This weekend, I went on a 3-day weekend trip to Paris with Syracuse University London. It was a trip packed with sightseeing, aesthetic photographs, delicious food, and some interesting encounters.
The trip began in less than favorable circumstances-- I had to wake up super early to get to the station to make the Eurostar. I (obviously) fell asleep on the train and was rudely woken up when the train began crossing the English channel and the pressure in my ears took a dramatic turn. Things got better when we came out on the other side and I caught my first glimpse of the beautiful French countryside.
Our train came into Gare du Nord, Europe's busiest train station. The facade of the building has been preserved so well, it is truly remarkable.
The first thing I saw when I came out of the station (and popped on my sunglasses because the weather was simply phenomenal) was the French flag. I'm not talking just one lone flag waving in the wind-- the red-blue-white striped symbol was everywhere I turned, on the top of important looking buildings, busy public spaces, small local shops, you name it.
In many of these locations, the French flag was joined by the European Union flag, which honestly just felt like a slap in the face after coming from post-Brexit-referendum London (though I did see a poster that read 'Flexit', and I have yet to understand what that was about).
The rest of the day passed by in a blur. We grabbed food (roasted chicken with delicious mashed potatoes), checked into our hotel (I got my own room), and then took a 3-hour long walking tour around Paris (without the 's'). It was an admittedly tiring and long tour, but it personally gave me a sense of the city which made things less overwhelming. Things got a lot better after we had the chance to grab some ice cream (caramel nougatine for me)! During the tour, we walked around the Cathedral of Notre Dame and gazed at the towers where Quasimodo once fictionally lived. We had the chance to go to a souvenir store where I splurged on three photo prints of the city (for just 2 euros!!). It should be mentioned that I collect prints in every city I visit-- it's a new travel habit I've picked up during my time in Europe!
After that, we hauled our tired feet to a meeting spot, where we were told we had an hour to grab some food and rest. We then did the most touristy thing ever-- went on a hop-on, hop-off bus. It was another amazing way to see the city, the people and the Tour Eiffel (!). We passed key locations like Moulin Rouge, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre pyramid and more. We finished at around 9:30, and I went straight to bed.
We spent the next day at Versailles, where we visited Marie Antoinette's estate, the Château de Versailles, and more. This was where I had my first strange encounter with a fellow French man.
In the morning, before we visited the estate, we had the chance to walk around a market and get some food for a picnic we'd all be having later in the day. I (obviously) picked up some croissants with my friends and some other delicious food. I also wanted a crepe, so we went to a perfectly normal-looking crepe seller in the middle of the square. He spoke to us in English, and I bought a nutella and banana crepe. When the seller handed the crepe to me, I asked him if he could pack it up for me. He immediately said, 'You're Indian aren't you?' A little surprised, I said yes. He then proceeded to rant about how Indians can never make up their minds about anything, always changing what they wanted at the last minute. He generalized a population of 1.2 billion people in less than a minute. The strangeness of the entire thing was that he was saying all of these offensive things in a very happy and polite way. I considered not paying for my crepe but decided I wouldn't do that because I didn't want to cost him business, no matter how offensive he had been.
Still shocked from what had just gone down, my friends and I returned to the meeting point and explored the beautiful Palace. The entire estate is the definition of grand and luxurious and made for aesthetic photographs too (I obviously have up-ed my Instagram feed game).
In the evening, we had more free time to explore, so a few of my friends and I decided to spend the evening at the Eiffel tower. We took a train to the station. While waiting for the train, I went through my second (extremely) strange encounter.
I had a large bottle of water with me because I constantly need to hydrate myself. My friends and I were just talking, hanging out at this station when a perfectly normal looking man in a black coat came to us. He said something in French, but I told him we didn't understand. He then turned to me and asked if he could have a sip of my water. This was obviously a little weird and suspicious, so I refused. He said 'alright' and walked away. Seconds later, he came back, and asked if he could give us some advice. Intrigued, I asked him to please tell. He said (and I quote), 'Next time someone comes up to and asks for a sip of water, you should give them the entire bottle because you never know what they're going to have in their pocket.' !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Being the stupid person that I was, I thought he was talking about money, so I boldly asked him how he could be so sure I didn't have anything in my pocket. He was extremely surprised by this and walked away. It was easily the most absurd conversation I've had on this continent.
After that, we went to the Eiffel Tower, where we had a delicious dinner (more roast chicken!!) and watched the tower lights show. It was beautiful and so relaxing to sit on the grass and just enjoy the lovely weather. I got home quite late that night and was so tired I collapsed into bed.
The next day, we had the chance to go around the city some more. We visited the Grand Palais, I took a boat tour (best 14 euros I have ever spent), and went to Les Invalides, where we visited the Musée de l'Armée and Napoleon's tomb. (A little note on the tomb: so, so, SO magnificent but a tad bit extra when you realize it was all just for one small coffin in the center of the structure. Still, it's a remarkable piece of architecture.) We then boarded the buses, collected our bags at the hotel, and went back to the Gare du Nord. I was exhausted!
My verdict? Paris was a beautiful city that should definitely be visited at some point in your lifetime. However, I don't know if I could live there. This is a gross overgeneralization, but it was hard for me to connect with the people there. There was also a huge language barrier because the French love their language and don't like using English as much. Regardless, the Eiffel Tower is amazing, and French gastronomy lives up to its name.
Thank you to Syracuse London for this fantastic weekend!