A delightful afternoon in Paris
When I booked my flights to go back to Bulgaria for the holidays, the little voice in my head did keep telling me that my one-hour layover in Paris was too short. Even if everything went smoothly and flights were on time, I would have had to make a run for it. In the end, I had to run only from my arrival gate to the transfer desk at Charles de Gaulle, because it was painfully clear I wasn’t going to make my connection to Sofia.
As it always happens around the holidays, flights were already booked up. All the other flights to Sofia that day were full, and the next flight with available seats was not until tomorrow (Tues, Dec 18). However, that left me with a whole afternoon free and nothing to do, and a free hotel and meals from Air France. So, off I went to find the hotel Air France so kindly put me up at. I was slightly bemused at customs, where I was able to go into the EU line thanks to my Bulgarian passport, and the customs official took no more than a half-second look at my passport before waving me in. That was it – no stamps, no reading the magnetic strip on the passport, not even a glance back at me to make sure I was the person in the photo. Oh, how times change!
Getting out of the airport and finding my shuttle stop turned out more difficult than I anticipated due to poor signage. After asking 5 or 6 different people for directions, I finally got out of the airport and to my hotel. I settled in and called my parents on Skype. They helped me orient myself using the Paris metro map I had picked up at the hotel lobby and armed with their advice and said map, I headed for the center of Paris, a good 18 miles (30 km ) away. I got back on the hotel shuttle to the airport, and from there I caught the B metro line to the Chatelet les Halles stop. It took a good 40 minutes to get there, and I had a weird feeling I was still a ways out from the center because the last stop that was above ground still looked pretty suburbanish, yet I was only two stops away from my destination. But once I made my way up the stairs through all the corridors and alleyways (luckily, my visit to NYC earlier that year had prepped me for large subway systems like this), I got to street level Paris – and oh my, what a sight for sore eyes it was! Europe, how I’ve missed you! I smiled and breathed in and out, and took in my surroundings – the people in the streets, the architecture, the winter chill that puts you in the holiday spirit like nothing else can, the unmistakable European city vibe… even though I’d never been to Paris, I felt right at home.
I spent the next 4 hours meandering between the eastern side of Rue de Rivoli and the Eiffel tower. Again, I had to ask several people in which direction to go, but that’s what you have to do in an unfamiliar city – it’s better to ask than to spend precious time walking in the wrong direction. I was giddy with excitement every time I saw a coffee shop with tables spilling out into the street, even in this chilly weather. The lack of Euros kept me from enjoying a good cup of espresso at one of them (oftentimes, you can only use a credit card if your total is over 15 euros) so I ducked into a side street to find an exchange bureau, only to get sidetracked by the fashion, fruits and pastries tantalizing me from every store window. Everything around me was screaming Paris, just the way I’d seen it in so many times on TV and in pictures.
The Louvre was amazing, even though I only got to admire it from the outside. I took a few snapshots at the Pyramid, then kept going to the Eiffel tower, which I could already see in the distance.
On the way, I passed the Obelisk of Luxor and the Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde, crossed the Seine and admired the many bridges over it.
When I finally got to the Eiffel, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very small line, and I found myself up at the top of the tower in no time. From there, it was easy to see where I’d walked from and get my bearings, and I got to enjoy a pretty good view of the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees. It was windy and cold but Paris from there looked amazing! I could see why it takes people days and weeks to explore this amazing city.
Sadly, I didn’t have time for much more as I had to walk a good 45 minutes back to my metro stop, then spend another hour to an hour and a half on the metro and shuttle back to my hotel (although I did manage to indulge in a chocolate crepe from a street vendor by the Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde). But what a treat this afternoon was! Paris had been on my list of cities to visit forever, and the fact that I got to see it so unexpectedly made me appreciate it all the more. I can’t wait to come back and explore more but for now, Paris, I bid you adieux.