Today marks four weeks living in Paris, and what a month it has been.
For as long as I can remember, I dreamt of living overseas, even having it featured on the bucket list I wrote when I was 15-years-old.
I thought I’d tick off this item by doing an exchange in Europe or America during my uni degree. But excuses found more excuses, the years flew by and the item remained unticked.
The feeling I was left with after graduating was one of utter regret and sadness. My fear of not making it work paralysed me into doing nothing about it at all.
I think, however, it taught me a valuable lesson, and I promised I’d never let this happen again.
Florian and I discussed living abroad pretty early on in our relationship and knew it’d make sense to get married and head overseas before we settled down to try and start a family.
With Florian being French, it made the whole visa process a breeze and we took our marriage certificate to the French embassy and had it recognised here in France.
I was quite surprised that I didn’t have to pay a cent and just had to register the visa when I arrived. Upon completing the online form, I was asked to donate a pretty 200€ ($330 AUD) to lodge the application- I knew I’d be swindled out of some money at some stage!
We were lucky enough to be hosted by family friends, Serge and Erma, two of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
Serge, a Parisian-born former Doctors without Borders doctor, and Erma, a US former United Nations official and social-behavioural scientist who works at Paris’ SciencePo university, made the transition to French life so wonderful.
We were spoilt with sharing their apartment in the 11th Arrondissement, right next to the Place de Bastille- the site where the Bastille prison was invaded during the revolution and the national holiday ‘Bastille Day’ found its name.
Two days after our arrival, President Macron announced a new curfew would be implemented to help reduce the second, and more severe, Covid-19 wave. The curfew would see the French sent home between 10pm and 6am with police patrolling the streets during this time.
This didn’t bother Florian and I as we were typically home with Serge and Erma. Each night during apéro, we were treated to a mini-feast. L’apéro comes from l’apéritif which is simply a pre-dinner drink with finger food.
Serge would thinly slice a baguette and toasted it lightly with a contraption that looked far too dangerous to be purchased in the last decade or two. He’d then add rillette- think of the consistency of tuna, if you mashed it with a fork, or saucisson topped with a cornichon (pickle).
We were served wine we’d probably not be able to afford whilst being educated about the different regions across France. During our fortnight there, I discovered I usually prefer white wine from Côtes du Rhone compared to Burgundy- just in case you were wondering.
Serge helped us get up to speed with the current social and political climate of France whilst the news unfolded before us.
Dinners were always delicious and my favourite meal was Erma’s shrimp creole- a dish from her impressive New Orleans (or as she taught me to say N’Orlans) cookbook.
The days were spent exploring as much of Paris as we could, as we anticipated we’d be facing stricter lockdown measures soon.
During our first 14 days, some of my favourite places we visited included:
Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre: A beautiful basilica set atop the city in the 18th is architecturally stunning building and dates back to 1914. We were able to take advantage of the lack of tourists and scaled the 300 steps to reach the top of the dome. On my instagram, under the first highlights reel, the first video is of the view from the top- well worth all the stairs up, and dizziness on the way back down. The surrounding area of Montmartre is just as beautiful as I remember, and has a real sense of playing home to some of the biggest names in the art world. Montmartre gives me the impression she was the inspiration from some of the greatest modern works.
Musée de l’Orangerie: Home to impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, I wanted to visit the Orangerie museum primarily to see Monet’s water lilies. I was overwhelmed with both the sheer size and beauty of the pieces and could have spent hours lost in each painting both up close and from a distance.
Les Catacombes de Paris: One place Florian and I had wanted to visit the first time we came to Paris together in 2015/2016 saw us fall victim to poor planning and a never-ending line. Again taking full advantage of the lack of tourists this time around, we headed to the Catacombs of Paris. An underground ossuary which holds the remains of more than six million people, the winding tunnels are an incredible sight. I am scared of pretty much anything supernatural so was a little hesitant to visit for fear of being haunted by the ghost of one of the millions who lay resting in the tunnels below, but I wasn’t frightened at all. I think it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that the bones before you actually belonged to people. One fact I loved learning about was that a secret concert was held in the tunnels back in 1897 by candlelight and played all the deathly classics like funeral march and danse macabre- would have loved to have attended that concert!
L’atelier des lumières: I can’t take full credit for this one and have to say I did get this from the hate-to-love Emily in Paris. This warehouse offers you a Marry-Poppins-jump-into-a-picture experience where famous pieces are made life-sized and projected on the walls, ceilings and floor.
Le Louvre: I had visited the Louvre the first time I came to Paris back in 2013 but never would I have imagined it to be like this. Before Covid-hit, The Louvre welcomes close to 28,000 people a day- yes you read that correctly, 28,000 people a day! We walked past the iconic building and glass pyramids and saw there wasn’t the trademark snaking line. In something usually unheard of at any other time, we decided to just go and take a look around on a whim. Within five minutes, we had entered, had our bags checked and had purchased our tickets. I think there might have been 1,000 people max within the museum and we were able to really enjoy all the art on display, and even got up close with Mona Lisa, too.
After our 14 days were up, we packed up our bags, thanked Serge and Erma, and off we went to our little Airbnb rental for the next seven months in the 17th.
I’ve used Airbnb both domestically and internationally and have never had a problem, let alone the literal mess we walked into.
My rule for booking holiday accommodation is to adhere to the three C’s, Cheap, Clean and Central, and so I wasn’t expecting to be moving into the Royal Palace by any means, but wow, what a way to shatter the last two weeks with a shock dose of reality.
We didn’t have French rental history to be able to go through an agent and decided it’d be safer to just use Airbnb- lucky us!
The best way I can describe what we entered into is to say it’s as if a 16-year-old boy was living here and was kicked out 45 seconds before we arrived. The bed wasn’t made, with us finding the fitted sheet in the washing machine, drenched, all the glasses and cutlery dirty, and a quilt with bloodstains.
The bathroom drawers had hair throughout and we had no internet.
We also couldn’t get in touch with our Airbnb host, who as it turns out, isn’t a host at all, but a real estate agent who takes 2-3 business days to respond to a message.
We petitioned Airbnb to refund our cleaning fee and began looking for another home whilst awaiting our host to explain what on earth we had walked into.
Long story short, we were refunded our cleaning fee, we purchased new sheets, pillows, quilts and towels and were reimbursed, but still have no internet!
A childhood friend of Florian hooked us up with an account with the Paris-wide free wifi, and we’ve been able to use that until it slows down to a snail’s pace at around 9 pm.
We were meant to receive the new modem two days ago (10 days after moving in!) and our “host” messaged and advised the courier stole the box and he’d have to contact the police- awesome.
We decided not to let this ruin our first month here and are making do with life without the internet at all times. We absolutely adore our neighbourhood and are glad we stayed- despite the tumultuous start.
One of the must-visit places I had on my list this time around was the famous Shakespeare and Company, a book store whose doors have welcomed incredible writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce to name a few. I felt so inspired walking through the store that I just had to buy a souvenir to take a piece of the history home with me. I came across a book by the store’s founder, Sylvia Beach, about the history of the business, and have been reading it in the downtimes of no wifi.
The book and the story within have made me so much more aware of the world around me and I’ve actually decided to start writing a book as a result. Who knows what will happen and if I’ll even ever finish but this blog is trailing on, so I’ll update you in another post.
If this is the first month of 11 more, I cannot wait to experience this city every day until then. I’ve always said I think in a past life I lived in Paris in the 1920s- I even wrote a story about it here. I feel so comfortable here, so at ease. The more I explore, the more I feel I rediscover and I’m addicted to the feeling. There’s a familiarity here that’s deep within and I feel at home.
Don’t worry, I’ll come back to Sydney, but until then, I’ll continue trying to reunite with this beautiful city a little while longer.
Until next time…