It’s ten days since my ten days in Paris came to an end. After the quiet and peace of a medieval cottage in the French countryside, Paris was big, beautiful and bold. It was also the city where I farewelled my husband and welcomed friends for the final leg of my epic adventure.
We arrived at our luxurious boutique hotel mid-afternoon. Plenty of time to wander down for our first views of the Arc de Triomphe, on our way to cruise the River Seine. Despite the thick forest of tourists, clad in cameras and selfie sticks, Paris is breathtakingly beautiful, with a unique character and essence. The repeated claims of being the most beautiful city in the world could very well be true. Although beauty competitions are not something I’m fond of.
The Arc de Triomphe was within spitting distance of our hotel (we elected not to spit on it). Of all the iconic Parisienne landmarks, this was our favourite. It’s enormous – towering in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, with 12 streets radiating out in all directions. We explored Paris on foot, meandering almost all 12 at one time or another.
Day two, we slept in because we could, then did a half day small group tour, taking in the main sites, another Seine River cruise, and ending with tickets for the second level of the Eiffel Tower. Our tour group had a young american couple who accidentally booked themselves onto the wrong tour and had a domestic before deciding not to go ahead with it – What the fuck? being the last we heard of them, as the wife glared at her husband. The other four members of our group had inadvertently booked an English speaking tour, but none of them spoke a word of English. I spent an hour on the bus google translating key facts into Spanish. It was an interesting whirlwind. After the bus and river tours, we ended up at the gates to the Eiffel Tower where we dutifully queued with the rest of the tourists – the good, the bad and the ugly. And to be brutally honest, there are more ugly tourists than good. Not ugly to look at (usually), but ugly to be around. Obnoxious, self-important, loud, discourteous, disrespectful, ignorant tourists, giving their homelands a really bad reputation.
I fear I’m becoming racist in my dotage. The people from all walks of life I know in real life are lovely, so I’m not sure if selfie stick in hand and dangling camera around the neck brings out the worst of humanity, but I can say with utter certainty, I don’t want to see any more Asian tourists and their endless posing, or hear privileged Americans complaining about steps, service and swimming pools. To admire the breathtaking views from the Eiffel Tower, find the perfect camera angle at The Louvre, and watch a spectacular sunset on the River Seine, we had to claim our space, and return rudeness with rudeness. Push in front and saying nothing – just do it. I will be glad to return to a civilised society where common decency and situational awareness once again exist.
The Eiffel Tower is one of those extraordinary yet underwhelming experiences. It’s certainly unique and iconic and offers really fabulous views. It’s also not particularly attractive (in my opinion). One of those experiences you have to have if you’re there, and one you wouldn’t repeat – much like the Vatican.
The rest of our Paris experience was spent wandering the streets, admiring wrought iron balconies, stunning 17th century architecture, the beautiful Seine River and iconic landmarks. Eating croissants and snails, cheese and nectarines. Resting in our hotel room and soaking in the hot tub. We made an effort to be together – to try and feel the essence of the city of love, despite 26 years of the realities of married life. At the crack of dawn on the 66th day of our big European adventure, we headed to the airport and said our farewells – one of us all teary and sad, the other excitedly awaiting the arrival of friends and a whole new holiday.
An hour later and my second holiday began. I met my friends then traveled to our apartment to settle in and let them recover from the shock of travelling nearly two days to get there.
First port of call when traveling with my friends is food. It’s all about the food everywhere we travel. We visit supermarkets, fresh food shops, organic shops, and the wine, the wine, the wine, and stock the kitchen so there’s no chance of starvation. We went for our first of many coffees. Followed later in the day by the first of many aperol spritz. Dinner the first night was a simple affair, but by the second night we’d found a veritable feast of fresh produce.
During the course of the week we did a cooking class, mastering the art of croissants and viennoiserie, then caught the train for some scenic vistas on the way to Monet’s gardens in Giverny. Spectacular – despite the 1000+ tourists incessantly queuing. Then of course there was lots of eating and drinking and walking from A to B and back to A again. Saturday night I fell ill, despite the fact I never get sick. No idea what was wrong, but I started feeling overwhelmingly nauseous. Sunday I don’t remember. Apparently I popped out of my room looking green every now and then. I started getting really dehydrated. Monday wasn’t a lot better. My friends went off to tour the Opera Garnier – something I’m very sad to have missed. I was still hideously nauseous and not eating or drinking anything, but overall starting to feel a tad better. I begrudgingly drank water so I could turn my urine back from a nasty maroon to a pure clear colour. Sunday afternoon I took myself off to the hospital just to be sure. I was worried about a kidney infection and long term consequences. The doctor at the hospital made me feel like a complete idiot, and I vowed never to voluntarily go to A&E again. I spent four hours there, sobbing my little heart out, freezing to death on the hospital bed without a sheet, awaiting the results of blood tests and CT scans. I was eventually cleared of any major problems and sent on my merry way. Why are you still crying? said the mystified doctor. I had no idea. I was just tired and exhausted and had no idea how to get home.
By the end of my ten days in Paris I was dripping tiredness. The host of our Airbnb apartment caused much stress and angst, and hit us with three extra charges which was very unpleasant. I was physically and mentally tired and could feel anxiety spiraling out of control. I was looking forward to getting out of the city – even if it is the most beautiful city in the world – and finding a little bit of serenity in the Tuscan countryside. Italy turned out to be quite the challenge