apero metro party

i almost left paris for amsterdam earlier in the week, when my original host had to go out of town to visit family. but luckily! my new french couchsurfing friends INSISTED that i stay one last weekend for this "apero metro party" that Welly had planned. and when a self-proclaimed "party-maker" in paris personally invites you to an event that hundreds of other people are going to, you really HAVE to go.

and thanks to this metro party keeping me in paris a couple extra days, i was able to  meet up with noelle and secure a place to stay in amsterdam! and she was able to come to this epic party with me! so it was a win, win, win, win situation. ;)

so the "apero" part of the party title meant that we were starting the night with a sort of appetizer picnic. it was the perfect start to the event because it allowed time for everyone to meet up, get to know each other, and pass around countless bottles of cheap red wine. 

at about 9 pm, everyone at this picnic in the park made their way to the bercy metro station, where more party people were waiting to meet up with us.  then, this huge group of at least 100 people, made their way down into the station. everyone started getting giddy as the halls narrowed and our sound amplified. by the time we spilled out into the previously empty bercy metro stop, the rowdiness was infectious. and then came our train... then came the victims, the people traveling home from work in a half-stupor, who were soon to be bombarded by a mass of thumping drunk partiers.

we all rushed onto the train and filled two whole compartments of it. so full that there was hardly room to move. hardly room for the doors to shut. it reminded me of rush hour in the london underground, but this time everyone was interacting. there was nobody nervously avoiding eye contact. no shoulders bent inward. nobody reading or dozing off...

and then the music started. chloe and noelle and i stood on the seats and held onto the roof. i looked over a sea of bobbing heads and gripping hands and tipped up bottles. we swayed with the music and with the movements of the train, and somehow we didn't fall. every time we reached a new spot and the doors opened, more people would join us and we would all cheer. and when we reached the end of the line, we simply all got off together, went out, turned around, and went right back in the other way.

complete madness.

i couldn't have asked for a better last night in paris. 

shifting plans at sacre coeur

my last weekend in paris, i stayed with a sweet french girl named chloe in her adorable little studio apartment in montmarte, just down the steps from sacre coeur.

that same weekend, another member of my creative writing gypsy tribe showed up in paris! noelle traveled to paris from barcelona with a couple of friends from california. i was able to steal noelle away for a day to catch up on our travel happenings. we met at the cafe across the street from sacre coeur and talked for hours before climbing up the steps and visiting that beautiful view of the city.

that day, we learned that BOTH of us had plans to travel to amsterdam that weekend. so we figured why not go together?! she planned on leaving paris a day earlier than me, but i convinced her to stay one more night so we could go to one last party with my french friends--a party on the metro.

i was extra lucky to now be traveling with noelle because i hadn't made any plans on my own yet (naturally). i hadn't even planned out a place to stay when i got to amsterdam... i guess i figured i could always show up at a couchsurfing event, since it worked so well last time. when i told noelle this, she asked her friend scarlett (the girl she planned to stay with) if i could stay with her, too. scarlett agreed, and that was a huge relief. ahhh, the luxury of knowing you'll have a roof over your head in a foreign country :)

so we set up a cheap carpool ride from paris to amsterdam for 8 am the next morning. we had a secure plan and a place to stay. all we had to worry about was making sure we stopped partying in time to get to our carpool ride.

orrr so we thought.

words around paris

1. the pompidou welcomes you with neon lights. // 2. "dissatisfactions: that everything relevant will not be recorded." -part of a modern art piece about recording every avenue of one's life. // 3. "in this habitat i made for you, you shall work with invisible forces." // 4. my waiter at the cafe across from sacre coeur liked me a lot... so he wrote his name on my palm and told me never to wash it. // 5. wise words on the second floor of shakespeare and co. // 6. a love locked on the seine forever.

gypsies REUNITE

after about six days in paris, part of my gypsy gang suddenly arrived! since the last time i saw them in spain, they rented a car and drove through the south of france and the north of italy. and they were going to enjoy a bit of switzerland, but decided to come straight to paris instead. because, well, switzerland is boring. ;)

i was so excited that they got to paris and contacted me just in time for another picnic on the seine! i got to introduce them to all of my new french friends! :) we reminisced about our time in spain and they told me stories about their road trip over some wine and soft brie. 

scotty and i had a bit of a movie moment when we reunited. i saw his blonde locks in the distance and heard, "steffyyy!" and then we ran to each other in slow motion (not really, but that's how it looks it my memory) and had a nice long hug. it's crazy to think that we've spent more time together in paris than we ever did back home in the states. 

having scotty, emily, and shannon in paris for a few days meant i was able to do some of the touristy things that my parisian friends never think to do anymore. things i'd never done before, but secretly really wanted to. like go to the pompidou on a rainy day and have a picnic under the eiffel tower. 

but we also did things that tourists never get to do, thanks to my parisian friends. like go to an electronic barbecue dance party in a skate park. yes, that was every bit as epic as it sounds. ^^ more pictures of that coming soon ;)

on our last day together, we drove to giverny (about an hour outside of paris) to see monet's water lillies IN REAL LIFE. shanz was just about peeing her pants the whole time out of excitement. you should maybe know that she was an art major and is going to be an art teacher, and that monet has always been her favorite. :)

after our lovely little day trip, the trio dropped me off in the center of paris and continued on to barcelona again. they tried to convince me to join them on the road trip back to spain, so that i could go to san fermin for the running with the bulls festivities, but i already had plans to see a friend in amsterdam.

later that week, shannon had to catch a flight back to the states and rejoin civilization (aka depart from the gypsy gang). because, like i said, she's just about to be an art teacher! we remaining gypsies are all very proud of her, but miss her dearly and wish she was here instead. we've been skyping enough lately that it almost feels like she's still here though... so she's with us in spirit! in giggling, messy bun spirit.*

a dinner with friends from all over

arguably my favorite thing about european culture in general is the fact that they take dining and community seriously. dinner parties and barbecues and picnics and all types of shared meals are a regular, intimate, celebrated thing. real food is cooked, wine is shared in mass quantities, and there are never any televisions or distracting electronics in sight.

on this particular night, american me and my french host met up with a spanish guy, a french girl, and an italian. the italian, named sebastiano, cooked us all a delicious pasta dish at his flat near pere lechaise. everyone mostly spoke to each other in english, but there were moments where spanish, italian and french were all somehow being spoken at the same time. we friends feasted and laughed and sipped at different colored wine until we were ready to go out on the town with our very happy, very full bellies. 

desperate times call for getting trés brave!

after a taxing first day in paris, i got up and had to start all over again. because, although i got lucky with Peace and Love one night, they had no room for me for the rest of the week. along with every other hostel in the city.

so once again, my whole objective that day was to somehow find a place to stay. i set out from jaurés station with all of my belongings and wished for something convenient and constant and cheap.

the afternoon consisted of cafe hopping, with hours and euros spent in each. café americano and pages of orwell in one. an omelette and a bit of writing in another. water and an attempt at wifi in a third--but the connection in all of paris so far was weak. so i trekked up and down st michel searching for the one place i can always count on for solid internet... 

i walked into starbucks, ordered a hot chai tea, and got upstairs just in time to watch the sky open up and dump warm summer rain on the tourists in the street. i found a prime people-watching spot and perched myself there for the rest of the gloomy daylight hours. 

and the stormy skies matched the anxiety in my mind as scouring the internet for options made me more hopeless by the minute.

i searched every individual hostel site i could find, to make sure there really were no openings. annnd, the rumors were true. my mom, who was also searching in a worried frenzy in ohio, suggested that i just give in and get a hotel. i thought about it... but just for a moment. because if i were to submit to the lame luxuries of a real hotel room, i'd burn through my traveling money too quickly and be forced back to the confines of the states in no time.

even so, every standby flight home was full for the foreseeable future, so bailing wouldn't be an option even if i needed it to be. i was stuck in paris for a reason, so i needed to stay positive and find a reasonable solution. that's when i turned to couchsurfing.

normally couchsurfers look for a host way in advance, so i didn't know if i'd have any luck. i went to the paris page anyway and sent out a desperate request for help. 

...over the period of a couple hours after i sent out that general request, i got OVER 30 private invitations from men all over paris saying they'd be GLAD to host me... ha! and when i say "men" i mean that they were mostly very french, trying-too-hard-to-be-charming,  middle-aged MEN.

i wasn't super keen on the idea of staying at a last-minute stranger's house by myself to begin with, so i knew i needed to be smart about who i picked. and a few of those invitations made sleeping in a park seem like a safer option... so i politely declined and stayed patient, keeping faith that something perfect would soon pop up.

then, on the very same page where i posted my plea, i found an open event for a picnic on the seine, scheduled for 8 pm that evening. the event had tons of enthusiastic parisian couchsurfers commenting and confirming with each other that they'd be there. sooo, i'm online waiting for a nice couchsurfing host to appear, buuut there's about to be a whole group of them partying right down the street?! JACKPOT!

i started mentally preparing myself for the fact that showing up at a couchsurfing party and begging for shelter might be my best option. that's when i FINALLY got a really down to earth message from a 22-year-old guy named francois, near rue de l'Odeon. it was the first invite of the day that seemed totally sincere and safe. also, i've stayed near the Odeon before and adore the whole surrounding neighborhood, so i was down to accept. because as fun as the picnic on the seine scenario sounded, there was no certainty i'd find someone there who'd be able to host me.

BUT, right when francois and i started deciding on where to meet up, i was kicked out of starbucks because for some ungodly reason, parisian starbucks close at 9 pm?!?! i had no phone, no internet, and no way of contacting this guy. so without thinking twice about it, i put on my gypsy coat, gathered my bags and made my way toward the seine. 

i realized that the rain stopped just before i left starbucks. people on the streets were still shaking water out of their umbrellas and tucking them away. as i walked north, clouds were shifting overhead, making way for some final fragments of blue sky. 

by the time i reached the river, the heavens had cleared and a colorful sunset was on full display behind notre dame. for the very first time since i got to paris, i looked up and stopped moving and marveled at the scenery. then i laughed to myself about my incredible luck---for completely missing the rain and for having the perfect opportunity to do something a little courageous in such a beautiful place.

i walked along the river bank, nervously scanning for a group of people that maybe looked like they've slept on strangers' couches around the world. i started worrying i wouldn't find them, that i wouldn't be able to distinguish the couchsurfing picnic from all the other little picnics on the seine. and then i saw it.

beyond the bridge of locks near notre dame, a group of about 40 people were mingling and drinking and echoing laughter across the water. i paused mid-step and tried to compose myself. but i felt immediate heart palpitations at the thought of walking up to this huge group of strangers, holding everything that's currently dear to me, and hoping they accept me.

then i thought this is exactly what i signed up for. this is the type of adventure i've been craving. this is going out of my comfort zone, and THIS is what travel is all about---trusting and immersing.  

so i silenced my mind and just started walking toward them, all fears aside. and as i got closer, people within the group turned to face me, one by one. by the time i got within a few feet, there were about 7 people looking right at me, so i smiled and said, "couchsurfing?"

loudly, and all at once, all seven said, "hiiiii, yes, welcome!" or some other sort of warm greeting, and gestured for me join them. then before i knew it, i was sitting in between new french friends, bags off my shoulders, wine in my hand, answering questions about where i came from. they opened their arms to me immediately. 

the obvious question i was asked first is, "do you not have a place to stay tonight?!" i said no and explained that i sort of found a host, but had no way to contact him about meeting up. i was offered to use the internet on an iphone, so i started to message francois again. 

then, just as the sun was really setting into a deep purple, it started lightly raining again. everyone ran toward the nearest bridge for shelter. when we got there, a band was playing, fire dancers were performing in the corners, and other parisians (maybe previous picnickers) were dancing throughout the tunnel.

so the rain made this already surreal party on the seine morph into a vibrant, buzzing, echoing tunnel of elated intoxication. 

but i couldn't exactly enjoy this epic party going on around me when i had very heavy, valuable bags weighing me down. so i kept trying to message francois to secure a place to stay. 

i was finally able to tell him i'd meet him at the odeon theater. so i picked up my bags, said goodbye to these perfect strangers who were so willing to help me, and started to walk away---back into the unknown. 

as i was walking away from the light of the tunnel, back toward the darkening city, i thought, am i going to regret turning my back on this incredible atmosphere? is there any way i could stay? maybe my host would want to come back with me after i drop off my bags?

my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a man's voice saying, "ooh la la, gypsy girl." clearly directed at me and the absurd coat i was wearing.

two young french guys were leaning against the slanted wall, not far outside the tunnel. they asked why i was leaving the party already. i told them i had no place to stay and that i was on my way to meet a couchsurfing host at the Odeon.

"really?? you're at a couchsurfing party with tons of people who sign up to host people like you... and they're all right here! why would you leave this great party to walk 30 minutes through the dark streets of paris to stay with someone you've never seen? someone here will surely host you. you can stay with me! or my friend here! we both have space. or any of these other people, if you like them better... but why would you leave this beauty? look at all the people dancing, and the musicians, and the river, and the sunset, and notre dame! this never happens in paris. even WE are lucky to experience it and we live here. you should stay." 

........yeahhhhh. i hope you read all of that in a french accent... if you didn't, read it again. if you did, please tell me... HOW COULD I POSSIBLY SAY NO?! 

i brought up the issue of my heavy bags. without hesitating, this guy pointed at the other end of the tunnel, beyond the fire dancers, and said, "see that leettle car there? that's my car. you can put your bags in my car, if you want. they'll be safe there. we can stay here and party. i'll introduce you to all of my friends. and you can decide who you feel comfortable to stay with."

what were the chances of this young parisian man owning a car? how many people in paris honestly own a car? especially someone right here, right now, right when i needed it??

i looked into his face as he was talking, trying to get a read on this unusually kind stranger's character. i quickly studied the creases at the corners of his eyes, judged the sincerity of his smile, felt the tone of his voice, and decided... yes.

a sarcastic female friend of his came up and laughed something half-french about him helping me. he replied something to the effect of, "yeah, i know what it's like to be in a foreign country without a place to stay. i've been in this situation many times. of course i'm going to help her."

...so yes. i said yes. of course, i said yes.

i put my bags in his car and i felt light. he gave me something to drink and i felt happy. he introduced me to all of his wonderful friends and i felt whole. they all told me how great of a guy he was and i felt safe. i messaged francois to say i found another place. and i stayed.

and i stayed. and i stayed. and i stayed.

i stayed with Emilien for 10 days. 

and it was one of the best spontaneous decisions i've ever made. 

that time i got turned down by shakespeare (and company)

when i say that my decision to go to paris alone was too spontaneous for my own good, i really mean it. because when i got off the plane at charles de gaulle, i had nobody to meet, nowhere to stay, and nothing in particular to even do...

but i did go with some sort of purpose. a very vague purpose that left me completely at the mercy of fate. and it wasn't to see notre dame or to go to an art museum or to drunkenly ride a merry-go-round across the street from the sparkling eiffel tower. because i've already done all that. 

i initially got it in my mind to go because i knew scotty, emily, and shannon would be going through paris sooner or later. scotty mentioned me meeting them there and "oh, won't it be funny to be in paris with you again! we've spent more time together in that foreign city then we ever did back home in the states!"

so i planned on staying in the mountains for a couple weeks and then meeting them in paris. but when the workaway thing got overwhelming, i decided to just escape to the city early and get a head start there alone. because i desperately wanted time to write and to process all of these things that were happening to me. and i had a specific place in mind where i wanted to do it.

when i got off the plane, i knew exactly where i was going. i felt like a parisian, the way i seamlessly found familiar ground, and followed it, almost without looking up. i didn't need to. i didn't need to see paris, i needed to feel it. and i wasn't sure how that deeper connection would manifest itself, but i felt the gravitational pull of it and submitted, without thinking. i didn't question the absurdity of my own decision, because it just felt right. my repressed logic knew it was a dumb idea, but logic doesn't have much of a say in my life.

and audrey hepburn once told me, "paris is always a good idea." so i didn't think anything could go wrong. something would happen and it wouldn't be completely terrible, because it'd be in paris. nothing can be entirely dreadful in paris.

so i got off the train and walked through the city without pausing to look at anywhere but forward. i walked straight to the little bookshop across the street from notre dame. and then i sat and observed before making my move. 

ever since i first visited shakespeare and company a few years ago, i've fantasized about someday living there as a tumbleweed*. it's a god damn literary paradise. every corner of that old store oozes eloquence and i wanted more than anything to breathe it in everyday. to inhale it and let it infiltrate my every cell. to consume me and fill me until it spilled out of my fingertips and made something beautiful. 

*ever since george whitman opened the store in 1951, he let drifters and vagabonds like me sleep amongst the broken bindings and mingle with the many other writers who passed through. he called them "tumbleweeds". and he called the whole operation "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore." there are beds upstairs, occupying the few square feet of space not spilling over with books. and from what i heard through the grapevine, all one has to do is show up and ask if there's room.

so that's what i intended to do. i sat outside by the fountain, watching the ebb and flow of customers coming and going, trying to muster up the courage just to ask. because that's always the hardest part in a situation---the question, the wait for an answer, the not knowing. i felt so vulnerable there with my bags by my side and nowhere else to go. i was terrified of the thought of hearing NO. but i had a feeling it was meant to happen, so i gathered myself and went inside. 

i floated toward the register, where a stern-looking redhead greeted me. and then i asked. i held my breath, shoulders high, waiting for a response. the redhead then told me in a british accent that they just accepted two girls the day before, and that they were too full to take one more... my shoulders fell and the weight of my bags on me grew exponentially, all at once. she said they'd probably be over capacity until the end of july... but i didn't need a bed in july, i needed one THAT night... in her polite-sounding-but-so-NOT-sincere british accent, she said that she was very sorry. i left the store, a little stunned.

i had such high hopes going into it. i was so sure that that experience would be possible. the timing felt right and i thought that i needed it. i thought it was the whole reason i felt such a pull toward paris. all of a sudden, nothing made sense.

looking back on it, i now know it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me. because the timing was all wrong. an entirely different and drastically more exciting experience was waiting there for me instead---right there, very close to that same spot on the seine.