In the 14th century, a Moroccan adventurer and scholar named Ibn Battuta wrote, “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Deep stuff. I guess in some ways he was right. By writing this article about my 10 hour vacation in France, I am a storyteller. And I was definitely speechless before I left my home in Canterbury at 5am. Mostly because I was awoken at 3am by my housemates coming back from a big night out. I bet Battuta didn’t have to put up with that sort of crap whilst exploring North Africa. Seething, I got up an hour later, grabbed my coat and backpack, and went to the train station.
Underslept, but enjoying life slightly more than those beginning their morning commute, I got on my first train to Ashford International. On arrival, I contemplated an overpriced cup of Pumpkin Café crap, but decided against it as I had no intention of staying awake for anymore of the journey. After border checks, I was allowed to board what can only be described as the Ryanair of trains: the journey was underway.
By 9am local time, I was in Paris and the countdown of my time in the city had started. I realised I desperately needed coffee if I was going to get through the first three hours – I should’ve just manned up back at Ashford and had some train station sludge. It was then that I clocked that I hadn’t actually brought any Euros with me. Then a homeless man asked me for some change, but unless he wanted a pocket full of British pennies, I couldn’t really help him. Lack of preparation? Check. Sufficient guilt for not being able to help the homeless in a useful currency? Check. A great start to the day ahead.
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After a quick pit-stop at a station ATM, I headed for the Metro. Thanks to the joys of climate change and rampant air pollution across the city, it was free for everyone to travel the day I was there. Score. With my 10 hours well under way, I stopped for a coffee at a shop at the Place de la République. With caffeine fuelling me, I was now finally awake and ready to take on Paris with nine hours to go and nine Parisian things to complete.
First up was Notre-Dame Cathedral. After battling my way through selfie sticks and the occasional pilgrim, I repented for the sin of being in Paris rather than doing my essays, hoping God would hear my prayers and write my essay for me. Walking out and deeper into the city along the River Seine in the crisp morning sun, classic Paris sight number two was ticked off, and both were totally free.
My next mission was the Louvre; I had my sunglasses on and I was listening to music as I strolled down the Quai du Louvre. I looked pretty suave, as if I truly belonged in the most chic cities in the world, so much so that a young French family stopped me and asked for directions on my way to the Louvre. Battuta would have been proud of how I’d seamlessly blended into the culture.
Then the dream of being a legendary Parisian was shattered almost instantaneously on my way into the gallery. Picture the scene: I was penned in under a small archway entrance to the museum, cornered (slight exaggeration) and asked to sign a petition to help the disadvantaged. I ended up handing over some euros to a bloke with a shabby clipboard. Please learn from my traumatic experience (perhaps another slight exaggeration); these guys are all over the city and there is no charity other than their personal bank account.
A little bit poorer, I thankfully entered the museum free of charge. Because I’m under 25, all I had to do was flash my driving licence and I was in to check out the art. Yeah, the paintings were pretty good, but the most fascinating piece of art by far though was the gang of American tourists who crowded around the Mona Lisa. I don’t know what it is about her, but they can’t get enough. This guy in red was absolutely buzzing, taking pictures of anything he could – the old woman next to him almost caught an elbow to the face numerous times. I felt pretty cultured after that, so I escaped.
I was unsure what time it was, but now was the chance to tick off item number four from my list: the search for the pengest French munch. The classic baguette was really the only way to go. As I ate the mighty and most peng baguette, I walked through the Tuileries Gardens in the mid afternoon sunshine and took a seat in front of a large water feature before walking up to the Place de la Concorde. It was eerily quiet, I virtually had the whole place to myself. It was almost as if people were working at midday on a Wednesday and had proper things to be getting on with. Weird. Nevertheless, items number five and six were now ticked off my list.
As I stumbled into a market, I got distracted by cheese and had to buy a fat wedge for an afternoon snack. Eating cheese by the block in the street. No regrets. By the time I’d finished off the block, I’d reached the top of the Champs Elysées (which has free wifi all the way up the street). I went through the tunnel and up to the Arc De Triomphe, which was again free thanks to me being under 25 and having an EU ID card. On my walk back into the city, I got distracted by mulled wine and had to buy a cup for €5 and drink it in the street. Still no regrets.
Next I went to the Alexandre Bridge, firstly because it has the same name as me and secondly because it’s a pretty big landmark in Paris. The tragedy was that I saw most of it through other people’s phone screens because couples kept stopping and asking me to take photos of them. But I’m pretty sure I was the real winner though because I had warm wine to chug.
Next up was a quick Metro ride and then a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Monument number nine. The big one. With time ticking, I did a lap around the bottom. I got a typical Insta pic and then I moved on, dodging any couples for safe measure.
With time quickly running out and my legs dying slowly but painfully, I hiked up to the Sacré-Coeur, the basilica that overlooks the city, for a scenic, nighttime view.
I felt like Napoleon from this famous painting I saw earlier, tired and struggling… minus the horse. But 10 hours and 31,000 steps later, I had seen everything I came to see and spent under 50 quid on the day. And that’s including being ripped off by the man with the shabby clipboard.
The only thing left to do was to eat and get home. A McDonald’s Royale with cheese had to be eaten for the Pulp Fiction fan in me, and after 10 hours in France I was back to the delights of Ashford and then Canterbury. I was relatively unscathed, but seriously debating my life choices with a 9am seminar the next day and an essay plan gathering dust on my desk. No regrets?