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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Red clay in Paris!

FRANCE | Friday, 1 June 2012 | Views [473]

Eiffel Tower at sunset, starting to light up.

Eiffel Tower at sunset, starting to light up.

Leaving the third world behind for a week, I took a "mandatory rest period" (a favorite phrase of mine from the TV reality show Amazing Race) in between my projects in Mozambique and Ecuador, and split the time between Paris and Madrid.  I flew out of Inhambane to Johannesburg (after the chapa failed to appear at first, the driver simply forgot!) then on to Paris.  I must have really missed coffee, because the Air France coffee tasted unusually good for airplane coffee!

My luggage and I landed safely in Paris (touch wood on no lost luggage still), and after a smooth train/metro ride, arrived at the apartment that my friends and I rented.  Hello first world amenities!  Washer/dryer and a shower with good water pressure were the two best things.  I smiled when I saw the tea kettle and toaster in the kitchen; these were the appliances I used daily in Tofo, and upon seeing them, I missed making chocolate milk, tea, and toast (but that was soon forgotten once I got my cappuccino and  baguette).  The oddest feeling being in the apartment was the noise from the street; unlike in Tofo, where I was woken up by birds chirping and hammering sound from next door due to construction, now there were vehicle and pedestrian noises.  

On the street, it felt slightly weird to see proper stores, having gotten used to open air markets and simple stalls.  The strangest by far was the traffic direction; since leaving the US in January, I've only been in places where vehicles drive on the left side (HK, Singapore, Thailand, Mozambique, Australia), so I got used to looking right first when crossing.  Now the direction is flipped and I was confused which way to look first. 

All oddities aside, I loved coming across patisseries, sidewalk cafes, and the Eiffel Tower.  The weather was unusually warm, almost Tofo-like, except when I want to cool down in Tofo, I simply jump into the ocean.  Everything gave me a sticker-shock, and as predicted, I spent the same amount in Paris in four days as I did a month in Mozambique!

My friends and I planned ahead our Parisian itinerary given the short stay.  Two of us spent two days at the French Open, one of the four major tennis tournaments of the year, where we could spend almost 12 hours each day within the grounds of Roland Garros (matches are played until sunset around 9:30 PM).  Everything about the French Open was super chic: from the customer service outfits, to the gourmet food and wine, to the souvenir shops.  The main court Philippe Chatrier was surprisingly intimate, even though on TV it appears massive; even seats on the upper levels could not be considered "nosebleed".  It was wonderful to see the top players there, and also other players in the outer courts; most surprising was James Blake, whom I still adore but had been absent for a while (he was quickly dismissed in straight sets).  And to see the Bryan Brothers was a treat; they spent a lot of time after their win signing autographs, and afterwards was hounded by fans as they exited the court to the lockers.

On our last full day in Paris, we took the train to Reims, a leisurely 45-minute ride from Paris along the scenic outskirts of the city, where we took a guided tour of the region's famed champagne producers.  Our guide Amanda was extremely knowledgeable about champagne production, the wineries, and the region.  We visited a major winery (Moet & Chandon) that included a guided tour and tasting, lunch at an independent tasting room that consisted of small bites and four tastings, and lastly a visit to a small, family-owned winery that still uses some manual steps in its champagne production instead of machines.  We returned to Paris by train in the afternoon with a great buzz!

My outbound flight from Paris left in the afternoon on day of departure, so I had the morning all to myself while my friends left on a morning flight.  I visited Notre Dame so I could finally get a proper photo (the last time I was there, the facade was completely covered for rework); next was the Centre Pompidou upon recommendation from N, a fellow volunteer back in Tofo who is living in Paris, a wonderful modern art center where at the top level, you could get a panoramic view of all of Paris (aside from the Eiffel Tower), and finally lunch at a nearby cafe that serves excellent crepes in all of Paris (the restaurant was full but luckily there were seats at its store-front next door).  

I don't speak French but I did try with the few words I know, luckily my friend spoke it fluently enough to get us by.  I didn't find Parisians rude, as is the common belief; interactions with them were succinct and professional, with no extended dialogue nor personal "digging", which I preferred.  The metro system was easy to navigate and cheap to get around, although the streets were a bit challenging; even if lost though, I somehow managed to always figure my way out, and saw more of Paris along the way.  I hope it won't be another ten-plus years before returning!

Tags: centre pompidou, champagne, eiffel tower, french open, moet & chandon, paris, patisserie, reims, roland garros

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