A quick hour-long train ride from Brussels, and we found ourselves in the heart of Paris! Although on arrival I was cranky for two reasons:
1. It was Sunday, which in Europe means that nothing is open.
2. The big train stations, like Gare du Nord where we arrived, are confusing as all hell. I don’t recall ever getting so turned around in a train station, and I’d lived in Japan for two years!
But once we figured out the Metro, Paris’ inner-city train system, we found it to be pretty straightforward and we made our way to the apartment generously loaned to us by Chuck’s friend Speed Racer. Although “apartment” is a bit of a generous descriptor.
A 12×10 convenience apartment with a shared bathroom and no real kitchen that I would find out is actually pretty common here. No matter, it’s nothing but a place to hold our stuff while we run around the city, right? We dropped everything off and set off in search of food, no small task on a Sunday. At last we found a cafe that was open, and I promptly (thinking with my stomach and not my head) ordered a burger and fries, forgetting that I was in Paris and my first meal should be something like foie gras or filet mignon. Chuck proceeded to make fun of me for being one of “those” American tourists.
The great thing about the apartment is that it’s so close to everything. Over the next few days, Chuck and I got out to see all the big touristy sites, one more typical newlywed couple running around Paris in the spring. (Well, the “spring,” since it was only about 40 degrees out and still felt like winter, in my opinion. Romance really should be warmer!)
We also did our best to indulge in all the wonderful food Paris has to offer. (Thank goodness I don’t live here, I would be the size of a house.) While I was disappointed that the chocolate stores weren’t as plentiful as they’d been in Belgium, there’s certainly no shortage of boulangeries. We quickly became regulars at the bakery just downstairs from us.
I hate to admit it, but we committed the grave sin of coming to a country without knowing much of the language. I had attempted to learn French using the free app Duolinguo starting back in February. As a way to learn vocabulary, it’s great. But for travel purposes, it doesn’t really teach you anything practical. I could rattle off colors, animals, numbers, and food items (which came in handy at restaurants) but had no clue how to ask where the restrooms were or how much something cost. As a one-time student of linguistics, I love languages and often rolled my eyes at those who couldn’t be bothered to even learn the basics of a host country’s language. But now, here we were, “those” kind of American tourists indeed! I’m still embarrassed I didn’t make a better effort to learn French before we came here. I guess it’s just one more thing to blame on the wedding.
Oh well. I figure the citizens will sneer at you no matter what (this is Paris, after all) so what’s a language barrier? As long as we’re respectful and generous with our mercis, it shouldn’t be too bad. I’ve found it hilarious that many will switch to English just to stop you from continuing to butcher their language. I committed to making an effort to converse with a local at least once a day and seeing how long I could go without resorting to English. It’s been equal parts humiliating and fun, and I’m slowly getting better.
After four days, alas – the mini-honeymoon was over. Chuck had to return to the States to go back to work, leaving me to stay behind in a country where I know nobody and can hardly speak the language. Though I was sad to say goodbye to my husband of less than two weeks, this was when the grand adventure really began.