Monday 10 July 2017

Paris, part 2: Con diaries

Our first full day in Paris is hot. We're guzzling water like it's going out of style, and after an hour our water bottle is empty. We are at Sacre Coeur when that happens, where the prices are sky-high and a single bottle of water costs 3 Euros. Reluctant to pay that much, we decide to stroll around for a bit first.

Good thing we did! In a little park off to the side, we find a water fountain. Later we read in our guide book that these cast-iron fountains are found all over Paris and are called 'Wallace fountains', dedicated to Richard Wallace, who paid for their construction in the 19th century. We fill up our bottle twice, and then step back to let other people have their turn.

Suddenly, we are surrounded. A group of small women has appeared out of nowhere, shoving clipboards into our hands. They point to their ears and mouth, and then tap the top of the sheet attached to the clipboard urgently. "Support the deaf and mute", it says there. Underneath it, several people have signed what looks like a petition, leaving their name, home country, and the amount of money they have donated.
The women have put pens into our hands, and all but grab our hands to write for us. It happens so fast, we can't do anything but comply. When it comes to the amount, I write down 5 Euros. I pull out my wallet and hand over the 5 Euro-bill, thinking I'm done. 
Oh, no. They turn over the sheet, where someone has written "10 Euros". 
What do I do? Do I shake my head firmly and refuse, like I should?

Nope. I pull out my wallet again, and look for another fiver. I don't have one; the smallest bill is a 20 Euro-bill. No problem! One of the women pulls a handful of crumpled bills out of her pocket, gives me 10 Euros and takes my 20. "Hey, you still owe me another 5!" I protest. She hesitates, but then, incredibly, she gives me one more 5 Euro-bill. A honest crook?

And then they are gone. 
As quickly as they appeared, they disappear, and my sister and I look at each other dazed. 
"We just got conned," I finally say. Welcome to Paris!

Oh well, it could have been worse. We are a bit humiliated, but we still have all our belongings, minus our pride. To recover, we rent bikes and head to the Seine, which will become one of our favourite spots during this trip. 

The Parisians sure know how to enjoy life! Starting in the late afternoon, more and more people gather at the banks of the Seine, sharing glasses of wine, enjoying the warm summer evening and each other. We are only too happy to join this tradition! One night, after a surprise rain storm, we sit under a bridge by the Seine, sipping our wine, when there's suddenly a voice behind me, saying something in French. 
I turn around and find a tall, dark-haired, good-looking guy smile at us. I tell him that I don't speak French and turn away, expecting him to move on, but something about us must communicate "talk to us!", despite my best efforts to give off the message to "leave us alone", because he sits down. 

Great. I gesture to my sister and tell him that she's the one speaking French, a move I probably shouldn't have made, because now he starts in on her with such fast French, she is completely lost. When he notices that he has lost his audience, he pulls a battered French-English dictionary out of his bag and starts using that to help us understand him. 

He's not creepy, just - weirdly insistent. We would like him to move on, but he keeps up an oddly one-sided conversation, telling us in a mix of broken English and fast French that we look like twins, asking us about our lives (marriage, children, where are we from), and then proceeds to show us art installations on YouTube (like this giant blue star). When it becomes clear that he won't leave, we pack our things and get up, telling him that we're going home now. He seems okay with that, giving us the French 2-cheeked kiss and a cheery 'Au revoir'. The French men sure are - friendly?!

The next day we have an appointment: Going up the Eiffel Tower. Neither my sister nor I are great with heights, but she bought us tickets, and damned if we don't use them! We have bought food and wine for a picnic we are planning to have under the Eiffel tower right after.
As we are standing in line, I see a giant sign posted next to the entrance, listing everything that's not allowed to bring in. Amongst the 20 or so items is also a bottle of wine. 'Oh well, they will take it away', I think to myself, not too worried about it.

Not so my sister. When the unsmiling security guard pulls the bottle out of my backpack roughly, she protests, demanding to be able to pick it up later. He shakes his head sternly, pointing to a garbage can just outside the door, indicating that we have to throw it out. "Should we leave?" she asks me, annoyed.
"No, we've come that far, let's just throw it out!" I tell her, and she reluctantly agrees, resolving to pick it up once we are done. She carefully wraps the bottle into a pink plastic bag and places it deep down into the garbage can, determined to get it back.

What can I say about the Eiffel Tower? It looks better from below than from above. There are so many people, I get panicky, and when we are up on the second platform and the wind whistles by, I get weak-kneed and shaky. I swear the tower is swaying, and we race down the steps to the first platform, where we feel safer.
Part of the flooring is made up of milky glass, and the latest craze is to lie down on it and take a selfie. Maybe the thin air is messing with my mind, but I'm suddenly determined to try it, too.

You can't see it, but I'm shaking here.

I wouldn't say that I have overcome my fear, but I have faced it, and it feels pretty empowering. 
With that done, we head down the stairs, having crossed the Eiffel Tower off our list once and for all. 

The wine is gone. 

But if there is one thing to be said about Paris, it's that it's easy to find more, so we head back to the Seine and toast to an eventful day and amazing trip.

Paris, you are many things, but you're certainly not boring!

xoxo Miriam

Part 1



  1. We got swarmed by the women with clipboards at the Eiffel Tower! We managed to swat them away, but Kevin even answered in Russian when they asked if we spoke English and the lady immediately was like, "Ah! Russian," and started talking to us in Russian. Haha! Touche, lady.

    That's great that you faced your fear and went up the Tower! And then found some new (sad about the original bottle!) wine to celebrate. :)

    1. That was quick thinking from Kevin! Does he speak Russian??
      After that episode, whenever someone shady-looking approached us, we would shake our heads and pretend we don't speak ANY language lol

  2. I am SO fine with being rude to people who shove things in my face and/or demand money. I'm probably meaner about it than I should be, but part of my thought process is that I won't ever see them again, so who cares?

    You weren't imagining it! The tower was definitely swaying! But congratulations for facing your fears!

    1. Omg, is it really swaying?!? That's terrifying! I'm so glad I didn't know that before, I would never have gone up.

      I wish I could be more like you! I'm such a push-over, and saying a firm 'NO' is very hard for me. Definitely an area to work on!

  3. I am finally getting to read part 2 and it was worth the wait. I am the type of person that would have refused to sign the form for those women. But I am a sucker for time share deals and get suckered into the initial pitch before my husband drags me away. Sometimes I get suckered by the same person several times on the same trip! Haha Paris does look lovely. I am all for late afternoon bottles of wine.

    1. That's one of the great pleasures of life!🍷
      I've managed to walk away from the timeshare hounds, but the Paris ladies were too clever for me. Being assertive is hard!


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