Paris was the first city I traveled to with a TopDeck tour group, on a month-long trip to over a dozen countries. We all met at the crack of dawn at a hostel in London and dragged our drowsy selves onto a coach bus, to head to a ferry that would take us (and the bus) from Dover, England to Calais, France. Making friends on a group trip can be tricky in the beginning, with everyone’s varying levels of nerves, but despite being half-asleep, I quickly made friends with two Australians from the group of Aussies and Kiwis. (Not gonna lie, having never studied abroad, I was stoked to be the token American.)
The ferry ride was the first time I’d been on a massive ship. It had a cafeteria, movie theatre, and multiple levels–and felt more like a mall than a boat. My favorite memory from the ride is learning from my new friends about all of Australia’s “big things”–huge statues around the country, like the big guitar, the big mango, etc. (Spoiler: I got to see the big banana and the big prawn (shrimp) when I visited Oz!)
When the ship docked in France, we boarded the bus again and drove straight to Paris. With limited time, we did a driving tour straightaway. I felt similarly to the first time I rode through New York on a tour bus. Granted, I’d rather travel any new place on foot, but there are some first-time city experiences that are incredible when seen through tall windows, in motion, looking out at scenes you’ve only seen in movies or TV shows. We cruised down the Champs-Élysées, saw the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower–decorated with a large soccer ball underneath to commemorate the big game that week. (Being sports-illiterate, that’s about as much as I can speak to that.)
Our first night was low-key: dinner at our posh Generator hostel, with a rooftop bar. We eased into getting acquainted with another, grabbed drinks on the roof, and were amazed that the sun didn’t set until close to 11pm.
The next day, we hit the ground running, walking by the Louvre, climbing up the Arc de Triomphe, some window shopping, trying to stay cool in the hot, hot heat, and eventually chilled at a table outside a cafe, feeling very Parisian.
Our massive group went on a bike tour around the city, led by an Aussie ex-pat gentleman who encouraged us to take a happy hour break mid-way. We relaxed, lying in the grass drinking beer, and then we continued on our way, zig-zagging through pedestrians and narrowly making it through a couple of seriously tricky intersections, when our guide would hold up his fist and say, “DOMINATE!” as we all barreled through 6-way intersections, fearing for our lives.
The theme of grass-lying with beverages continued into the evening, as we were all instructed to “do as the Parisians do” (apologies to any Parisians reading this — these instructions came from an Aussie tour manager :)) and each grab a bottle of wine to enjoy on the lawn while having a picnic dinner. I recall many delicious cheeses. And wine. Mmm, wine. Into the evening, while some of the group went to a cabaret (and shared their very entertaining stories afterwards), I grabbed a drink outside a bar with another girl, where we joined up afterwards with the rest of the group to ride home on the metro, pitying the sober passengers who had to share the subway car with us.
The next morning, our bus full of hungover travelers headed to stunning Switzerland… to be covered next week!