Written by Sinead and Tom
For me, visiting Paris always is an emotional experience. I think of when I lived there, and struggled to call it home. I think of one of my closest friends, whom without, the ‘City of Lights’ is just a notch less bright. Sharing this city that I love with Tom is like letting him into a chapter of my past, rediscovering places, but without the familiar faces. Yet the shadow of their spirit lingers, as I tell Tom of the memories and the people who helped create them. This was Tom’s third time in Paris and we were staying in a different district, determined to have new experiences.
This is where we introduce our Couchsurfing host. An international man of mystery, who is really an open book, and willing to share his life with you. Just as we had arrived on a decidedly warm summer’s day, packs still on our backs, he offers us a cold beer. We relaxed, immersing ourselves in conversations about possibilities and realities, dreams and passion, life and the nature of Couchsurfing. To say that our host was generous is an understatement. He opened his mind, heart and home, almost instantly connecting a friendship built on shared ideas and whimsicality. Our Couchsurfing experience in Paris really defined our time there as we discovered a new side of Paris and deepened our passion for travel, spirituality and motivation for achieving our goals.
Our first night in Paris involved uncovering the secrets of the Oberkampf district, going on a ‘hidden’ bar crawl with our host, who knew the area exceptionally well. First up, we went to a not-so-hidden beer bar, offering more than 20 beers, mostly on draught, and an ever-changing international menu. Next was a cocktail bar in a shared building, one that we otherwise would have walked straight past. The views from this bar rivaled that of my apartment that overlooked the city! The Laphroaig sour and a gin/Campari cocktail were on point, as was the sunset, with the last light peeking through the splashes of pink across the sky. The pit-stop of (epic) burritos and really quite delicious tequila refueled us, and we drifted towards Republique to meet a new friend. The finale of hidden bars was behind a washing machine, up a dark staircase and in what seemed like, somebodies living room. The cocktails were good, but the experience even better! For details on the hidden bars, just ask 🙂
Feeling a little rusty in the morning gave way to relaxing day, enjoying some of the lesser known sights of Paris. We strolled along the Canal St Martin, ending at Stalingrad, where we simply sat by the fountain and paused for a moment. A simple metro rode took us to Parc Monceau, a beautiful park in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. Set in a relatively ‘well-to-do’ neighbourhood, this green space is a haven for families, couples and people just wanting to enjoy a peaceful respite. There are cosy corners and open spaces, elegant sculptures and arches all set in a quiet pocket of Paris.
The second night made way for the second stunning sunset, this time from the park Buttes Chaumont. If not for the slightly less convenient location, this would be my favourite park in Paris. The park hugs a couple of hills, opening possibilities for enjoying the serenity of nature. With plenty of trees and grassy patches, this was an ideal place for our picnic dinner and a calm setting to enjoy the end of the evening. We wandered along the paths, crossed the suspension bridge and meandered up to the temple on the top of the hill, catching the sun setting again over Sacre Coeur and le butte de Montmartre.
Our third day was centred on the day trip to the Chateau and gardens at Vaux le Vicompte. In short, this is one of the castles that made Versailles. More or less, Louis XIV was invited for a party at the new chateau, and decided he liked it so much, he wanted it. But it was not for sale.. So the owner was tossed in prison and Louis XIV built a bigger, “better” model in Versailles. Nowadays, the resemblance is rather clear, even more so with the fewer number of visitors, making the castle less busy and easier, possibly even more enjoyable to navigate and explore.
As with all good things they must come to an end. So with some keen bargaining skills against a taxi driver who had been waiting two hours for a fare that never showed up we headed back into Paris. That night we shared beer and whisky with our host before due to work he had to retire to bed earlier then our minds would let us. So we went on a late night walk through the quite streets of Paris. A strange feeling for a city so bustling during the day. Soon after we were in bed and ready for the final travel back to England.
That morning we caught up with an old friend who still lives in Paris. After all of us running later than the start time we had planned for we reunited at “Breakfast in America” Funny that we ended up at an American diner in the heart of Paris. The bacon, coffee and chats filled the morning as we filled our time till our departure. The time crept up on us and we all said our farewells, hopefully not for the last time, and went our separate ways.
The Eurostar. A dream of mine for so long, as budget backpackers we rarely use an extravagantly priced form of transport and prefer to just get to our destination. To be able to ride a train under the channel and be in England is quite a engineering marvel and the chance to ride it was worth the extra money, if only to say I went on it. The ride was pretty much what you expect, beautiful French country side whizzing past and soon after being plunged into darkness.
The only tip I would recommend is to get there early as you do have to go through security and checks, faster than an airport but still time consuming. We arrived into St Pancras in London and joined the flood of people disembarking. We had made it to England and with many new and fantastic memories.
Stay Safe and Travel Far…