The title says it all. I recently spent all of two hours in Paris. The city of romance. A city that I had never been to before in a country I only just discovered. Two hours. Before you judge me for poor travel planning, let me explain. I recently traveled to France to photograph a wedding in the South. I was sold on the romance of it by my friend, the groom. I would fly into Paris and take a four hour train ride through the French countryside to Bordeaux. From there, I would take a second train one hour further into the heart of the countryside. There I would be picked up and the wedding would take place two days later in a stunning Chateau. I was sold.
Once I received my itinerary, I realised that I landed at 8am in Paris and didn’t have to be on a train until nearly 2pm. That was six whole hours of freedom (or to sit at an airport/train station). I quickly consulted my friend Sarah who is an expert on all things France. She told me, “Oh, you have plenty of time to see Paris with that!” and she sent me a plan.
I have to admit, I was nervous. While I used to travel on my own all the time, I have got used to the comforts of traveling with Josh in the past few years. It’s so much easier when there is someone else to rely on to read signs and to, uh, know the language.
Yes, my French is terrible. I am a bad Canadian. The truth is, I dropped French in grade eleven because it conflicted with – ready for it? – the photography class. I went to a small high school and after I had made these class choices, the principal called me into her office (not only was it a small school but I was the Mayor’s daughter, it was impossible to be hidden). She thought that I was making a bad choice in dropping French. She had told me it was essential to my future to know the language. Little sixteen year old me defiantly told her that photography was what I wanted to do and I never looked back.
The thing is, French is everywhere when you live in Canada. It’s on all the signs in any public building. It’s on your food labels. Announcements are usually always made in both English and French. But what I quickly realised upon descending on the land of France is that I have learned to block these French announcements from my brain. It’s as though as soon as I hear that language, I tune it out, like a Mom tunes out her whiny kid. I have also learned that any French that I did speak has been replaced by Spanish thanks to my frequent visits to Mexico. When French is spoken to me, I answer in Spanish. It’s terrible and maybe a little funny and definitely confusing. So I don’t speak French and I am slightly embarrassed by it. I am a bad Canadian. But my photography is alright.
Now back to Paris. I had been told that the CDG airport is a great one, in that customs usually takes not time. Sarah had said that I should get through it all within an hour or less. And she was right. I landed just before 8am and by 8:47am, I was buying a train ticket. The train station at the CDG airport is located in the middle of Terminal 2. Both my flights arriving and departing Paris flights were from Terminal 2E so basically, everything was together. Upon landing, I went through customs which meant waiting in line, getting to a Border Guard, passing her my passport, her looking at me, giving it a stamp and I was in. From there I grabbed my checked bag from the carousel and followed the signs for the Train Station or Gare.
Once I found the Train Station, I needed to things: to get out some Euros from an ATM and to get rid of my big suitcase. Luckily, these two things were side-by-side. When you go to the Train Station from Terminal 2 (either direction), on the same level that you are on, you will see a HSBC ATM. Use that. Wherever I travel, HSBC has always been a reliable ATM to use (as in, they have never eaten my card so I like them). Just down from this ATM (when standing at it, to your left), you will see a little shop for baggage. Here, you can check your bag for a small fee and they will store it for you until you need it again. You can leave it for a couple of hours or a couple of days – whatever you want. I paid 7€ to hold my case for up to six hours. It’s a great service plus the guy there was pretty nice. He asked if I was going into the city and he made sure that I knew what I was doing. After having just flown through the night over an ocean and having not slept much on said flight, it was nice to talk to someone to assure me that I was on the right path.
Now free to move without dragging a large case, I was ready to see Paris. Well, what you can see of it in two hours. There are two different types of trains that leave from the CDG airport: the TGV which are the high speed trains that take you out of the city (which I would be on later) and then there is the RER which is basically a regular subway/metro train that takes you into the City. From the airport to head into Paris, you get on a RER B train. You can buy a one-way or return ticked from kiosks at the station. The cost for a return ticket was 20€. You need to hold onto your ticket as you need it to both enter and exit the train stations. Sarah had suggested that I take that train to the St. Michel/Norte-Dame stop. So I did.
I had been a bit stressed about having such a limited amount of time in the city. It almost seemed silly to bother seeing any of it. I could for the briefest amount of time attempt to see the Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Louvre or Les Champs Elysees or the Eiffel Tower – you know, all of those things that are so romanticized when you think of this beautiful city. I decided that I would walk because that is how I would get the most out of those two hours to get a feel for Pairs. The RER took about 40 minutes to get to the St. Michel/Notre-Dame stop.
I exited the station, stepped out on the street and a man rode by on a bicycle with an accordion on his back. Here I was, officially in Paris. Of course, it was 9:30am on a Sunday so all the shops were closed and the streets were pretty vacant. I had printed a couple of maps so that I had a sense of where I wanted to go (no wasting time here!) and I went there. I grabbed some free wifi from a Starbucks (pro tip: Starbucks everywhere always has free wifi – take advantage!) to let Josh know that I had made it and I carried on. I walked to the La Seine as the sun was just starting to rise above the historic buildings. The entire city was just starting to wake up and it was a beautiful thing to experience.
I walked to Notre Dame and already there was a big line up of tourists waiting to go in. I knew that I didn’t have time to do that so I admired the exterior. I got close. I really looked at the carvings. I wanted to touch the cold stone. I then headed back along La Seine as street vendors were just setting up for the day, selling artwork and postcards and magnets. It was exactly as you imagine it to be. From there, I walked through the Latin Quarter (around Rue Mazarine). I loved the narrow streets and the sidewalk cafes as they were coming to life on that Sunday morning.
My next stop was the Eiffel Tower. I knew that I would not be able to walk right too it since it is not very close and I knew that I wanted to see as much as possible by sticking to heel-and-toeing it, I had done some research about the best places to see the Eiffel Tower. Once of these locations was within walking distance from where I was exploring so I headed in that direction. At approximately 79 Rue Saint-Dominique, there you can see that famous tower, peeking through the buildings. It’s always a strange thing to see something that is so familiar to you in real, actual life. Such an iconic structure and there it was, right before me and everyone else was walking around not paying any attention to it.
My mission was complete. I saw Nortre-Dame. I saw the Eiffel Tower (from a distance). I saw real Parisians drinking small coffees and eating croissants. I saw an old lady doing her shopping with a small unleashed dog following her. I had seen my man on a bicycle with his accordion. I had seen Paris (in two hours).
Since the clock was ticking and I was worried for time – the last thing that I needed was to be late for my train to Bordeaux – I decided that I didn’t have time to sit and enjoy some food at one of those sidewalk cafes. Instead, I popped into one, got a tuna sandwich and a pain au chocolat (my first of many!) to go and I headed back up the RER to the airport/train station. I managed to get on a rapid train that made less stops than my previous ride. At one quick stop, a woman and her son got on. He had an accordion and she had a mic with a small speaker. They played music for the train all the way until the airport. Welcome to Paris.
P.S. All photos in this post were taken with my Fuji X100T and processed in Lightroom with the Mastin Labs Portra – Fuji X Trans preset. I have so much love for both that camera and those presets. The X100T has quickly become my most favourite camera to travel with since it’s so light to carry around yet still takes stunning photos (at f.2 in RAW format. Love!)