Le Montclaire in Paris is the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at. For only slightly more than your average European hostel, I ended up in a (nearly) private 3-bed room with its own bathroom in a great area of town. It’s spotlessly clean with a fantastic lounge and kitchen, free wifi, and as a lifetime first, a REAL breakfast: cereal, coffee, croissant, juice, etc.
Normally when a hostel claims “breakfast included” it ends up being white toast and butter.
I awoke bright and early to clear blue skies – despite the rainy forecast, it looked like the weather may finally have turned to my benefit. So I located the starting point of the New Europe Free Paris Walking Tour that was recommended highly by some friends in Amsterdam and, rather than hopping on the metro, started the hour-long trek by foot.
Unfortunately, my GPS – which I usually rely on to keep me pointed in the right general direction as I traverse up and down every twisted little side street – refused to get a lock, and I somehow ended up going the exact wrong direction.
Paris lesson of the day: the urban layout is crazy! Unlike Shijiazhuang, which has a seemingly perfect 90-degree grid of roads, Paris’ intersections split off at every imaginable angle, making city navigation – by map or sense of direction – quite a bit more challenging than elsewhere.
I hopped on the metro and sped across town, making it just in time for the tour.
I suppose I should stop for a moment to explain myself here. Most of you probably know by now that I’m pretty strongly against organized tours – so why would I voluntarily be spending my first day in Paris on one? Well, I’ve found that the nightmarish tours – where they dump you in souvenir shops and bus you to culturally irrelevant shopping malls – are usually pretty identifiable as the ones that transport you directly from a hotel or airport.
City walking tours, on the other hand, seem to simply be an opportunity to wander around outside – with the benefit of someone to give you a bit of history on what it is you’re seeing. The New Europe Tours specifically are paid for entirely by tips, so the guides are really motivated to keep things fun and interesting. After trying out the one in Amsterdam, I was very impressed. So my thoughts were, “Why do the Lonely Planet walking tour, struggling to follow the map and staring blankly at a historical monuments when I could have someone knowledgeable accompany me every stop of the way?” 🙂
All in all the tour was great, the weather fantastic, and I ended up with not only loads of good photos but a clear list of what to come back and see in more detail. We hit (at least briefly) all the major sights – Arch de Triomphe, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Phantom of the Opera operahouse, Notre Dame, Jardin des Tuileries, Pont Neuf Bridge, Place de la Concorde, and plenty more I know I’m forgetting.
So what was the most memorable moment? When I exited Jardin des Tuileries, the trees parted, and I saw the Eiffel Tower materialize in the distance. It literally gave me goosebumps. There’s just something about it, when you see it for the first time. I mean come on: it’s the Eiffel Tower!
Here are a few interesting tidbits I jotted down as the guide was speaking:
• Next time you’re traveling in Europe and see an equestrian statue, take a look at the hooves. If all four hooves are on the ground, it means the rider died of natural causes; if the front two hooves are raised in the air, they died in battle; and if the horse is trotting, they died by assassination or murder.
• See if you can find a major road in Paris with lanes painted on it. It’s harder than you might think. Know why? “It detracts from the natural beauty.” This is one of the reasons the roundabout around the Arch de Triomphe (the biggest traffic roundabout in the world) has an accident on average once every thirty minutes! With twelve massive boulevards radiating out from it and not a single lane marker, it’s a free-for-all for motorists, who slam and ding into each other with frightening regularity. For a good laugh, hang out and listen for the nearly constant shouts of “merde!”
• Every year, somewhere around 600 Parisians are admitted to hospitals for dog poo-related injuries. Like, they’re walking along, they step in a wet juicy one, they slam into the ground and break a tailbone. Way to clean up after yourselves 😛