this day started off far better than friday. we woke up, showered, then headed on over to the train station to pick up rémy. we got a little nervous though because we couldn’t find him anywhere in the station and we had no way of calling him from our terrible phones (which only get signal in spain apparently), so we just wandered around the station until we found some pay phones. we gave him a quick call; his train hadn’t even arrived yet. i got a pastry from little bakery in the station, not that good, and then rémy arrived.
rémy was born in france and as far as i know lived there until high school, when he spent three years at cedar falls high in cedar falls, iowa. that’s how blake and he knew each other. that’s also how he was able to learn english. and he speaks it perfectly. he’s got a bit of a french accent, but he knew the nuances of the language, he knew idioms and colloquialisms of english, it was great. he was completely fluent. and i’ve never really hung out with anybody bilingual, or i guess never really seen them interact in society. all my spanish teachers in the states were bilingual obviously, but i only ever saw them interact with a bunch of students who couldn’t speak spanish very well, so i never got to see how bilingualism worked. and it was awesome with rémy. the first place we went to was a little bakery to buy some french bread, and we talked about what we wanted and then he went up and ordered it. perfect french. so cool. i immediately wanted to become as fluent in spanish. i’d be happy with any language but spanish is probably my best bet. it was just so interesting to see him be able to go from a conversation with us in english to speaking perfect french, back to speaking english with us. just a very cool thing to experience. the whole day he was switching between languages; it was so fascinating to me that his brain could do it so efficiently. for me with spanish, i do my best to think in spanish as much as i can, but in class or in nerve wracking spanish situations i find myself thinking in english and translating it. i can’t imagine what it’s like to be totally fluent in two different languages, be able to just spit out whatever you want to say in either without thinking. what a great thing.
after we got some bread, he wanted to stop in at his sister’s place to say hi. she’s about 25 i think, and she has a small flat about a twenty minute walk to the eiffel tower. it was kind of weird though, she doesn’t speak any english, so we got there and met her… and then what is there to say? we didn’t know how to say nice to meet you or anything so blake and i kind of just sat there while the french people spoke in french. after we left, rémy took us to one of his favorite restaurant/bars close by. we had a couple beers (which, by the way, were actually really good. i’ve never heard of this before but they put like syrupish flavoring in them. we had a peach beer and a raspberry beer. so much better than regular old beer.) and headed on to the tower.
what is there to say about the eiffel tower. it’s impressive, especially as you’re walking up to it, and it gets bigger and bigger the closer you get. it’s a really beautiful piece of architecture, but it’s weird to me. it’s a gigantic metal skeleton, and it’s the most visited paid monument in the world. people everywhere think it’s absolutely gorgeous, yet it’s so inorganic. just a bunch of a metal beams melded together to make a huge pointy tower. it’s just interesting to me that a couple of i-beams have been put together in such a way that it’s one of the most recognizable structures and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire world.
we walked until we were underneath the tower, and there were super long lines to go up. rémy said if we came back at night the lines would be way shorter so we took some pictures in front of tower (mandatory) and headed off for somewhere new. we walked along the seine river for awhile until we got to a metro station. we ran into rémy’s sister again, who stuck with us for the remainder of the afternoon. we rode the metro a bit, then headed back up into the daylight, and as soon as we walked out of the metro exit, this is what we saw:
so great. how parisian is that? these guys were all just off the wall good, it was so cool. then we headed into this little neighborhood that was classic paris. we had finally found the paris i was expecting the whole trip. it was gorgeous, little shops everywhere, really pretty architecture along the buildings, tons of bohemian looking people. and then we came to the sacré-cœur basilica on top of montmartre, the highest hill in the city. first of all, this whole area was gorgeous. there were lots of people everywhere, and the hill has a gorgeous view of the city. and the basilica, my goodness. how magnificent. it’s just such a grand building, there is not too much to say about it. at this point, rémy told us to watch our stuff, as there are tons of tourists about and as a result, tons of pickpockets. luckily, neither of us got anything “lifted”. we were however approached by a crowd of black guys at the very bottom of the walking path up to the summit of montmartre. it wasn’t a whole group that approached us all at once, there were just tons of guys roaming around looking for helpless tourists. this one guy came up to me and said something in french so i tried out “i don’t speak french” in french, totally butchered it, and he started laughing at me. so he started talking to me in english. what they would try to do is get your attention and then get your hand and tie a little string around your pinky finger, and then talk to you while they made this little colored thread bracelet for you. and then ask you to pay for it. as far as i could tell there was no funny business involved, but i really didn’t want to talk to this guy so i kept trying to avoid him and finally he was like “hey man, hakuna matata, i respect you, you respect me. i only want 1 minute, if you don’t want what i make you don’t have to have it.” decent argument, i have no idea what to say to that. so i reluctantly give this guy my pinky and let him do his schtick. he asks me where we’re from, if i have a girlfriend, all that stuff. and he makes me a cool bracelet. and then asks me to pay for it. and i said no. and that was that. i was overly aware of my wallet in my front pocket the whole time though; some silly african with some thread wasn’t gonna get anything off of me. but he was nice and really funny. and he said hakuna matata to me, a real african said hakuna matata! how great is that.
so we continued our walk up montmartre until we got to the summit. such a gorgeous view. this city is huge. you could see forever, just city. then we walked into the basilica. it was breathtaking. pictures weren’t allowed, and i’m almost glad because it would’ve been ridiculous to even try to capture how spectacular the inside of this place is. it is so huge; there is a gigantic area that looks like a sanctuary with a lot of pews and then surrounding that there are so many little alcoves with statues of saints and things like that. it’s just one colossal room with so much to look at. so impressive.
we came out of the basilica and headed into what i thought was the most “paris” part of town that we got to see. it was just this little neighborhood with tons of people, tons of little shops of souvenirs and whatnot, and then we walked into this big square that was filled with artists painting. this is actually a famous square; it’s been a haven for artists for decades. super cool though, you can just go and buy french artwork or get your caricature painted or whatever you want. very hip, very bohemian. we needed to get some food though and rémy knew of this sweet little restaurant further on so we kept walking. the place he took us to was SO cool. it was this really small restaurant that specialized in crêpes. the walls of this place were completely covered in notes, pictures, flyers, whatever. you can just put up whatever you wanted on the wall. there were dollar bills, notes to lovers, “jenny was here” type notes, all sorts of stuff. it was way cool. but the best part! there was this old guy banging on a piano right behind where blake and i were sitting. and holy cow he was good. he just played all sorts of jazzy fun music while we ate. it was so cool though, he was so good, he wasn’t even paying attention to what he was playing. look at this:
he’s reading the newspaper! seriously he would turn pages in between songs and keep reading. wasn’t even looking at his hands. unbelievable. so we got some crêpes and some cider, which was all wicked expensive but when in rome, you know? the crêpes were good, not mind-blowing. they’re like quesadillas with different stuff inside. we got ours with ham and cheese. nothing incredible, but still good.
we left to go visit the art square again, and i got a delicious crêpe filled with nutella from a small little vendor. holy cow that thing was delicious. and then we walked through the square, admiring all the artists and all the other tourists. it was a very cool place. i would’ve loved to buy some artwork but it was all really expensive, at least all the stuff worth getting. so we walked on. our next destination was the famous moulin rouge nightclub. we made it to pigalle, the famous red-light district of paris, and saw the club. it’s a cool looking building. but as we walked down pigalle, my goodness. it was probably like two miles or so of just sex shops. but it’s weird cause it’s not like a seedy looking area. there were tons of regular looking tourists and french people out, and the architecture was nice and everything. i didn’t see any hookers or cross dressers roaming the street. but the shops, yikes. a pretty risque part of town.
here we caught the metro and said goodbye to rémy’s sister. it was really pleasant spending the afternoon with her, even though we couldn’t really communicate with her at all. it was really sweet to she and rémy interact though, they seemed like really good friends. made me miss my sisters a lot. ruthie/hannah/rebekah, if any of you want to move to paris and let me come visit you, i’m all for it.
we hit the metro again and got to the island that holds the notre dame cathedral to wait for rémy’s friend who was going to meet us around there. as we waited along the seine, something great happened. i glanced at one of the bridges and saw this:
at first i was like “hm interesting” BUT it weirdly reminded me of something i couldn’t place for a second, and then it hit me. the cedar river. yes. growing up in cedar rapids, one of our few claims to fame is that cedar rapids is one of only two mainland cities in the world that has it’s governmental buildings on an island in the middle of the city. the other city: paris. and guess what i was looking at. the island. needless to say, i flipped out. i took a collection of shots to one day interpolate and make a panoramic scene. doubt that will ever happen, but it is still so freakin’ cool that i saw that.
i would’ve loved to visit the notre dame cathedral, but we had to go meet rémy’s friend, xavier. i actually have no idea how to spell this guy’s name, it was so hard to say. pronounced like “ksa-vee-ay.” it took me all evening to learn how to say it correctly. so i’m just gonna spell it xavier. so we met up with him, went to a bar close by and watched the end of some french football game, and then headed to SUBWAY for dinner. holler. my meatball marinara never tasted so great. after subway we headed back towards the same bar we had stopped at earlier in the day, had a few flavored beers, and headed off to see the tower once more. i really wanted to go up during nighttime, so the guys obliged and we walked back towards the tower. on the way the guys wanted to stop at a small convenient store and buy some cheap wine, so we did that and then made it to the tower.
the tower at night is so beautiful. even so, it turns out most of the french are pretty disenchanted with the tower, and rémy and xavier didn’t want to go up so they elected to stay on the champ de mars (the long lawn in front of the tower) while blake and i headed up. the two of us got in line, bought our tickets, and then got on the elevator. we bought tickets for the third floor, but they make you switch elevators on the second floor, and the line for the third floor was heinously long so we decided to just stay on the second and see what we could see. and it was gorgeous. the city really is just terrifically big, and there were lights everywhere. this is as good as i got. there’s not really too much to say about being up in the tower. it’s just really really pretty. and it would’ve been better with a girl. there are certain times or situations in life that are very suited towards a certain gender; going up the eiffel tower is suited towards being with a female companion. but blake and i enjoyed it. and then we got cold, so we bolted down the stairs. that was fun.
we got back out onto the champ de mars and the frenchmen had already finished off the first bottle of wine, so we cracked another bottle open and hung out and shared it. that is a special memory for me; drinking wine on the champ de mars in front of the eiffel tower with two frenchmen. great fun. after we finished the wine, xavier wanted to take us to his favorite bar in paris, so we headed off again to find the metro and ended up at this cool scottish looking pub. xavier goes to school in paris and i guess this is a really popular bar among international students. it was a pretty cool place though. xavier bought everybody a big beer, of which i drank none if i remember right. regular beer is just too gross for me. but the other guys drank theirs and helped me out with mine too, so add that to the wine we had at the tower and by the end of our time at the bar i was the only one still totally with it. rémy said he was too tired to do anything else, and blake and i had to catch a early morning flight so we decided to go back to our hostel.
i’m pretty proud of myself here. the whole day we took the metro a bunch of times to go all over the place, and it seemed so confusing to me. there is such a intricate network of underground tunnels all over paris, and since i can’t read french, all the signs mean nothing to me. but i gotta give props to drunk xavier, he explained to me perfectly how we were supposed to get home on the metro. i was still a bit nervous, but he reassured me we would be fine. so we rode with rémy and xavier until our stop, and they stayed on, and we said goodbye, and then blake and i went to find our next metro stop underground. i’m telling you, it’s a great transit system, but for a first-timer, it’s really daunting. arrogance time: i nailed it. we got off at our stop and headed upwards toward the street, and literally came up exactly outside our hostel. i was psyched about it. so if i ever have to go back to paris, i’ll be fine.
we got into our hostel and ran into a bit of a problem. for some reason, they told us when we checked in on friday that we would be switching rooms between friday and saturday night. so we got there saturday night, and the guy told us our room number was 6 and our roommate was already in there with the key. great. now we probably have to wake this stranger up and say hi we’re your roommates for the night. uncomfortable. well we got to our room and the door was cracked; there were five beds, a double bunk bed and a triple bunk bed, and there was a girl already asleep on the bottom bed of the triple. great. just an uncomfortable situation, the door cracked, a girl asleep, and two strange dudes coming in and getting ready to go to bed. thank goodness she didn’t wake up right then. so i’m getting ready for bed and our fourth roommate walks in. blake is asleep at this point so i talk to this guy for a bit. he was from new york, kind of a weird guy with an accent. he asked if either of us were musicians and if i wanted to be in a band with him. he was in paris looking for some other people to start a band with. i said no. while we were talking, the girl woke up and went to the sink to get a drink or something, and we were like we better stop whispering and go to sleep and she turned around and said no big deal. but guess what her shirt said. drake. what?! i was like “whoa, is that drake university, like in iowa?” and she said yeah and i said we were from uni and she flipped out too. she told me she was studying in florence or somewhere like that and she was visiting paris for the weekend. i can’t believe we would run into somebody from another small school in a small state in the same hostel room in paris. small world i guess. so i said “go bulldogs” and went to sleep. i’m unsure of what you’re supposed to say, do you say goodnight? normally goodnight is reserved for people you’re familiar with isn’t it? i don’t know. i chose go bulldogs.
and that was day 2. far better than day 1. we saw so much more, and especially the beautiful parts of paris i was hoping to see. paris really delivered. i don’t know if i would say i “fell in love” with paris, but it is now way more attractive to me. i really hope to go back someday and see the things i missed out on. on to day 3.