My friend Mafalda and I bought the plane tickets to the city of Love without much thinking. It was one of those “let’s do it now or never” moments. It would be a weekend getaway to celebrate her 23rd birthday.
Early on Saturday morning, while the city still slept, we found ourselves at Lisbon Airport.
Our adventure had already began the evening before, with Mafalda celebrating her anniversary with a late dinner at a Nepalese restaurant (quite a good one!). Of course, the candles were only blown once the clocks announced midnight.
Once we landed, off we went straight to the Eiffel Tower. Going up was not in our plans (I have been already) since it was quite expensive and we were on a low-cost mindset. Paris’ recent history with terrorist attacks, the city was on defensive mode… plenty of military strolling around, the ground area around the Eiffel was limiting the access only to paid visitors who had to go through a tight security check. We’d better enjoy the view from a bit further.
We crossed the Seine to the Trocadéro area. Sun was high and warm. Laying down on the grass, treating ourselves to a sunbath sounded plausible, but we had to keep on going. Resting only once we’d be back in Portugal!
We try to chase down all the freebies. Checking out my square and avenue was one of those. Arc de Triomphe soon followed.
From the top of the Arch, I saw a skyline of high-rise buildings further down one of the main boulevards (later learned to be part of the Axe historique). In between those glass towers stood the Grand Arche de La Défense, a modern, 20th century reinterpretation of the famous old Arch. Having a knack for modern architecture and having heard of it before, I immediately wanted to go there.
Soon it was time to grab something to eat. We found a supermarket where we bought some goods and went towards the cube. Along the way we found a park, Bois de Boulogne, were we decided to stop. I put out my blanket (one of the perks of flying business class…) and we had an healthy meal together. The only things missing were baguette, cheese and wine, in order to make it extra French.
With our energy levels restored we walked down 5km to La Défense. This modern neighbourhood was bustling with people, commerce… life! I have always been fond of modern architecture, having in the past the dream of becoming an architect even, so I felt welcomed in this place, trying to breath in as much as possible. Once we cooled off (we had walked for long under the Parisian heat) we headed to the subway to get to Montmartre.
Mafalda had always been hooked on Amélie but so far she never had the chance to visit the café in Montmartre where the protagonist worked as a waitress, le Café des 2 Moulins. A beer kept us company while we enjoyed people watching.
Beer glass empty gave us an extra boost to keep on exploring the area. We walked up to Sacré-Cœur where we were crammed with hundreds of other passers-by. Rubbing sweaty shoulders with one another was definitely leaving me uncomfortable. Down to la Place de la Bastille, we had the time to do some window-shopping and to count dozens of African hair-salons in one single street. How does one try to differentiate from the another one next door?
€35 poorer after being fined at the Métro, we got to the square where once stood the Bastille prison, destructed at the end of the 18th century, during the French Revolution. The kebab I had for dinner was no help to my cranky mood. Mafalda introduced me to the Algerian couple, Med and Karima, she had met during the summer in one of her hitchhiking trips.
A few beers by the Seine accompanied by the ukulele played by the passionate Med helped to lift my spirits a bit. The evening was already long, but our day was far from over.
We sad goodbye to Med and Karima and promised to be back in a couple of hours. We took the L1 subway heading east until we reached the final station, Château de Vincennes. We walked for what it seemed like forever by the curb of a road that crossed a dense forest, or something alike. It was around 2 a.m.. and we were presented with the creepiest episode: an old man slowly pushing an old woman in a wheelchair. I have to remind you that we were kind of in the middle of nowhere at 2 a.m.. Scary encounter aside, we moved on and soon reached our intended destination. Mafalda met the French and off we went to Rouen, a short 2,5 hours drive.
Rouen is a beautiful, picturesque city that reminded me a lot of Germany with its cute wooden houses. We walked around, had lunch, walked a bit more and soon we had to catch the bus.
Back to Paris. We met again with Med and Karima for moules et frites at their cute little one-room apartment. The perfect ending to our Parisian getaway.