The first time I came to Paris, I was 14 and on a trip with a group from my school. The week should be a total blur, as I was jetlagged and 14, but so many moments stand out in perfect clarity. The way a crêpe tasted as it dripped nutella down my chin. Ordering in (pretty terrible but mostly coherent) French at a bakery. The first site of the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night. A woman singing opera in the Palais Royal as the wind picked up and it started to rain. Those moments are the ones that launched me on a path of loving and studying French. They are the ones that lured my back to study and live in Paris, to be replaced by so many more like them. I know that lives can be changed forever by moments in Paris.
I am not naive enough to think that ALL of the 11 students I dragged through Paris last weekend will forever devote their lives to the pursuit and mastery of French. I am not even naive enough to believe that all of them were awake for all/ most of the weekend. I saw some drowsy heads on that Seine boat tour, and I know that not all students who took a quiet minute in the pews at Notre Dame were praying.
I could see it on their faces, the Paris magic. I could hear it in their questions and excitement, in spite of the jet-lag, exhaustion, and weary feet. And the fact that I got to help give them that… it’s pretty much the best thing ever.
14 years have passed since 14 year old Hannah went to Paris, and I feel like I closed a circle this past weekend. A wonderful, magical, indescribable circle that has this city as its center.
And should any of you be interested in how to see as much as possible in two days in the city (the first of which started at noon due to lengthy airport runs and French airport officials insisting that the plane carrying my last student did not exist), here’s what we did. You will notice a special interest in things that were free, as well as notes on clean and free bathrooms, as those are of prime importance when traveling with students. Pretty sure that my best-selling Paris guide will someday be called “What to see, where to pee, and lots for free.”
- Walked from Bastille to the Place des Vosges, where we had a picnic.
- Walked through Le Marais, Ile Saint-Louis.
- Toured Notre Dame.
- Crossed to see Shakespeare and Company, then walked along the river down to the Pont des Arts for some love-locking.
- Walked through the (exterior) Louvre, Tuileries, Place Vendôme, by the Opéra Garnier, and climbed to the top floor of Galleries Lafayette for the (free!) panoramic view…at which point most of my crew passed out for a couple minutes on the roof (But at least there were free and clean restrooms! That is a constant struggle in Paris.).
- Took the metro back to Pont Neuf for a boat tour of the Seine on the Vedettes de Pont Neuf.
- Grabbed crêpes for dinner en route to the Louvre.
- Did the “Hannah’s Highlights” version of a Louvre tour as it is free and open late on Friday nights (and has restrooms).
- Spent a couple hours at the Musée d’Orsay (using our letters describing our art history student status for both free entry and line skipping… because French language and culture includes art history, right?).
- Took the metro to Montmartre, toured Sacre-Coeur, explored the area behind it, ate lunch.
- Headed to the Arc de Triomphe, where we walked around the base, and then some shopped, some walked around, and some had over-priced sweets and tea at Ladurée. (I’m sure you all know which group I was in… but hey – free clean restrooms!)
- Toured Saint-Chappelle, which happened to be open late and for free the weekend we were there to celebrate the end of the renovations.
- Walked through the Luxembourg gardens before having dinner at Polidor, the toilet from which my students may never recover (but after being hitherto spoiled, they needed some shocking bathroom experiences).
- Ended with the Eiffel Tower sparkling above us.
I’m pretty sure that despite the packed schedule and endless walking, some magic moments were made all the same.