to the tombstone it had eroded away. This means that now there is a glass panel protecting Wilde from our kisses.
Our trip to Paris wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge amount of fun and a great learning curve to prepare us for future adventures. I did forget to text my dad one evening and he rang me, so a final lesson learnt is to always reassure your parents that you’re still alive.