Paris, quite possibly the most famous city on Earth, a mecca for art lovers, history buffs, and, of course, star crossed lovers.
Looking for hostels in Paris proved troublesome at first- on Hostel World and Hostel Bookers, my normal go-to hostel sites, nearly all accommodation was 30 euro or more a night, and that’s just for a bed in a dorm room. I did find one hostel that was only 24 euro and almost booked it, before reading the description and discovering that it was a gay hostel.
I had begun to resign myself to the fact that I might have to book one of these budget-crushing hostels, but luckily my companions from Venice clued me into a place they had stayed at in Paris. It was all girls bed and breakfast, and best of all, it was only 8 euro a night!
Admittedly I did not know what to expect when I arrived at the Paris Girls B&B Hostel, conveniently located near two metro stops and an easy hop into the main sights of Paris. Already Paris had made a good impression- immediately upon arriving in Paris, there were several information booths where young Parisian English students explained how to use the metro, what tickets to buy, and handed out free maps.
This help was much appreciated, especially after wandering around lost and confused in other cities. Not to mention I was dead tired from the night train. Oh, the Paris night train. There are few hells quite like that long ride.
So of course I was exhausted arriving at the B&B. So much that I didn’t even question how odd it was was this girls B&B was run by two brothers. The place was clean, and the beds very comfy. Breakfast was sparse, with just croissants, some white bread, and juice (really, you couldn’t manage some instant coffee?). I suspect this lame breakfast was just done to qualify as a “bed and breakfast” on air bnb, but at 8 euro a night, I have no complaints. In fact, Stefan, the older brother, was ridiculously friendly and helpful. Both seemed like upstanding Parisian citizens.
That first day was a bit of a waste – by the time I was settled and had showered off the horror of my night train experience, it was 3pm, with most of the day behind me. I ended up just walking around with Charlotte, an american girl who had been spending the summer in Paris. We spent an hour trying to find a bakery she heard was great, only to find it closed. Instead we grabbed some burgers, and she told me about the bands she has been in, her documentary filming aspirations, and about biking around Paris. She was a very cool gal and I liked her immensely. She also told me a great story about her friend getting hit in the face by a pigeon while riding his bike. I nearly cried laughing as she described it to me.
Afterwards I returned to the hostel and went out for some drinks with another one of the Canadian girls there at the hostel, who had other friends she had met traveling earlier and wanted to meet up with. Her friends had been traveling as part of an internship with a non profit organization, global something-or-other. We shared travel stories, had some laughs, and great cherry beer.
The next morning I caught a 1pm free walking tour of Paris, hosted by Sandeman, whose tours I had enjoyed in Prague last year. I think I got the less chipper of the two guides, but I still enjoyed the tour (3.5 hours!) and saw all the major Parisian sites. After the tour ended I headed back to the hostel and met up with some of the other girls from my hostel again. It was the Canadian girl’s final night, after four months of travel. We headed out towards the Eiffel Tower, sipping wine and picnicking beneath the setting sun, which lit up the eiffel tower like gold.
The Eiffel Tower has the strange situation of being a beloved global icon , yet in reality it is quite ugly. Parisians hated it when it was first erected, and it’s no surprise why – the looming industrial structure looks like a junkyard heap shaped into a tower. Yet its size inspired awe, and it is undeniably alluring.
The next morning as I was getting ready for the day, I got to chatting with a very funky looking girl from California who had just arrived the night before. I told her about my plans to visit Paris’s catacombs- the underground pathways full of bones and skulls left over from the plague, buried beneath the city. She seemed interested so I invited her along, and she eagerly agreed to come.
I decided that first we should try to visit a Parisian food truck I had read about the year before, selling hamburgers and frites. The irony of eating a hamburger from a food truck in Paris was too delicious to deny, so I was quite determined to find this food truck. As a food truck blogger, I felt it was my duty to find this truck and write a post about it for my Boston Food Truck blog, my growing pet project. After consulting B&B owner Stefan, we decided it was walkable. WRoNG! It was not. We hiked for a good hour and a half before we managed to find the supposed location of the food truck (we got lost several times and had to hike alongside highways and loop back over bridges to get to our destination).
My Californian ally didn’t seem to mind, as she chatted non-stop about the irish boy who had brought her to Europe. She regaled me with her story- how she had lived in Paris five years ago when the irish guy first confessed his love, but she flew back to California thinking she would marry her high school sweet heart. When that didn’t seem to pan out, she left him and began chatting with Mr. Irish again. Determined to reunite with him, she flew back to Europe and confessed her love, but now he is headed to Africa for a year. This girl Ali had quite the flair for the dramatics let me say.
By then the food truck was long gone, if it had ever been there. To make matters worse, my catacomb plans were now implausible- the catacombs close at four, and I read online that the lines can stretch up to 1-2 hours wait. It was already two and we weren’t even near, so it seemed unlikely to work.
The Californian Ali suggested we scrap the plan, buy some bottles of wine, and go drink by the Siene. I felt guilty for dragging her through highway underpasses, and felt desperate for some wine right about then, so I agreed.
At first Ali was great company. She was a sweet, friendly girl from Laguna Beach who was eager to chat. A little too eager. We discussed (by which I mean, she yapped nonstop while I nodded every now and then), in tedious detail, her past with her ex, her breakup and what led to it, her Irish lover’s apartment, the songs they sang together, the things he said to her and her individual responses, the family members she liked, and the ones she hated.
I didn’t mind listening to Ali at first, as we sat on the Siene, our legs dangling over the river’s edge as we each clutched a bottle of wine. I could see the Norte Dame as we talked, and the view of the river was gorgeous on such a sunny day. It began to bother me that Ali clearly had no intent to even feign interest in my life, asking me maybe two questions in a period of three hours.
Eventually though, Ali confessed to me a tragedy in her family that might explain a bit about the loose canon she had become- her brother died from a drug overdose last year. Mingled with such an obvious tragedy was the fact that the brother, whom Ali had been closest with, was also gay. While her parents eventually adjusted, the rest of her Christian family, mostly her aunts and grandparents, seemed to be discontent with this discovery. Poor Ali was clearly full of anger- she spoke *very* harshly about her grandmother, proclaiming that she hated her and never wanted to see her again. She spoke the same way about her two sisters, one who she said was simply “up her own ass all the time” and the other who dated someone the family disliked.
To me, she sounded like a little child – a wounded, sad, lost child, and I felt bad for her. She went on to tell about her visits to a medium and encountering her bothers’ spirit. It was pretty eery to hear about these happenings – I don’t doubt her encounter with her brother was real, but I believe messing with that kind of stuff is dangerous.
After our long talk on the Siene, Ali took me to her favorite irish pubs, where we chatted with some fellow travelers and some locals Ali knew from when she would sing at bars in Paris.
I had planned on leaving early – around 9pm or 10pm, which I informed Ali about since I had to catch a 9am train the next morning. Ali wanted to stay, and asked what would happen if I missed the train. Suddenly I felt immensely annoyed and angry – I had sacrificed my time listening to her, and she barely could care that I had a train to catch the next day! In the end though, she left with me, and showed me a great spot for late night gyro-like sandwiches.
In the end, I couldn’t decide if I had a good day or not. I passed up some valuable sight seeing – but as Ali noted, what is more Parisian than sitting by the Siene with a bottle of wine? The Parisian life is about relaxing and chatting and drinking, so what could be a better way to spend the day? I also like to think my listening might have helped heal her pain, at least a little maybe. But then I also felt a bit down trodden and doormat-ish. Why didn’t I command more of the conversation, or insist on walking farther and seeing more sites?
I think in the end it’s alright though. I spent the day as a true Parisian, drinking and chatting beneath the beauty of Paris.