Trying to get out of both the literal barricades surrounding Notre Dame and the figurative kind comprised of police and tourists was nightmarish. Add to that chaos, a very urgent need to pee. We found a few bathrooms while power walking through the maze towards the exit, but all of these bathrooms were decorated with lengthy lines of people waiting to use them. Eventually, we found relief in a cafe across the street. Except, when I reached the bathroom stall, I was surprised to find that I had to pay to open the door. The coin slot had me in a panicked deadlock until a couple of French women walked in, took one look at my face, and put a coin in the door for me. Crisis averted.
The rest of our Christmas Eve in Paris was far less stressful. That night we took a dinner cruise on the Seine which departed while the Eiffel Tower did this:
There’s little else I can say about this meal apart from how delicious the food was. We tried a lot of food we hadn’t before– including duck pate and macaroons (separately, of course). The views from the river, all of the architecture, the bridges– it was breathtaking. To top off the evening, the band on the boat sang “Hallelujah” while we ate, which made us cry all over again (read my last post for context). The night was another dream. Too spectacular and mesmerizing to be real, I pinched myself the entire evening.
On Christmas morning, we woke up for some quality time with the Eiffel Tower. We made it all the way to the top by taking these lifts that we were sardined into. I was grateful that I was smushed onto the glass wall of the elevator so that the claustrophobic sea of squished humans couldn’t suffocate me. Fun fact: when the Nazi’s occupied France, Hitler visited the Eiffel Tower. Mysteriously, the elevators stopped working and because he wouldn’t take the stairs, Hitler never made it to the top! When the war ended, the elevators suddenly started to work again… In any case, I did make it to the top. The views from the top of the tower were endless. The sun was out (I actually got a tan from this, I kid you not), people were feeling the Christmas cheer, it was a beautiful day. We called both of my sisters while we were there to wish them a Merry Christmas and it was surreal to tell them we were calling from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The rest of the day flew by faster than anticipated. We spent the better part of the afternoon on a bus sightseeing, and much to my disappointment, ran out of time to see The Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge and I go way back– all the way to 2001 when the movie came out. Back then, my elementary school eyes were too immature to actually watch the film, but you better believe I had that soundtrack memorized. Later on in high school, I would dance the can-can with my jazz class during a dance recital to some songs from the movie. In college, I would write a paper on the film’s director– Baz Luhrmann. So when we didn’t make it there while sightseeing that last day, I was a smidge bummed. All I wanted was to get take a picture of the theater and take it in. But, then you remember you’re in Paris and everything around you is so pretty that it looks fake and it became really easy to move on.
Our last dinner in Paris was at this tiny bistro with more phenomenal food. I tell you, French food very well could be my favorite cuisine from here on out. I’ll never taste a pastry the same way again.
Towards the end of our dinner, we started talking about ways we could pass by The Moulin Rouge before catching the train to Belgium the following morning. It definitely wasn’t on the way. My dad told me that he’d looked into some of the shows, but the earlier performance on that Christmas night was sold out. We talked a bit more about it, debated back and forth, and ultimately ordered an Uber to take us there just so we could have a look at the thing before we left the country.
The Uber driver who drove us there was one of two we had while in Paris who spoke English. We had a great time talking with him about our trip and the city. As we drove, the charming cafes lining the streets abruptly turned into sex shops adorned with neon lights. It was such a drastic shift into the underbelly of Paris that all we could do was laugh.
There, he dropped us off in front of the Moulin Rouge windmill. We headed inside to the ticket counter to confirm the show was sold out; but much to our surprise, the woman at the counter told us that she could fit us in. Just like that, we were about to see the 9:00 show at The Moulin Rouge!
In the short time we waited in line to be seated at our table, I got choked up. An hour ago I’d accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be able to drive by the building and now, suddenly, I was in the lobby waiting to watch the show.
The show was fantastic, the French can-can was everything I expected it to be, and I saw more boobs in two hours than I’ve seen in 25 years. There were snakes, ponies, men, roller-skates, magicians, champagne, battery powered costumes– a lot happening in that tiny theater! It was just a dream I tell you. I must have dreamed this trip.
When the show ended, we slowly made our way out and I got my windmill picture. Back at our hotel I listened to the Moulin Rouge movie soundtrack until I was able to sleep. It was an unconventional Christmas, to say the least, but most certainly one I’ll always swoon over.
The next morning we boarded the train to Belgium to reunite with my sister and her family for the first time since July! This was a very different train experience from our ride to Paris. An elderly woman (late 80s?) sat in the window seat next to me. She tried to speak a couple languages to me, none I could understand, but eventually asked if I spoke English. As I got to talking with her, politics eventually made its way into the conversation. The woman asked me if I had read Michelle Obama’s new book (I hadn’t, though I’d just received it as a Christmas gift). She told me that she’d just finished reading it in Polish and that it’s a best seller in Europe. She said the loveliest things about Michelle Obama and her beginnings in Chicago. I told the woman that I lived there now, and she asked me questions about my city. She asked about guns. She asked about Trump. She asked for my thoughts. She said that the Europeans miss the Obamas and again gushed over the quality of their characters. She legitimately told me to come home and tell everyone how much the Europeans love Michelle and Barack– so here you go, you’ve been told!
When our train arrived in Brussels, Belgium, we only waited minutes before laying eyes on my sister’s family. Seeing them really escalated the dream-like state of this trip (didn’t know that was possible), and those last few days in Belgium and Amsterdam flew. Read about them next week in the last post of this saga!
Thanks for reading,
Ps. Happy Pisces season to you wise empaths! We’re feeling the feels together y’all– up&up.