When I decided to go to Paris one last time before moving to Berlin, I wasn’t sure about what I expected from this trip. You see, I had been to Paris thrice before and returned disappointed EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I just couldn’t see the charm and romance that people sang sonnets about. All I saw was crowd, dirt and stench. It was overrated, in my humble opinion.

Yet, something in me wanted to try one last time, by myself. I decided on dates, and kept an eye out for hotel offers.

A month before my departure date, I decided to give a shout out and see if someone from expat ladies group wanted to join in. Surprisingly, a couple of girls wrote back, and one was available on dates that I had in mind. We met, clicked, and agreed to go on an adventure together.

Travel and lodging:

I got direct train tickets from Cologne Central Station to Paris-Nord with Thalys. The journey is about three hours and 20 minutes long, and goes via Brussels. I got my tickets when they had a summer offer on, and paid 84€ for a return ticket.

Verdict: the train is punctual to the T, and will have no remorse leaving you behind if you are even a minute late. Ideally, arrive at the platform least 10 minutes before the departure time.

We looked for hotels around Paris Nord and decided on Hotel ibis Paris Gare de l’Est TGV. It’s 3 minutes on foot from Paris East Station, 10 minutes from Paris Nord Station, and has plenty of restaurants and a handful of supermarkets around. We got a double room, with two single beds, breakfast for two for three days, and paid a total of 305.40€.

Verdict: I was pleased with the hotel. It’s a boutique style, budget property. There is a functional elevator, air-conditioning was on point, and front desk staff is accommodating for most part. They provide luggage storage and iron free of cost. The only thing I wish was different was the breakfast spread. I missed savoury varieties and eggs. Would I stay with them again? Yes.

To get around the city, we bought a booklet of 10 tickets each, from a ticket machine at the train station. They cost 14.95€ for 10 tickets; individual tickets cost 1.90€ each. Also, the machine accepts cards (including EC card).

Day 1:

After arriving at Paris Nord, I walked to our hotel. As checking in required the credit card that had been used to make the booking, I had to wait some until my friend arranged for it to be sent via email.

I rested for a few minutes and then went out to Elif Shafak’s book reading at Shakespeare and Co. I am a major Shafak fan, and got to know about her visit by fluke. If you are a reader, I suggest you check out Shakespeare and Co’s website beforehand as they often organise events and readings with author du jour.

Post event, we had a quick drink at a cafe next door (Café le Petit Pont) before walking another kilometer and half for dinner at Miznon. It’s a pretty route, which walks through Notre Dame, River Seine and Hôtel de Ville. The restaurant is on Rue des Ecouffes, part of a popular gay district. There are many bars and cafes on the street, mostly Jewish, and you might see a few drag queens in all their glory if you are lucky.

Miznon is a tiny cafe, with Israeli cuisine, and cauliflowers as a bestseller. They have a variety of fillings in a pita bread, like lamb kebabs, falafel and minute steak, as well as plates with the same meat – much like falafel im brot and falafel teller. It’s a decent place, with good food.

It was almost midnight, so we decided to catch the final Eiffel Tower twinkling show. In my head, I thought it would be similar to Dubai’s fountain show. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is actually just twinkling. Nothing more. Underwhelming at best.

In addition, I risked my life and bought a bottle of water from a guy on the street. It was bottled but not sealed. I survived. Thank you Karachi’s roadside bun kebabs for playing a pivotal role in strengthening my immune system over the years.

As it was 1:20AM, and most trains and buses had ceased operations for the day, so we booked an Uber Share. Little did I know that this was going to be a start to a dangerous addiction. Uber is so cheap in Paris (compared to Germany). A shared ride costed us 15€ from Eiffel Tower to Paris East, coming down to 7.5€ per person. Had we taken public transport, we would have to walk about a kilometre, and change trains at least once.

I slept like a log that night.

Day 2:

I love sweets, and breakfast at out hotel comprised primarily of sweet options – crepes, madeleine, croissant, fruits, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, spreading Nutella on crepes, guilt-free.

Our only plan for the day was to go to Moulin Rouge at 11PM, so we decided to go to Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay) during the day.

We took a train to the museum, and bought entry and guided tour tickets on the spot (18€). There is a queue, but it moves fast. The museum is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station, built between 1898 and 1900. It holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.

We lucked out with the tour guide. She was knowledgable, enthusiastic and kept it interesting for all of 90 minutes. Time flew by as she walked us through masterpieces in house, sharing their peculiar backgrounds and relevance to modern art scene. After the tour, we walked around some more, and then had a coffee and dessert break in their Art Nouveau inspired brasserie, The Café Campana.

Verdict: One of the best museum experiences. It’s crowded, but not suffocatingly so. Also, our tour guide was a rockstar.

We returned to our hotel, picked up fried chicken and fries from a nearby restaurant (incorrigible, I hear you), rested some, got dressed and called an Uber to take us to Moulin Rouge.

I had purchased our tickets in advance for 110€ each (it included half a bottle of champagne or drink of choice). We reached there by 10:30pm, and were ushered in in 20 minutes later. It was a massive hall, with multiple floor seating. Tables were placed in close proximity, with a horizontal stage on one side of the room. I went in with zero references or research. And that is why I was blown away. I have never seen anything as spectacular as the dancers at Moulin Rouge. There is a whole lot of nudity (in fact, most women are topless most of the time) but it never once looked sleazy. It was art, music, dance, stories and performances of a lifetime. Their costumes and makeup would make any fashion enthusiast really happy. Skater boy and girl, dancing on a small circular ramp, made my heart beat so fast that I almost teared up. It was beautiful and exhilarating. Photography is strictly prohibited, so I couldn’t take any pictures. You can check out their instagram for a sneak peek (but it isn’t even 1% of what I experienced).

It also gave me a chance to appreciate the language. For the first time, I heard the romance in French language. It’s sweetness and charm. It made me realise that you can’t judge beauty of a language from what you hear on the streets. It’s art and poetry that can introduce you to a language in all its glory.

Verdict: It was one of the best experiences of my life.

As we had not had lunch, we picked up a chicken curry sandwich from a nearby restaurant at 1:30am, and shared an Uber to ride back home.

Next – Part 2/2