Portugal, Part 1: Lisbon & Sintra

Semana Santa – Holy Week – is the week from “Palm Sunday” to “Easter.” During this week in Spain, you will find essentially all academies and numerous other businesses closed. Many people either head back to their hometowns or take a trip. For myself and the various expats I know here, the latter was the preferred option.

Rua Augusta (Arco)

Portugal

Flight Ry

My good friend (and former roommate), Calla, and I booked eight days in Spain’s neighbor on the Iberian peninsula, Portugal. Part of booking a Semana Santa trip – especially when booking a little late – is scrounging for what deals can still be found and adapting your travel schedule to the cheapest flights and hostel rates.

We found our flights to Portugal through Iberian (always a good choice) and for hopping around within Portugal, we booked Ryanair (do not do this; avoid, avoid). Our four (!) different hostels were found through Booking.com which resulted in some mixed results. Pro tip: Make sure you’ve scrolled past the front-loaded positive reviews to get a fuller picture of your accommodations.

 

Lisbon Rooftops

LISBON

Our initial destination was national capital, Lisbon (Lisboa). We arrived without any specific itinerary, instead opting for my preferred method of traveling: making it up as I go. On our first morning, after making it to our hostel after midnight, we met up with my current Madrid roommate, Casey, for a free walking tour. I would highly recommend, if only because after the tour I had a much firmer grasp on the layout of the city.

 

Tour Guide
Luis’ 10 Min History of Portugal

The tour, led by Luis, lasted three hours, and followed a circuitous, slithering path that stayed contained to the city center and the most heavily trafficked tourists spots. Luis helpfully explained that, since Portugal had decriminalized all drugs, we could expect to be propositioned quite openly for weed and other narcotics (we were).

 

Bertrand

The tour took us by a number of the important sights and literary monuments of the ancient city, including Livraria Bertrand, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest bookstore in the world still in operation. 

 

Calla and Casey Fountain
Calla and Casey

I’m generally not one for tours or group activities (or groups, for that matter), but as a way of getting my bearings on the first day in a new city while also getting a succinct history of Portugal, I’m glad we decided to participate. Plus, it was free – with a heavily suggested tip for Luis (I’d recommend 5€). When the tour ended around 2 in the afternoon, we had arrived at the waterfront, in view of the spectacular Arco da Rua Augusta.

 

Arco da Rua Augusta

Meeting more Madrid-based expats later, our first night in Lisbon was spent exploring Alfama, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon, famous for its confounding winding streets and the numerous restaurants that offer Fado performances during dinner. Fado is a traditional Portuguese form of musical performance heavy on sad tales of lost love and heartbreak. Though we could hear the strands of Fado streaming through the streets of Lisbon, we unfortunately never got around to stopping for a proper performance. We did, however, try Ginja, a sweet liqueur that’s been a Portuguese mainstay for over two centuries (of course we made time for an alcoholic tradition).

Quinta da Regaleira

SINTRA

There are countless Sintra day tours offering any variety of sightseeing packages, but despite Luis’ halfhearted effort to sell us on one, Casey, Calla, and I opted to make the journey on our own (for better and worse). For five euros, we bought tickets for an hour train ride to the city famous for its numerous castles and spectacular views.

Sintra, a village overflowing with charm, is planted in the midst of mountains and history. No descriptions would do as much justice as a few pictures, so enjoy:

After wandering around aimlessly for some time, we paid for a bus ticket to take us up the mountain roads so we could explore some of the castles. We should have been paying better attention, though, because after riding the bus for an hour, we found that we had done a full loop and were back where we started. Sheepishly, we stayed in our seats and went back up again. Worth it.

Moorish Views

Each castle has its own price for viewing, and we weren’t trying to blow all our funds, so we picked one; a good one: Castelo dos Mouros (The Moors Castle). Built of stones and towering high into the sky, it can be a bit vertigo-inducing, but just grip the wall tightly and take the climb. You’ll appreciate the views.

Sintra Pana

Despite storm clouds threatening us most of the day, the rain held off for us, only falling once we had returned to the city square for a late lunch. In fact, I’d say our whole trip was characterized by lucky weather. Rain was in the forecast for essentially all eight days, but it rarely interfered with our activities (other than making for some gray photo backdrops).

Pastéis de Belém

Before Casey could leave Lisbon the next day, we had one last stop we had to make: Belém. Located on the western edge of Lisbon as the city inches towards the Atlantic Ocean, this district is known for having the one, true Pastel de Nata – an egg tart pastry (a description that doesn’t do it justice). Supposedly only three people know the original recipe.

The place to get them is at Pastéis de Belém, located on the Rua da Belém. Upon entering, the renowned restaurant gave me flashbacks to the famous Café du Monde in New Orleans. Just as that shop is known for its beignets, Belém is where you go if you want authentic Pastel de Nata. You can get similar tarts throughout Portugal, but like Highlanders, there can be only one.

When we arrived, there was a long line out the door (another similarity to Café du Monde), but Casey had been clued in by the manager at her hostel that we could slip through the line and go straight inside for a table. We still waited in a short line, but it only took us ten minutes to be sat. Unlike du Monde, there is a full menu of food and pastry options to choose from, but if you’re not getting the Nata, why did you even get out of bed?

Pastel de NataPasteis De Belem

Now, what everyone wants to know: are these pastries worth the hype? Well, put quite simply, they are delicious, unquestionably. Are they the greatest things I’ve ever tasted? I wouldn’t go that far, but I would definitely make it a point of going back to Pastéis de Belém the next time I’m in Lisbon.

Of course, some will wonder if getting a Nata in Belém is really necessary if other shops sell them, too. To that, I’d say: unequivocally, yes. I had actually tried a similar tart earlier that very morning at a café just outside my hostel and it wasn’t even in the same category.

If you’re a pastry devotee, there’s no reason to settle, Pastéis de Belém is a 30 minute detour outside of the city center. Make the effort. (Also, if you’re a pastry devotee, you’ve made some weird choices in life, but you do you.) 

Street Car.jpg

After we parted ways with Casey, Calla and I returned to our hostel. This was our second hostel (the reason for the change is a long, uninteresting story), and a definite upgrade, even though it was further outside the city center.

Our first hostel was a mistake. Overbooked and poorly designed, it had only two single-occupancy bathrooms for some 30 guests. Sure, the loud-whispering, drunk bunkmates who were a few steps short of reaching third base in a room of eight people were annoying, but that’s just part and parcel of hostel life; the bathroom situation, though, that was unacceptable.

Following our night’s stay in the less crowded and far less grunt-filled hostel, Calla and I had to catch a flight to Porto for the second leg of our trip. But that’s a full post in itself, so you’ll have to come back next week if you want to meet this cool dude:

Bird's Eye View

Until next week, Adeus!

Porto Panorama

I’m in the midst of an eight day trip through Portugal right now (writing this in the Travellers House in Lisbon), so I’ll be keeping this brief and simply posting some of my favorite images from Porto, an absolutely beautiful and enchanting city that I wish I had spent more time in.

Enjoy, and I’ll return next week with more photos and details about the trip.

~L

Calem PanaInfante Douro PanaGuindalense PanaPorto from the Docks PanaDouro PanaStreet Art PanaPorto Douro PanaDouro Banks PanaPonte Suis BW Pana

Six Months

Months have roared passed – September, October, November, December, January, February – and I have arrived at the sixth month mark. This moment has traditionally represented a pivotal moment, the halfway point to something new, the vantage point off a mountain’s peak from which I could see where I’ve been and where I was headed next.

The View from San Francisco

In this moment, though, I do not feel like I’m on higher ground.

It has been half a year since I moved to Madrid. I have no idea what point on the timeline that represents. At the very least, I expect (hope) to be here in Madrid through next September, which means this isn’t even my halfway point. It is possible that I will stay in Madrid another year or two, or maybe I’ll move to Valencia or some other Spanish city. My intention is to spend at least two years in this country, but my intentions are subject to whims and laws (moreso the former than the latter).

I don’t have any great desire to return to the United States – though, I miss New York City terribly, in ways both obvious yet also unexpected – but that’s about all I know. There’s no denying that America is my home, and I know I will be back there, someday. Just, not yet.

Six months in, I am adrift.

Estanque y Monumento

Of my time in Spain, three of those months are three of my favorites of the year, and the other three are my absolute least favorite. My apologies to T.S. Eliot, but December through February are, in fact, the cruelest months.

On this blog, I’ve discussed quite openly my mental health: I am Bipolar II (severe depression, hypomanic episodes) with seasonal affective disorder. There is a regularity to my cycles that is simultaneously calming and infuriating. To know that a prolonged period of mental desolation is inevitable, to know it but be unable to preempt or mitigate it, is, in a word, cruel.

We all have our medications. Mine is moving.

I travel because I am alive, and I am alive because I travel. To explore somewhere you’ve never been, to begin over again in a new home, that’s to allow oneself to feel both small and enormous: a lonely stranger, yet member of a nearly eight billion-strong club. I’ve been traveling long enough to know that new scenery isn’t a magic elixir for mental illness. It is, however, a reprieve. 

Crowds at Plaza Mayor

I talk about such matters on this blog because it’s something I so rarely see discussed in this arena. Travel blogs and Instagrams are all shimmering vistas and words of infinite optimism, inspirational quotes etched over mountain ranges; people proclaiming that they quit their jobs without looking back and they have never been happier. I suppose some of them could be telling the truth. I know some of them are full of shit.

This is a hard life. Sorry to break the illusion. I don’t aim to inspire.

To travel, to step out on the wing, is to feel lost and out of control far more often than you feel certain. The doubts, the anxiety, the depression: they are companions of a constancy far greater than any friend. They travel for free and are already unpacked before you arrive at your destination 

Like life itself, traveling is a solitary endeavor, so I’m thankful for the friends who stick around, and for those who allow themselves to be vulnerable and admit their own struggles. They make the road less lonely. It is not weakness to admit you feel weak. I’ll type that up in Helvetica and plaster that on a photo, for sale in the gift shop.

Los Portadores de la Antorcha (Alcanzando)

Six months down another road. It’s still true, I don’t know where this one leads. The more I think about my future, the harder it is to see an endgame. When I was 22, I had a picture of what my life would look like; I knew it was just a dream, but at least I could envision it. Now, all I can see are all the things might life will never be. The future is unwritten.

If the past is any indication, it doesn’t really matter. All I can do is hope that I don’t run out of a fuel before I run out of time.

Sunlit Palacio

What comes next

I’ve done unconventional things in my life. Generally dumb, maybe a few clever choices, but mostly, just odd. For instance, have I ever mentioned that time I moved to ten different cities over ten years? Oh, I have?

Well, in the midst of those ten years, I tried something else that many of you might not know about, especially if you only started reading this site in the last few years.

As my sixth year – Nashville, Tennessee – passed the halfway mark, I wanted to try something to shake-up the proceedings of a project that had started to have predictable beats. That far into the project, I was locked in to completing the whole endeavor, or die trying (sounds dramatic, but honestly, there were more than a few months where my next meal wasn’t guaranteed).

So, in order to liven things up and keep myself from getting too bored, I introduced a new gambit. I opted to put the power in readers’ hands: They voted on my next city.

I was prudent enough to know that giving the internet unrestricted options would wind up with me being sent to Bedford, Wyoming or some other desolate ink dot, so I gave voters options: Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Portland, OR; and Seattle, WA.

So Far
After one week of voting.

I didn’t have a lot of readers in those days (some things never change), so there wasn’t a deluge of votes, but there were enough to make it interesting. The voting lasted about two months, and though Seattle and Portland pulled ahead initially, it wound up being neck and neck, with Denver, Austin, and Denver duking it out for first place (Portland, to my surprise, fell far behind and was never much of a contender after the first couple weeks).

Lake Union Pana

In the end, as I’m sure you can deduce, Seattle won the vote, beating out Denver by one vote. Fortuitous that it did, as well, because my year in Seattle was one of the best of the entire project and the city remains among my favorites in all of the US. Conceivably, it’s possible I would have come to love Denver or Austin or Portland just as much; we’ll never know.

All these years later, I can admit, letting internet strangers vote on my next home does seem a bit out there, even more than 10×10. It was a period in my life where I had no preconceptions or directions for what would come next so I figured I’d let the winds decide.

I feel like I’m at a similar place in my life, now.

TowerA couple weeks ago, I was sitting at one of Madrid’s many spectacular cafés with three friends and I asked them that cliché question that everybody hates, but which I think is worth contemplating from time to time: What would your ideal life look like?

It’s something I keep asking myself because I’m not entirely certainly. In part, that’s because, as I age and pursue certain avenues, other pathways that I had previously contemplated are closing to me. Some people will say that you can still be anything you want at any age, citing some septuagenarian grandmother who went back to college or a celebrity who didn’t became famous until their 50s. Those people are morons. Don’t feed them.

Life is finite and if I had only one dream, it’s true, I could dedicate myself to it and in time I might achieve some level of success. But I don’t have one dream, I have many. Just like I don’t have one home, or one passion. I want to master every art form, I want to live in every city, I want to taste every whiskey.

I want to live on every continent. Yeah, Antarctica, too. And then I want to fly to Mars.

Sunset Ripple

When I answered my own question with my friends, I said that I didn’t care so much what I did for work so long as it allowed me to keep traveling. I wish I could be a renowned author (never going to happen) or a world-famous photographer (probably not going to happen), but those pursuits aren’t likely to change the course of my life.

I’ve gotten to an age where it would be damn near impossible to go back to the US and work my way up in a traditional career. That bridge is, if not burnt, then covered in gasoline and being occupied by a bunch of smokers.

I’m not sure any of it matters. I’ve never made much money in my life, always just skirting by. But skirt by I have, and I’m now living in my thirteenth city on my second continent. Somehow, I’m still going. So, I guess I’ll keep going until I can’t. That’s pretty much the point of life, verdad?

I don’t know where I’m going next, or when, but there are more destinations ahead, of that I’m confident. So, just for fun, as a bit of non-binding but informative polling, I’m putting the question to my readers again: For my next continent, where should I move?

❏Africa
❏Asia
❏ Australia
❏ South America 

Answer in the comments.

Underpass

Three Months

It’s been a minute.

In so many ways, I’ve just begun.

Three months is how long one can have a “Tourist Visa” for the Schengen Area, the territory made up of 26 European states (including Spain) that have a common visa policy. Everything after that is, well, just life.

Fly by night

I have been in Madrid just over three months. I am still a visitor.

I’m surrounded by Americans here. My three roommates are all from the States, as are most of the people I associate with on a day-to-day basis. My situation is unique among the group because I am the only one not enrolled in the language school, and thus lack those direct connections and gateways into the wider culture here.

Admittedly, it’s made things difficult.

I never had any illusions. Moving to Spain was always going to be more difficult than any of my 10 US moves for one obvious reason: I don’t speak the language. Every challenge associated with relocating is amplified by that deficiency. Which, of course, is the point. Each challenge should be harder than the one that came before, otherwise, there’s no growth. 

Correr

I am on my own.

As I said, I have a group of Americans around me, and I’m grateful for their company. We spent Thanksgiving together, traveled to Toledo as a group, and have enjoyed a wide range of activities, both Spanish and otherwise, including photo shoots, dance classes, and bar hopping. Like so many other cities before Madrid, I have landed within the comforting fold of a collective.

But after my many years on the road, I’m acutely aware of the solitude inherent to my life. Carpool lanes don’t exist on this highway.

Under the Bridge

I scan through a lot of travel blogs and social media posts by people who have moved to another country. A common trope across almost all of these mediums is the grandiose self-examination, the “What have I learned so far?” post. 

I get it. Not only are we a species prone to taking stock of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going, but our friends and family are always asking us about all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Why move across an ocean if you aren’t going to learn new things about the world and yourself?

So, here’s some knowledge: Mahou, the name of a ubiquitous beer in Madrid, is one syllable and rhymes with “wow.”

Mahou

Something else? Well, hm, a euro or two is sufficient tip for a full meal.

Still more? I’d rather not.

Three months isn’t long enough to “know” anything. I am new to this country – to this continent – and I have experienced relatively little in the grand scheme of things. If I returned to the States now, I could certainly share insights into life in Spain and on how it differs from life in the US. They would be shallow observations, though, because I haven’t come here to report back on my findings.

I’m here to live. Solo mirando solo.

Basketball Dreams

When the original 10 Cities/10 Years project concluded, my biggest struggle was explaining the “why” of it, both to others and to myself. I did it, it happened, there was nothing more to it. The project was such a massive undertaking that it’s nearly incomprehensible to suggest there was no grand purpose to the endeavor, and yet.

Now in Spain, I feel a similar disconnect. The people I know have different reasons for being here, either seeking a break from their life, or improving their Spanish, or even escaping a painful past. Some will be here a year, others might push it to two. In the end, though, they will return home, because home is something definite to them.

I’ve nothing to return to. I’m home here. And then, some day – a year, two years, a decade from now – I’ll be home somewhere else. Home is always the future, never what’s past.

Los Portadores de la Antorcha

I have no idea where I will be in a year. In some ways, that’s standard operating procedure for me, but in the past there’s always been scaffolding to provide shape to the uncertain future. I might not have known what city I would be in, but I knew I’d be somewhere new, starting over, getting on with the process of life and building towards New York.

A year from now, I could be in Madrid or Barcelona, some other European country, or somewhere in Asia. Maybe circumstances will force me back to the US or into some heretofore unimaginable corner of the planet. I mean, probably Madrid, but also, if the wind blows, so be it.

Otoño

I am on my own.

This much I know. Everything is up in the air and the roads undiscovered are plentiful, but there has been one truth to my life that hasn’t changed: I will find my own way.

May it not always be a lonely path. Cada camino es un buen camino.

Watching the sun set

Madrid sure is pretty, isn’t it?

 

 

Paris, France

Some cities have no equal. They stand alone, suspended by romanticized reputations built of cinematic allure. Even people who have never seen a map somehow have visions of these cities in their mind. New York City, for instance. 

Paris is such a place.

Eiffel Bir-Hakem Pana 2

I have dreamt of visiting Paris for as long as I can remember. It’s a city of romance and art, literature and philosophy. Yes: love.

My favorite era of American history – the Roaring 20s – is inextricably linked to Paris through the countless artists and writers (including personal favorite, Fitzgerald) who took up residence in the City of Light during the decade. It remains a cultural mecca.

Musée du Louvre Marquee

After years of dreaming (and one spectacularly failed dalliance with a Parisian), I finally made my first pilgrimage to Paris a week ago.

The raison d’être for this visit was a concert by Brooklyn-based jam rockers, The War on Drugs (who, ironically, I never saw while living in Brooklyn for three year). I’d turned my roommate and travel companion, Emily, on to the band some months back, so I bought the plane tickets and she booked our accommodations.

French Flag

After a two-hour flight from Madrid on which my Asian seat partner enjoyed a pungent Ramen noodle cuisine (got to make the most of cheap flights), Emily and I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport Saturday evening.

We had been told by a French native that Paris was an easy city to navigate because most signs are in English as well as French. In fact, the signage throughout the city is generally bilingual (or just in English), but even so, every new city offers challenges and its share of confusion.

Navigating Paris involves multiple public transportation systems. The first was the RER, express train lines that connect the center of Paris to the outer suburbs. At the supposedly multilingual machines, we didn’t know what tickets to purchase. The price of RER tickets depends on your zone destination. We probably overpaid in buying the 20€ round trip tickets, but whatca gonna do?

Our accommodations had been booked through a hostel website, but in fact, our lodging turned out to be a flat for a single dad; presumably, divorced. Our room was a child’s bedroom, complete with bunk beds, tiny chairs, and all the toys our hearts could desire. I hadn’t had the experience of climbing up into a bed since the last time I was too drunk to get off the floor.

We were staying in the 19th arrondissement (administrative districts; there are 20 in Paris), which on a Saturday night is perhaps not the most happening place to be, but we knew before we even hit the cold night air that it wasn’t going to be a late night for us. We stopped into a brewery for a local craft bière, but the next day was going to be long.

Rue Reaumur

Tour Eiffel

I’ve done my fair share of disparaging tourists in my time – and I’m not about to stop – but this was both of our first time’s in Paris, and we had a full list of cliché tourist destinations to see. The authentic cultural experiences would have to wait for a second trip. After our requisite breakfast of café and croissants, we left for our first stop: the Eiffel Tower. Don’t @ me.

We took the Metro (Paris’ subway) to Gard du Nord, one of the major transportation hubs in the city, and switched to a bus for a brief jaunt through the city. We were deposited across the Seine river from one of the most iconic structures in the world.

Eiffel Bridge

There was a marathon in progress that Sunday morning, so two of the bridges that would have taken us to the tower’s base were blocked off and the crowds were all being directed further down the banks of the river. Turning those lemons into a succulent lemon tart, we used our forced circumnavigation of the landmark to capture photos from all angles.

Some of my favorites (click to embiggen):

The bus dropped us off just after 11 and by the time we had walked entirely around the Eiffel Tower and moved on to our next destination, it was close to 2 pm.

A Walking Tour

Up next on our list were more landmarks, including the Musée du Louvre and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Since we had limited time (and funds), we didn’t opt to go into any of these destinations, but even just a tour of Paris’ gorgeous architecture is a full day’s worth of activity.

Louvre Pana

There’s no better way to see a city than walking, so we did, with Google Maps as our guide anytime we lost our way, which happened frequently. Our winding path to the Louvre brought us to the Invalides, a complex of Paris that includes the Musée de l’Armée, which houses Napoleon’s tomb.

Musée de L'armée

By the time we reached the Louvre, the sun was already giving indications that it was ready to call it quits, but there was still much to see.

Our walking tour continued through the Louvre and back across the Seine onto Ile de la Cité, a slender island between the two banks of the Seine which houses Notre-Dame and the stunning views from Pont Neuf.

The evening was cooling as we made our way through the various sites and sights of the island, but crowds were still out in force.

Finally, we came to the famous cathedral.

Visitors were gathered all around and a large screen was displaying a video to the crowds. We didn’t realize at the time, but they were in the midst of setting up for a commemoration of World War 1 that would taking place two days later.

It was, perhaps, for that reason that the military presence was so heavy. At one point, while I was taking pictures of the cathedral, I realized that I was surrounded on all sides by large men wearing camo and holding almost sarcastically large guns.

Notre Dame Security

Paris has seen its share of violence and terrorism in the last few years, so the security presence was to be expected (still unnerving). It was hard not to think about the specter of terrorism when the next night, Emily and I would be seeing The War on Drugs at the Bataclan, the same venue that was attacked almost exactly two years ago.

It’s a sad part of reality, but it’s there, and we go on. I would never let terror keep me from traveling the world. There’s too much beauty to see.

Love Eiffel Love

The Path

Aliments

From Notre-Dame, we crossed the short bridge to Île Saint-Louis, an even smaller island, where we had been told to visit a specific restaurant for an unmissable dessert made with pain perdu. It was an imperative.

So, of course, we reached the restaurant only to find it was closed for the entire week of our visit.

Homme de piano
At least, on the way, we came across this man playing gorgeous piano on the bridge.

The sun was now setting, but we still had two more landmarks to visit, plus a dinner recommendation we had to try. The next stop on our, at this point, multi-mile walking tour, was the Moulin Rouge.

Moulin Rouge SpinMoulin Rouge (Emily and I)

Located in the 18th arrondissement, just outside the renowned artists district of Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge is a world famous cabaret (immortalized in numerous films, including the glitzy 2001 musical) and continues to draw massive crowds. Alas, we were not among them that night, but there’s always the next visit.

From the Moulin Rouge, we continued through the rather colorful neighborhood to reach our dinner destination:

Refuge des FondusA good friend had recommended the place, but we had no idea what we were getting into. As the name suggests, it is a fondue restaurant. It’s also an experience.

Refuge des Fondus is tiny, a narrow dining room (more like a walk-in closet) with tables pressed up against the wall and arranged with no space in between. Each side was essentially one long table. When we entered, the waitress directed us to hang up our coats in the back. Upon our return to the dining room, a waiter pulled one of the tables out from the wall to open up space at the booth. Then he offered Emily his hand.

Incredulously thinking he was joking at first, she realized that he was offering to help her climb over the table to her seat.

After that feat of acrobatics, we were brought a platter of various meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables, along with a small aperitif to drink. For dinner, we were offered our choice of fondue – we went with cheese, obviously – and white or red wine.

The restaurant gradually filled around us, and because all the tables were connected, it felt like one big group, people speaking in English and French, American accents next to British, everyone warmly enjoying themselves.

Waddling out of Refuge des Fondus, stuffed with cheese, bread, and wine, we continued through the darkening night to Sacré-Coeur, an ornate Catholic church in Montmartre, before finishing the night with a nightcap at the rooftop bar in the Terrass Hotel.

As we drank, a brisk rain fell around us, making the views of the city and the lights look even more majestic. One set of lights, in particular, was especially eye-catching.

Eiffel at Night

From the bar, we had a roughly four mile walk back to the flat. On the way, we were briefly joined by a drunk french kid who matched step with us and sang abusively into our ears. We quickened our pace, but he only walked faster. Thankfully, another lad showed up to distract him before the situation devolved into something unpleasant.

We made it home without further incident.

The War on Drugs

The next day, both of us were in pain. Apparently, walking 20+ miles and sleeping on child-sized bunk beds isn’t ideal for your body. It was okay, though, because other than the concert that night, we only had one thing on our agenda for our second full day in Paris: find a creperie.

Creperie
We succeeded.

The tickets said the concert started at 8, and since there was an opening act we’d never heard of, we arrived at Bataclan at 8:20. Turns out, in Europe, when they say the concert starts at 8, they mean the main act. We were still waiting in the coat check line when The War on Drugs took the stage.

Bataclan (War on Drugs)

We ended up stuck in the back (in my younger years, I would have fought my way to the front), where the less engaged audience members stand. Couples making out and people chatting through whole songs was the price we paid for our tardiness, but the band still commanded the room.

The War on Drugs 3

If you’re unfamiliar, The War on Drugs mix Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen (with a touch of Grateful Dead), while still sounding utterly modern. Through their more than two hour set, they attacked their instruments and filled the room with enveloping rock and roll. Well worth the three years of anticipation.

The War on Drugs

We followed the concert with a drink at Le Comptoir Général, an African-themed bar in an old barn that’s hidden away on the other side of a dark passageway. If we hadn’t been given the exact address, we’d never have found it. Le Comptoir Général was a very unexpected bar to find in Paris, with a cocktail menu almost exclusively made up of African/Caribbean rum drinks and the music a mix of African hip-hop/R&B and French covers of current pop hits. A fun, unique find.

By the end of our second full day in Paris, Emily and I had hit almost every destination on our list. There is, of course, no end of things to do in Paris – we barely scratched the surface – but for a first visit, especially one so brief, we felt pretty accomplished.

Before we headed to the airport the next afternoon, we had only one more thing to do: devour another pastry.

It was only three days, but it was a dream fulfilled and Paris lived up to the hype. I miss it already. That’s okay, though, because I’m only two hours away and I know I’ll be back, soon.

Paris by any direction