My trip to Paris was supposed to be full of wonder, excitement, frog’s legs and champagne, unfortunately the universe decided to fill it with despair, disappointment and the desire to never return there ever again.
As I was hurrying away from the Eiffel Tower on the first day of our holiday, the 10CC song ‘Un Nuit â Paris’ was playing round and round in my head;
“One night in Paris is like a year in any other place,
One night in Paris will wipe the smile off your pretty face,
One girl in Paris is like loving every woman,
One night in Paris, One night in Paris, One night in Paris,
May be your last”
And I was sure that this would be my last! I had started to genuinely believe that I was really going to die, I had never been so afraid, I was ready to phone my loved ones and bid them farewell, and beg for their forgiveness for going on a girly trip away and leaving them behind. I realise I may have been slightly dramatic and over-reacted just a tad but I was genuinely terrified.
My friends and I had arrived in Paris earlier that day; we had checked in to our disappointing hostel, ignored the fact that it was disappointing and changed in to something more Parisian, (this would become our word of the week, not actually knowing for sure if it was pronounced ‘pa-ree-jun’ or ‘par-i-see-un’) and decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower for our first bit of sightseeing.
It was starting to get dark as we headed towards the tower, since it had taken so long to leave the hostel, we had changed our outfits at least three times each, trying to not dress too much like tourists. It was getting quite late yet strangely the streets were still filled with people, by “filled with people” I mean in mob proportions, huge gangs of them were emerging and becoming rather boisterous and these people were walking towards us, away from the tower, in the opposite direction to what you’d expect. Our first thought was that maybe there was some sort of night time event, a market or fireworks display, our thoughts couldn’t have been further from the truth.
You’d think that the increased level of noise and shouting would have given us some sort of clue that everything wasn’t as it should be, but no, we carried on regardless, oblivious, as usual, to the world around us.
We had been planning this trip for months, down to the outfits we were going to wear and I had personally been daydreaming about the different foods I was going to try, I also had The Louvre on my bucket list so I was doubly excited about it.
I was with two of my best friends, Sam and Hayley. I’d been friends with Hayley since we were twelve and I had met Sam on a climbing course four years previously. Now, back in our normal everyday lives all three of us are fully functioning, sophisticated ladies who hold down full time jobs, look after our families – general everyday things that keep us alive. However once we get together as a group we seem to turn in to your stereotypical “girl”. We cannot function, we can barely string sentences together and I am quite honestly surprised that at least one of us has not died yet – something which I was sure was going to happen on several occasions on this particular trip.
The crowds around us had started to get rather lairy and we soon noticed the football scarves and football shirts. We started to wonder if maybe we had lead ourselves straight into some sort of football related mob. It turned out that this wasn’t just a mob, it was a full blown riot; the streets had been lined with hot dog stands and carts selling merchandise and Paris souvenirs, some of which had been completely smashed to smithereens. There was glass everywhere and the crowds and noise began to build. It was then that we noticed the increase in police presence, the cars, vans, police horses and the officers in full blown riot gear. We thought maybe now was a good time to turn back around, jump back on the Metro and back to our hostel. After making a collective wise decision for the first time in our lives we were now walking with the mob back the way we came and leaving the worst of it behind us, or so we thought. We obviously stuck out like three sore thumbs in amongst this football crowd with our elegant clothing that we had chosen for the sophisticated refines of Paris. We soon became the victims of street bullying and potential candidates for a mugging. A group of girls had started following close behind, randomly shouting insults at us speaking in a mix of French and English and generally being obnoxious. After hurling abuse at us they then asked to borrow our phones, which of course we said no to and just carried on ignoring them, as most people know this usually either makes bullies go away or get really angry, they chose the latter. They began pushing my friends around and then thought it would be a great idea to throw orange juice all down Sam’s back, she was covered in it, so we did the only logical thing we could think of, we ran, we ran straight in to the first restaurant we could find that hadn’t closed amidst the chaos.
I slumped down into a chair and cried. I was shaking uncontrollably and I had become so worked up I just wanted to go home – England home. I suddenly thought everyone was out to get us and it didn’t feel very safe. I didn’t want to be in this awful foreign country that had ‘welcomed us’ with terror and trepidation instead of open arms and champagne².
I managed to calm down and regain some composure after pizza and coke; the staff at the restaurant warned us to stay away from the Metro and very kindly phoned a taxi for us, but not before taking advantage of our clearly traumatised state and charged us €16 each for a glass of coke, not that we’re holding a grudge or anything…
We later learned that David Beckham was potentially the cause of the evening’s horrors; he had been scheduled to give a speech earlier that night. However, after arriving an hour and a half later than billed he made an appearance for only a couple of minutes and left. The football fans of Paris were not best pleased with this and so they took it upon themselves to completely trash the surrounding area, resulting in our first night in Paris very nearly being our last!
The next day we decided to start afresh and put last night’s horrifying events behind us and give Paris the chance to redeem itself. We headed to the Arc De Triomphe and spent a relaxing morning wandering up and down the Champs-Elysees, fantasising about being able to afford the Louis Vuitton handbags and the Tiffany bracelets, we took the obligatory tourist shots outside the Louvre, finding that perfect angle to make it look as though we were daintily leaning against the peak of the triangle. The day was without drama, the only off putting incident of the day was being asked if we were Spice Girl prostitutes, but we put this down to something being lost in translation and headed back to the hostel, happy in the knowledge that we were at last enjoying ourselves and the previous night was a distant, almost forgotten memory.
It had been a long day and it was getting quite late. We weren’t worried about
finding food for the evening though – this is a city, surely most places stay open late right? Wrong. We traipsed around for what felt like hours trying to find anywhere that would serve us at least one morsel of food. At last we came across a dingy little Chinese restaurant – the kind of place where you wipe your feet on the way out, they were just about ready to close but told us, rather hastily, that if we ordered whatever it was that they were suggesting, we could stay. That was fine by us, we just needed feeding. Even though the table we were sat at clearly hadn’t seen a clean table cloth in over a decade and the lampshade that was hung at eye level was covered in an inch of dust with a thousand dead flies stuck to it, the food was sublime. We had watched the chef make the noodles from scratch through the partition in to the kitchen, handmade fresh noodles! They were delicious.
Not wanting to out stay our ‘welcome’ we left the restaurant praying that we wouldn’t end up with food poisoning. It was way past midnight by this point and almost everywhere was closed apart from an Irish Pub next door, we called in for a couple of drinks.
Before we knew it, it was 3am and it dawned on us that we had absolutely no idea where the hell we were, we had walked so far in our starving state to find food that none of us had paid any attention to where the hostel was. We started walking in what we thought was the general direction of the hostel and soon discovered that we were well and truly lost, the streets were completely deserted and we had lost all sense of direction. We had obviously walked in to a town centre of some sort and all we could find were shops and department stores which had obviously long since closed for the evening.
As we stood at an intersection deciding which road to choose we heard something which still baffles and terrifies me to this day. Someone meowed… not something; this wasn’t a cat, this was a someone, meowing at us at 3am in the middle of Paris. This meow came from above our heads and followed us for at least three streets as we ran away from the crazy French person who likes to terrorise women by meowing at them. It was beyond creepy and all sorts of crazy thoughts were now flying around our heads – was this some weirdo who pretends to be a cat in need and preys up on women who look like they would help out said cat? He lures you in with his meowing and then BAM! He kills you! After the madness of our first night here anything was possible. We sought haven in a hotel lobby and quite possibly scared the concierge to death. He was very pleasant and helpful and genuinely seemed concerned for us; he even offered us some money towards the taxi fare home. We didn’t mention the meowing as we decided we obviously looked mental/drunk enough as it was. Within twenty minutes we were back in the safety of our hostel away from the meowing maniac and the disturbing streets of Paris.
Paris was fast becoming a write off; I had loved the thought of visiting this city ever since Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City, 1998) went to live with the Russian and Big came to rescue her. She made it look so suave and sophisticated with her shoes and the café lined streets. I suppose we learned our lesson – don’t always believe what you see on television. This Parisian dream had turned into a full on nightmare and we couldn’t wait to get home.
For one last chance of redemption we visited a bridge called Ponts de Arts, where couples write messages of love on a padlock and fasten it the bridge railings. We thought we should commemorate our visit, as disastrous as it had been, because if nothing else it had given us a fair few stories to share. Padlock and pens in hand we each wrote our declarations of love on the locks and fastened them to the bridge. The padlocks came with three keys with the idea that you give one to your love, you keep one for yourself and the last one is to be thrown into the Seine sealing your promise of adoration forever. This was the perfect opportunity to sample some of the love that Paris had to offer, after all this was the most romantic city in the world. We each scrawled our messages, locked our love up forever and tossed our keys over the side of the bridge to join the thousands more at the bottom of the river.
I’ve recently read that the city council have had to remove the padlock covered railings as they are becoming a danger to the public, the weight of the padlocks have started to damage the bridges and made them unsafe. So once again Paris has managed to shatter our dreams with its need for destruction. We literally pinned our hopes on it and now our dreams and promises are nothing more than a drop in its river.
I still have the two remaining keys for my boyfriend and me, in the living room on a carved wooden star, which reads ‘Happily Ever After’. They hang there silently, acting as a constant reminder that if he ever gets the idea in to his head to take me on a romantic trip to Paris I will not hesitate to kill him!