Last week I got to travel to Paris for work for approximately 32 hours and a single night. We took the Eurostar train direct from London to Paris, travelling under the English channel, through the gorgeous French countryside, and arriving in Gare du Nord, Paris. The journey took approximately 2 hours, a stunningly short journey from one country’s capital to the other’s – a mind boggling concept for a Californian like myself. We used to have to travel 8 hours by car to visit my Grandad in northern California, and that wasn’t even from one end of California to the other! Even by car, you can drive from London to Paris in just about 6 hours, including a ferry journey. It’s insane! And it makes me wonder why I haven’t made the journey more often – and then I remember I don’t have any money.
That said, the journey can be relatively inexpensive, although the Eurostar is not the way to have an inexpensive, or even necessarily expedient trip. The boarding process has similar security protocols and lengths as flying does, and it actually takes longer, and generally costs more, than most economy flights do. Thus, apart from holding more passengers and being a bit more comfortable, it surprises me that it’s such a frequented form of travel.
When we reached Gare du Nord I immediately felt a rush of excitement. I was visiting Paris for the first time in nearly a decade – and the nostalgia, mixed with my admitted francophilia, flooded my senses all at once. We hopped off the train and voila! We were here in Paris, and immediately things felt different and exciting. We took a taxi into central town and I practised my French with the driver. My rude awakening was that I still had a ways to go before getting comfortably conversational, and my vocabulary needed some brushing up as well.
We then rendezvoused at a meeting point for a business contact – after all, I was there on a work trip. I was originally meant to be at the meeting for which the entire trip had occurred, but due to my black nail polish, my boss decided it was best I did my own thing, for which I had no complaints. I wanted to make use of every second I had in France. So I walked over to the Eiffel Tour, where the above photo was taken. I also ran into a Ukrainian couple and we ended up doing a little mini photo shoot taking photos of each other, even though they spoke little English. It was one of those special moments amongst strangers, and I loved it!
Afterwards I had to navigate Paris’ metro system for the first time. Now navigating a metro is hard enough in a country you’re familiar with, with a language that you know. I remember struggling with Italy’s metro system, and although Paris’ metro is actually quite good – better even than London’s, I would say – it was still a struggle. I approached a man who was selling tickets to tell him, in my broken French, that I wanted to get to the Charles de Gualle Etoille. He looked at me in amusement. ‘C’est ici,’ he said. ‘It’s here.’ It’s where?! I thought. I replied, again in French, that he must not have understood me. I needed to know how to get there. He looked even more amused. ‘Non, c’est ici. Charles de Gualle Etoille est ici,’ he insisted. That’s when I clued in – I’d accidentally told him my station of departure, not arrival. I was at Charles de Gualle Etoille and I actually needed to get to the Gare de La Defense. I apologised and informed him that I was an ‘American stupide,’ and bought my ticket and went on my way. He did, however, compliment my French and assured me that I would learn lots just by being there, and he was absolutely right!
All in all Paris was a truly charming experience, and I couldn’t recommend the city enough. It’s a smaller city than London, and yet it felt more spacious, the people are friendlier, and the culture is positively delightful. Not to mention it’s one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to – something that was a refreshing changing from London’s many skyscrapers and over modernisation. To be clear, I love London, and I love living here; but I think it lacks some of the charm that Paris has written all over. Even the LGBT+ district in Paris was covered in rainbow flags, rainbow streets, and friendly faces, while London barely can boast a couple rainbow flags in its LGBT+ district.
Now you’re probably wondering why on earth fascism is in the title of this blog post at this point and fret not – I will explain! On our journey back to the train station in Paris, before heading back to London, our taxi driver drove us through several streets full of massive crowds of black people. I don’t use massive lightly here – there were quite a few and not a single white person in sight. I haven’t a clue why. Maybe it was a gathering of refugees, or maybe it was simply a gathering celebrating African culture, or a French black pride event. It could have literally been any reason, or no reason at all; but any reason would’ve been lovely and valid. Our taxi driver, however, asked us in French whether there were many ‘Afriques’ where we’re from. It was an odd question to ask. I mean sure – there’s people of distant or close African descent literally all over the world, but there’s plenty more black people native born to countries like France and Britain who are not actually ‘African’ at all. He proceeded to suggest that we send them all ‘back where they came from’ rhetoric spurted regularly these days by the growing alt-right and even the American president himself, Donald Trump. This taxi driver hadn’t a clue whether the people gathered were actually refugees or even African – but even if they were, his blatant racism shows a serious cultural blight on countries often accepting of refugees. It’s a sentiment we see quite ferociously in Britain and America at this very moment as well, and France is no exception. I hope one day we can learn to judge less, carry more love, and learn to have perspective and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Alright that was quite the tangent but I wanted to include it none-the-less! I haven’t much more to add about such a brief trip, except that I wish it had been much longer and that I already can’t wait to return. Vive la France, et vive Paris! Merci à tous pour la lecture, thank you for reading, and I’ll catch you next time!