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Paris was all jetsetters, trendsetters, castles and rainstorms

March, 2011

Checking in and onto the EuroStar train in London was a breeze. In just a little over two hours, Chloe and I would be in Paris. Our skillfully planned, high-class, fashion-forward weekend was underway!

As the train rolled out of London, we immediately got down to business and dished, as women do, about men. A half hour later, a sharp-looking Frenchman sitting in front of us turned around and said that the whole car could hear us and “We can’t take another two hours of this.” Begrudgingly, Chloe pulled out her magazines while I ate my pasta salad.

Once in Paris, we looked for a taxi to take us to our hotel. Fifty euros was the quote, so we unenthusiastically walked toward the subway. Disoriented, we asked for directions several times. My accent was so strong that no one understood what I was trying to say. However, the locals were very helpful in directing us through the underground maze. One woman walked out of her way to make sure we got on the right train.

One hour and three trains later, we surfaced. Though typically on a budget, we wanted to do Paris in style. We had decided to splurge on the chic and trendy Mama Shelter hotel designed by Philippe Starck.

There is a fine line between trendy and comfortable, and the hotel crossed this line. The room was cramped, strangely decorated with masks, there was no place to put our clothes and worst of all—no hair conditioner to tame my frizzies. Nonetheless, the hotel bar and restaurant were happening. Good food, drinks, jetsetters and trendsetters were just steps away.

Château de Versailles was No. 1 on my to-do list and I drove Chloe crazy, incessantly reminding her of it. We made a pit stop on the way, though, for the most sinfully, delectable pain au chocolat.

It took about an hour by train to reach Versailles—a suburb of Paris. As a traveler in Europe, my favourite ventures are visiting the grand castles that have witnessed history, while imagining myself living in them. (As what one may call the world’s most opulent residence, Versailles plays a leading role alongside Napoleon, King Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette in French history.)

Just outside the train station was a magnificent, castle-like building. Was this Versailles? No. Why? Because we had to ask. I was sure that when I saw Versailles, there would be no question.

We walked down the street, turned the corner and, like magic, there she was, the sprawling 700-room castle sparkling in the midday sunlight. The gates were just as I imagine the gates to heaven—delicate yet strong, enchantingly divine, and gold, of course. A perfect wrapping for the French grandeur that lay within.

Versailles was a hunting lodge in the 17th century for King Louis XIII. His son, King Louis XIV, transformed and expanded it into a castle symbolizing the brilliance and power of the monarchy. The court and government were moved to Versailles in 1682. Its life as the royal residence was short-lived. In 1789, the royal family was forced out during the French Revolution. Most of the furniture was sold at auction. As splendid as Versailles is today after years of neglect, one can only imagine the magnificence it once boasted.

After touring the palace, Chloe and I explored Versailles’s vast, classically French gardens (800 hectares) and admired some of the 50 fountains. Chloe said this palace was too big for her taste, and she would prefer something cozier. I told her the size was no problem for me but that I didn’t see any bathrooms in the palace and if I were to live there, something would have to be done about that!

We are not your typical Parisian women. We choose comfort over style—clearly a faux pas. Chloe leisurely walked around in her all-purple tie-dye outfit. I wore black leggings under my jean shorts and a bright pink raincoat. Marie Antoinette must have rolled over in her grave.

We took the train to the centre of Paris and walked by the Eiffel Tower, lit up beautifully at night. We then found ourselves walking around narrow streets lined with restaurants and tourists. We fell right into the tourist trap: famished, we ate a very mediocre, overpriced dinner.

We tried to be posh. We had planned to explore the high-end stores on the Champs Elysees down to the Arch de Triumph. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, and we were lost for hours. We asked several people for directions. They were friendly, but no one understood my accent. After hours of roaming the streets, we found it. Exhausted and wet, we had some ice cream, took our pictures and headed back to the hotel.

I called my friend Daniel, who had moved to Paris to learn French. We met just once several years ago at a martini bar in Beverly Hills, the day before he left town. We have kept in contact ever since. I suggested he come by our hotel for dinner. He was reluctant, saying that it was in a rough neighborhood. That explained the men pushing drugs as we walked from the subway to the hotel! But he came. We stayed up till 5 am, getting to know one another.

The famous Père Lachaise Cemetery is within walking distance of our hotel. Huge elaborate tombs lined the paths, each telling a story of a life once lived. It felt magical. This romantic, labyrinth-like cemetery is the final resting place of many of the world’s beloved characters. We couldn’t find Oscar Wilde or Edith Piaf’s graves but we did stumble upon Jim Morrison’s – the one with a crowd surrounding it. It was austere and cramped between the much more elaborate graves. Had there been no crowd, we wouldn’t have noticed it. Chloe and I waited our turn to approach the grave. We had our moment with Jim, and then said au revoir to Paris.


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