It has been two years now since my trip to Paris. All these days I had been writing and rewriting this post and still don’t know if this is the right way to put up what I experienced. Here goes nothing.
Disclaimer: This is a personal story. It has no travel tips, no budget talk, no what-to-dos. Please feel free to stop reading here if travel advisory is what you are looking for.
Paris started out on a quite sour note for me and those few days have definitely left a mark on my life. It was not the most picturesque trip nor was it how I had dreamt it to be. I woke up on a very early morning train. It was a triple tier 8’ by 6’ room with 6 of us in it (things we do to save money!) Yes, it was stuffy and I could see my travel partner was agitated. We caught up with some breakfast on the train. With a croissant, some orange juice topped with a good amount of argument and a terrible fight, our train swayed through the Parisian suburbs. We finally stopped at the Gare de Lyon station.
Stepping out of the train, I wanted more than ever to be alone and away from the people around me. This was the last leg of our trip and we were almost broke. My fellow ADULT travel companions had aptly put all the blame on me for our current situation. Tired of all the arguments, I decided to stay mum for a while and just let the day pass. Sadly this wasn’t just any day. It was a day in a city I always dreamt of visiting and I couldn’t just “let it pass”.
Paris metro is very complicated and for people like us from a country where there are no metro networks it is rather difficult to decipher the correct route. An old gentleman was kind enough to guide us to St. Denis where our friend’s apartment was and generously invited us to stay.
St Denis looked very chilled out. Another surprise for this skinny Asian – it was COLD and I was not prepared. We asked around with the address and walked deeper into the neighbourhood. A Pakistani guy came to us and insisted he would take us to the place we are looking for. While I was, of course, very grateful for his generosity, his weird comments were the last thing I wanted to hear. He smirked at us and said, “I know how you came here. Everyone comes through the Bilal bhai.” His allegations based on our brown skin were, perhaps, normal. But this was a first for me and I was clearly annoyed to be assumed as an illegal migrant. Not wasting time explaining to him, we searched through the Rue’s and arrived at our destination. I was more than happy to see the helpful stranger leave.
The apartment was beautiful. Small and cozy – just what I would want if I would ever have a place to myself. We freshened up quickly. My fellow travelers were tired and my feet too itchy to go outside already. While they took a quick nap, I set out to explore the neighbourhood a little (or perhaps the Champ de Mars).
Out again in the neighbourhood, I was greeted in Hindi and Urdu while passing through the alleys. The metro strike was still on and I was not allowed to board a train. Strolled across the streets, shopped a little for home and was back to the apartment soon to see our host was back home. The evening was spent catching up on old friendships and stories we shared.
Almost when the sun was setting, we finally stepped out to explore Paris, to see Paree by the night. Our host is probably one of the most notorious person I know, a dear friend since his time in Bangladesh. He is all about bending rules and living every moment. A brilliant photographer and humanitarian this southern French guy was the perfect company to tear Paris apart. He was as ecstatic to have us as we were to be there. He wanted to take us somewhere that is special to him, but even asking a thousand times he did not tell us where we are going. It’s a surprise! We were out and about, blindly trusting and following our friend.
Transportation in Paris is expensive. We didn’t have enough days in hand to buy a metro card nor did we have enough money to spend on each ride. Yes, we were that broke. But Arnaud had all the tricks up his sleeves. Now this post is a very personal post of solely my experience. All decisions were our own and this should not give you the idea to do the same. YOU SHOULD NOT! WE WERE BROKE, YOU ARE NOT!
As we walked into the metro station, Arnaud quickly rushed us away from the ticket counter and towards the platforms. I was confused, how are we going to the metro without a ticket? He pushed open the doors by force that would otherwise open only when it detects a ticket. And before I could protest or say no, I was through. I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon in Europe but every other young person was either jumping over the detector, sliding under it or pushing it open, like we did. No tickets, a major law broken. Now I am not a goody-two-shoes but breaking a law that could get me a fine of 60 Euros (or even prison in another country) was not a joke. I was shitting my pants. Moving on from the morbid thoughts, we hopped on a train. As I looked out through the windowpanes, seeing the outside change again from suburbs to higher denser skylines, I caught a glimpse of the peak of a very familiar metal tower. My eyes transfixed as the Eiffel Tower quickly disappeared into the changing horizon.
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Off the metro, as we walked through sloped cobbled roads with picturesque buildings on both sides, the place seemed oddly familiar. We started climbing up what seemed like a never ending flight of steps; I knew where we were. The Sacré-Cœur, a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was waiting for us at the end of the ginormous steps. Illuminated with bright lights at the base the basilica looked no less than a visual from one of those mythological movies.
As if the Romano-Byzantine stone basilica wasn’t jaw dropping enough, we turned the opposite way to see the whole of Paris before our eyes. A beautifully lit aerial view of the entire city of love and standing out were the ever familiar landmarks, even from such distance. What made it more special and why this view will forever be embedded on my mind is the drizzling rain and my partner trying to be cute. i will always remember that puppy face and warm smile that always made me forget every bitter thing that happened and my heart skip a beat. It’s been a while now, been a while since.
The alcohol level in blood was rising, the temperature was falling and the night got crazier when we arrived at the plaza in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral to meet Arnaud’s girlfriend. More rules were broken at this point including one more ticket-less ride and the boys peeing on the hedges. My mood at this point was way better and I almost forgot what happened earlier that morning. My Parisian holiday didn’t have the tours, the perfect pictures, the beautiful dresses or Instagramable photos, but right at that moment it felt perfect, full of life and laughter.
We drank more, laughed more while walking on the streets of Paris, along the river Seine – hand in hand with someone who mattered then.
I don’t remember when or how we got home. The last memory I had is seeing a blindingly lit Tour Eiffel suddenly becoming dark and quiet. In those wee hours of night, the metro was shut already and Solanne threw up a fist fight for not walking a single step more. Our equally broke host hauled an Uber, probably paid it with his budget for the entire week and got the 5 drunken tired bodies back to the apartment at St. Denis.
The next morning should have started earlier but the hungover heads could not make it through the early hours. It was our last day in Paris and there was still lots to do. Breakfast had freshly baked croissants and pastry – minimal, budgety yet yum! Arnaud decided to skip school to take us around. Can’t thank him enough for everything he did for us and for, more than anything, his infectious positivity and generosity. How we spent the rest of the day are better explained with photos. Read the captions – these were major bucket-list moments for me.
Honestly this is not how had imagined my Paris visit to be. All I said to myself was being broke is definitely not the best feeling in the world and on a foreign land it can get rather scary. But that should not AT ALL come in the way of my explorations. I was in a new country: places I hadn’t seen before, streets I didn’t explore yet, food I didn’t taste and people I did not meet. An empty pocket should never make you regret your decision to explore. And I did the same. All that I thought was I won’t get to come back… this was my chance. It wasn’t perfect but I am more than grateful to have this experience in my dairy now. More than anything, this helped me grow as a person.
The choice of visiting Paris has perhaps cost me dearly. However, I will forever yearn to go back one day and complete my trip. Till then Je t’aime Paree.