It’s too easy to fall in love with Paris.
And it’s a real love, true love. The kind that gives you butterflies and makes you smile for absolutely no reason at all besides just existing. It makes you giggle like a little kid and skip through the streets and shower it with gifts (euros), but you don’t even care because it’s Paris, and Paris is perfect.
I spent four days in this magical city on the Kent State fashion program’s first study tour trip. Having gone to Paris for my sixteenth birthday, I have been eagerly planning and awaiting this trip, wanting to see everything I missed the first time, on top of reliving my favorite moments. But then throw in a scheduled itinerary and 50 classmates.
Paris is a place to be completely selfish with your time, I would even recommend making the trip alone. This way you can see everything you, and only you, want to see, taking as much time as you want, and avoiding any conflict of interests. Paris is like a mall, and I would argue that everyone is more efficient when they shop alone.
Our itinerary was obviously centered around fashion, leaving our free time for site seeing. A seemingly okay plan, if there wasn’t so much to see and so little of that kind of time. And with awkward time periods taken in the day with school activities, it took strategic planning to figure out how to fit in my must sees: the Eiffel Tower at night, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Élysées, Notre Dame, St. Germain and the Marais. I chose to skip the Louvre and Versailles since they are both time consuming and I saw them last time I was in Paris. I wanted to focus on seeing the smaller neighborhoods of the city and really getting the chance to explore rather than been a super tourist.
We stayed at St. Christopher’s Inn, a pretty nice hostel with a horrible location, all the way out in the nineteenth district. Luckily it was close to a Metro, or else maneuvering around the city would have been next to impossible. Provided with a five-day pass, the train was our lifeline for getting around, as we planned our own adventures leading from the last place we were with school that day.
Arriving late Tuesday night, Wednesday’s schedule included a boat tour on the Seine, the river that runs through the center of the city, and a trip to the Musee de la Mode du Textile at the Louvre. Lasting about an hour and a half, our ride on the Bateau Mouche was a great introduction to Paris, allowing us to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Touilleries, and Love Lock Bridge all at once, with descriptions of each being announced over the speakers. After the tour we had free time scheduled, which turned into our Parisian tour guide getting lost and searching for the Louvre when we got off at the Metro stop right at its entrance…. Needless to say my annoyance level with this trip was already at an awful high. Once we made it to the exhibit, a showcase on the evolution of undergarments, of all things, we were entertained by our museum guide walking us through centuries of underwear, from early jock straps and corsets all the way to Spanx.
From the Louvre a few of us walked to Notre Dame to begin the rest of our day according to our own plans. Although I had been there before, the cathedral, which is celebrating its 850th birthday, was as breathtaking as I remembered it. We opted to forego a tour, which was six euros, and roam around the church ourselves. After about a half hour of touring, we walked in the rain to Berthillion, a cute cafe that Google had recommended as the best ice cream ever. A self-proclaimed ice cream aficionado, I can happily report that the homemade ice cream was absolutely delicious, and a perfect afternoon snack.
That night we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. Originally going with the intention of eating some dinner, once we saw the tower we quickly ditched all plans of eating an actual meal that day so we could get to top of the glittering tower. We bought tickets to the top at the box office under the tower for 13 euros. We made one of the last trips to the top at 10:30, as the tower closes at 11:00. Twinkling for five minutes at the top of every hour from 9:00 to midnight, nothing compares to how magical it really is. Having seen the tower only during the day my last trip, I highly recommend to anyone to go at night if you have to choose just one time. The views of the city lights are unforgettable.
Our biggest day of fashion education, we took the RER towards Charles de Gaulle and headed to Premiere Vision, one of the largest textile conventions in the world. Covering the Fall/Winter 2014 season, we sifted through the upcoming fabrics, leathers, furs, trims, colors, and jewelry for four hours. While it was an amazing experience, going without a real purpose while professionals were trying to conduct business made it difficult to be there for such a long time, making the time period easily cut in half for the school’s future visits.
Annoyed with the clash of Kent State programming once again, our free lunch hour was taken over by traveling back to the city center for our next appointment. We managed to squeeze in lunch at Ze Red Queen, a small cafe by the Luxembourg Gardens where we had a very cheap lunch of delicious quiche and salad for only five euros.
After lunch we went to the Paris American Academy for a demonstration of the Grés draping technique by Madame Picco, one of Madame Grés’ dressmakers, and the woman who famously turned down working for Jean Paul Gaultier. This draping technique is the main reason designers study in Paris, as the handcrafted gowns take between 180-300 hours to complete. Mme Picco was very excited to tell us her story, so excited that the lecture that was supposed to last one hour ended up lasting three, which most of us with plans for the evening were not thrilled about. While it was amazing for design majors to see, us merchandising majors have had no prior introduction to the method, and were pretty annoyed at the amount of time we were getting taken from us.
At almost 6:00 we were finally set free. A group of us visited the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens, still full of fall blooms. Then we headed to our biggest event of the day: Chipotle. I know, it’s not Parisian in the slighest, and I hate eating food I can get at home when I’m traveling, but sometimes you just really need it. So with that, I have no regrets in taking three different trains and spending 15 euros on a feast of a salad, chips, and a margarita. Try to tell me that when you’ve gone without your hangover food of choice for over a month that you wouldn’t do exactly the same.
That night we followed the advice of our French liaison, Eleanor, to go to rue de Clingancourt, a street lined with bars. When we got off the Metro it was a ghost town, and I’ve never been so nervous in one area. So we quickly hoped back on the train and picked a random stop to get off near Notre Dame, feeling a little safer in the center of the city. We ended up finding rue des Lombardes, a small pedestrian-filled street lined with jazz clubs and pubs. We chose a seat on the patio of a random jazz club and sipped on a glass on wine while enjoying the people watching before heading back for the night.
The last day of fashion events, we went to Trend Union for a lecture on trend forecasting and the Spring/Summer 2015 season. By far my favorite event of the week, we learned from the team of one of the industry’s best, Lidewij Edelkoort. We explored the projected themes and trends for over a year ahead, and my mind was boggled by the psychology and sociology behind it all. If you want to start preparing your wardrobes, get ready for a mix of togas and structured geometrics.
My friend Cassie and I decided to break away from the group before going to our next appointment, heading to St. Germain for lunch. When two other girls got left by the group in a frenzy at the Metro, they joined us for lunch in the most Parisian area of the city, in my opinion. Full of cafes and couture, we wandered through the wide streets before enjoying our first real meal of our whole trip. Cassie and I had decided that Friday and Saturday were all about being French, so after a lunch of wine, fish, broccoli mashed potatoes and apple tarts with French vanilla ice cream, all for 20 euro on a fixed price menu, we went to Ladurée for their famous macaroons.
We then went to Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern and contemporary art. Preferring more classical and romantic pieces myself, the museum was interesting, but I had to make sure to read every description so I could figure out why exactly a coat rack next to a shelf and a bowling ball was considered a prominent piece of art
After spending about an hour at the museum, the modern art exhibit was being worked on so we could only see the contemporary collection, Cassie and I went to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Élysées. We climbed 284 stairs in a small spiral staircase to the top of the Arc for the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower, free with our Paris Museum Pass. After taking in the views of rest of the city, we sauntered down Champs Élysées, window shopping, spotting our first celebrity (some French model signing autographs at Sephora for Clarins), and laughing at the extravagant Abercrombie and Fitch.
That night we celebrated two of our friends birthdays. We, again, picked a random stop on the Metro and picked a restaurant right at its exit. Sticking to the Parisian theme of the night, steaks and French red wine were perfect choices on the relatively inexpensive menu. Making friends with our cute waiter, the ten of us loud American girls probably annoyed everyone in the restaurant with our constant giggling.
We took our waiter’s advice and went to the St. Michel area, the opposite side of Notre Dame that we were the night before, for after dinner celebrations. We quickly learned that France doesn’t treat going out like America does. Unless you’re at a nightclub, which we didn’t feel like going to because of cover charges, you sit a table, buy your own drinks, and they don’t appreciate birthdays. It was a harsh realization, but we eventually got over it. We chose Le Petit Pont, a bar with waiters and in sparkling fedoras and waitresses in bunny ears, but drinks the size of fishbowls. Splitting one massive drink for 12 euro each, my friend Kate and I sipped a mixture of God knows what, but was served with a giant flaring Sparkler and a glass of champagne dropped into the middle of the drink that had rose petals floating in it. If anything, A+ for presentation. After a few hours of sipping the same drink, which definitely did the trick and cost us less than everyone else in our group, and dancing in our seats, we left to go to the pub next doo, Shywawa. More of a typical bar, the birthday girls managed to get a free shot while we sang along to “Baby, One More Time” and Spice Girls. Did we care that we were being such typical Americans? Absolutely not, because we were having way too much fun for it to already before after 4:00.
I said before the trip that Paris would be a city of no sleep, and after a two hour nap I was up at 7:15 to check out of the hostel and enjoy my last day in Paris. While many of our classmates chose to take the train to Versailles before our 4:30 departure, Cassie, Kyla and I decided to spend the day exploring.
One of our classmates, Paige, had studied at the Paris American Academy this summer (another program Kent offers) before coming to Florence, and suggested we go to a flea market that morning. Clearly not finding the vintage market she was describing, we quickly walked through a mini market before heading back to the St. Germaine area. Kyla had her eyes on a new Longchamp bag since the beginning of the trip, so we picked up macaroons from another Ladurée location to snack on while moseying around the area to find the store. Continuing our window shopping, I had to stop myself from going into Chanel when we passed her famous apartment down the street.
We took the Metro to the Marais after, an area that I had been dying to see. Filled with little boutiques and cafes, and a special vintage market that day, it instantly became my favorite area in Paris. We stopped for a lunch where I had the best quiche I’ve had, filled with caramelized onions, cranberries and walnuts. The shopping was amazing as we roamed around the Jewish Quarter, where I found the perfect gold ring I’ve been searching for at a the most amazing costume jewelry store, Satellite, and a silk head scarf decorated in French motifs from See U Soon. We wandered towards the fifth district and explored vintage thrift stores full of Valentino and Dior, and beautiful fur jackets that I had to stop myself from buying on the spot. I was doing so well sticking to my budget, but I hated walking away from such great pieces. Fashion major problems.
Although we could have had much more time in the city, which we realized when we all found out that our flight wasn’t until 9:15 and we were leaving to go to the airport at 4:30, we said our sad and annoyed goodbyes. I had a heart to heart with one of my professors about working in Paris after graduation, so who knows? Maybe I’ll be back sooner than I think.
Some Tips for Paris:
- Read up on French history before you go, especially the French Revolution.
- Make a list of must-sees, note that the Louvre and Versailles each take up a good half day at the very least. Don’t try to plan everything down to the exact minute though, give yourself a lot of wiggle room for things you may stumble upon or want to spend more time at.
- Get a Metro card for by the day, not the ride.
- Purchase a Paris Museum Pass. It includes Notre Dame tours, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, the Louvre, plus many others.
- If you have never been to Paris before, take some sort of guided tour early in your trip, such as Bateau Mouche or Les Cars Rouges.
- Invest in some Dr. Scholl’s, you’ll be doing a lot of walking and tennis shoes are an absolute no-no.
- Mentally prepare to spend a lot on food. Paris is not cheap.