I’ve already dedicated quite a few lines to complaining about the size of legal airplane luggage. I think it can be pretty universally agreed that it is not anywhere near sufficient for transporting a semester’s worth of supplies to a European country. What I didn’t consider, however, is how I would transport all the experiences and accumulated debris of a semester in Europe back stateside. As the countdown to departure reaches an anxiety-inducing 4 days, I face the final question: how to condense it all into one standardized checked luggage bag? All the days trudging through biting wind as rain seeps in through the growing holes in my black flats, my hood pulled low as I seek cover inside the nearest boulangerie… Or the nights when I turn the corner past the arab au point, between the curving marble buildings and spiraling black bannisters, find a spot to lean against the cold stone and watch the Eiffel Tower glitter as I wait for my friend to let me in…The Wednesday lunches when the Iéna marché is open and I walk through several blocks of friendly merchants calling out to me to not be shy, to come look at their fresh cheese, meats, crepes, clothing or African art, and I smile and walk to my favorite kebab stand to order a chicken kebab for 2,75. …The smell of the boulanger’s full roast chicken in the morning on my walk to work, the warmth of a Nutella crepe in my hand as I hike up the curling paths of Montmartre to Sacre Coeur, the feeling of arriving at the metro platform to a blinking ’00′ and a train pulling up just in time to meet me…These things don’t fit into airline regulated suitcases. So, I present to you, the seven places in Paris I want to pack with me for the flight home.
1. The Grand Mosque of Paris.
I may have fallen in love. Despite the fact that the men who work here are sometimes even slower than Parisians (a feat), the exotic architecture is outstandingly beautiful. Parts of the mosque itself are available to tour, yet somehow I always seem to be drawn to the courtyard tea room and restaurant that are attached… Killer couscous served by the pot, mint tea (I’ve always said Middle Eastern restaurants have the best tea around), and for dessert, an entire platter of fantastic assorted pastries. Having not the slightest clue what each one is, we have developed a simple rule to select the perfect pastry: the less appetizing it looks, the better it tastes. Counter intuitive, and hasn’t failed us yet.
2. The Lapin Agile
What felt like one of the most typical perfect French nights. A little pink building tucked into the side of the hill in Montmartre, Lapin Agile is one of the original Parisian cabarets. The kind of place that all the little artists would go during the heyday of Montmartre’s artsy youth. It has an original Picasso hanging casually on one of its walls and a livre d’or chock full of artist sketchings and signatures confirming its importance to the creative elites. They still do shows – a quirky blend of musical and theatrical – put on by boisterous and animated actor/singers. Sitting there, listening to them sing out the old classic “Aux Champs Elysées”, tucked into their dimly lit cave of a performance room and sipping on their house cherry wine, I was immediately under their spell. We stayed until the show closed down at 2 am and wandered our way to the metro singing “rockin’ at the Lapin Agile”. Perfect night. Life goal is to be best friends with all of the performers one day.
3. Butte Chaumont
This place is not French. It’s not Parisian. To enter this park is to leave the neatly ordered rows of flowers and perfectly cut grass of french gardens and enter the jungle. A jungle filled with young children hopping around rocks lapping up ice cream cones, hundreds of “bobo” french lounging across the steep hills like a festival, and hidden caves dripping stalactites. And an odd monk-temple-looking thing. I dedicated (along with what seemed like all of the youth of Paris) the entire duration of the first warm day in Paris to claiming my patch of grass there and gorging on sun-warmed baguettes and Camembert with strawberries. Careful, though, or a twenty foot black hole crevasse will swallow one of your flats and you will have to do a 40 minute metro commute home with only one shoe…
Perhaps one of the best things about Butte Chaumont is that when you finally climb your way up to the Monk-temple-place, and clamber out onto the jagged rock-cliffs, you have a view of the city that looks like this:
4. Bar Dix
The only sign on the outside of this bar is the number ten written in what looks like white chalk on the black painted exterior. There is only one thing on the menu—pitchers of sangria, medium or large. They only take cash, exact change preferred, and when your sangria pitcher drips a sticky mess on the table, a plump little old man who insists on wearing tiny black round sunglasses even indoors comes around with a ratty sponge to wipe it down. The whole bar is decorated with a kind of art nouveau theme, dark and romantic and so hidden-feeling. It’s actually fairly well-known but the bare front, the straightforward attitude, and the funky interior make you feel like you’ve found a secret gem.
5. The Seine at Night
Magical. Addicting. Breathtaking.
6. The mysterious Thai place near my classes, the boulangerie down the street, La Durée, and Omnibus Café
…I really like food. I also realize I am probably cheating by putting all four of these places under number 6. Oops.
7. The Lord of the Rings Tower
This tower, as my friend Christina recently informed me, is the most useless monument to transport anywhere. It also has absolutely no relation to either the Lord of the Rings books or movies. But my very first week abroad, lost and bumbling around the streets of Paris, I stumbled upon this tower and without thinking exclaimed, “That looks just like the tower from Lord of the Rings!” (I am very cool). I must have developed a strange attachment to the tower in that moment, because ever since it has been a landmark to find my way, a site to meet up with friends, and a strange anecdote to share with my friends visiting from other cities. So admittedly it is probably completely useless, but it makes my list.
Good ol’ states, here I come! Trading baguettes and fromage for a good burger and some Mexican food…Hope Air France can handle this luggage.