Living the "big life", I started my European trip in Paris. Up front I must confess that for a variety of reasons I've never really had any interest in going to Paris. In one way it seemed like a tourist trap. In my mind I always felt like I would be number 1,595,636 in line this year to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Back in January I was bored and looking on Google Flights (an awesome website I might add) for cheap flights and I saw Paris was actually affordable. I mentally balked in thinking, "Me? Paris? Have I given up?!" But over a few minutes, I thought why not go and see what all the fuss is about. Figured I could make it a good starting point for a trip through Europe to some places I want to see.
Paris ain’t much of a town. -Babe Ruth
Having grown a habit of watching Anthony Bourdain shows, I too wanted to see more than the popular sights. Wanting to meet locals or get a local's flavor of Paris, I Googled, "how to meet locals in Paris." One person had a tip for a website called EatWith, where local chefs host people in their homes and make a meal for them. That sounded like a lot of fun and I found a chef named Thomas and signed up for a day when I would be in Paris. Then I spent a lot of time googling things to do and see in Paris, asking friends for ideas, and getting ready for other spots in Europe.
Upon arriving in Paris at the airport, I all of a sudden didn't feel like being in Paris. Here's what I wrote just after leaving the airport.
I don't know if it's weariness from being awake nearly 40 hours, but upon leaving New York I felt like I just wanted to go home. I was leaving where I understand the language, finding comfort in seeing other Dodger fans, knowing how to get around...
As the plane landed in France I felt a dread, I don't speak French, no one is waiting for me, and my internet doesn't work. So, I'm at the mercy of God and the kindness of strangers. I suppose I could be in worse places than Paris. Yes, I'm the guy who looks lost, shrugs blankly when people ask me a question in French, and yes I'm holding a map in my hand. Control and comfort are not mine at the moment and that's ok.
The train ride is nice. An American girl (I assume she's American because she's got a lot of bags and is standing alone...doesn't that mean someone is American?) nearby. She opened up a bottle of hand sanitizer and it has a sweet scent filling the area and it's helping me feel relaxed.
On to Paris!
As usual, I got off the subway and didn't know where I was except I knew I was in Paris. The Arch De Triumph was directly in front of me, I was surrounded by cafes with french signs, the sun gave a warm glow to the buildings, people looked both in a hurry and yet relaxed, and there was me. Knowing I was within a few blocks of my hostel, I started walking in the direction I thought I should go. I figured I had time to get lost before the EatWith dinner, so I went for it. After a couple blocks I couldn't tell where the heck I was and I wanted to get rid of my suitcase. I asked a taxi to take me to the address and he told me I could just walk, or at least I presumed by his laughter in French and pointing in a certain direction. He gave me a ride and two quick blocks later in the opposite direction I was at my hostel. Thanks taxi man!
A quick shower and it was nap time. Being up for nearly 40 hours is tough! After a nice nap, I thought I would walk to the chef's house. It seemed easy enough in that the house was just down along the Seine River. Stepping out into the early evening air, it was warm and refreshing with a cool breeze.
Rounding the corner, I came to the river and caught my first glimpse of Eiffel Tower. I had heard it's much larger than expected and they were right. Trying to uphold my stubborn "I'm not a tourist!" pride, I resisted looking at it, even though I thought it looked pretty cool. Finally after about 10 minutes I gave in and stopped to look. Plus, I discovered I was keeping pace with a lady walking in front of me and I wondered if she thought I was being a creeper or something. Good time to stop! And glad I was. It was a beautiful view with the trees, the river, and the sunset.
I slowed my pace and just began to soak in the evening. As I strolled I realized I would be late to EatWith and felt a slight panic. Quickly I looked up Uber and was excited to see it available. After a few minutes wait, the driver found me. Whew! I wouldn't be late. But, we went in an entirely different direction than where I wanted to go. Little did I know (and still don't) I did Uberpool and he was going around to pick up other riders. Long story short, I got to see a lot of Paris, met a woman with a baby, and got to the EatWith house 15 minutes late. But, at least I was there.
At the house, I realized it was an apartment building where you buzz the apartment number to gain access. EatWith didn't provide that information and I was staring at a panel of buttons with flat numbers, not knowing which one to press. I walked out into the street to look up and see if I could see any windows with a party going on. I saw two apartments with lights on and one with a room full of people. Thinking that was it, I counted up a couple floors and 3 or so doors over from the lobby. But, I was still stuck. The numbers didn't correspond with floors. Wondering if I should shout up, I felt bashful to do so and not be the loud American. A few minutes later I began shouting up, "Helloooo!" several times, to no avail. Finally, I saw a lady walking to enter the building and I ran up, hoping I don't look like a weirdo. I asked if she knew a person named Thomas, and thankfully she both understood english and she knew Thomas. She buzzed me in and I went upstairs to knock on the door. Of course I knocked on the wrong door. Eventually though I found the party and was allowed in.
Welcomed in, I was quickly told everyone was enjoying appetizers and waiting for me to arrive so the main dishes could be served...I was feeling anxiety. Everyone was gracious however and poured me a glass of wine.
I slowly began to feel comfortable as I sat next to an Israeli woman who works in New York and who had come with her parents. There was also an Indian mother and daughter from San Francisco, and a fellow from India. The host, Thomas, he is from Paris, living there with his wife. Funny enough, he's not actually a chef, but a journalist. He works with EatWith to meet people from around the world.
After talking for a while we moved to the table for dinner to start. Some gazpacho made with melon and roasted bacon. It sounded odd and was surprised to find it cold. But, it was pretty refreshing.
I found myself feeling pretty dumb. Normally I rail against touristy things, I found it comforting to be in a room full of travelers. We were all in the same boat, enjoying talking and sharing some commonalities, but also what each brought from their background.
The main course arrived and it was some turkey that has a name I couldn't remember. There was yet more wine.
Thomas let me photograph the cooking progress and he clued me in on some places to see around Paris. Something I admired was how everything seemed to revolve around being social with people, whether it was food, drinking, or just hanging out.
Dessert came with various cheeses, more wine, and creme brûlée. I'm not much of a foodie, but I was enjoying it all. My first night in Paris and I was instantly a fan of the food. I was told not to show a picture of the cheese in the bread, or at least to emphasize that Thomas does not endorse how I made a little cheese sandwich.
After the meal, I went for a walk back to the hostel with a recommendation from Thomas to hurry to the narrowest street in Paris, Rue Berton. It is the narrowest street with a view of the Eiffel Tower just barely visible. If I got there in time, I would see the Eiffel Tower glitter with lights just before it went dark for the night...at 1am.
It was 12:30 when I left his house and it was a bit of a walk. I hurried and got there just in time to see the tower go from it's night orange to glitter. My first night in Paris...