Tuesday, January 5, 2010

des libraries, des cathredales & du cafe

OMG. Yesterday was definitely an adventure.

First of all, Pascale went to work yesterday, so it was my day to venture into the city alone. I was nervous, but ready enough. I left around 9:20 this morning, armed Pascale's cell phone, with her work phone number so that I could call her if I needed help on my adventure. We agreed that since she got out of work at 4PM, she would call me then and we could meet up somewhere depending where I was at the moment.

I had decided the night before that a good way to have some sort of a plan for my day was to follow Rick Steves' tour that began with Notre Dame and ended with Pont Neuf (but I knew that I probably wasn't going to see everything anyway). If you don't know me terribly well, you don't know that I have absolutely NO sense of direction, which was probably the thing that made me most nervous about my first time venturing out into a big city for the first time on my own (not solely Paris, I mean -- I've never spent any time in any big city alone).

I got to the RER station easily (this was lucky. It's RIGHT by Pascale's apartment, and I've walked here multiple times since arriving, so getting lost here would have been a bad sign). The RER isn't the Metro, but it connects to the Metro. I got on the correct train, which took me all the way to the St. Michel-Notre Dame Metro station (again, luckily). I probably took the wrong way out of the station, because it took me really far from Notre Dame, BUT it led me past Gibert, the bookstore that Pascale had recomended I try to find. Seeing Gibert was the first good sign I had, because I had only just begun my day, and seeing something semi-familiar made me feel more confidant, even though I hadn't actually been looking for it when I found it. It was a really nice new & used bookstore, except that it made me extremely sentimental, so I didn’t stay too long. Everything in France makes me sentimental for things that are far away.

After Gibert, I found Notre Dame not too much farther away. It was really cool, obviously. And big, and there were a lot of people, but it wasn’t so crowded that it was hard to get around. The only problem was that I’ve already been to St. Peter’s Basilica, and, well, you know. But Notre Dame was very beautiful.

The next thing on Rick Steeve’s tour was the Memorial for all of the French (the Mémorial de la Déportation )who were deported by the Nazis, which I was definitely interested in seeing. I found this one easily, too. The guide made me turn off Pascale’s cell phone, which I did, and then I walked down into the memorial. It’s not the type of thing that takes a long time to visit, because there’s nothing to read, but it was worth seeing. 200,000 French people were deported by the Nazis during World War II, so there are 200,000 lighted crystals in honor of them. There’s also The Tomb of the Unknown Deportee inside. The memorial is bleak, but good.

I came back upstairs and turned on my phone, but I didn’t know that the phone required a password after being turned on, and Pascale had forgotten to tell me what it was. It wasn’t the end of the world, because I figured I would just return to the apartment before 4 o’clock so that I could call her at work before she tried to call me.

Rick Steves then told me to visit Ile St. Louis, which I didn’t feel like doing because I was anxious to do the other things on the tour. I still followed his directions and his map to get towards the Latin Quarter, but apparently that wasn’t enough for him, because he could obviously tell that I had skipped his precious Ile, and proceeded to make life a little bit harder for me after that.

I found Shakespeare & Company soon enough (which had an excellent atmosphere, but I didn’t stay long because I didn’t want to buy books in English with euros). I eventually found my way to the Latin Quarter, after some difficulty. My main goal was to eventually reach Saint Chappelle.

The Latin Quarter was very colorful (IF it was even the Latin Quarter that I was in). Rick Steves claimed that I woud be able to find lots of cafes, but obviously that was only revenge for skipping Ile St. Louis. There definitely were only expensive-looking restaurants with foreign food, so after being confused for a while about which street to exit on for St. Chappelle, and being colder than I’ve ever felt, I eventually made my way to St. Michel and coninued on that.I was less nervous now because it’s a big boulevard, and the one with my RER station, so I knew that I was at least headed in SOME direction.

After many minutes of walking with no sign whatsoever of what I was looking for, I decided that I hadn’t been imagining it: Rick Steves did NOT want me to find this church. I really wanted coffee for warmth, so eventually I found a good-enough looking place (I would have given anything to have ducked into one of Paris’ Starbucks to avoid the cold, because at this point my fingers weren’t able to move a lot, but I waited for a real café because Starbucks would have made for a stupid first real day in Paris. To make a long story short, I found a place filled with French people, so I knew it wasn’t too touristy, where I paid an embarrassing amount of money for the most comforting cappacino in my life.

After this I walked on, accidentally found the Pantheon, but decided to skip it for Saint Chappel, IF I was ever going to be able to locate it. While looking at the Pantheon on a new map, I found Rick Steves’ secret: He had known all along that Saint Chappelle was actually back across the river right next to Notre Dame, but after the whole skipping-Ile-St.-Louis thing, his map had led me in the completely OPPOSITE direction. UGH.

I finalllly found the Palais du Justice (which is where Saint Chappelle is located, where a gendarme told me how to enter the church, walked for ten second, and saw a sign telling me that SAINT CHAPPELLE WAS CLOSED. You win this time, Rick Steves.

I spent some time in Gibert again on my way out of the city, found the RER station, luckily got on the correct train to get back to Pascale’s, locked cell phone in hand (I was still completely freezing).

I got to her door and tried the key, but it wouldn’t open. I kept on trying, with lots of different combinations of turns, but no luck. It was almost 4 o’clock now, and I was getting nervous because I didn’t want Pascale to be worried when she called the cell phone that I couldn’t answer.

I knew the lady across the hall was home because as I arrived, she opened her door to let someone in. After trying the key a few more times, I knocked on her door to ask for help, but she couldn’t understand what I wanted, so she never opened the door at all. I figured it was a long shot anyway. I probably wouldn’t let a stranger in to use my telephone personally, but all she really needed to do was to help me with the key.

I tried for a LOT longer, but still no luck. I wasn’t too worried, because I knew that at some point at night Pascale had to return, eventually. I just felt bad that she was probably trying to reach me and couldn’t.

A while later, a younger guy came up the stairs, knocked on the woman’s door across the hall, and she let him in. Before they could close the door, I asked if he could just help me use the key. I told them in bad French (but he responded in English, so I think he knew what I meant) that I was staying with Pascale, but the phone I had didn’t work, and neither did the key that she had lent me, and that was just wondering if he could help me use the key correctly. He looked like he was willing to help, but then she started arguing with him, loudly. They closed their door where they continued to have a long, loud argument, that was so loud I would have been able to ubderstand it through the door, had she been screaming less and if my understanding of French was better.

Five minutes later he came out, asked for more clarification about my situation, while she stood back glaring at me. He finally took my key and opened the door for me right away, which was embarrassing, but I didn’t care because I was so happy to be back in the apartment and away from them.

I heard Pascale outside ten minutes later, where she was standing talking to her neighbor. Apparently the neighbor had called the landlord on me, because I looked so threatening even though I had a key, and not a lockpick. But whatever.

So all in all, I made it out of Paris alive, didn’t get arrested for breaking & entering, and ate French Chinese food for dinner with Pascale! It was a successful adventure, and now I'm in Bordeaux.


  1. What a wonderful day! I hope to hear about more TRADITIONAL french food soon... and cheers for not getting arrested at your own flat!

  2. I love you!
    I picture your sweet face in all those wonderful french locations. Rick Steves was right, tho...the Isle St. Louis is wonderful...one of my favorite parts of paris. One day we will dine together at Uncle Rick's and my favorite restaurant there.
    One of the amazing things about travel is that you'll look back on even the bad experiences as wonderful memories.
    Keep the posts coming. You have a big fan club.