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Thirty-Six Hours in the City of Lights

Planes, trains and automobiles: We missed our direct flight to Europe, having to spend an extra six hundred bones on a layover in Heathrow

Story and images by Teo J. Babini

Planes, trains and automobiles: We missed our direct flight to Europe, having to spend an extra six hundred bones on a layover in Heathrow, the worst kind of airport where they actually make you put your liquids in little Ziplocs and tear your bags inside out. I did not mind the bangers and mash, but could have gladly lived without.

Malpensa Express ©Teo J. Babini

Malpensa Express ©Teo J. Babini

The next morning, now in Italy, we hit some heavy traffic on the autostrada in a rented hybrid; barely make it to Milano in time to catch our train back to Malpensa airport. God bless Italian infrastructure. Next thing we are confronted by Easy Jet security that lets us now that they are the only airline in the world that really means ONE carry-on, and no “personal item”. Therefore, we dump our backpack/purse into our duffels and proceed like gypsies with our bags open leaking all sorts of undergarments.

Paris Airport  ©Teo J. Babini

Paris Airport ©Teo J. Babini

We’re jetlagged, tired and stressed, cursing the continent in rudimentary Italian when we come upon our first stroke of luck: A couple approaches addressing us in Italian, Guy: “Are you Italian?” Me: “Kinda.” Him: “What do you mean? Either you’re Italian or your not?” Me: “I speak a little because my father is from Genova.” Guy: (looking perplexed) “Well, for luck, here is our five day metro passes; it doesn’t expire until tomorrow evening.” Us: “WOW, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!”

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

BINGO! We’re on a free direct bus ride to Opera, Central Paris. We chase that with a cab ride to the hotel room, which ain’t half bad for a Best Western, and it hits me… Holy shit, we’re in Paris! Upon first glance Paris is a European New York with strange rooftops, tons of motorcycles and much more history still present in the architecture. People dressed in black smoke cigarettes as they hurry through the streets, looking somewhat despondent, and I’m right back at home in the city that never sleeps.

Bike Traffic ©Teo J. Babini

Bike Traffic ©Teo J. Babini

Our stomachs propel us downstairs to get our grub on before we take it all in, alas it’s not lunch hour in Paris (Europeans have very strict time slots for eating, working, etc.), so we grab some crepes and a kir for the road. I can comfortably say these street eats beat a dirty water dog any day.
Our first stop is the Louvre, which we don’t have the time to actually enter (It’s huge), but we admire the pyramid, the buildings surrounding the courtyard and then get chased away by the overwhelming presence of selfie-stick wielding tourists. Still new to the navigation, I choose the Seine to guide us along towards the ol’ Eiffel Tower icon.

The Big E ©Teo J. Babini

The Big E ©Teo J. Babini

We bought postcards from a vendor, and a lock from a peddler to immortalize our love on the bridge, cheesing as we throw our key into the Parisian East River, pocketing the spares for souvenirs. We’ve been back for about a week now an’ I think they removed all the locks for the first time a couple days ago, just in time, I suppose, but so much for the everlasting monument to our romance.

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

We finally passed under the tower, but decided to keep it moving on to the Arc du Triumph: another NY similarity, even though they had it first. Some sketchy characters hovering around us prompted me to snap a quick pic and keep it movin’. We stopped for dinner and ordered some serious snails and onion soup, plus a kir royal to start. Anybody who doesn’t like Escargot, can stop reading now and go to your local McDonald to cry into the soda fountain, ‘cause that shit is good. The onion soup was different than I’m used to, and apparently rather traditional: more soup and less cheese, with hard croutons to soak. Mind blowing! Now, I’m not a big fan of doing really touristy shit, the surrounding mayhem always seems to cheapen and manufacture what would otherwise be a beautiful experience, but the Eiffel Tower by night is magic, plain and simple. Lit up like Christmas tree, the sheer site of it makes you wanna ride a carousel and kiss somebody. Luckily, I had just the person to do it with… The kissing I mean, the carousel I left to the kiddies.

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

The metro puts the MTA to shame, except for the doors are a bit rough around the edges, opening with this kind of violent force like something out of a steam punk comic. I highly enjoyed the roundness of it all, and the fact that you can open the windows. Back in the room, although feeling very amorous, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Paris, it seemed, was beautiful, but far too much like New York for my liking, an’ not really in a good way… By the same time the next day, I wouldn’t want to leave.

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

Paris ©Teo J. Babini

The next morning our hotel room flooded because of the shower, which slowed us down a bit, but then we got upgraded to a bigger room. We took the iron horse to Les Deux Magots, a Parisian staple, for breakfast and enjoyed perfectly crispy croissants, classic croquet madame and arguably the best goat cheese I’ve ever tasted on toast. Considering the fact that the French call drip coffee “sock water” I wasn’t overly impressed with the… press? Take it from me, you could get a better espresso at a gas station in Italy.

Paris goes East ©Teo J. Babini

Paris goes East ©Teo J. Babini

From there we wandered, discovering little gems as we went along. In the Latin Quarter, we found little cobblestone alleys with shops selling fountain pens and old stamps. From there we passed by Notre Dame, the pigeon sanctuary, on our way to do some vintage shopping north of the river, polka dot dresses and espadrilles to a Tupac soundtrack.

Notre Dame ©Teo J. Babini

Notre Dame ©Teo J. Babini

In Marais, a sort of gay-friendly Jewish neighborhood complete with a little baby Chinatown nearby, we went to the Square du Temple, a serene little patch of grass where parents read to their children on park benches. This park has history for me, as a one-year old “almost Parisian”, my father used to bring me here daily to feed the ducks. The ducks are still there, but feeding is prevented by a fence around the pond. No flashbacks or anything, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my childhood.

Sq. du Temple ©Teo J. Babini

Sq. du Temple ©Teo J. Babini

Next we found another charming street with every type of cuisine you could imagine lining the block. We bought some melt in your mouth wild strawberries and a white peach. The fruit actually had flavor, unlike in the US, and when we’d had our fill we gave the remaining strawberries to an appreciative Roma beggar, who blew us kisses from under her head scarf.

©Teo J. Babini

©Teo J. Babini

We had an oyster feast at the nearby “Pig’s Leg”, where I indulged in my hell-bent vengeance on the goose that bit my ass as a kid by scarfing down some succulent fois grais. No guilt on my part. Afterwards, we found ourselves lost again in the maze of parks, monuments, shops and charming street scenes. I can only imagine what it’s like to have the time to stop and read a book outdoors in this city, or just to sit still and take it for a while… But night was falling, and there was more to be done.

©Teo J. Babini

©Teo J. Babini

First stop, Experimental Cocktail Club: an old school looking little piano bar with some of the best bartenders in the city. No bells, no whistles, just great drinks made in the classic American fashion. We tried a few specialties, as well as some more French forward ingredients, one of which I ended up wearing to dinner due to a little misfire on the slow poorer, but I was much to comfortable to complain.

Teo J. Babini

Teo J. Babini

Dinner at Derriere was interesting, not so much because of the food, which offered a kind of delicious minimalism that a roasted piglet does, but more for the décor: ping pong tables, humorous menus, motorcycles and private bedroom dining. It was more of a feast for the eyes than anything else.

©Teo J. Babini

©Teo J. Babini

After dinner we hit Pigalle to check out the Moulin Rouge. It’s funny how such a destination actually resides in the real red light district… I’m talkin’ strip clubs, sex shops, the whole nine yards a very comfortable seediness that I thought better not to explore at that moment.

Teo J. Babini

Teo J. Babini

We had plans to go to a rooftop club to try and catch a view of the city of lights, but found ourselves locked into an intense discussion with our concierge, who was kind enough to share a little hash with us. Having lived in Texas for years, he had much to say about the states in comparison to Europe, in a French accent tinted by the American South… Too much to write here, but let’s jus’ say we finally got a little real local perspective. A perfect way to wind down the whirlwind that was our Parisian adventure.
I was sad to go, but I’m sure I’ll be back again. It’s one of those cities that certainly wasn’t built in a day, and can’t be fully appreciated in one and a half, but the magnetism is undeniable… It will truly leave you breathless.

Teo J. Babini

Teo J. Babini

 

 

 

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