I went to Paris with a friend for two weeks in September. It was lovely, exhausting, over-rated, under-rated, delicious, crowded, rainy, and busy. Since arriving back at home, I’ve been struggling with what to say about it, bouncing back and forth between everything and nothing, positive and negative. It’s been over a month since I flew there and I still haven’t even gone through all the pictures I took. I can’t figure out why I’m struggling with this so much.
The trip to Paris was not intended to be a trip to Paris. I had a lot of extra vacation days and asked my friend if she wanted to go on a trip, thinking we’d do something small, relatively close and inexpensive. Somehow it turned into two weeks and Paris. I was pretty excited. It was the only the second time I left the country. And, I knew a little bit of french, so I knew enough of the language to understand most things (though, not enough to speak it very well).
We stayed in a fairly basic hotel in the 6th “arrondissement” (administrative district), in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area, which was in the middle of most of the places we wanted to visit. We could even see the Eiffel Tower … if we leaned out the window.
We saw a lot of places in the two weeks: the Pantheon, Notre-Dame, the Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle, the Catacombs, Sacré-Coeur, the Louvre, Chateau de Fontainebleau, Pere Lachaise cemetery, Chateau de Vincennes, Hotel de Ville (City Hall), Champs-Élysées, L’Arc de Triomphe, Chateau de Chantilly, Jardins des Plantes, Mélodies Graphiques, Île Saint-Louis (the smaller of the two islands), Place du Tertre, the Jardin du Luxembourg, Versailles, and Musée d’Orsay. We also walked by, but didn’t actually visit, many other places, like Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, and Musée de Cluny.
It was a lot to see and I’m sure there were a million more things we could have seen but, two weeks was too long for me. I started getting tired of it after the first week. On the Tuesday of our second week, the Musée d’Orsay, which had been the one place I insisted we visit, was closed because of a strike (one which I supported, despite the fact that I was worried that it would continue all week). We split up for the day and I realized that I’d lost interest in Paris. I was tired. My bad joints were achy despite having rested the day before. I wanted to go home.
Thankfully, I wasn’t willing to just give up and mope around for the week. Someone on Instagram made a few suggestions that I decided to check out. In the end, I had a nice quiet day with lots of time to think about how lucky I was to be there, how I could make the most of the last few days, and what I want to do when I return in a few years. While I didn’t regain the excitement I’d had in the first few days, I’d at least made the decision to be grateful for the opportunity and enjoy the rest of the trip. Also, I bought my first piece of art and some much needed Advil.
In retrospect, I suspect part of my frustration was that this felt like my first really big trip and I felt a both disappointed and guilty for not loving Paris as much as “everyone else” seemed to. And, as much as I enjoy the company of the friend I travelled with, I don’t think that we make great travel buddies. At least, not for long trips. She wants to see all the famous things, I only want to see things that are special to me*. She wants to gogogo all day and everyday, I want to take breaks and have quiet evenings. She’s not much of a breakfast person, I struggled everyday because I didn’t have a proper breakfast. She liked to window shop or browse the kiosks, I was on the move with a mission**.
*Not that I wasn’t willing to compromise – in fact we saw a number of things I had no interest in and one that I had very clearly said I didn’t want to go to.
**I know this drove her nuts as she complained about me getting too far ahead, after which I tried to be more careful.
The last few days of the trip were done on automatic. I mostly just followed her around, making a point to find something I liked where ever we went while plotting out my dream Paris vacation in the moments when I was fed up with fellow tourists or bored of seeing yet another castle. Despite this fatigue (mental and physical), I still enjoyed myself. Even as I was being elbowed by pushy tourists in Versailles, I was still able to appreciate how lucky I was to be there.
I loved all the beautiful architecture and decorative elements, even if it did look like just a repeat of things we’d already seen several times before. The quiches and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) were incredible. And, Musée d’Orsay was open on our last day. I was too exhausted to enjoy it fully, but I still loved it. That’s where I saw van Gogh’s La siesta and a self portrait from 1889. Seeing them in person was the highlight of my trip!
I will go back. Probably on my own so that I can focus on the art museums and not worry about accidentally getting ahead of people who want to browse.