Major European cities are like old people. They’re aged, stoic, full of protective locals, grody in some parts, and quite ordinary (or so they seem). But that’s just the apathetic façade of a city that has seen and experienced a lot. It’s surly, perhaps a little fatigued from past fights; so you can’t blame it for being a wee bit cranky and cautious. In all honesty you’re a stranger to it and don’t know it’s history.
Okay, now imagine 2 strangers meeting for the 1st time; how often do they hit it off from the start? Rarely! UNLESS one knows the angles, the skill of asking the right questions, picking up the minute clues, digging into the right topics…true, if done right, there’s a chance these strangers could rapidly become good friends.
And that’s where I came in.
Initially, I had been jaded by my 1st big European city. Paris had been romanticized by the likes of Midnight in Paris, An American Werewolf in Paris, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The city seemed seductive, elegant, affluent, inspiring, and no doubt flavorful. French cuisine is universally revered and by no accident. Think about it: croissants, baguettes, macaroons, crepes…wine. Sweet Jesus.
Nevertheless, I arrived and the city surprisingly felt like the antithesis of all the above. It was cold, impersonal, unattractive, and the crepes were eh. It was huge and I had made the mistake of staying in a burrowed, residential area that was a 50-minute commute from the Eiffel tower. And when I went to see the city, there were troupes of tourists shuffling in herds to major landmarks: The Eiffel tower, The Louvre, Notre Dame, and Arc de Triomphe. It felt like I was at a huge 6 Flags theme park riding the tide to all the major rides. It sucked.
But as they say, everything is temporary.
I met a man by the name of Pierre who managed the hostel; over the course of 8 hours, he ushered me to veiled warrens only a native Parisian would know. I ate Escargot, walked through community gardens that lead to a sacred church and the greatest view of Paris, Montmartre. I even had the tastiest baguette in the city, costing a mere Euro. The next day I did a free walking tour and heard the dense and juicy history to landmarks that seemed so hard & emotionless just 2 days prior. And I moved to a hostel where I bonded with travelers over our shitty experiences in Paris. Ironically, our time only got better through the company of each other.
I had met Paris as a stranger, and judged it for its crusty old face and reserved 1st impressions. But only after being more patient and giving it an honest read, did I learn about its unrivaled beauty and depth.