Paris is as beautiful as I’ve heard. The city is clean, its monuments are well-maintained, and there’s a pervasive sense of authenticity. It doesn’t feel artificial, like a tourist town does. It feels “lived in.”
My attempt to obtain a SIM card failed yet again. I’ve been trying since I arrived in London to get prepaid service for my phone, but for some reason or another, it has fallen through each time. This time, my parlay vous anglais (Do you speak English?) even preceded by a friendly bonjour, monseuir! elicted a cold “No.” I nonetheless pushed on and managed to convey what I wanted through some basic English words and lots of hand gestures. The clerk wasn’t very helpful though, and I gave up. These Parisians really knock the tourist right out of you.
Once again, I found myself ripped off at breakfast. I ordered a banana & chocolate crepe, water, and coffee. The damage? €16! I was dumbfounded. The woman sitting next to me must have noticed my shock, and she advised me to stick to cheese baget, which is simply cheese in a particular type of bread. Point taken.
Ah, the Eiffel Tower. It felt surreal, to stand before the famous monument in person. As monuments go, it’s really nothing extraordinary. There are far more interesting places in Paris. However, the Eiffel Tower has assumed an identity that supersedes its structural or historical importance, and I enjoyed the experience.
As I meandered around the Eiffel Tower neighborhood, I passed a building with a board outside that read: La Banque Postale. I wanted to drop off some mail, and I thought maybe this place would have a mailbox. After all, given the word “Postale” in its name, the building must have something to do with a post office? I walked in, and based on how quickly the security officer leapt out of his chair to intercept me, I figured I must have guessed wrong. As I turned to go, however, the receptionist asked if I spoke English. Happy to find someone else who did, I jumped at the opportunity to have a real conversation. Her name was Julie, aka JuJu. She spoke English very well, and I told her as much. She loved the compliment and, in turn, complimented me on my pronunciation of the few French words that I know. I asked her about places where I could hang out, and she gave me the name and number of a place. Just to make sure I had no trouble, she gave me her own number as well. Such nice people, these French.
I wanted to take a rental bike back to Greg’s apartment, and I went looking for one of the ubiquitous bike rental stands that have popped up in Paris recently. It’s a great system. You can buy a membership card or even just a one-day or weeklong pass to take out a bike at any time from any one of the stands. It’s fully automated. The bikes are heavy-duty bikes that lock electronically to the stands. You unlock a bike by inserting your pass into the nearby machine, and off you go. It only costs €1 to rent a bike for the first 30 minutes. After that, you’re charged a progressively higher amount for every 30 minutes you go over. You can return the bike at any stand in the city as long as there is a spot available to park it. The stands are widely distributed, and I noticed many people riding these rental bikes. Alas, I was disappointed to learn that our American credit cards don’t work at these self-rental machines. The French credit card system utilizes a chip, which is inset into the card. The bike rental machines require one of these cards. I trudged back to the apartment on foot, envious of all the people whizzing past me on their bikes. Yet, I couldn’t help but admire the subtle beauty of the Frenchwomen riding the bikes in their flowery spring dresses. There’s something so refined and charming about it. Paris really is beautiful.