Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Inaugural Paris Experience

one of many parks in Paris
Oh boy - here we go! I did not keep up with the blog while in Paris although I took over 600 photos and kept brochures from every place I visited so that I could blog upon my return to Stockholm. I am now back in Stockholm and have some major catching up to do. So, here's the plan - I'll write a blog entry for every day that I was in Paris starting with this one - my arrival in Paris.

same park as above
I bought my plane ticket to Sweden with nearly two weeks of time before I actually had to be there to start my rotations at the Karolinska. I did this expressly so I could do some traveling in Europe. When looking into where I might like to go, I realized that traveling in Europe is expensive! Plus I needed some time to get things done related to my rotation in Stockholm so I knew I had about a week to travel and since traveling would be expensive, made the executive decision to spend a week in one place. I had narrowed it down to Rome or Paris and flights from Stockholm to Paris were cheaper, so I went to Paris.

Arc de Triomphe Carousel
Let me start by saying that I know very little French - not much more than hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. I downloaded a French phrasebook to my iPad and did a mini crash course on French while on my flight. One thing I didn't expect was to get lunch (included on the flight for free!) - it was about a 2.5 hour flight, and we got a full-fledged lunch. It was great! I arrived in Paris and retrieved my checked bag (I was able to check one for free, also very nice) and found my way to the metro to get to Paris. I flew into CDG which is a little ways out of town and had read about how to get to Paris from the airport using public transportation. One thing I have noticed in Europe is that arrows pointing down actually are directing you to go straight, not down one floor. It took me a little bit of wandering around CDG before I figured that out and finally made my way to the SCNF train station, bought my ticket to Paris and boarded the RER Line B. I had picked up a couple of Paris maps provided for free at the airport which included maps of the Paris metro system. It looks like a kaleidoscope! There are so many lines that traverse the city. Good thing I had about 40 minutes of train to figure out where I needed to get off and what line I needed to transfer to in order to get to the hostel I had reserved for my first night. 
I've been to the one in DC

first view of the Louvre
I made it to the metro stop near my hostel without trouble but when I walked up the stairs, I had no idea which direction to turn to go towards my hostel. The street signs are very small and posted on the corner buildings. I looked completely lost, and a nice Parisian man stopped and asked me if I was looking for the hotel in English that was slightly better than my French. I showed it to him on a map and he directed me to my hostel (I had been heading in the wrong direction...). I checked in, dropped off my stuff in my room and decided to hit the city. By this time it was about 6 pm. I ate the granola bar I stashed in my bag and went back to the metro. I rode it to the closest stop to the Louvre that I could find and got off. Paris is a busy city and I was immediately struck by the number of people and the beautiful buildings that surrounded me. The architecture reminded me of both New Orleans and a little of Washington DC but was on a much larger, grander scale. I checked my map and started walking towards the Louvre. On my way there, I passed through this beautiful little park where people were sitting on benches around a fountain or strolling through this row of trees. It was beautiful. I continued to walk and found myself in front of a French restaurant I had eaten at in Washington DC. After I took a picture and continued on my way, I was stopped by a man on the street who initially spoke to me in French and when I didn't answer, asked if I spoke English. He then proceeded to ask me out for a drink. I had no idea really how to respond to this as people in the US do not usually approach you on the sidewalk and ask to take you for a drink. In my Midwest way, I politely declined saying I would prefer to just explore the city on my own, but thanks for offering. He asked a couple of times, and when I kept politely declining and he kept asking, I finally said "No, thanks. I have a boyfriend." He left me alone at that point. 

The Louvre
A few short blocks later I found myself at the Louvre. I peered through one of the archways leading out into the center of the Louvre and caught my first glimpse of the famous pyramid entrance. It was stunning. This was the first of many teary-eyed experiences in Paris. Excited and smiling hugely, I walked towards the pyramid and took in the immensity that is the Louvre. It is one of the largest buildings I have ever seen and one of the most beautiful. The building itself is it's own art masterpiece. After taking several photos, I decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. I could see it in the distance and again was in awe.

As I walked there, the sun started to set. I stopped on one of the many bridges that spans the Seine River and took a picture. It was amazing to be in this beautiful city and all I could think about was how much I wish my family and friends were there with me to share in the incredible views. 

It took a lot longer to walk to the Eiffel Tower than I anticipated and it was dark by the time I reached it. At night, the Eiffel Tower is lit and is an incredible sight. It is an impressive structure to see from afar and to stand beneath it. The lines to go up were long, so I just sat and enjoyed looking at it from the ground. Finally, I made my way back to one of the nearby metro stations and headed back to my hostel.

When I returned to the hostel, one of my roommates was there. She was a woman from Sweden who had married a French man and was studying physical therapy in France. She currently had a rotation in Paris and so was staying at the hostel as she did her rotation. We chatted for a while about traveling, medicine, health care systems in the US, Sweden, and France and finally went to bed between 12 & 1 in the morning. Overall, it was an incredible day and I could not wait to start exploring the city further in the morning.

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