When good Americans die, they go to Paris.Oscar Wilde
The moment I booked this trip to Paris, it was a year-long countdown. It wasn’t just the place that made it unique, it was the fact that I was going to spend my birthday there. Gathering all of my research, I booked the ticket on Norwegian Air and chose the 20e arrondissement located on the right bank as my home for the week. Google the 20th and you are most likely to see the words dangerous attached to it. Hey, any place can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions: traveling late at night and all of the other things your mother probably yelled at you about. Still, I chose this arrondissement based on two factors: Cimetière Père Lachaise and street art. The 30-minute metro ride into centre-ville wasn’t painful at all, and I found myself happy to retreat back to Gambetta/Père Lachaise at the end of a long day of dealing with crowds. The Citymapper app was a godsend!
Arriving at Charles De Gaulle
If you have ever flown into LAX (that’s Los Angeles Int’l), you’ll know the amount of anxiety-inducing situations that brings, well try multiplying that by 10 and you have CDG. And this is coming from someone who’s adventurous and charges at life head-on. Even so, the level of frustration at this place was the proper introduction to Paris. I looked frantic, so much so that I had a few people stop to ask me if I needed water. Waiting for my FÖRLENKA backpack to come around the conveyor belt, I begin to look for an Uber ride. By the way, download the CDG map.
Making my way out of the terminal proved to be the biggest challenge. Some idiot left luggage unattended in the second terminal caused staff to close the terminal down until further notice. It took me 15 minutes to squeeze through.
Making your way out it will be quite apparent that Uber cars are NOWHERE to be found. Instead, I see the taxi drivers vying for my euros. Walking up and down the terminal, taxis are being swooped up by irritable travelers. I can’t find the train station either, so I finally relinquish my luggage to a fast-talking man from Morocco.
Dying to Get to My Flat, Literally
Leaving CDG felt like, what I assume a pinball would feel like, being knocked around without any sense of control of your path. I sat quietly in the back seat enjoying the traffic jam. The small talk between the taxi driver and I was short and in spurts. He looked like he was already aggravated by the traffic and I didn’t want to disturb his train of thought. The fun part of the trip started when we were trying to merge onto the Périphérique. The Périphérique is the outer ‘ring,’ which could be called an expressway if it actually moved. Rush hour traffic in ANY city no matter how pretty it is, IS a pain in the ass, and I wasn’t the one driving! I sensed the driver’s desperation. He somehow managed to cross two lanes of traffic without hitting anything. Who cares if he’s blocking the lanes. Nobody was going anywhere anyway. I start to believe that this man was the inspiration behind the game Crazy Taxi.
He proceeds to switch gears and drives at about 45-50 mph, BACKWARDS! That’s it, I’m going to die now. I take a quick picture of a street sign and figure that would be the last thing I would see before dying. I can’t even scream. Weaving through narrow Parisian streets, I began to embrace the madness and become quite amazed at his driving skills. He pulls up to a street lined with cars, and somehow he manages to insert the vehicle in a way that gives me just enough room to take my belongings out of the car. While I’m kicking my bags to the curb, he comes around with a card reader. He was already puffing away at a cigarette as if he had just finished marathon lovemaking. I was kind of [chortles] offended he didn’t offer me a cigarette. Another woman was trying to make her way out of this narrow dead-end street and began to yell, which I could only surmise was, “Hurry the fuck up!” The taxi driver flails his arms around before jumping into the vehicle and peeling out. Peeling out in a Peugeot, c’est possible.
Villa Stendhal and the rest of the neighborhood (Gambetta)
My host couldn’t stay to greet me since I was running late and she had other plans. Remember kids, the first floor is really the second floor in France. I was on the third floor, and with each step, I wondered how I could muster enough energy for the next one. I felt HUGE in these narrow hallways, but I was in France, and there was no way I was going to start a diet HERE, NOW. Here’s a link to my Airbnb rental. It was cozy but had everything I needed, and yes, the feeling of opening that window to the balcony was heavenly!
I created a quick video tour to upload later, and once I caught my breath for a few, I was ready to head out and get something to eat. My American self said it needed to be quick and easy. I splashed some water on my face and headed back out. I expected to at least hoof it a few blocks, but to my surprise, there was a boulangerie right on the corner. I must have missed it on the way in since I was trying to avoid my spleen from coming out of my ass.
I’m confident that I will be able to order in French, but if I get nervous or overthink it, I’m screwed. It appears that it’s the end of the business day and I don’t want to make this harder than it needs to be, so I greet and point while repeating the name of each item. I end up with pizza, some sort of flatbread, a Perrier, and a raspberry tart. Just like in Germany (and I’m assuming the rest of Europe), there’s a small tray on top of the register for coins. Remembering the order of operations from the trip to Berlin, I just follow the cashier’s cues.
An Open Itinerary to Living Like a Local
Back at the studio, I enjoy my food, while trying to figure out what my itinerary will look like. Over the course of a week, my schedule was simple. An open agenda allowed for a day trip to Giverny and to spend a full day at le Cimetière Père Lachaise. Thinking you can do Père Lachaise in only a couple of hours is going to disappoint you. Besides after all that walking, you’ll be lucky to make it back to your residence without breaking your legs. More on that later.
I opted for a studio apartment because I wanted to immerse myself in a Parisian neighborhood, which meant living like a local for a week. My host was kind enough to leave me a note with a list of all the hot spots around Paris and in XXe. My second stop was up the street at the Franprix where I purchased some groceries: organic eggs, fruit, water, juice, and ham. I’ve mentioned this before and have added it to packing lists: BRING A REUSABLE BAG! Nothing screams tourist as not having one with you before you head to the checkout line. I brought one but didn’t bring it with me to the store, and there I was frantically stuffing my items in a hurry into a bag I had to purchase because I fell asleep at the helm. I could feel the glaring stares from disgruntled Parisians all over my body. Considering the number of bistros and restaurants here, I could have probably gone without going to a market, but I feel it’s always a good idea to have food in the house just in case.
Fun at La Poste
If you’re going to La Poste to send off postcards, let me save you the heartache right now. Bring exact change. They didn’t accept my bills nor my cards. I didn’t want to stand in line and instead went to one of the self-serve machines. This is something straight out of the ’80s. Stamp dispenser or old cell phone? The user interface on these machines is a butt, so it will most certainly test your patience. Quantity, weigh the item and pay. Have multiple items, you’ll have to do this one-by-one as there isn’t an option for multiple items. Quel horreur!
Cimetière Père Lachaise + Map
If you’re staying in the other arrondissements and just think this place deserves to be skipped, you are DEAD wrong. See what I did there?
The cemetery is, at minimum 5 hours of your time. It took me an entire day because I started later in the day (the cemetery closes at 6 pm) and I thought I could just wander around without a map until I had to find one and snap a picture. Also, it’s about 110 acres! To be honest, I only had a few people I wanted to ‘see’: Oscar Wilde, Camille Pissarro, Marcel Proust, Georges Seurat, and Georges Bizet. After that, it was anyone who I just happened to stumble upon. I must stress the following: please don’t litter, decide to have a picnic, or break through barriers to get to Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, or any other gravesite for that matter. It’s clearly stated on the map pamphlet:
Come here on a day you might need to unwind and meditate. It does put a lot of things into perspective. Walking towards one end of the cemetery you’ll find commemorative monuments for victims of war and the Holocaust. There are no words to describe these. I had to stop for about 15 minutes, just to take it all in. In any given direction, you’ll find ornate grave sites cradled between luscious trees. On a sunny day, catching the shadows between the leaves is exquisite. The cemetery feels like its own little medieval city where some of the paths are covered with cobblestones. In other words, wear comfortable walking shoes, or you’ll soon regret it! Even though stopping for a pique-nique is prohibited, don’t forget to bring water. Still, the cemetery does have benches to relax and take a breather. At the base of the hill, there’s even a way to catch a glimpse of la Tour Eiffel.
So IS the XXe Arrondissement Safe?
I’d say it depends, only because I took the time to integrate with it AND I wasn’t doing anything stupid like carrying flashy designer handbags or getting lost in my phone. A lot of it is common sense. While this won’t always prevent you from being a victim of a crime, why take your chances? I also went on Instagram months before my trip and was looking through pictures of the neighborhood to catch a glimpse la vie quotidienne (that’s daily life!) studying small details such as clothing and mannerisms. I’m sure my RBF (resting bitch face) helped, too. Another friend of mine lived over by Bagnolet, and she thought it was pretty safe. I was only out until 10-11 pm at the latest since I’m not much for the nightlife. The one time I was out after 11 pm, I had the pleasure of watching a drunk woman (she was a tourist) vomit all over herself and on another passenger on the metro. No, thank you!!
In any case, I enjoyed my time in the XXe arrondissement. I saw plenty of street art just as I wanted, including an Invader piece near the Père Lachaise. It had a bit of that bohemian vibe going, too, which reminded me of Berkeley. A beautiful blend of modern and classic, old and young, calm and busy.
C’est parfait pour moi.