J from Jollying with a Jew – Part III: Paris
J from Jollying with a Jew – Part III: Paris
The first time I visited Paris, I was a youth-hostel hopping teenage bellend on a school city trip. It still makes me smile thinking back upon Paris when I was young: schoolfriends getting tipsy under the Eiffel Tower with a bottle of white wine that wasn’t even ours, missing the last metro to the hostel, meeting a bunch of Finnish students carrying so much cheap cider that we could easily brush our teeth with it, my friend sharing his garlic kebabs and teaching me how to spit olives down from the hostel’s fifth floor… and every morning rushing like the bloody wind to meet the first activity on the agenda of our teachers the next day. It was such a characteristic of carefree youth that I will always cherish.
The real meaning of Paris only just sank in when I was a university student on a microscopic budget looking for a break in Montmartre, hoping to paint people’s dreams on Place du Tertre one day, along with numerous others sketchers, painters and caricaturists. I was chasing the legacy of my artistic hero Toulouse Lautrec through Montmartre, fell in love with Giacometti in the Centre Pompidou and all the extremely inspiring sceneries around the river Seine where I could sit down and draw from dawn till dusk. Vixxie and her love for river banks… it never ends.
My most recent visit to Paris, now at least 10 years later, added a completely new dimension to my previous experiences. This time, Paris evolved to a city seemingly built for sipping café crèmes in the Parc de Bercy together, long walks in the Quartier Latin around the Sorbonne scouting for movie/game/vintage book shops and dazzling views at 300 meter above the floor level at midnight. Visiting Paris at a relaxed pace and with a loose agenda was delightful. No museum queues for us this time as we walked through the city for as long as our feet were able to carry us, taking in all the beautiful sights on the bridges of the Seine, on the Champs-Elysees and around the Champs De Mars. There wasn’t much more that I would want. We had such a wonderful time strolling around, squatting benches and talking, aaaaah la vie est belle.
In any other situation I’d of chosen to go to Paris with Thalys, but then adventure mode kicked in and I had the brilliant idea to “try something new”, and I decided to check out IDBus. Nir told me that as long as there was WiFi, he didn’t care how we got to Paris. So yeah.. frowns… there was WiFi but it didn’t work often and when it did, youtube was blocked. I would have asked the driver but she was such a scary woman. Upon arrival I started talking Flemish to her out of shear habit and she looked at me as if I was delusional for even thinking she had a clue what I was yapping about… ” Oh my god, I don’t speak Hollandais!!!!” It was fucking Flemish, you know.. Belgium’s second official language, remember? She basically ordered me to repeat myself in French or Italian or get-the-fuck-out. Fact is that if you step onto a bus in Brussels that will drive you to Paris, you better start thinking French – which after all is not much of an issue, I’m pretty much bilingual. I repeated my name, with this extremely exagerated French accent I only use when I want to act like a cocky know-it-all twat and that made her smile. She looked even more creepy.
We also found out his Israeli electricity plugs don’t fit our Belgian sockets and that there is no shop in Antwerp that has them in store. Of course they can be ordered. And it takes more than a week to deliver. Say goodbye to laptop as a means of entertainment 🙂 Fortunately, dat awesome man is not of the complaining kind (unlike me *whistles* ) and he just dug up a book, started reading, slept a bit while I nicked the whole back bench, tried to sleep, got motion sick, got bored, got moody, played bejeweled, started moaning, ran out of battery and eventually fell asleep annoyed with myself. (I love reading too, but it’s a guarantee I will throw up from motion sickness if I do so in a bus/car).
The bus drove us straight into Bercy, next to the Bercy Omnisports stadium and right next to the Seine. I kept on pouting all the way to the hotel and Nir just kept laughing at me for being a tool, but then I realized I was in Paris, and that there was no time to feel sick. It was a beautifully designed hotel room. Oh, and the sun was shining. Time to cheer up !
Let’s face it, sometimes big cities can be a bit overwhelming for a creative sponge like me. Too much architecture, too many museums, monuments and historical centers – not enough time. But Paris, the City of Light, of enchantment, of iconic monuments lined up street after street… I know the city so well that I didn’t have a need to run like a headless chicken past all the milestones. We didn’t fill our days with all the touristy things, we just walked through some charming districts and took the road less traveled, walked some more, and then some. Obviously, since it’s Paris, you can’t ignore all the sightseeing monuments because some of them are just mindblowing. It has been featured in so many romantic themes media all over the world that even if you visit to find out what the big deal is, you still visit it, if you get what I mean 🙂
We started our weekend in Paris watching the world go by and did some lèche-vitrine (window shopping) on the famous boulevard Champs-Elysees, with the Arc De Triomphe in the background. You wouldn’t know it from the photos, but the Champs Elysées is a looooooooonnng stretch of road. It’s littered with fabulous luxury shops and famous cafés along the way. Such as every notorious shopping street, there isn’t much interesting going on apart from strolling past one brand after another, Vuitton, Dior, Cartier, … but the buildings and facades are fabulous! There are quite a few smaller arcades that house some cute, more authentic shops and are much less crowded. I can never help but feel giddy like a nerd just thinking about the piles of history between la Place De La Concorde on one end and the Arc De Triomphe on the other. That street is just oozing with stories, much more interesting than famous shopping brands!!
We then made our way to visit the Cathedral Notre Dame and the Quartier Latin. I’ve met enough hunchbacks on this road called life so meeting Quasimodo was not exactly at the top of my priority list but I did feel like an alternative princess standing before one of Paris’ iconic landmarks that beckons thousands of visitors each year. The same feeling of humility that washed over me the first time I visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona came flooding back to me as I stood below the massive stained glass windows and gothic rosettes. One of those “pinch me” moments, ya know, no matter how many arrogant tourists are trying to shoot the perfect selfie.
The Sorbonne is one of Europe’s oldest universities, and still enjoys a certain prestige today. The historic heart of the Latin Quarter, which has been a center of scholarship and intellectual achievement for centuries, is still a beautiful sight thanks to buildings such as the Pantheon, the Sorbonne University and the Jardin des Plantes. I had been searching for this wonderful botanical garden because I remembered it from a long lost past and I wanted to visit it again with a more mature mindset but it turned out we walked right past it at the Gare d’Austerlitz where we took the metro earlier instead of finding the entrance merely hundred meters down the road. Ah well. More patience, more positivism… lesson learnt.
We walked up the bustling Boulevard St. Germain, cutting through the Latin Quarter. It’s a cafe-lover’s paradise, peppered with spots like the Flore and the Deux Magots, where Hemingway once hung with other famous expat writers and artists. Flower-adorned balconies and art-house cinemas, tons of art-supply and book shops, it’s all part of the charm. After our stroll on the Champs Elysees and the lack of interesting stores, I wanted to do the sweet thing for Nir and find him a game/movie related artifact store, which is why I led us into the Sorbonne district anyway. Finally ended up finding a store called Album, with lots of comics, Marvel greatness and movie/game figurine and books. Also the reason why we’ve sat in front of my PC two days later watching Predator movies together. Vixxie watching science fiction movies… there’s a first for everything.
Because of four hurty feet limiting mobility (read: walking like a duck), we couldn’t cover as much sightseeing ground as I might have done in previous trips but the silver lining was that this forced us to do much more cafe-sitting, people watching, and true relaxing. It’s fun! And you don’t return home exhausted, needing a post-vacation vacation.
On our last hours of the evening, we took a metro down to The Eiffel Tower. Something I was very much looking forward to indeed because I had never been completely to the top and never at night. My heart was bursting from my chest when we rounded the corner onto the Champs de Mars and I finally had the full scope of the Eiffel Tower in my sights. There it was, once again, still as hard ironed as ever, commanding, but more imposing than I remembered. I really love this structure of steel and dreams, even if some people mock her kaki brown colour and call her a scaffold… I like to put her where she belongs: In 1889, as the entrance arch to the World’s Fair and as a miracle of harmony between architecture and engineering.
We spent an hour sitting there, waiting for the sunset, recounting our fabulous week together. It was nice to be alone- in a city with millions of people, it’s hard to feel like you have a space of your own, but somehow under the tower that night- we were all alone and it was just me, him and a big iron tower. It felt like an eternity of friendship flashing by while talking and enjoying the moment.
The climb up was the tower was quite tedious, because even at midnight, there are lots of people who want to have an awe-inspiring view over Paris’ romantic nightscape. One hour up, 15 minutes at the top and another hour down but I wouldn’t want to have missed it for anything in the world. Because after all, at the top of the Eiffel Tower, at midnight, romance reigns proudly, the best hugs are given and the best choices are made.
I had planned to go back to Montmartre and the Sacré-Coeur very early in the morning but decided to stay in proximity of Bercy since we didn`t have much time left and I know the Parisian mentality of “bof, c’est la grève, c’est pas grave”. Better safe than sorry and I was so exhausted the night before that I didn’t quite remember how I got into bed anyway, so I was happy with the extra little hour of sleep.
We walked around the Parc of Bercy with a coffee cream and a hot chocolate. It’s very pretty when you’re in the right mindset and bit of a sleepy haze. And more conversations were to be had, of course. More bench squatting had to be done. Coming to think of it… we really did yap a lot during those 9 days but it felt like time just had flown by. I don’t think I’ve talked/listened as much in those days than I have done in the past few months altogether.
IDBus take II. The road home was a lot more enjoyable. I gave away my window seat I know right! and I gave away my phone with music + earbuds. Boredom deluuuuuge. But I got a super comfortable pillow in return (Nir’s shoulder). Who’d have thought I only needed a hug to sleep tightly for 4 hours.. no motion sickness, no moodies. Flawless victory !
All these memories of Paris, Amsterdam and Antwerp make me happy and hopeful that, this could just be a taste of more lovely things to come in this new stage of my life.
On his next visit to Belgium the weather will be colder and more gray, but he looks forward to that. And so do I, winter and early spring has its own charms … big and decadent waffels with whipped cream, hot chocolates, more Duvels than one can count and cuddles by the Scheldt await.