My best friend and I are a dangerous combination when we are together. The last time she was in France we had so many stupid adventures together that I wasn’t sure that trip could ever be topped. I was wrong, in every way possible. This trip was, quite possibly, the most ridiculous vacation I have ever been on. After a week of normalcy in Tours, I was ready to begin my adventure with Grown-Up Me in Europe.
The first two days of our trip were spent in Paris. I was lucky enough to find an awesome apartment on AirBnB for us to rent. It was ideally placed and in a neighborhood I have been exploring for about 6 months. Part of the reason that we chose the exact dates of her visit were because of an annual music festival that began in France, but has since spread to other countries—Fête de la Musique. We are both avid lovers of live music, so any opportunity we have to discover new music we embrace (especially if it is free!). Having spent a significant amount of time on her last trip to France exploring Paris and being tourists, this trip was designed to be a more authentic Parisian experience.
While I have been to Paris countless times since moving to France and am always discovering new things I’d like to do there, it is also difficult for me to always make these hopes come true. One of the main problems is that a lot of the things I’d like to do require me going off the beaten path, into areas I do not know very well. As a solo female traveler, I am always hyper aware of my surroundings. If I’m not sure about something, I always ere on the side of caution and add that activity to my list of things to do when someone else is with me.
After retrieving Grown-Up Me from the airport (I was not late this time, but her plane was), we immediately headed to our AirBnB apartment to get the keys and drop off our belongings. The apartment was huge and the host was very friendly and helpful. After a quick pause to gather our thoughts, we immediately began our adventure. The first stop of this trip was the Pablo Picasso Museum, which had only recently re-opened. This was one of the museums I had not explored, as it had been closed for over one year. It was a very nice museum, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to do a smaller museum in Paris. (Don’t get me wrong, the Louvre is wonderful, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. While the artwork is magnificent, the crowds leave much to be desired.)
I also forgot to mention that in honor of our last escapade around France, where we wore matching headbands because it was winter, we decided to do something similar, but in the style of summer—floppy sun hats! All of our outfits this vacation centered around our sun hats, which caused some frustration when trying to take pictures—they always got in the way!
After the Pablo Picasso Museum we wandered around Paris for a few hours. At first, we wandered aimlessly, just finding cool streets and areas to explore, by chance. One area we explored was the Chinatown neighborhoods. This is something Jeannette really enjoys, as she has visited many different Chinatowns around the world. However, to this day, neither of us are really sure that we ever actually made it to Chinatown. For Jeannette. the lack of a gate was very misleading, and for me, it did not look like any of the other Chinatowns I had visited. I can’t remember for sure what we did that night, but I can guarantee that either wine or mojitos were involved. If I remember correctly, this was the night we bought a bottle of wine and drank it along the Canal St. Martin. You know that your friendship has reached an epic level when the only criteria you have for buying a bottle of wine is that it have a twist top (I had forgotten the corkscrew in my suitcase). Needless to say, with such limited criteria, the quality isn’t always the best. In fact, I would say it was one of the worst wines I have ever had in my life, but it was okay, because of the scenery and the company.
We tried to call it an early night, as we were heading to the Château de Versailles the next day. Prior to Jeannette’s arrival, I had bought an annual pass, as I was also planning to visit with my mom, so it ended up being cheaper to buy an annual pass than individual tickets. As an added bonus, with the annual pass you get to skip the line! After walking from the train station to the château, we bypassed a line of several hundred people and were the first visitors inside the château for the day. It was quite an amazing experience and feeling—we saved ourselves probably 3-4 hours by having this annual pass.
This was not my first trip to Versailles, but was my first trip without being part of a group. Honestly, it is a much more enjoyable experience when you are with only a few people. The château was much different than I remember it from 2007 (the last time I visited). It was also a much more enjoyable experience, as we were there when the château opened, so there were not many people there (yet). We also chose this particular day to visit, as it was one of the few days each week where the fountains were turned on for part of the day. We had also planned ahead a packed a picnic lunch for later in the day, which, of course, included a bottle of wine (with the same requirements: twist top).
We spent practically the entire day exploring the various parts of Versailles—château, gardens, Trianons, and Marie-Antoinette’s domain. It was a long and exhausting day, but also a very fun day. After the château we began exploring the gardens. This was also around the time that the fountains were scheduled to be turned on. We had a snack and a bit of wine while waiting for the fountains to turn on. After watching the fountains, we began our trek to the Trianons. I forgot how far apart everything was and was already feeling pretty exhausted when we arrived. We explored the Grand Trianon and then we began exploring the grounds. We spent quite a bit of time walking and trying to find a good place to have a picnic. In the end, we found an excellent place to have a picnic. It was secluded and quiet. In fact, in the almost 1.5 hours we spent picnicking, we only saw two people. TWO PEOPLE! We were still in the grounds of Versailles, but we only saw two people. How was that even possible?!?
It wasn’t until after our awesome picnic, when we tried to find our way out, that things go interesting. Everything in this garden looked the same! We could not seem to find the main path, and kept ending up right back where we started. Then, we saw where we needed to be, but couldn’t find a way to get there, as there was what appeared to be a dried up moat between us and the other side. Then, we found many gates that, in theory, should lead us to the other side. Only one problem, every single gate was locked! It was at this time that we began wishing we had more wine. There’s never enough wine!
Then, we headed to the Petit Trianon, followed by Marie-Antoinette’s domain. This was one of my favorite parts, as I have spent the least amount of time exploring these areas. It is truly mind-blowing to stand there and think about why these areas were built and how disconnected Marie-Antoinette was from everyone else. While I understand that she was a very, very young queen, it is sill quite baffling that she built her own little world, in an effort to better understand what it was like to be poor. It was also here that Jeannette found her future house—Marie-Antoinette’s farm.
After countless hours exploring the domain of Versailles, we got on the train back to Paris to continue our ridiculousness. This night, we went to one of the speak-easy style bars (the Red Door) that has been on my list, but was also connected with my favorite bar in Europe (Panda & Sons in Edinburgh). They had recently done a bartender exchange, and I was excited to see this bar for the first time. Again, we tried to call it an early night, but of course, that simply isn’t possible when reunited with your best friend in Europe.
After staying out way too late and drinking way too much wine, we eventually made it back to the apartment to get some sleep before Fête de la Musique the next day. The “problem” with this festival is that it goes all day and into the next morning. In an effort to make sure that we would be able to partake in the festivities for as long as possible, we didn’t begin the festival too early. Rather, we spent our morning trying to be a little healthy We had a typical French breakfast in a café, followed by another great adventure: tying to find the Promenade Plantée. This had been on my list of things to find and do for many, many years. Again, it was something that after much research and consideration, I decided would be best to do with at least one other person. Jeannette was the perfect person for a number of reasons:
1. She loves hiking/walking as much as I do
2. She loves exploring gardens
3. She had been to the High Line in NYC (which is modelled after the Promenade Plantée)
4. She is just as directionally challenged as I am, so getting lost would not be a big deal
Before, during, and after breakfast I had been looking at maps and reading things on the Internet, in an effort to make sure that we didn’t spend 17 hours trying to find this path. When we started our adventure, we were both optimistic, but quickly, we realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy to find as we had hoped. As it is a raised line, we were able to spot it relatively quickly, but then we couldn’t find how to actually get to/on it. Then, after a bit more walking, we made it to the line itself, but had to do some investigating to actually figure out how to access the line. In the end, we were successful and able to walk the entire length of the line. It was a really, really interesting experience. There were many times during our walk when we both forgot that we were still in Paris. It was really quite calm an peaceful. If you enjoy walking and seeing a city from another perspective, I highly suggest that you take a few hours to walk the Promenade Plantée.
After our morning walk (I realize we sound like a couple of old women, but whatever) we began celebrating Fête de la Musique. Our first stop for the day was a taiko drum performance. It was interesting, but not exactly what we had envisioned. We both have a passion for listening to drums (taiko drums especially) so we had high expectations. Unfortunately, our expectations were not met. We decided to leave about half way through the performance in search of another type of music. We decided to begin heading back toward our apartment, as there were supposed to be many interesting performances in that area. We were not going to stay in this area for the rest of the day, but it seemed like a good place to have some lunch and drink some wine.
This was not my first time celebrating Fête de la Musique in France. In 2007 when I spend my summer studying in France, I discovered this festival in Tours, the city where I currently live. The problem for me, is that Tours is significantly smaller than Paris, so it was much easier to just stumble upon awesome musical performances. With the countless neighborhoods in Paris, it was much more difficult to just wander aimlessly, while still finding wonderful musical performances. I had spent considerable time exploring the Paris Fête de la Musique website, only to become even more overwhelmed as I spent time reading about different performances. This was the only part of our trip that was not very well planned, as I didn’t even know where to begin.
One of the reasons I wanted to head back to Canal St. Martin was because there was supposed to be a steel drum performance in the late morning or early afternoon. Sure enough, while we were sitting along the canal enjoying our lunch and wine, we could hear steel drums in the distance. We decided to cross the canal and try to find the performance. We were successful! I’ve always loved the sound of steel drums, so I loved hearing them being played, while standing in one of my favorite parts of Paris. After spending quite some time listening to this performance, we began walking along the canal again. We decided to stop and enjoy some more wine and just talk for a bit. While we were sitting there drinking wine and chatting we noticed many people stopping to look at us and take our picture. It was very strange and eventually someone came over to talk to us. It turns out that we both looked so French that tourists (usually Americans) wanted to take our picture to show their family and friends. We both laughed at this, and explained that we were also American, but that I now lived in France. It made for an interesting conversation. Also, it helped a great deal with making me feel that I had truly acclimated myself to the French style.
Eventually, we left Canal St. Martin and headed toward Montmartre. I enjoy Montmartre a great deal, but it is one of those areas I will not explore by myself. At this point, we realized that we were out of wine (surprise!) so our immediate mission became finding more. Luckily, we had saved our twist top bottle, as we did not want to deal with wine leaking in our bags. We replenished our supply of wine and began just walking around Montmartre. What I loved most about this part of our day was the different feel it had. It was a much more independent, eclectic experience than in the other parts of Paris. We discovered a band that reminded us of the Detroit Party Marching Band (one of our favorite local bands). We also discovered a number of very young, local bands, who had stages set up in the middle of the street. After spending a few hours listening to music and drinking, we decided that we should stop and have a snack. We continued exploring the area, and eventually stumbled upon a café called le Chat Noir. We decided to stop here, and again, there was live music taking place inside.
After countless hours in Montmartre, we decided it was time to head back toward central Paris. One of the main reasons was that it was getting later in the day, and we wanted to make sure that we staying in very safe areas. Our next stop was exploring the Marais and nearby neighborhoods. We popped in and out of many cafés and bars during this time, both to listen to live music and to enjoy a tasty beverage. As the day went on, our conversations became more and more ridiculous, to the point that I was laughing so hard I was crying, almost nonstop. After eating dinner and listening to wandering music performances, we decided to just begin walking and trying to find different music. It was already quite late (probably around midnight). This time, we were truly wandering aimlessly, and had taken to displaying our musical ‘talents.’ Drunkenly singing “Part of Your World” with your best friend, while walking the streets of Paris, is a memory that will never be forgotten. We were both having so much fun and just embracing being absolutely ridiculous. While performing our fantastic rendition of this song, we began hearing drums in the distance. As I mentioned, we both love listening to drums, so we decided it was worth exploring. It turns out, there was a drumline performing outside of this bar just up ahead. We could not believe our luck! We listened to them playing, while drinking the last of our wine. Every time we thought they were done performing, they would begin another song. And they were really, really good. We spent probably two hours listening and dancing to this performance.
As we had an early flight to Porto, Portugal the next morning, we decided that we should probably begin heading back to our apartment, as neither of us knew exactly where we were or how long it would take to get back to our apartment. We left the performance and were just talking about what an awesome day we had had, when we hear this man yelling behind us. It was someone who was also at the drumline performance and felt the need to follow us and ask us questions and try to get us to go somewhere with us. Of course, he was very drunk (as was most of Paris by this time), and really wasn’t listening to what we had to say. Eventually, I had had enough and began yelling at him in French. This sent a message to him, and eventually he walked away, mumbling under his breath about how unreasonable I had been. While I had been drinking all day, I knew my limit and made sure not to cross it that day, as Jeannette does not speak French, so I knew that I had to at least be able to communicate clearly the entire day. At the time, this was a very scary experience, but it was also a learning experience. I learned about the value of remaining alert. If I had not, who knows what could have happened. I learned that being nice only works to a certain point, and sometimes you have to be mean to get your point across. I learned, that in a potentially dangerous situation, I am able to send a clear message in French and have that message respected.
After a lot of walking and a metro ride, we made it safely back to our apartment. I made sure that we were both back and ready for our early departure in the morning. However, Jeannette was having a very difficult time getting everything prepared, and could not find her contact case (it ended up being in her suitcase the entire time). We eventually made it to bed for a quick nap, before we had to get up to catch the bus to the airport. Overall, this trip was off to an amazing start and we were both eager to begin our next adventures—Portugal, Spain, and Morocco.