I can’t think of any opening line to accurately describe how amazing this past weekend was.
When I booked my ticket for this trip, the price was relatively cheap. I had plans to maybe go with some friends, but was okay going alone if they decided they didn’t end up wanting to go. I booked the ticket out of fear it would soon start to rise in price, and I’m thankful I did! Because the next day when my friends went to buy the same ticket, it had doubled in price.
So now I had a non-refundable ticket to Paris and no one to go with. Which again, I was fine with! I had a great time alone in London, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that I was going to such an amazing city without other people to share the experience with.
Another thing that was weighing me down about this upcoming trip was the intense feelings of homesickness I’ve been feeling lately. I wanted so badly to be excited about the opportunity to visit one of the greatest cities in the world, but I couldn’t help but wish I was just going home to lay on my couch, pet my cat, and watch a movie with my parents. These feelings, along with the guilt of not appreciating the life-changing experiences I’m currently being given, along with the knowledge that I was going to be alone all weekend, made it so difficult for me to want to do anything other than lay in bed and watch Gilmore Girls.
Regardless, I crafted the *perfect* Parisian outfits, made a list of some things I might want to do on my quick two day trip, and was on my way. Spoiler alert- I had the most amazing weekend of my life.
To start out my day, I decided to get breakfast at one of the best rated breakfast restaurants in Montmartre, the neighborhood I was staying in. My walk took me through the charming neighborhood known for being the home of Moulin Rouge, Sacré-Coeur, and for inspiring artists such as Renoir and Picasso. It took me right up to the stunning view of the city and of Sacré-Coeur. At this point, I was thankful for the sunshine and tried to bask in the moment- I was in Paris.
I ordered some French toast (which is actually Roman. And cliche. But I had to.) and decided to check out Paris’ biggest flea market next, and likely end up at some of the other high end brand shops as the day went on.
The flea market felt a lot like what my mom would describe as a ‘crap sale’, but it was really fun to look around at all the vintage photographs, posters, dishes that screamed French charm, and other furniture and trinkets.
One of my closest friends from home, originally from Bolivia, has friends all around the world. She’d mentioned having some friends in Paris that I should connect with on my solo trip, but I almost entirely brushed off the suggestion due to nerves, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to try. Her closest friend in the city wasn’t available, but said his sister would be more than happy to show me around.
This truthfully made me even more nervous. Meeting up with someone who’s almost a complete stranger to even my friend who gave me this connection sounded extremely awkward and almost not worth the effort, but she was so kind over text, I decided one meal couldn’t possibly hurt.
She met up with me at The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the biggest shopping street in the city. We started out with some light conversation as she led me to a popular pastry and drinks place, and I explained to her that any ‘plan’ I had for the weekend wasn’t really a plan, it was just an idea out of complete ignorance about what else to do.
The pastry place she took me to, although admittedly a very common tourist destination, was absolutely beautiful and delicious. We got to know each other over our snacks, and I learned she currently lived in the city with her whole family, and previously moved to live just with her brother to attend university. It’s very common for people in Bolivia to get higher education in a different country, and she said her and her siblings were all enrolled in a French institute in Bolivia to prepare them to go to university in France. Her eldest brother lives in Marseille, having already graduated from schooling and continuing his life in the culture he grew to love. Her other older brother lives with her in Paris, and her younger brother lives with her family in the city also planning to attend university in the country in the future.
At one point, she told me how embarrassed she was of her English. This was absolutely shocking to me, as she is fluent in five languages (yes, FIVE. Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, and Italian), but she was embarrassed she couldn’t speak the only language I know how to speak. I was the one that should’ve been embarrased!
Next, she led me to the apparently very popular bookstore Shakespeare and Company, known for housing writers in exchange for helping out at the shop, and for their wide variety of new and used books in English. We arrived about an hour before close, and it still wasn’t enough time to fully wander the beautiful space, especially once I found the cat upstairs.
I debated purchasing a few gifts for my family, as my parents, brother and I have a longstanding tradition of buying books for one another and this felt like a more than perfect spot to find a great gift, but ended up telling myself I’d go back the next day if I really still wanted them. (Spoiler alert, Dad, I did not buy you the Dune trilogy even though the premiere for the movie was right across the street and despite feeling like it was the perfect gift. Two days is not enough time to *go back* somewhere, but it’s the thought that counts). Manu, my new friend, spent her time reading a book on one of their many comfy seating areas, and repeatedly told me to take my time looking around and that she was in no rush. One we were inevitably kicked out at closing time, she led me to a small fondue restaurant nearby, as she claimed it was one of the only French meals that’s really that good.
She took care of ordering to avoid the language barrier, and while we were waiting, she joked that I should send a photo of the place to my dad because it was ‘as French as you can get’, and earlier he’d said my pastries looked ‘very French’. I’d describe what she meant, but I’m just going to attach photos instead. Basically, I believed her.
This is likely my ignorant American side talking and this shouldn’t be shocking at all, but fondue really is just carb and cheese. I’m not upset about this, it was extremely delicious and filling, I just had always assumed there was more to it.
I ended up having such an amazing time with Manu, and apparently she reciprocated those feelings and told me she was free the entire next day if I wanted to continue having her show me the city. We made plans to meet for lunch near the Eiffel Tower, and parted ways.
I started out my next day at Musée d’Orsay, my only planned museum trip for the weekend as I knew I didn’t have enough time to even start at the Louvre. As an art appreciator that doesn’t actually know much about art, I think this was the perfect spot to me! It had a wide variety of pieces, including many famous Van Goghs, Monets, and Renoirs that I grew up learning about in art class.
It was truly incredible to see the Monet water lily collection and different iconic Van Gogh paintings up close.
This ended with just enough time to get to the Eiffel Tower, take a walk around the area, and meet Manu.
Once I met up with Manu, she offered to rent a vespa to do a quick tour of the city, if I was okay with that (IF?!?!) We found one, hopped on, and took off. She occasionally pointed things she knew I’d like to see out, such as the Arch de Triomphe, different museums and government buildings, and places she frequented in her daily life. As we sped down the streets, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with gratefulness- who else was going to get such a personal, thoughtful tour of Paris? Additionally, who else would take their entire weekend to show a complete stranger around Paris?
We ended our trip at the Louvre, and she told me different stories of times she’d gone with family, and what it was like to have the city free of tourists during the pandemic. We walked around the surrounding gardens, walked down some streets, and ended up at a Thai restaurant she often gets takeout from with her friends. We couldn’t stop talking, sharing stories of our different experiences in La Paz (her hometown, and a place I visited earlier this year to visit my roommate’s family), college, friends, and relationships. I realized I wasn’t only enjoying my time seeing Paris, I was also enjoying my time becoming her friend.
We had plans after to go to a museum, but the line was so long we decided to go to her favorite thrift shops nearby and stop for a crêpe to wait out the rain. Apparently, weather in Paris is very similar to that of Copenhagen- rainy with the occasional exciting sunny day.
Again at the crêpe shop, we found ourself drowning in conversation. I’ve always been fascinated with the way of life in Bolivia and its politics after their famous election and possible coupe a year or so ago, and she offered so much knowledge on the subject, sharing deeply personal experiences and different affects it had on the Bolivian citizens that the global public didn’t often see. We shared our mutual passions for bettering the world, the way we often feel disheartened and unable to accomplish real change, and different failures and successes we’d had along the way while trying.
This led to sharing different heartbreaks we’d experienced in our personal lives, which led to the trial and error we’d experienced while trying to make friends abroad, which led to discussing the different ways our family affected our lives.
She had to get back home for a family meal, and I realized I was sad to be leaving a person I felt really understood me. All of this with someone who I wasn’t even sure I wanted to bother meeting just over 24 hours before!
Before our departure, we quickly stopped by Cafe de Flore, famously known for being in like five minutes of Gossip Girl and a few episodes of Emily in Paris. Although it was another basic touristy place, she said it was worth the stop to be able to say you went. She was right, but the French hot chocolate made it worth it too.
I expressed how thankful I was that she’d met up with me for the weekend, she told me she also had an amazing time, and we parted ways.
I got back to my hostel at around 7 p.m. with hopes to possibly find a wine bar later to snack and hang out at, since I was in France, but I ended up talking the night away with a Portuguese man in my hostel, also in Paris for the first time. It was fun to talk about the basic touristy things with someone who was just as excited to be witnessing it all for the first time.
Exhausted from my day, I fell asleep at around 10 p.m. ready to wake up early for my flight back to Copenhagen.
It feels silly to say I *needed* a trip away, to a city like Paris, to remind me of how novel the experience I’m having is, but I really think it’s true. So many things that happened this past weekend left me thinking, ‘wow, this is my real life!’, and this returned intense feeling of gratitude for the life that I’m living is something I never could’ve intentionally found.