For as long as I can remember, my romantic, Francophile heart has always been set on Paris. As far as I could tell from my steady diet of romantic comedies and teen literature, it was a perfect mélange of everything I have always loved: fashion, cuisine, history, the arts, and of course, the French language. When it came time to choose my study abroad program in college, I weighed my options (all in France, of course) carefully and finally chose Aix-en-Provence for the language immersion, cost of tuition, and sunshine, but a small, wistful part of my heart mourned my lifelong dream of living in Paris.
This past weekend, I finally made my first pilgrimage to the city of love. As I climbed the Eiffel Tower, passed countless monuments straight out of my French textbooks, and strolled the Champs-Elysees, I felt a sense of awe and magic, but at the same time, had a moment of realization that my heart already belongs to another French city: Aix-en-Provence.
Anyway, all this is to say that my first glimpse of Paris was unforgettable—but my love for France and the French language has grown beyond my childhood dreams of berets and baguettes along the Seine. Which was a bit of a triumphant moment, honestly. I’ve come to love the language, the people, the countryside, and every city I’ve visited in this beautiful country—not just Paris.
But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a wonderful weekend in this magical capital city! My original objective for the trip was to meet my lovely best friend from the United States (hi Breanna) when she arrived at the airport on Monday morning, but I decided to throw in a weekend trip while I was at it and do some sightseeing with a pal from Aix and her Parisian friend who graciously showed us around the city. I made the budget-friendly decision to take an overnight bus on Friday night and arrive bright and early Saturday morning to start touring (which I came to regret around 4 am as I struggled to fall asleep with minimal legroom on a crowded and sort of sketchy bus…mais c’est la vie). Upon arrival, I had a confusing exchange with a French hostel worker, a quick outfit change in a 1 foot x 1 foot bathroom with no soap, and my first navigation of the Paris metro system, then finally met up with my friend at the Eiffel Tower and hit the ground running.
The first day was packed full of sights in the best way possible. Despite some of the most violent protests yet of les gilets jaunes all day on the Champs-Elysees, we found plenty to do that was a safe distance from the chaos. We started by taking the stairs up the Eiffel Tower (it was cheaper than the elevator…a common theme for us student travelers) and enjoying a fabulous and wiiiinnnddyyyy view of the city. After that, we chowed down on a two-course meal of savory and sweet crepes, then walked along the Seine until we reached the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre, which were my favorite sights in Paris. We also worked our way down to visit Notre Dame, then headed over to Montmartre and climbed even more steps to tour Sacre Coeur before rewarding ourselves with a picnic of bread and wine on the grass. We rounded out the first day with a Parisian nightclub experience that involved way more swing dancing than I ever expected to do in Europe, and French “tacos” which just aren’t tacos at all, and which I can’t even really explain because they’re so unrelated to anything resembling a taco.
The next day I started the morning bright and early with free breakfast at my hostel (the hostel was somewhat terrifying but free breakfast, as always, is unbeatable). This breakfast was the most French thing ever: it was literally just a plastic tub full of baguettes set out for guests to take.
Feeling recharged from my carb-and-coffee-laden breakfast, I headed out on the Metro (which, 24 hours into my trip, I felt I had mastered) toward the Louvre. I wandered around the Rue de Rivoli—which I kept calling the Rue de Ravioli in my head—for a bit until I arrived at the mecca for French dessert lovers: Ladurée, a famous macaron shop with rows upon rows of brilliantly colored, hard-shelled little delights. I picked out four flavors and sprung a little extra for them to be placed in a special engraved box, then retreated to the Jardin des Tuileries with my treats and coffee in hand for a few relaxing moments of sugar and a view. As I dug my teeth into the final macaron, though, it started pouring, and my beautiful little moment ended quickly as I fled for shelter, trying to salvage the Paris-style hair and makeup I had attempted that morning.
After that, a slightly soggier but still optimistic Caroline met up with her friends again at the Louvre and checked out some of the essentials: the Mona Lisa (le Jaconde), Venus de Milo, Liberty Leading the People, and more. The Louvre was incredible and huge! I think I enjoyed the building itself as much as the artwork I saw—it was once a palace for the kings of France, and the interior was stunning.
The rest of the day became increasingly chilly and miserable, so we wandered around some cool neighborhoods like Le Marais, toured the house of Victor Hugo, and tried valiantly to enjoy the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, but eventually retired to a cute café near my hostel for drinks, cheese, and croque-madames, then went to bed early.
The final morning, I woke up early and took the train to Notre Dame, where I found Breanna waiting for me on a bench near the Seine. What a cool moment! I screamed like a total American and we hugged each other and babbled loudly while Parisians looked on with the famous French side-eye. We spent the rest of the day trying to tour Paris while also accommodating Breanna’s poor jet-lagged body and the fact that she was carrying two bags of luggage all around the city, then took a high-speed train back to Aix that evening, where she’ll spend the rest of her spring break with me.
Overall, Paris was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. I loved traveling with my friend from Aix (hi Nicole!) and her Parisian friend, who did his best to show us cool sights and explain some important history to us. We also had so many cool conversations about language and cultural differences, since all three of us speak both French and English and have lived in both France and the U.S., but come from different places.
This trip was also an interesting study for me in the difference between the innate quality of a city and the experience that one has there. Even though every sight I saw in Paris was as beautiful as I imagined it, it was hard for me to feel like I fully enjoyed my time there because of the weather, an unfortunate hostel choice, my first attempt at solo travel, and time constraints. I’ve found in my (short) time abroad that some of my favorite travel memories haven’t necessarily been made in the most beautiful cities, but were often made more special by beautiful weather, chance encounters, random gems, and comfortable footwear, which I was sorely lacking on this trip. For these reasons, I’m marking Paris down as a city to not give up on—I think it will be more magical each time I return. Like most French things (cheese, wine, democracy), it will only improve with time.