I wasn’t at first that thrilled about visiting Paris. As a new traveler full of assumptions and profound ignorance, I thought Paris would be home to rude and unfriendly people. Especially towards Americans. So when I arrived at Charles de Gaule airport to pick up my car lease, I was going to drive straight to Luxembourg and start my journey.
However, a week prior, a friend of mine convinced me to join Couchsurfing. Enthusiastically, I filled out my profile, set my travel dates, and contacted a few hosts hoping to get the same positive experiences my friend had. I didn’t expect much from it, but as I was waiting to pick up my car lease, I received a notification from one of the hosts, Alain.
Alain had read my profile and was intrigued by what I was about to do (Embark on 6 Month car tour of Europe). He had a spare room in the neighborhood of Belleville near the heart of Paris. I thought I’d be sleeping on a dirty couch but my room, free? In the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the world? I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I made my way to Paris but decided I didn’t want to drive in the city. It’s my first time driving in Europe and is unfamiliar with the traffic and driving habits. I especially did not want to deal with such a crowded place like Paris, so I parked my car outside the city and took the train instead.
I met with Alain and figured out the Couchsurfing arrangement. To my joy, he also offered me the keys to his apartments so I can come and go as I please. I wasn’t expecting that level of welcomeness and openness. He did warn that he wouldn’t appreciate if I brought strangers along that into his place. I guess it had happened before and created an awkward situation where he walked in on his guest doing unspeakable, Rated R, sort of things.
Alain, wouldn’t have to worry about that sort of thing with me. He’s opening his doors to me in kind, and I wouldn’t do anything to compromise that trust. You see Couchsurfing is based on trust and community support. If you have some doubts, you can rate and review your host or guest on the website for future reference.
The Walking Tour On The First Day
After I got situated on my first day, Alain recommended that I go with Sandeman’s Free walking tour. The tour starts at the St. Michael’s statue with a group of people and the tour guide. The tour also includes the famous sites and stories of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe and lasts on average 2 and a half hours. It varies depending on what the guide thinks is best for your group.
The tour will show you Paris as it was meant to be seen; by walking along the banks of the Seine and through its royal gardens and squares. The guides take you where buses directly can’t go while they breathe life into the stories of Paris and give you an authentic introduction to France’s most visited city.
Montmartre District On The Second Day
The Montmartre district exemplifies all things Parisian, from terrace cafes to hopping bars and clubs, drunken can-can dancers at the Moulin Rouge, to budding street artists and performers, bourgeois-bohemian apartments to tiny cobblestone streets. I began at the border of Montmartre by the infamous Moulin Rouge.
From there, I went up the hill to artist studios, statues of pop stars, and the church at the highest point of Paris; Basilica Sacré Coeur. This is a great place to pack a lunch and watch the clouds pass by. Being in Montmartre made me feel like I went back in time and what it meant to be Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali want to call this fabulous district home.
While I was in Montmartre I stopped by the Montmartre Cemetery. It’s been around since 1825 was originally a solution to crowding in cemeteries inside the city limits. The quarry had been used during the French Revolution as a mass grave. It was built below street level, in the hollow of an abandoned gypsum quarry located west of the Butte near the start of Rue Caulaincourt in Place de Clichy.
As is still the case today, its sole entrance was constructed on Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt. What I love about it is how elaborate each tomb is. All of them are ornate, extravagant and tell a story about who the house. It’s romantic and macabre all at the same time. Many famous people are at rest here and it’s fun to see how many you can find.
Exploring the Notre Dame Cathedral On The Third Day
Instead of going to the top of the Eiffel Tower first, I went to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral. Tipped by an Australian tourist that it was a better view of the city at a lower price. Being up there made me feel infinite. Seeing the gargoyles up close gave me a whole new perspective on what it took to create this ornate cathedral. It was worth the wait.
Eiffel Tower On The Fourth Day
As cliche as it is, no trip to Paris would ever be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing and deserves its fame, and it even looks better at night!
Le Louvre On The Fifth Day
Ministry of Culture and has an all-inclusive pass into government-owned museums such as Le Louvre. Alain told me he’s been visiting the museum for years and still haven’t explored all the rooms. The museum has been a symbol of France’s storied past and home to famous artist’s work such as the Mona Lisa, and is she ever so popular!
While she’s surrounded by other impressive pieces of art, she’s the bright star that garnered all the attention. I worked my way through the crowd to get a glimpse of her beauty. Small in stature as she is, I can see the magnificence of such work. I also marveled at other artist’s work, such as Veronese, who produced equally impressive paintings.
There’s something about impressionism that speaks to me. The exhibit features many famous and lesser-known but essential works from Monet, Edgar, Degas, Renoir, Delacroix, Gaugin, Manet, and Caillebotte. It also explores the (postimpressionist) work of artists such as Victor Van Gogh, allowing visitors to trace the evolution of form and light starting from the early impressionists onward.
Chateau de Versailles On The Sixth Day
Alain’s Ministry of Culture pass was able to get me past the huge lines snaking around the entrance to the Palace for free. The epic display of wealth inside the Chateau is beyond comprehension. It was truly grand. But, I had my first encounter with pickpockets. In the room where I took the picture below, it was very crowded. When the masses started to stand shoulder to shoulder, I noticed a lady squeezing her way toward me very aggressively.
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When she got near me, she pushed and shoved to the point where it was odd even with such a vast crowd. Then I felt something grabbing my pocket where I had my wallet in. I turned around and stared angrily at the guy that had his hand there. He bolted and as soon as he did the lady ran away too. If you’re ever in this place, be aware of this distracted method and keep an eye out for your valuables!
Exploring Good Eats On the Final Day
I wanted to try out falafel and L’as de Falafel is supposed to be the best in Paris, according to Lenny Kravitz. It’s in the old Jewish quarter of Paris, and there’s always a line, but it moves fast, and it’s worth it. It comes out fresh, hot and crispy loaded with a ton of veggies. For six Euros, it’s a great deal.
After getting all my fill of the local cuisine. I took a boat trip on Bateaux Parisiens. The tour starts near the base of the Eiffel tower and goes along several of the museums and the famous landmarks like the Notre Dame Cathedral. I sat there marveling at architecture and thought about how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful city, and I stayed there for free.
Couchsurfing Final Thoughts
My experience with Couchsurfing has been positive. My host Alain is nothing short of amazing. All my assumptions about Paris was thrown out the window, and it’s now one of my favorite cities. My host got me into some of the best tourist attractions for free. My stay in Paris was both cheap and memorable. Couchsurfing FTW!
HOW TO COUCHSURF
- If you haven’t already, join Couchsurfing @ https://www.couchsurfing.com
- Build a great profile and host couchsurfers at home.
- Give references to get references.
- Use your judgment for safety. Go with the most positive reviews. Choose hosts with the most detailed profiles. If you’re a woman traveling alone you might prefer a female host.
- Always clean up after yourself and respect your host’s home.
- Offer to clean or volunteer to do chores.
- Communicate and Coordinate, and if you can, do activities with your host.
- Create a general itinerary on Couchsurfing. You might get invites.