PARIS: Weekend Backpacking

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Avenue Elisée Reclus

I hardly slept. There I was, curling my hair in the middle of the night, preparing for a trip that I spontaneously booked few days ago.

“I’m not that excited for some reason,” I messaged my bestfriend, “I’m like, meh.”

I was supposed to visit Paris for a few days on my 25th birthday, but sadly, I had to cut my Euro trip short, so my only option that time was to go on the weekend days before I go back to the Philippines. I needed to save money, and I almost wanted to back out.

But I went anyway.

I left the house two hours prior, and it was 3°C outside when I waited for the tram going to Saint-Gilles from La Chasse Station.

I sat in the tram, listened to some random John Mayer playlist on Spotify, and tried to convince myself that everything was real.

It takes roughly 4 hours from Brussels to Paris and vice versa (3 to 3 1/2 hours via private car). I love road trips and bus rides, although sometimes it can get a bit boring. Thankfully, OuiBus buses have free Wi-Fi and sockets on-board. (This is not a sponsored post.)

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Brussels to Paris

I arrived around 1 in the afternoon — famished, freezing and overwhelmed. I lived in a French (& Dutch) speaking country for months and yes, I tried to learn a few words and basic statements but WOW, I should have honed my French! FRENCH. EVERYTHING. FRENCH. EVERYWHERE. NO. ENGLISH.

Paris is and will always be quite something.

I honestly spent tons of time zoning out, staring at a huge Paris City map outside Gare de Bercy Transit Station thinking, “shit, this is going to be the death of me.” (In tagalog, “ikamamatay ko talaga ‘to!”)

Apparently, figuring out how to go from one place to another in a foreign country on my own for the first time was half the adventure.

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Bercy (Paris Métro) | © Wikipedia

From Gare de Bercy Transit Station, I walked around Bercy, asked strangers, in the pouring rain for almost an hour just to find the Métro to Bir Hakeim.

Bercy (Paris Métro) serves lines 6 and 14 at the intersection of the Boulevard de Bercy and the Rue de Bercy in the neighborhood of Bercy and the 12th arrondissement.

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I arrived at Bir Hakeim Station, and upon seeing this, the rain started pouring again, and I swear, I tried so hard not to cry tears of joy.

From Bir Hakeim Station, I walked 200m northwest on Boulevard de Grenelle towards Quai Branly, stopped at Promenade d’Australie and stared at this view for solid 10 minutes.

Wow, just wow.

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“IS THIS REAL?!?!? DO I EVEN DESERVE THIS??? I WANNA CRY!!! I THINK MY HEART IS GOING TO EXPLODE!!!!!!”

I was in complete awe. I was there, staring at the Eiffel Tower thinking, “ah, the things I would’ve missed out if I didn’t show up.”

It was getting dark and colder at 3 in the afternoon — snow in forecast after so many years. The rain kept pouring. I started walking again, alone along with locals and some other tourists, hangry, exhausted from carrying my backpack and just basically processing everything, my phone was running out of battery and so was my patience…

And then, I decided to let go. Whatever happens, happens. I didn’t know where to go and it was hard to communicate and I didn’t have a map and there was no free Wi-Fi around the area and I didn’t know how I would be able to message my host and if worse came to worst, I probably would have ended up sleeping outside in the numbing cold that night.

But I kept walking…

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Avenue de Suffren, Paris, Île-de-France

I thought I took a wrong turn again, but there it was… the Eiffel Tower! The iconic Parisian landmark looming over the city since 1889. It definitely felt like magic, and it was getting harder for me to breathe.

I wanted to scream, “I AM HERE! I MADE IT!” One of my dreams was right infront of me! Totally surreal — it was nothing short of amazing.

For a minute, I didn’t mind the cold… though I wished I had a hand to hold.

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Rue de Buenos Ayres | Wala akong matinong photo, minsan na nga lang
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Rue de Buenos Ayres

I always, always strive to stay cautious and alert, especially when traveling alone. Big cities are notorious for tourist scams, and unfortunately, I fell for one.

After taking photos, some girl approached me to sign a petition to help save the world/help the deaf/the mute. A clipboard was shoved in my face, and asked me to sign. I signed just to get it over with. It started with an innocent question: “do you speak English?” and then I was forced to “donate” €25. She even offered to take my photo. Uhm, no, thanks. I was too scared for my life.

My energy and enthusiasm went down the drain. After trying so hard to save as much money as possible, I lost €25 just like that. My emergency money. I could’ve booked a hostel bed with that amount.

However, it could’ve gotten worse. At least I didn’t lose my phone and my backpack. Imagine? Que horror!

So with wobbly legs and utter disbelief, I kept walking…

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Avenue Anatole France

I strolled around some bourgeois avenues such as Avenue Pierre Loti, Avenue Gustave Eiffel, Avenue Anatole France, and Galerie des Machines, until I decided to look for a McDonald’s or Starbucks to eat, and use their free Wi-Fi.

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Champ de Mars

One would expect that a metropolitan city like Paris has free Wi-Fi almost everywhere (like Malta), but they don’t. I tried to use an offline Paris map but the directions weren’t precised.

At an empty street, I asked an old lady for the nearest McDonald’s. She responded in French and tried really hard to help, but after a confusing while, she gave up and told me, “Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas anglais. Pardon!” (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak English. Sorry!”)

I hugged her and said, “Merci beaucoup, madame! Merci pour l’aide!” (Thank you very much, ma’am! Thanks for the help!”)

I saw her sincerity and noticed her frustration and of course, I felt really bad. Again, I should’ve prepared for it and honed my French.

French people may not be the most hospitable ones out there, but they always try to help. Basically, French society has different codes of behavior and standards of what is considered polite. They are straightforward and intimidating, yes, but they are not arrogant. They are just very formal.

After searching around cluelessly, finally, I found a McDonald’s at Rue du Commerce.

I had a quite decent meal, and messaged my host on WhatsApp. I was scared and desperate at the same time. I can’t help but think, “what if he’s a psycho killer?!” and then I thought, “at least I died IN PARIS” to. comfort. myself.

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Paris Métro tickets | © Scott Beale

From Rue du Commerce, I walked 450m to La Motte-Picquet and took the metro from there. 10 minutes later, I arrived at Denfert-Rochereau, went to the RER Station, and took RER B towards Gare de St. Remy Les Chevreuse.

The Réseau Express Régional, commonly abbreviated RER, is a hybrid suburban commuter/rapid transit system serving Paris, France and its suburbs. It’s pronounced like “Air-Uh-Air”, and ticket prices are determined station to station for travel beyond Zone 1 and range from €1.90 to €12.05.

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Gare de La Croix de Berny

I arrived late at La Croix de Berny Station in Antony where my host & I planned to meet.

Antony is a French commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, France.

I was extremely anxious. What if my host decided not to wait for me anymore and went home instead because he’d been waiting for a stranger for hours? So I hurriedly went outside, and without thinking about how much it would cost, I sent him a text message using my Belgium number.

Waiting impatiently for his reply, I went back inside, and there he was! He actually waited for me!

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Chillin’ with Fares

To break the ice, I started off by telling him about the tourist scam I experienced firsthand earlier that day. He felt sorry for me and told me some advice. I, then, told him some basic things about myself.

Backstory: Weeks before I even decided to book my bus tickets, I searched for potential hosts on Couchsurfing. I sent out 10 requests per day, and luckily, Fares accepted my request to stay at his place for a night.

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My bed (his couch) for the night

No words can ever express how thankful I was! It was my first ever couchsurfing experience and he went out of his way to accommodate me. Hosts don’t even have to, but Fares cooked dinner for the both of us!

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Halal chicken curry noodles made by Fares

He allowed a stranger from the other side of the world to stay at his place, sleep on his couch, eat dinner with him, use his bathroom (toiletries & fresh towels included), eat whatever’s in his kitchen, use his Wi-Fi, and he also prepared my coffee for the next day!

Everything without asking for anything in return.

Fares and I exchanged stories and taught each other’s native language and talked about our religions or lack thereof and shared our insights and agreed that what’s more important is to always be kind.

There’s little to no chance of seeing him again, not even the old lady who tried her hardest to help, not even the woman who accompanied me to the airport bus station one lonely night during the holidays, nor the dad that voluntarily gave me samples of his products for free, and the odds of seeing the girl I danced on top of a table with at a club full of university students that drunken night in Brussels when I was 24 years old.

You know, the ones you meet on the road and make those once in a lifetime moments all the more special.

Love them or hate them, it’s always the people that make a place. Always.

“I’m not going to see you tomorrow morning before I leave?!” I asked, a bit shocked. “I’m afraid not, because you’re leaving so early… but it was really nice having you here. Au revoir! Have a safe journey!”

We said our goodbyes, he went to his room, and I slept peacefully on the couch.

So peacefully that I woke up laaaate for Musée du Louvre the next day……

P.S. It’s not so hard to find a good person, because most people are good, you just have to give them a chance.

PARIS: Weekend Backpacking (Day 2)

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