Paris had been sitting on the top of my list. Even after seeing its competitor for the title of city of love, Venice, the Eiffel Tower bearing, art-lover seducing, French capital carrying the Seine as it slithered its way through the city, perched itself confidently on the top of the list of places to see in Europe. To be frank, I was embarrassed that I had been living in Heidelberg for four years, just a three hour train ride away from the French capital, and had failed to make time for the city.
Barcelona was our destination. The sexy, charming Catalan city, where my fella had spent several years of his childhood and another few before meeting me in the south of Germany. Home to his second family” and many of his closest friends.
Barcelona had been promised to me for our anniversary. A direct flight to the city, a week discovering its magnificence and back. But a glance at the cooling box we had purchased for the Italy road trip lit a light bulb in his head and the suggestion of a road trip to Barcelona lit up my face. Heidelberg- Paris- Cadaques- Barcelona and back was the plan. And so it started. At 3 am on a Saturday morning as Tim quietly loaded the car with luggage, two large cameras and too many lenses, a cooling box stuffed with Olivieh Salad I had prepared the eve of, in a hushed manner, while he slept in the darkened bedroom affording him a very early start to drive.
We drove out of Heidelberg, reaching the French border in twilight. My body’s resistance to let me fall asleep riding shotgun, or flying tortures me. And while I come from a long line of easy-sleepers (my aunt once fell asleep waiting for the traffic light to turn green and another aunt dozed off in the middle of a conversation, mid-sentence and all), travel-sleep is just not my thing.
I did manage to doze off for less than five minutes only to wake up to graffiti stricken walls foreshadowing the entrance to a metropolitan city. I was quick to judge “this doesn’t look impressive at all” I exclaimed, my head fuzzy from a short lived drowse.
“Just wait. I think you will enjoy Paris.” Tim promised, one eye on the navigation system, the other on the road. Having spent a few weeks in Paris for an internship, he was a lot more literate on the city, so I let him take the lead in showing me around. Before checking in the hotel we made a long stop at the Louvre where Asian tourists elbowed us out of their way and way too many pictures were being taken of the art. We did manage to get a sneaky selfie with the smiling lady, where she sat quite proudly, knowing that many only made the trip to the museum to see her. And risking the wrath of many art enthusiasts, I have to mention that I found other paintings more intriguing and impressive of La Gioconda. The power of marketing…
Our hotel sat very close to the Arc de Triumph. A five minute walk from Champs… making a stroll down the shopping area much easier and more frequent. I have a habit, a ritual if you may, to buy accessories from every city I visit. I opt for handmade earrings mostly showcased on a spread along the sidewalk with the artist willing to negotiate on the price. The alleys of Paris hosted artists from across the world selling their hours of work to tourists and pedestrians. A pair of sky blue dangling earrings caught my eye and with a little help from our combined negotiation skills (mine coming from the habit of bargaining in Iranian shops and Tim merely being a good negotiator), we managed to purchase them for a reasonable price.
We had a ferry taxi for the two days we were there, hopping on and off as we pleased, Paris blessing us with nothing but blue, blue skies and 27 degrees of temperature. I would go on and on about how impressive the Eiffel tower was and how the Notre Dame towered over the city with its majestic charm, but no amount of description will do this city justice. So I’ll just stick to the two things that surprised me the most.
I had heard that the French capital is one of the most romantic cities of the world and quite frankly I was prepared to depict that in the architecture. And even though that aspect played a huge role, it was the romantic aura of the metropolitan city that took me back. Couples everywhere. A certain serenity in their presence. I will stop here before this paragraph becomes too cheesy.
And then there was that smell. The smell of urine, in every Paris corner, on the streets and the alleys. I assume the warm weather didn’t help much, yet I have to give credit to the gorgeous city, that even after the unpleasant yet familiar smell, and the sight of tens of rats as big as small rabbits in parks, Paris remains to be one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. And to experience that with the love of your life, it finally makes sense why it never worked out to travel to Paris before, even though Heidelberg is only a few hours of a train ride away.