Coucou! (That’s slang for “hey” in French).
Whether the Parisians like it or not (they don’t), the Eiffel Tower is a universal symbol of Paris. Shooting up out of the skyline of Haussmann apartments, it represents every romantic ideal of Paris that has been propagated by innumerable songs, movies, novels and Instagram posts. But to Parisians, it is a highly-resented monstrosity that disrupts the elegance and uniformity of the rest of the city’s architecture, never mind a tourist trap.
And though I visited Paris twice last year and have been living here for several months, I had not joined the league of tower-climbers until just a few weekends ago. A friend studying in London came to visit for the weekend, and naturally a visit to the tower was on her agenda. Realizing how little we’d seen of Paris’s tourist attractions, Kate, Emily, and I resolved to join her. So at what was easily the best and worst time we could have gone—mid-afternoon on a balmy and sunshiney Saturday, aka peak tourist hours—we bought our tickets (heads up—you need to buy at least two if you plan on paying with a credit card) and were corralled into the elevator with a group of British school children and Japanese tourists, the latter sporting intensely-neon rain gear.
Yes, we took the elevator, and no, I do not regret skipping the 1000+ stairs that one must climb to reach the top (and more importantly, to reach the champagne bar). We didn’t even end up going all the way up—we were deposited at the second tier, and the view from there could not have been more awe-inspiring. While I understand the desire to climb to the tippy-top, I find cityscapes to be much more interesting when I’m still close enough to pick up on some of their details, when the majority of buildings and gardens still retain a visible level of charm and aren’t yet a mass of indistinguishable specks. That, and it cost another few euros to climb to the next level. Gotta love that student budget.
Really, the second level was enough. Looking out at the city that I never wish to stop calling home, I felt wonderfully, perfectly happy. It was one of those rare moments when you recognize that you’re making a memory, when you feel your senses capture every sensation and store them away so you will always be able to come back to that slight breeze, the smell of cigarettes clouding the air, the bright blue of the sky against the pearly white outline of Sacre-couer. I saw through the hotels and apartments to the streets I’ve spent my semester wandering, I saw the boulangerie down the street from my house and the Thai place where I went for lunch that one day and the café where I spend my Friday nights dancing and drinking and feeling incredibly young. I saw the park where I run every Sunday, the store in the Marais where I window shop regularly, the streets that lead to my best friends’ apartments. I saw my home, spread out before me and split into so many cartiers, many of them explored and more of them not.
I decided I would go somewhere new everyday after that, would take in as much of Paris as I can in the next month before I leave. I have become loyal to the places I’ve found thus far, to the cafés where I sip on a café crème each week and where the waiters know my face. I have made myself feel utterly at home in Paris, in her streets and cafés and gardens. This is not a bad thing. But. What if there are better café crèmes out there? I’ll never know unless I start looking. For anyone who is or plans to study abroad: it is good to find your places, your sanctuaries and your escapes within your new home. But remember to seek out new ones, to restlessly explore all the resources your town or city has to offer. You’ll never regret having seen too much.
Check back soon for a lil’ video montage that I’m putting together!