I just returned from my first trip to Paris with my best girlfriends and the memories we brought home with us will make us crack up and wish we were eating croissants and Nutella every time they're mentioned.
The plane ride was "sooo looooooong" in Kristy's words, but numb tailbones and cramped legs have already been forgotten. Kristy met a cute French guy on the plane. He offered her an extra blanket that I ended up using after I spilled a full glass of water in my lap. Emilee got her first stamp in her passport which absolutely required a moment of silence. Me, I just wanted to change my pants.
My left arm felt like it had been at the gym for seven hours due to the immense physical effort it took to find our hotel. I had to drag my suitcase the length of four football fields, which would seem manageable if the wheels of my brand new bag hadn't inexplicably broken off in the middle of a cobblestone intersection. Nothing like the warm welcome of a honking smart car as you're dragging forty pounds of clothing through the streets. Thank goodness Emilee was in girl scouts and could read a map.
Our hotel room was like walking into a life sized dollhouse. Pink and yellow and so charming. We unpacked our overstuffed bags into the vintage dressers and pushed the three separate twin beds into the main room. We walked the city, stopping at every quaint little cheese and dessert shop. Emilee made the first purchase of our trip -- one euro for a loaf of hot, fresh bread. I'm ashamed to admit that by 6:00 p.m. jet lag hit us with a vengeance and we were fast asleep at the hotel with no recollection of our heads even hitting the pillow. Our internal clocks were so off, we all woke up at 3:00 a.m. absolutely starving and spent the rest of the night tearing off chunks of delicious bread and talking about what all girls talk about at sleepovers.
The sun couldn't come up fast enough. First stop, obviously, the Eiffel Tower. Our pictures look like we were standing in front of some cheesy Paris backdrop. It's overwhelmingly beautiful and when it sparkles at night, you feel like you're walking through the biggest, most fanciful Disneyland ever. A Disneyland with really amazing crepes.
The first day we wandered along the Seine River, taking pictures of tour boats and beautiful little kids. I'm not going to lie, a curly headed toddler speaking French may be the most adorable thing I have ever seen. We saw ferris wheels and carousels and wandered around the Place de la Concord -- the city's largest square where Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI faced the guillotine. We studied ornate fountains, funky lampposts and famous museums like Musee de l'Orangerie which showcases the ethereal work of Monet. At this point my fingers and toes had lost all feeling, so the three of us wandered into a cozy little bistro across from a row of modish couture shops.
We hit it off with the owner's son who, in his best English, suggested some hip places we should check out -- like Queen -- where we could dance from midnight to seven in the morning. We figured we could sleep when we got back to the states and had the best night of disco! While waiting in line at the coat check, we befriended Philippe, Nicolas and Marco, professional tennis players who didn't suck to look at.
Waking up the next morning may be on the top of my "most painful experiences" list. We had walked fifteen miles the day before, then danced seven hours in heels, but after a pastry and a cappuccino, I actually felt human again. It rained, then hailed, then snowed and opting not to suffer from hypothermia, we ventured into the metro station and bought three tickets - all in French! It was a defining moment.
We stopped at the Musee du Louvre, which, like everything else we had seen thus far, was stunning. The statues and architecture were hard to take in and the famous glass pyramid glittered from the recent rain. Emilee was brought to tears, overwhelmed by seeing it in person after writing her college dissertation about it. With over 35,000 works of art on display, everyone says it takes almost three days to see it all. Da Vinci's Mona Lisa has a six hour line, but it's rumored the original is actually stored underneath the museum. I have no idea if that's true or not, but we took a picture of the floor and moved on.
Our next metro trip was surreal. We stumbled across a small student symphony rehearsing in the acoustically perfect halls of the station, creating the most beautiful music I have ever heard. We listened for a long time, admiring the skills and young age of the musicians.
Next, the Latin Quarter -- my favorite district of France!! Noise and hostels and bohemia. Now a brass band was playing outside! Trumpeters were missing their cues, too busy kissing their girlfriends who had come to watch them play. A crazy guy wearing a red wig pulled Emilee onto the dance floor and they spun and jumped in complete chaos. We sought out a small bookstore called Shakespeare and Co. which is arguably the best bookshop in Paris. Historic and ramshackled, it looks like a witches workshop and is run by interesting kids living in the hostel upstairs. We loaded up on limited editions and then stood outside to listen to the bells on the Notre Dame, which was towering above us just across the river.
That night, Philippe invited us to join him and a bunch of friends at a local cafe where we talked about school, love and Bob Dylan. We clicked as a group and they encouraged us to spend New Year's Eve with them, which we accepted without hesitation.
Our final day was spent at the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, a crowded gothic cemetery that is the final resting place of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors -- one of my favorite bands. I had to pay my respects, so I bought some purple flowers, wrote down my favorite quote of his and we wound our way through a maze of tombstones. James Douglas Morrison's grave was surprisingly unobtrusive, except for the candles and collages left by other fans.
New Year's Eve!!! We powered our way through The Champ Elysees, it's like Rodeo Drive on crack. The end of the street is marked by the Arc de Triomphe, probably my favorite monument in Paris. It's like the gateway to fun and 20,000 people gather here to celebrate New Years. We made our way through the throngs to meet our new friends. At midnight we hugged and kissed on both cheeks, ran up and down the street singing songs and yelling "Bonne Annee" (Happy New Year)! I don't think any other New Year will come close to the perfection of this one.
The guys walked us the two miles home as the sun came up. It took every last ounce of willpower to leave such a wonderful country, but we reluctantly packed, boarded our flight and slept the whole way home. As Emilee, Kristy and I hugged farewell at the Air France curb...we quoted what we wrote in the hotel guestbook:
"Thank you for the 4 a.m. dinners and the 6 a.m. breakfasts. We will never forget you. And we will be back."