Monday, November 7, 2016

First Sight of Paris - France (Part 1)

In the middle of the month of October I decided to take a trip to Paris. Initially I planned out to go during the 17th right after I finished my class with my roommate but then I was told that I have to do a presentation for that day so it’s either I have to postpone my travel to Paris or to go earlier instead. I finally decided to go on earlier and since I change my schedule last minute, I decided to buy a ticket for myself and meet my roommate later on as we planned out to stay at the same hostel. I, crazily — said my friends upon hearing the plan, bought the ticket one day before my departure to Paris and didn’t even bother to buy a train ticket back haha. I decided to go by train since it’s faster and I’m not in the mood of taking the bus. I decided to splurge a little on this trip as it is my birthday month and that I am very excited to finally visit France after years of practicing basic French. I was honestly a bit nervous though since it is the first time I ever travelled alone, especially alone to another country. 

I took a two and a half hour ride by Thalys train from Rotterdam Centraal to Paris Gare du Nord station and the trip costs me EUR 84 for one way since I bought the ticket at the last minute; for cheaper option you can buy a bus ticket ranging from EUR 18-40 per trip and it may take 6 to 10 hours to arrive in Paris. Then I decided to keep my baggage at my hostel that is located 5 minutes from the station so it’s pretty convenient to travel to places as it is a public transportation hub. I stayed at St. Christopher’s Inn for the length of my four-day stay in Paris. I was assigned in a four beds shared room with three other girls from Ukraine, South Korea, and China. I got assigned in the top bunk and after dropping off some of my luggage, I decided to continue on with my adventure in Paris.

My dad highly recommended a tour to the Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles). As the Palace itself is located a bit far from Paris’ city center, I decided to focus on that one place today — and decide to travel elsewhere if there were remaining time.  I bought a day-length Paris ticket named Carte Paris Billet, which costs EUR 12.50 for the day for the length of access to Palace of Versailles in Paris Zone 4 (the ticket prices range depending on the number of zones you would like to access, from Zone 1-3 or Zone 1-5). Having bought the day pass, I finally took an RER from Line B3 and transferred to Line C5 to their last stop in the Versailles Rive Gauche station. A few hundred meters from the station I saw the Palace of Versailles standing tall and being crowded with tourists, although it was a Tuesday.

As I am currently a resident of a European Union country under the age of 25 I got free entrance access to the Palace. A normal entry ticket costs about EUR 15 but you can access the Garden of Versailles (Jardin de Versailles) for free. After going through security checkpoint I entered the Palace and got a remote controlled audio tour and strolled the Palace. The entry will give you passage to The Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Grand Apartments, and the Museum of the History of France. It was such a great sight filled with many paintings, sculptures, and memorabilia passed over generations of France monarch. It gives you insights of the pompous living of the royals and a lot of lessons on the French art and history. The estate itself was so grand and large, it took me about four hours strolling around the Palace and the Garden — although I didn’t get much chance to see The Grand Trianon and the Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. If you really want to explore this place, allocate one good whole day exploring the estate. It was so worth the travel and it’s fascinating. It makes me feel grateful that I took my World History class in high school pretty seriously. #nerd

Click here for more pictures of the Palace of Versailles.

I then left the Palace and traveled to St. Michel - Notre-Dame station on Line C5 using the RER. Before visiting the Notre-Dame Cathedral I decided to buy some souvenir on the side of the road. Here I experienced one of the cons of traveling alone as a woman — a shopkeeper were trying to flirt with me and tried to ask me to go on a date in a totally creepy way. It was super weird that I immediately rushed out from the store and take a deep breath. I decide to take a moment from a crowded touristic spot and decided to take a look at the notable bookstore, Shakespeare, and Company. Little that I know that the tiny bookstore is actually a pretty famous tourism spot too, but it’s a bookstore — my own version of an ideal safe haven, so I feel pretty good coming into the store. Mind your way inside the store, though, as the store can get pretty cramped. 

Shakespeare and Company is a little bookstore located somewhat across the Notre Dame Cathedral and the store hosted a great collection of books for its size. It offers French and English literature from numerous authors all across the globe — books by Indonesian authors such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Eka Kurniawan in their English transcript. There’s a great collection of books ranging from the classics to the current bestsellers, no wonder that there are a lot of people coming in and out of the store, be it locals or those who are just curious. During my visit I bought two books from the store and got it stamped with the signature logo stamp of the store, they offer various ways in which you can customize your books to become more personable. You can check their website for the available customization on every order such as an added poem, stamp (like I got on my books), a spritz of perfume, etc.

After getting the books that I wanted I finally walked across a little bridge to the Notre-Dame d Paris. I was honestly pretty tired that day that I decide to sit out in the courtyard of the Cathedral, simply people watching, read parts of the book I just bought and ate the grilled cheese I made this morning back at my apartment in Rotterdam. I decided not to inspect the Notre-Dame gothic architecture closely because climbing up the 387 step of stairs to see the famous bells is a pretty big struggle at the time. From what I saw even from the outside, the Cathedral really was a beautiful sight and I did consider to come back here again.

As for today, Paris has been delightful and the sights that I saw along the way was pretty. Although I didn’t get to visit so many spots today at least I’m glad that I good through my first day today. It was pretty weird, the sensation of being both proud and scared being in a foreign place by myself but thank God the city has been pretty welcoming, aside from the creeps, catcallers, and the anxious feeling because you’re afraid to get robbed. The weird things I experienced today taught me one thing, though: be a tourist without looking like one. More stories on this in my next post, so stay tuned!