My friend Hannah and I had met when we were 17, whilst working a weekend job in a local department store. Fast forward 7 years, we were both on the cusp of turning 25 and had been making sincere efforts throughout our early twenties to “find ourselves” through travel…or at least enjoy ourselves before we really had to commit to being grown ups.
I remember the prospect of turning 25 felt like it should be a pivotal age, like I should begin to see more clearly the life that was unfolding ahead of me. Well I couldn’t see it and, never being somebody that has tolerated the uncertainty of life particularly well, I felt like running away from my life, if only for the few waking hours that could be eked out of a weekend, was a good way to deal with that.
The one thing I had learned about how to travel in my early twenties is that there are two precious commodities that make it a lot easier: time and money. Neither of us being particularly rich in either, we spotted a last minute Eurostar + hotel deal and decided to jump in head first.
The best adventures start at 4am
Rarely had Hannah and I embarked upon a trip where we didn’t need to begin our journey before sunrise; Paris was no exception.
Getting up before everyone else was beginning their weekends to embark on an adventure felt carefree and exciting, and it was. But it also involved dragging ourselves out of bed, in the pitch black of a cold winter’s morning and having a quick, and not particularly refreshing, ‘wetwipe wash’ – so as not to wake the other members of the household, some of whom had only just returned from their nightshifts.
Silently promising ourselves that we could sleep on the train home once adventure had been successfully achieved, we made our way out of the sleepy suburbs and into an equally sleepy city centre. We caught the first train out of Dodge (Norwich Train Station) and arrived in London before the tinges of rush hour began to colour another Saturday morning in the big smoke.
From there, we got the earliest Eurostar possible into Paris and, for want of a better term, hit the ground running so as not to lose any more precious exploring time.
Immortalising our adventurous spirits
Paris has long been synonymous as a city of love and romance with the Pont des Arts (or ‘Love Lock’ bridge) being a popular spot for visitors to commemorate and symbolise their eternal love for each other. We found ourselves near the bridge whilst ambling around some of the other popular sights and attractions we were taking in that day; not wanting to feel disadvantaged as two single women, we decided to attempt to immortalise our eternal adventuring spirits instead.
-Update 2016: The ‘love locks’ of the Pont Des Arts have since been removed and preventions are in place to stop any further locks from finding their everlasting resting places on the bridge. Our enduring taste for travel has not been harmed in the process.
The best view of the Eiffel Tower (from the ground)
As the afternoon drew in around us we pondered on whether to take in the unique panoramas on offer from the Eiffel Tower or to continue exploring the city scape a little closer to the ground.
To be perfectly truthful, I’m pretty terrified of heights. This is something that I had actually learned about myself on a previous trip to Paris as a teenager, on the first level of the Eiffel Tower.
With the overwhelming memory of vertigo and jelly legs rattling around my brain, we agreed that it would save us both time and money (and embarrassment on my part) if we spent more time admiring the attraction than we did queuing up to scale it.
So instead we headed to the Trocadéro where, on the recommendation of my friend’s, we would be able to take in a more budget friendly panorama with fantastic views of the Eiffel Tower included.
Being more accustomed to the capital-city-skyline of London, I was struck by how the central region of Paris is relatively untouched by encroaching modern skyscrapers. I’ve always found London’s juxtaposition of old and new, glass and chrome next to period architecture, to be a little jarring. Paris, on the other hand, looked like it had been taken straight from a souvenir snowglobe, preserved and unaltered in that respect.
As dusk descended on the city, an air of festivity began to seep throughout the streets. We retreated into the enticing glow of a pop up bar, nestled under the infamous twinkle of the lights of the Eiffel Tower, and treated ourselves to a warming pint of mulled wine.
Sleep deprived in the city
Although our aspirations were to explore every inch of Paris that we possible could in our allotted hours, nightlife was never really going to be on the cards after such an early start to the day. After the dregs of heat (and wine) had been drained from our glasses, we beat a slightly weary retreat to our hotel in the 9th arrondissement.
Our initial plan was to take a brief power nap, before springing up, refreshed, to find a a hearty offering of french cuisine for dinner.
In reality, the power nap lasted a good few hours and we mostly likely stirred due to an appetite earned from a day’s exploring, rather than the desire to seek out any more excitement.
This time, energy and money were our most precious commodities. So, we settled on a lively Greek restaurant, a short walk from our hotel, rather than the quintessential French dining experience we had promised ourselves.
The food and atmosphere were reviving enough for us to enjoy our meal, and make our final retreat to the hotel, ahead of another long day of exploring (and return train journeys).
Luxury window shopping in Galeries Lafayette
We arose the next morning, refreshed by a deep slumber in the rooftop room of the hotel Eugene en Ville; the previous day had been about getting our bearings and taking unknown streets in this new city, but it had also been about reconnaissance for our final day too.
Whilst we had been traversing the Parisian streets the day before we had passed the twinkling window displays of the Galeries LaFayette department store and decided it was too close to Christmas and our birthdays not to have a look inside for a possible treat.
As we browsed our way through all of the high-end labels and goods on offer, we suddenly found ourselves amongst the grand splendour of the heart of the store. Layers of intricate balconies stretched up to meet the dazzling colours of the ornate glass dome above us.
As we were exploring Paris right in the middle of the festive season, we were also treated to the annual instalment of the Galeries Lafayette’s colourful Christmas decorations.
Working our way up each floor of the gallery to admire the spectacle beneath from every possible angle, we also found a little champagne bar for shoppers to take a brief rest from hauling around all of their luxury purchases.
This city didn’t know us, and within the 24 hours we had there we could be whoever we wanted to be. In that moment we decided that we were just as luxurious and frivolous as our surroundings. We decided to take a seat and order ourselves some overpriced french delicacies, to help soak in the opulence around us.
After the last bubble had fizzled out in the bottom of our glasses, and we had spied an €800 giant stuffed panda for sale, we felt that we had experienced quite enough of the lux-life for one day and took our adventure back to the streets.
With only a few hours left remaining of our time in Paris we picked our way along the iconic, cobbled side paths of the Seine, making our way in the direction of the Notre Dame which would be our final sight of the trip.
French food, at last!
We stood in the shadow of the grand cathedral, gazing up at the splendidly lit arches and statues. The wintry chill of a long day exploring the city was again starting to encroach on our bones. It was decided that we should make one final effort to find that hearty french meal that was part of the initial draw of Paris, before we made the impending journey home.
Nestled on a corner just opposite the Notre Dame was the enticing Cafe Panis, a cozy Parisian cafe and restaurant with wonderful views of the cathedral and the bustling streets around it.
We sat, tucked away in a comfortable corner next to the quintessential french windows and relaxed into the rich atmosphere of the cafe.
Finally, in the last moments of our adventure, we found the delicious, warming and very welcome food we had been seeking. We were even coaxed by the waiter into staying for two of the most magnificent (and generously portioned) desserts we’d ever seen -a decision we did not regret.
After tearing ourselves away from the warm ambience of Cafe Panis, all that was left to do was to head to the nearest metro station and make our way back North, with one final pit stop at the hotel to collect our left luggage, and onto the Gare du Nord to begin our long journey homewards.