One of my favorite things about living in London in the opportunity I have to travel to some of the most fabulous places in the world. The other thing I love about living abroad is getting visitors from home. Recently, I was fortunate enough to combine both these loves as my two girlfriends from New York came to visit me during Thanksgiving break. Having a quiet London Thanksgiving at a restaurant was certainly a 180 from the usual chaos of my large, loud and loving family gatherings back on Long Island, but sometimes change can be good. On black Friday, while most of our loved ones back home were on line at Best Buy, we went to Paris for a long weekend. What was in store for us was quite unlike any Thanksgiving weekend we'd ever experienced.
After a quick and painless two hour Chunnel ride (which is highly recommended if you're looking for a fast and easy route from Paris to London), we arrived in Paris at 9:00 a.m., ready to take on the city of every 20-something single girl's dreams. While the only experience any of us have with French ends with words like "croissant," we refused to be overwhelmed as we hailed a cab and handed our driver the address to our hotel. After about 500 feet, the driver began spattering in French and pointing to our hotel address faster than our fingers could thumb through our Lonely Planet English-French pocket guide. After many hand motions on both ends, we discovered that our hotel, Inter-Hotel Notre Dame was actually nowhere near Notre Dame, or even in the city of Paris. Instead, our hotel was in a city called Rouen (pronounced ruin, ironically enough), which was around 250 kilometers (over 150 miles) outside of Paris. With our over-packed suitcases in hand, we stood on the side of the first Parisian street we'd ever seen, still hearing the cabbie's laughs as he drove away.
Being in a foreign city with American cell phones can be extremely daunting -- it's times like these that we often look for a sign of hope and ours came in the form of golden arches. We plopped ourselves in the first McDonalds (or American Embassy, as we lovingly called it) where we found free Wi-Fi and logged on to find last minute (and cheap) hotels during a busy weekend in Paris.
To make a long story short, after four hours wandering the Parisian streets and dodging in and out of hotels with no luck, we finally found a small hotel called Hotel de Senlis near the Pantheon, not far from our original destination of Notre Dame. While the hotel wasn't exactly ideal (the ceilings were 5-foot high and we needed to walk up four flights of stairs every time we entered the room), the place was cheap (for Paris) and (pretty) clean.
After settling in -- already behind schedule -- we ventured out to explore the city we'd waited years to see in person. Our first stop was for crêpes. While the crêpes were wonderful, the patrons were not. Talking low and politely, we tried our best to avoid all American stereotypes to make as few Parisian enemies as possible. As I looked to the table next to us, occupied by a French family, I couldn't help but notice that they were hysterically laughing in our direction. I watched as the one mimicked my friend Karly's way of cutting up her crepe with her knife. There's nothing more mortifying than when people are making fun of you who don't care whether you hear them or not. (As New Yorkers, we usually have the courtesy to do it behind their backs.)
After swallowing our pride, we decide not to let a few rude people spoil our Parisian weekend. After exploring Notre Dame and the Louvre (which is free for students and anyone under 26 on Friday nights), we had a perfect Saturday at the Champs-Elysées Christmas market drinking mulled wine and shopping to our hearts content. Another tip for all you big spenders, Louis Vuitton in France is over 30 percent cheaper than in the U.S., so if you're going to make an elegant purchase -- this is the place to do it.
We rounded off Saturday with a trip to the La Tour Eiffel, or the Eiffel Tower. If you're going to hit this landmark on your trip (which you definitely should), make sure you do so either early or late in the day. We arrived at around 4:30 p.m., which was perfect because we got the stunning sunset views of Paris.
While waiting online for to get to the top of the tower, the three single American girls spotted three attractive members of the opposite sex. We assumed they were French, (they were too well-dressed to be Americans, or so we thought).
My friend Karly (the comic relief on our trip), purchased her ticket for the tower and then managed to spill all of her coins on the ground. While Amanda and I stood laughing at her as she picked up the coins, that, as she put it, were probably worth 10 U.S. dollars, one of the guys we had spotted from earlier helped pick them up.
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most romantic spots in the world, in my opinion at least. That night, we met three guys from Boston at the bottom and rode up to the top with them. We stood on the top of the tower for nearly two hours talking and laughing. We ended up going out with them in Paris for the night -- pubbing and clubbing. It was one of those very rare nights where something you've dreamed of your whole life exceeds your expectations.
We had the perfect fun and romantic night in Paris, and despite all the things that went wrong on our trip, that's all we needed to make it the best trip of our lives.