An afternoon in Paris


Shea Duplechain

9/8/202313 min read

The city of love; a phrase I didn't think had much interpretation. During my time in Paris, I can say I experienced love. It wasn't a romantic or intimate love; it was a kind of love I believe we don't experience often. A love that I didn't think I was capable of feeling. This is my experience in the city of love.

The embers are dying

The second week of our three week backpacking trip through Europe was coming to an end. I would be lying if I said that spirits were high. Two weeks of non-stop traveling had finally caught up with us. Endless walking, endless trains, endless hostels, endless everything. It was the first time being out of the country for both of us and we thought it would be a great idea to drop ourselves into the middle of another content and run around to as many countries as we could in three weeks. It actually was a great idea, no regrets. As we walked around Amsterdam, neither one of us really said a word. We sat in a park for a few hours; reading, sleeping, day dreaming. It was a beautiful park full of small ponds with ducks swimming around and bike paths that cut through the green lawns with people sprawled out. The sun was out but wasn't overbearing, which made for a relaxing summer day. We still had a week left, but the amount of energy that was sapped out of us in the two previous ones made us question if it was even worth it. We were leaving for Paris the next day, a city that we both had mixed emotions about.

On the one hand it was Paris; a city romanticized by just about everyone. It's in movies and books; just has this worldly presence to it. Aside from that, there were a few warning signs leading up to our time there. People generally refer to the French as rude and unwelcoming to tourist. This looming reputation made us uneasy, but an interaction we had with a guy in Berlin is what really made us question Paris. The day before we left for Amsterdam, we meet a guy from New Zealand at our hostel. He was doing a similar trip, and we were telling one another where we had been and where we were going next. We mentioned we were headed to Paris in a few days and he said he had just come from there. We asked him how was his time there and he gave an answer we were hoping not to get. He hated it.

Off to a rough start

We got up early, as we did most of the time we were leaving for a new city. The ferry across the canal to Amsterdam Central was a peaceful one, filled with bikers ready to travers the city. Eventually we would set off toward Paris, making a few stops in the western parts of The Netherland and a few in Belgium. We would get off in Antwerp to change trains, but not before getting some breakfast. Every country has different coffee orders, and in different languages. I ended up ordering the wrong kind of coffee but never the less it did the job. We headed to Lillie and then to Amiens, before finally arriving in Paris. The Paris train station felt like a maze with its multiple levels and thousands of people moving in every direction.

We eventually made it to where the metro tunnel was and got on a metro towards our hostel. It was a nice place, more a boutique hotel than a hostel, but it felt good to have our own space for once. As we began unpacking my friend noticed he was missing his iPad. He was using it to read on the train and forgot to put it back in his bag before getting off in Amiens. We both thought there was no way he was getting it back, but he decided he would at least try and see if it would still be back there. So he left, and there I was. Alone in Paris our first afternoon there.

An unexpected adventure

It was only about three in the afternoon at that point, and I didn't want to just sit in the hostel while I waited for my friend to get back. I finished unpacking, got my cameras and left the hostel. I didn't really know where I was going and it didn't really matter, I was in Paris after all. I came across this beautiful street; the houses were all architecturally in sync. There was a slight overcast that made the cobble stone street, brick houses and green trees all marry nicely.

I continued further on and came to an outdoor market surrounded by shops and restaurants. It was a busy area, with what I assumed were mostly tourist, walking in and out of the many buildings. On I went through the market and further up the street. The street made an S curve, and rounding the first one I could see the rest of the city below. I hadn't realized it but apparently where I was, was well above where the rest of the city lied. After turning the second curve I could see another pocket of people moving around ahead. When I made my way there I was made aware of the basilica that stood on the hill, Basilica of Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre to be exact.

I didn't go into the basilica but there was a big space just below that looked out toward the rest of the city. The area I was in was in the northern part of the city, so I could see just about the entirety of Paris from that view. As I was taking in the view I heard a wave of thunder from above. The skies had gotten darker and looked like they could bottom out at any moment. I decided I would make my way back to the hostel before I got caught in the rain. I began to retrace my steps with a quick pace, I could feel drops falling. I was about ten minutes from the hostel at the point with no umbrella to use. By the time I had gotten to the market again the rain was falling heavily. I decided to follow some others and duck off under the umbrellas of a nearby restaurant.

There was no escaping the rain, even under the umbrella. The wind was blowing a nice mist off the rain that showered everyone. I didn't really know what to do at the point. I was slowly getting drenched, was still ten minutes from the hostel and the rain didn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. Even though I was getting wet, I was still having a good time in a way. I felt like a character in a book or movie. What was I doing in Paris alone sheltering from the rain under an umbrella with strangers? How did I get put into such an odd but beautiful situation?

A refreshing walk

Just out in-front of me was a set of stairs that went down to the rest of the city. I decided that my best option was to try and find a nearby pharmacy where I could buy an umbrella. The rain was still falling and I wasn't getting any drier. I made my way down the steps carefully and onto the streets below. The rain coated the buildings and roads with a nice shine and the deep yellow lights from shops gave the city a lovely glow. The rain began to pick up again so I ducked off into a nearby coffee shop. The shop was a bit busy, mostly with people escaping the rain like me. I decided to grab coffee and chill for a moment; maybe dry off a bit.

I ordered a latte. In Europe their coffee orders are fairly minimal; no extra syrups and flavorings. At most a packet of sugar. I came to enjoy this minimal experience, just appreciating the coffee for what it is. I sat down and started reading a book I picked up back in Vienna. It was Beautiful World, Where Are You, by Sally Rooney. I had just started it on the train ride over from Amsterdam. I only got through a few pages before I became restless. I wanted to get back on the streets, even if it meant getting wet again. I searched on my phone and found that a pharmacy was just down the street from where I was.

I left the coffee shop and headed down the street in that direction. After a few minutes I could see the neon green sign outside all the pharmacies had. I made my way inside and found an umbrella. It wasn't the biggest but it would do for the time being. I left the store and began walking back in the direction of the hostel.

The perfect frame

With the umbrella overhead I took a slower pace, I was already drenched regardless. The streets were empty for the most part, a few people here and there running in and out of shops. The route I was taking back was different from the one earlier. The city was rather quiet; the only sounds were the rain hitting the stone streets and the sound of my steps splashing. The rain started to pour down harder, even more so than before.

The street I was walking on looked beautiful in what was now a blur of rain and street lights. I took my camera out now that I could keep it dry under the umbrella. I took a picture of the empty side walk out in front of me. As I was sliding over the next frame of film, a biker moved onto the side walk. They wore a rain coat and jogging with their bike up the side walk. I hurried and picked my camera up again. I wouldn't know for a few weeks, but this image would become my favorite photo I've ever taken.

After Showers

I finally made it back to the hostel after this series of events. I was completely soaked, my clothes had doubled in weight and draped from my body. I changed my clothes and made sure that my cameras were okay. I wiped a few droplets from their surface. My book had gotten a little wet, the pages had started to warp. It was still raining outside, so I sat in the room and watched the rain run down the window for a while.

It was about five in the afternoon by this point, the rain was starting to let up. My friend was just getting to Amiens, so I would still be alone for the rest of the day. I checked the weather and it seemed the skies would be clear the rest of the day. I thought about whether or not I should leave again or just relax. I thought about how much fun I just had. There was no way I was staying in the hostel for the rest of the day, I had to get back out there. I pulled up my maps app to see where I should go this time. The map showed me the handful of monuments and popular attraction that were scattered across the city. Of course the one that stuck out the most was the Eiffel Tower. I clicked on it to see how far it was, and said it was about an hour walk from where I was. I put some shoes on, got my camera and headed out the hostel again.

One destination in mind

Everything had a gloss to it with the rain having just stopped. I was walking at a quick pace, trying to make it there before the sun started to go down. As I was walking I got the same feelings as I had before. I still couldn't believe that I was just casually walking through the streets of Paris. How did I end up here? A few weeks before I had just graduated college, and now I was on my third week of traveling Europe. I had this overpowering since of euphoria. The fatigue I felt before getting to Paris completely disappeared. In that moment I was completely high on life and fully embracing the moment I was living in.

I started running. I couldn't contain my excitement of being there and I was getting impatient just walking. I wanted to be in the heart of Paris. Now running I was covering some ground, weaving through the sidewalks and streets with ease. I had no thoughts as I ran, just fully enjoying being alive in that moment. So aware of everything around me. I didn't know where in Paris I was, I just knew what direction I needed to go to get to the Eiffel Tower. I came to the end of a street, and everything opened up before me. I had walked out into this huge plaza. To my left I would learn was the Louvre, and the massive gardens on the outside. I would completely ignore them for the day (I went back the next day) and went the the right where I found myself crossing a park. It was a beautiful park. There were a few sculptures I took pictures of, but the park was still and quiet. Still blanketed in moisture from the rain.

I had to cross a road but paused in the median to take a picture. At the end of the road stood the Arc de Triomphe. It was a good ways a way, but I could still see the structure towering in the distance. After I crossed the street I made my way further south until I came to the Seine. I begin to follow the Seine west. I hadn't had a good view of the tower yet, at times I could catch a glimpse of the top of it but never its entirety.

It was a stunning view. Most of the monument like structures that I've seen before never really lived up to the hype. Even the colosseum, which I did find extremely cool and interesting, hadn't stuck out as much as I thought it would. The Eiffel Tower was different. As I followed the Seine, it curved a bit southward. As I came around the bend, I got my first fully unobstructed view. It stood so tall above the rest of the city. Even from where I was, which was still a good distance away, it seemed so large. I was mesmerized by its presence for a moment. The sun was starting to touch the horizon and with the skies still overcast, the sun colored the sky a beautiful orange and purple.

Experiencing love, in the city of love

I was still about twenty minutes from the tower, and it was starting to get dark. I made it to a bridge and crossed over the Seine. I lost view of the tower again now that I was back near buildings again. I crossed over a street and to my right the tower loomed over me. It was much bigger now, almost seemed to be standing over me. I began to walk faster, I could feel I was closer. I came up to a park and a little ways in everything once again opened up. There was tons of people, all there for the same reason as I.

I stood there in awe. I felt so small in its presence. It was just starting to get dark so the lights on the tower began to come to life. Sparkling in contrast to the dark sky. I moved to the base of the tower, hundreds of people stood in line waiting to go to the top. It was fully dark now and the tower was now covered in yellow lights.

I walked to the other side of the tower, many people where on this side as well. I looked around at everything surrounding me. The Eiffel Tower sparkling ahead of me, people posing for pictures, street vendors trying to sell mini sculptures, the city around me, the bridge I was on over the Seine. So much was going on around me. Everyone having their own unique and different interactions and experiences, yet all in proximity to one another.

I was in love, in love with life in that moment. It was perfect because of how imperfect it had been. Getting caught in the rain, to running across Paris, to gazing at the Eiffel Tower dancing in the night sky as people from across the world weave in and around me. There's no way to plan an experience like that or even replicate it. It's an experience that can only happen in the randomness of time and I just happened to get caught in that brief moment thankfully.

When I think back on it, it still brings a warmness to me. I somehow transcended the normality of reality and escaped into a more utopian version of it. I think a lot of it had to do just being alone. For a long time I've had a complicated relationship with being alone. I've always viewed it as a negative thing. How could I enjoy things alone?

Being alone for this I got to experience everything in a more precious way. Everything was my own interpretation and feelings. There was no one around me to change or sway my feelings. I was able to enjoy the rain because I enjoyed it, I was able to run through the streets because thats what I wanted to do. I had complete ownership over all of those experiences and feelings. It's even made me fall in love with that afternoon much more, because it's something I got to fully experience for myself. I get to call it mine in its entirety.

Afternoon turns to night

It was a beautiful view and the perfect way to end the day. After so much stimulation over the last few hours, I was ready to relax. I was also getting hungry so I started to take off back toward the hostel. My friend was almost back in Paris by that point too. He had somehow miraculously managed to recover his iPad in Amiens. It was an odd but lovely few hours.