Knock, knock. When my host, Jean-Cyril opened the door at 7 am, I was relieved to see that he did not look sleepy. Wide awake, he welcomed me into the living room, when I found my second surprise – fellow couchsurfer Maggie. Maggie was initially supposed to stay for just two nights but she requested another night and my host kindly agreed, provided I had no qualms about sharing with Maggie. I quickly confirmed that I had no issues and then, whilst Jean-Cyril prepared breakfast, I asked Maggie if she wanted to go explore together.
- Travel Tip: Even when travelling solo, try to link up with other solo travelers. You will often find that your itineraries contain the same highlights. If nothing else, you will at least have a photographer buddy!
The first stop for Maggie and I was, ofcourse, the infamous Eiffel Tower. On the way there, we traipsed through Champs-Elysees and decided to make a quick stop at the Arc de Triomphe, one of the famous landmarks of Paris.
- Travel Fact: The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
We then continued our walk with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, till we finally made it to the banks of the River Seine. Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of the Eiffel up close. I stood there for a good five minutes just admiring the view, whilst Maggie busied herself taking photographs. There was an ice cream stand selling ice cream at inflated prices, but that didn’t deter me from getting one. Now that I was here at the Eiffel, for a short while I wanted to be a tourist.
- Travel Fact: The Seine is a 777 – kilometre long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France.
- Travel Fact: The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.
We happily skipped the throngs of people queuing to get to the top of the Eiffel – Maggie and I had both done our research and knew that there was a better view of Paris elsewhere, without the crazy queues and costly tickets.
- Travel Tip: Be wary of queues and overinflated ticket prices for anticlimactic views. There is always a better view to be found, and it will cost nothing.
After a few shots under the Eiffel itself, we made it to the other side, hoping to get one of those iconic shots with the green grass. To our dismay, the ‘green carpet of grass’ was non-existent. Here and there lay small patches and scattered tufts, along with all the litter the tourists brought. Heartbreaking. We eventually settled for some close-up shots (Maggie worked her artistic photography magic), and we left the Tower grounds.
Our next stop was a cemetery. Taking my lead from Maggie, I followed her as we once again navigated the metro and made our way to the correct metro exit. I don’t remember the exact stop, but I do remember being grateful that Maggie had planned a route which allowed us to see the Moulin Rouge as soon as we exited the metro, even though it meant a longer walk to the cemetery.
- Travel Tip: Take unconventional routes, even if it means adding a detour or a longer walk. Don’t be in a hurry, explore as you travel.
- Travel Fact: Moulin Rouge is a cabaret in Paris, France. The original house, which burned down in 1915, was co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympia.
As we sat across the Moulin Rouge at a Starbucks just opposite the iconic attraction, Maggie and I took a few minute to just sit and absorb the beauty of it. The iconic windmill with the red-and-black calligraphy – it was a breathtaking sight in itself. Strapped for cash and low on available travel time, I silently vowed to myself that I would return one day to catch a show here, even if it meant returning when I am old and with my grandkids. When we both felt that enough tribute had been paid, Maggie and I set off towards the cemetery.
- Travel Fact: Montmartre Cemetery is a cemetery in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, France, that dates to the early 19th century. A popular tourist destination even today, Montmartre Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area.
I never imagined that visiting the dead could be so interesting. This was a true find, made better by the fact that it was almost deserted. We explored to our heart’s content, killing hours happily whilst reading up on all the famous people laid to rest here and marveling at some of the inspiring mausoleums.
It was calm and eerily quiet, giving you a feel for the Paris in years past, forcing you to contemplate you life and your actions, whether you wanted to or not. A part of my aura still lingers in that cemetery, replaced by the part of the cemetery I brought back with me.
We decided to walk back to Jean-Cyril’s flat for dinner. Once there, we headed out to a superstore nearby to purchase ingredients for the evening’s adventure – our cooking session. Jean-Cyril loved cooking, and an important part of couchsurfing involved connecting with your host. Maggie and I were both mindful of that. Dinner was flavored shrimp (by Jean-Cyril) with garlic mayo and baguettes, Mediterranean couscous stuffed mushrooms (by Moi), and vegetable stew (by Maggie). Frankly speaking, I lost count of the number of baguettes and all the cheese I devoured in Paris. When in Paris, be a Parisian eh?
- Travel Tip: Do try to pick up some ‘typical’ habits of the locals, from every place that you visit.
Jean Cyril, Maggie and I chatted well into the evening. Our host told us the horror stories of terrible couchsurfers and gave us advice and tips on how to choose hosts wisely whilst keeping an eye out for safety issues. We also found out that he was an ex French diplomat, based in Nigeria for a long time. The evening was surprisingly pleasant. I just had a positive vibe that the next day would be better – after all, it was my birthday, wasn’t it?