Although it was a cold and early Sunday morning when we debarked from the ship in Le Havre, France we were shocked by the complete emptiness and lifelessness of the town. It was almost eerie walking through the train station where no one was in sight and not a single store was open. However, we didn’t waste any time wandering through the silent town, as we promptly boarded the first train to Paris and began our journey.
We arrived at the train station in Paris without quite knowing where to go from there, so we asked for directions to our hotel address at the information desk and were shortly thereafter on our way again. When we reached the metro, we weren’t sure which ticket to buy on the machine so we went up to the counter to purchase them from a person. The woman working there did not speak much English and quickly grew impatient with us. She tried to tell us that she didn’t have change for our large bills but all she was doing in order to communicate that to us was shaking her head no when we tried to hand her our money. We became confused and when we finally figured out why she was refusing our money and combined our small change instead, she made hand motions as if she were sleeping and pointed at us in a mockingly way . I realized that she was probably calling us stupid for not being able to understand her, but let it go and continued through the gates to the metro tracks. I started to wonder if the language barrier or the fact that we were Americans would mean that that type of encounter was going to become a trend for us…
When we exited the metro station at our stop, we realized that the next direction was to take a tram with the ride duration of one minute, so we decided to ask someone if they could point us in the direction so that we could walk instead. The man that we asked told us it was “too complicated” to walk and recommended that we buy tram tickets and do as the directions instructed. As it turns out, the tram only took us a block away so we were bummed that we listened to the guy and spent money on unnecessary tickets, but at least we learned that we didn’t have to do it again!
After finally arriving at our hotel, we swiftly dove into our list of things to see. We planned out the best way to travel to each of the sites and quickly became accustomed to taking the metro. In that first day, we went to the Lourve where we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and much more, walked to the Eiffel Tower, purchased berets and other souvenirs, and saw the Arc de Triomphe and Moulin Rouge. That evening, we walked quite a distance away from these touristy areas in order to find a less expensive French place to sit down for dinner. We managed to find a small but charming hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we were blessed to have the most amazing waiter. He went through the ENTIRE menu, the drink list and the dessert specials with us translating everything from French to English. After hearing one delicious meal description after another, we asked him what he suggested. He promptly recommended the duck and advised us on which glass of wine would go best with the dish. We immediately ordered what he suggested, which turned out to be a decision that we would not regret. It was SO scrumptious that it will probably be a dining experience that I will never forget (and coming from a girl who loves food, that surely means a lot). We finished off the meal with a crème brulee that was to die for. To say the least, that waiter received quite the tip from us that night!
We woke up early the next morning to go to Notre Dame de Paris and to walk Pont de l’Archevêché (which is more commonly known as one of the padlock bridges in Paris). The four of us chipped in and bought a lock together, which we signed with a pen at the register and placed on the bridge as a representation of our lasting friendship (we know that it’s usually just lovers who put locks on the bridge and it may sound cheesy for us to do it as friends, but it only seemed right to participate in the tradition. After all, each of us are on this Semester at Sea voyage now as a result of the help and encouragement that we received from one another, so it made sense to memorialize the fact that we were there together). Then we ate a mediocre breakfast and proceeded to the local post office where we once again managed to cause a scene. We tried to ask the woman working there how to purchase stamps for our postcards but she simply motioned us to the machines that were all in French. I tried to explain to her that we could not understand the machines and asked if she could just show us how to pay for one. After much deliberation and frustration, she rushed through the steps on the machine and hurried away from us in irritation. By that point everyone in the post office was annoyed and had witnessed at least part of the fiasco, so we high-tailed it out of there as soon as we could unsure of whether or not our postcards were ever going to make it back home.
During our travels, I tasted my first macaroon and was surprised by how much I liked the pistachio flavored one (even over the chocolate and coffee flavors). We were also startled as we walked through the streets of the large city because we were repeatedly called out by street vendors who referred to us as “Lady Gaga.” To this day I’m not really sure why they called us that, but my best guess is that they were trying to make a pop culture reference to the US in the hopes that it would grab our attention. It was just strange how so many of them chose to call us Lady Gaga of all things…
Once we finally returned to the ship in Le Havre, I was beyond exhausted from all the walking we did and exhaled a sigh of relief when I sprawled out on my cabin bed. Looking back now Paris feels like such a blur, but it was still an awesome experience. Though we endured a few problematic situations, I can certainly say that I thoroughly enjoyed making the most out of what little time we had in France.