By Kate Arnold
Paris is undoubtably a beautiful city but when I visited I didn’t have a great experience. This was down to a few reasons, some in my control, some not. Travelling isn’t always a breeze and it isn’t alway awe inspiring, character building and life affirming. Sometimes it’s just a bit shit.
Here’s a sonnet I found in my journal that I wrote, holed up in my hostel in Paris:
— Dear Paris, fuck you
So it goes, I did not love this city
such as I always thought I would
It smells like piss, ev’ry surface gritty
It did not look like I thought it should.
Beautiful monuments not worth the cost
Local’s hatred for tourists: resolute
Pick-pockets prey on the young and the lost
Oh — that was an actual prostitute.
In the time it took to buy one ticket
three men asked for any change I mightn’t need.
I have never seen so many children
and their mother’s living on the street.
Dear Paris, fuck you, your unkind natives
And fuck the four days that I’ve wasted.
Yeah. It’s not the best poem I’ve ever written and I never thought it would ever see the light of day (that half rhyme of ‘ticket’ and ‘children’? not my finest work), and needless to say this was not the adoring poem I thought I’d be writing to this famed city of love. I was mad. Mad at the city, mad at the locals, mad at the other tourists.
Time and Money Wasted
It’s no secret that travelling isn’t cheap and I felt like I’d wasted so much money going to a place where I felt alone, unsafe and in general, unhappy. It would have been better for me to have stayed in London, which I love, and I would have enjoyed myself more. I kept thinking that I was wasting so much time. This trip was little over a month long and I felt like I needed to enjoy every minute of it. Sure, I went and saw Ground zero, Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co. and of course, the Eiffel Tower. I went to the Louvre and saw Mona Lisa. I went on a cruise along the Seine. There were shinning moments but in general I was les misérables.
The Football (or Soccer)
Here’s a big mistake I made: I didn’t check to see if the soccer (I’m Australian so that’s what I’m going to call it) was on. Why would I? I don’t care about sports. It didn’t even cross my mind except when I was trying to book the Euro Star and thought Huh, I wonder why tickets are £300? It didn’t occur to me that this would mean the city would be more crowded than usual. The flow on effects of this were immense:
- Everything cost more,
- Locals were sick of tourists, which meant that
- They could be pretty nasty, and there were
- Large groups of men were EVERYWHERE and they were
- Drinking from 10am in public (where there are minimal free public toilets), thus
- EVERYWHERE (I’m talking the streets, the stations, the eateries, the shops) smelled like urine
I Was Alone
By this I don’t mean that I was unhappy to be alone in this city of love and romance. I mean that I got lost. I was targeted by pick-pockets and people asking for money. I couldn’t overcome the language barrier well. I found the public transport difficult to navigate. My mentality when travelling and getting lost is always just to ask someone, but whenever I did I was met with such hostility. I felt very unwelcome in Paris.
This one is another example of poor timing. I arrived off my sleeper bus from London at 9am on the day that it was announced the UK was leaving the EU. As an English speaker (as I’ve said my French is très mal) locals assumed I was British and did not treat me favourably for it.
Homeless Mothers and Children (and Prostitutes)
I’ve never been anywhere that I’ve seen mothers and their children living on the streets. It was profoundly disturbing to see this. I had so little money, being close to the end of my trip, that I didn’t have much to give any of them. I have great guilt about walking past homeless people, even in Melbourne, but I know that I can’t stop and talk to every one of them and I can’t give them all money. Seeing young children sitting on bridges and outside train stations while their mothers beg for money, while I was privileged enough to be travelling outside my own country made me feel as though I was wasting my money on my own self indulgences, when I should be donating to homeless shelters and charities that would help these people out.
Similarly, I was on my way to Notre Dame when I passed a woman standing on the street and I just thought: She is a prostitute. An actual prostitute. It was like something out of Les Misérables. I saw a man, at least twice her age, walk up to her, take her hand and she led him into the building. I felt so sad for her. And look, I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t homeless mothers and children and prostitutes in the world but it’s one thing know it and another to see it and seeing theses people in these terrible situations in such a beautiful city was extremely confronting.
Here on Xen. we talk so much about how travelling is so wonderful and life affirming, but it isn’t always the case. Travelling can be lonely, you can feel homesick or lost. You can be in an iconic, beautiful city, somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, and not know why you’re there. I don’t want to discourage anyone from travelling alone. It is an amazing experience that I think everyone should experience at least once, if you have the chance. Just know that, like in life, travelling has its ups and downs. And don’t worry, my trip got much better after this. I headed to Amsterdam and had a great time. Check my article on the hidden gems of Amsterdam here!
I’d love to hear about any travelling experiences that didn’t live up to your expectations and why that was. Leave a comment and let me know.