Born-Again Tourist: Redeeming My Parisian Self

It all started with an iMessage response from my parents so brief and unyielding that it reminded me of a telegram: “Thank you for asking us about Miami STOP. We are not in favor STOP.” No spring break in Miami. Following this cruel rejection, Kelsey (CAS ‘22) and I decided to make the cross-country flights home to Los Angeles and Seattle, respectively.

Somehow though, in a seemingly random string of lucky events that involved Kelsey finding reasonably-priced tickets to Paris the week before break and us gaining the approval of our parents, we were suddenly and miraculously off to the City of Lights. Don’t ask me how, we’re still not quite sure ourselves.

Born to a Parisian mother whose parents still live in Paris, I am lucky enough to have been able to visit my French family every year. However, I haven’t always taken full advantage of all that the city has to offer (correction: for the first twelve years of my life, my sister and I spent our time in Paris indoors, watching French cartoons and eating wobbly flan from the grocery store. Classy indeed.) Needless to say, it was time to rediscover the place I’d once characterized with such charming phrases as “it’s boring,” “the people are rude,” and “when can we go back home? I miss ketchup.”

With that, here is the best of our trip, as reflected on by a first-timer and an old-timer:

FAVORITE AREA: MONTMARTRE

Original photograph by Anna Naggar

We ended up in Montmartre by accident. Despite our best efforts, we realized a good thirty minutes before an hour-long train ride to Versailles that the palace is closed on Mondays, and thus were forced to readjust our plans.

Following the recommendation of a friend, we made our way over to the hilltop district of Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement. Montmartre feels like a completely different world within Paris. Sipping glass after glass of vin chaud (hot wine that tastes more like warm, sweet sangria), we wandered the narrow and winding cobblestone streets, admiring the colorful graffiti, art galleries, boutiques, and quaint restaurants that smatter the various hills. The Roman Catholic church of Sacre-Coeur is a must-see in Montmartre; its impressive white domes and magnificent stained glass windows overlook a sweeping panoramic view of Paris.

FAVORITE FOOD EXPERIENCE: OBER MAMMA

Original photograph by Anna Naggar

By our last night, we were still on the hunt for an amazing meal. Kelsey, much more of a foodie than me (look her up on Penn Appetit!), had done her research and wanted to try one of the restaurants in the “Big Mamma” group. (Among them are Pink Mamma, Ober Mamma, and East Mamma.) We arrived, as advised, a full 40 minutes before the restaurant opened. This proved to actually be necessary; from the moment we got there, the line of people grew and grew in tandem with our increased irritation and hunger.

Thankfully, the experience was well worth the wait. Among the highlights were creamy burrata, black truffle and mascarpone pasta, and a sizeable wedge of tiramisu scooped from a large pan onto beautifully painted ceramic plates. We finished our last meal in Paris at a nearby wine bar, enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir (Kelsey), and a stink eye from the waitress (directed towards me. I’m sorry, but I don’t like wine…it makes me gag.)

FAVORITE WALK: THE QUAI

Original photograph by Anna Naggar

Almost every day, we found ourselves wandering the public path along the Seine known as the quai. Walking along this path, we came across the Cathedrale Notre-Dame (one of the most famous medieval Catholic cathedrals with French Gothic architecture), Pont Neuf (the oldest standing bridge across the Seine), and on one particularly long walk, Place de la Concorde (the largest square in Paris and the site of public executions during the French Revolution). Both sides of the river are bordered by picturesque homes as well as stands displaying funky posters, souvenirs, and artwork. Under another bridge called the Pont Alexandre III is Faust nightclub. Though it came highly recommended, our experience was laughable: most memorably the empty dance floor, overpriced drinks, and French boys who wanted to “teach us to French kiss” (we kindly informed them that we were already au courant). Vive le quai!

FAVORITE ACTIVITY: MUSEUMS

The French are much more eager to card you at a museum than at a club or restaurant. Drinking below the age of 18? No problem. We assume, seeing as although Kelsey and I are of age, we were never carded and both exude the youthful glow of seventh graders (read: cherubs). But don’t dream that you can get away with lying about your age at a museum to get in for free though; the paying age is 18 and above, and the museum guards are quick to request — and mock — your form of identification.

Among our favorites were the Louvre (enough said), the opulent majesty of the Palais de Versailles, and the Centre Pompidou, which, despite its outward resemblance of a lego diorama, boasts one of the most superb views of the entire city from its top floor.

IN SUMMARY

Although I couldn’t imagine permanently abandoning my beloved French cartoons and crappy flan, I now have a greater appreciation for one of the most celebrated cities in the world. Through a combination of solid research and spontaneity, I was able to re-experience Paris, fitting more in a week-long trip than in eighteen years. (Sorry, mom and dad! <3)