So this is what jet lag feels like. At the crack of 4am on the first morning of my first full day in Paris my eyelids sprung open like jack-in-the-boxes on crack. Deliriously exhausted, yet somehow unable to turn my brain off long enough to settle in for some much needed zzz’s, I forced myself to shut my eyes and at least pretend. Four hours later, when the alarm sounded, I was still pretending. My first day in Paris had officially begun.
Despite dark circles under my eyes and a slightly clouded sense of where I was and what I was supposed to be doing, I was really excited for the day to begin. Tyler and I had a 4.5 hour walking tour scheduled for 9am, where we were to meet our guide du jour at the foot of the Charlemagne statue in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. “How ‘Paris'”, I thought to myself. On our way, we stopped by one of the many boulangeries selling fresh-from-the-oven, still-warm baked goods. Nothing like a chocolate croissant to start the day off right. “How ‘French'”, I smiled, devouring the ooey gooey goodness of my morning treat. Some things really do taste better in Paris.
We arrived to Notre Dame with enough time for a quick self-guided tour, taking shelter from the spitting rain, entering the quiet, hushed interior of the impressive gothic-style cathedral. Without being catholic and without knowing much about architecture, saints, or french history, the towering arched interior, beautiful symmetry, and famed stained glass (the most stained glass in any one place in Europe, our tour guide later told us) was impressive. The early hour and absence of any real crowds made the space seem even more vast. After a few snapshots, our time was running short and we exited to meet our tour guide. My stomach began to gurgle.
By the time our group was assembled and Hana, our guide was making her introductions, I was full-on nauseous, bent over at the waist. What the hell? As we moved from the Notre Dame sauntering towards the famous Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore, I unzipped my jacket and took a deep breath, thinking to myself “as long as we keep moving I’ll be fine”. As this thought occurred, Hana stopped abruptly and proceeded to give an in-depth, well-informed spiel of the century long history of the bookstore. I took a seat and put my head between my legs to wait it out. Had I not been feeling so green, I’m sure I would have found it incredibly interesting. I love books after all…
By the time we moved on to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, I was taking deep swallows of air and flapping my jacket like a seagull in heat. I kept to the back of the group and thankfully, no one seemed to notice. As they moved on to the Louvre, I held Tyler back. “Just wait”, I said as I tugged on his jacket. Promptly, I bent over and threw up. “This is SO un-French”, I though to myself as onlookers passed (I was too embarrassed to look up to see if they were gawking). Morning Tuesday rush hour continued on the busy street to my left as I bent over once more and heaved. As my friend Sydney would say: “puke and rally”. I wiped my face with the sleeve of my sweater, and jogged hand-in-hand with Tyler to catch up to the rest of the group. “If you didn’t want to go to the Louvre, you could have just said so,” Tyler jabbed. The tour resumed and I began to feel almost instantly better.
AN ASIDE: I will NOT attribute my nauseous episode to the chocolate croissant I devoured in 2.5 seconds earlier that morning as it doesn’t seem fair to blame feeling so awful on something SO delicious. Instead, I will say that I ate a highly suspect hot-dog-in-baguette at the foot of the Eiffel tower the night before, shortly after we arrived in the city. Kids: say NO to street meat. Lesson learned.
Hana took us down the winding streets of the Latin district with narrow one way streets and even narrower sidewalks, dotted with elegant perfumeries and chocolate shops bearing displays that looked as sparkly (and expensive) as jewellery counters. I was starting to feel better. I was beginning to appreciate Hana’s stories and knowledgeable commentary. I was feeling as though we were in the heart of Paris and I could quite possibly be mistaken (if I distanced myself slightly from the tour group, and did not open my mouth to speak), for a Parisian. As we sauntered slowly down the skinny walks, I stepped aside to let a very beautiful, very elegantly dressed, very french looking woman pass by our group. In doing so, I stepped – scratch that – slid across a very large, very fresh pile of dog poop. My balance wavered, I tipped backwards, and at the last second saved myself from falling in the giant pile. As I scraped my shoe along the cobblestones, the French woman gracefully sidestepped the newly made skid mark and continued on her way with crisp high-heeled steps. I was thankful that the nausea had subsided by then, but was feeling decidedly un-French as the scent of the doggy doodoo rose around me and once again, people stared.
I will say that after the tour, things began to go my way. We ate a delicious meal and people watched at an outdoor cafe near the Eiffel Tower, trying our French vocabulary out on the waiter. We gawked at the ornately adorned patrons and flashing paparazzi of Paris Fashion Week (how cool!?). We had a snooze in the famed “green chairs” at the Jardin des Tuileries and then enjoyed an evening river cruise, complete with a bottle of wine down the river Seine. Tomorrow we will tour the Palace Versailles, then walk across the Pont des Arts, write our names on a padlock, hook to the bridge, and throw the key in the Seine as all the thousands of lovers before us have done.
Despite some unromantic beginnings with Paris, I am beginning to see what all the fuss is about.