Heartbreak in Paris

I haven’t written in a while.

Half the time I think about writing something and I forget before I have the chance to do so  OR  I write it all down and think better of it. I’m back and forth between this blogging thing because everyday my brain whispers and shouts some thoughts on publicly sharing my writing:

“no one really cares what you’re thinking”

“maybe someone feels the same way you do.. how will you know if you don’t write it?”

“you’re not doing this for others you’re doing it for YOU”

“everyone’s a writer these days what makes you any different”  also “so WHAT if everyone’s a writer it doesn’t mean you CAN’T do it too” 

“don’t be pretentious” 

“but… it makes my heart happy” 

So today this last little whisper was victorious. These days it rarely seems to win. And in realizing this I’ve made note that maybe I should listen to it more often… but that’s for another blog post. Today I want to write about Paris.

I have written and drooled and dreamed and fallen head over heels for the romantic, mystical wonders that this historical city has to offer. But today I want to talk about the Paris that broke my heart.

Because you see, poverty always seems to hit me right in the centre of my gut. I want to talk about it today because I feel like everyone talks about Paris the way I have in my previous posts. It’s enlightening and enchanting AND I -can’t -believe -how -many -people- I -met AND the food- that- I- ate AND the way the Eiffel tower glistened..just so.. right against the skyline.

But no one talks about the Paris at the end of the metro line. No one talks about the poverty. Or maybe they do and I’m just not listening. Or maybe you can only walk past hundreds and HUNDREDS of men, women and children refugees literally living on the street before you start to question your right to even be in the country you are travelling through.

Let me ask myself this for the 700th time. What right do I have to be travelling for fun, when there are people who do not even have a roof over their heads. The idea that I was just hopping from country to country while those around me didn’t have food to eat was something I had a hard time wrapping my head around during my travels this summer.

“but there are homeless people at home too and you still live there”
why is this so shocking to you? you’re shocked when you see it at home too.”
” what if all of the money I had spent on a plane ticket to get here had been given to people that need it…” 

I hope with my entire existence that I never become apathetic in the face of poverty.

I felt hopeless. Stupid. Uneducated. Naive.
“why didn’t you pay more attention in french class, you can’t even communicate when they ask you something”
“Do they even speak french?”
“why aren’t you DOING something for these people”
“when was the last time you even looked into the refugee crisis, you barely know anything about it” 

When I was 17 I worked with an incredibly impoverished community in Kentucky.  At the time it shocked me to my very core that in such a rich country, there were people who can’t afford to live in proper homes. It made me question what poverty means. The different forms in which poverty presents itself. Why is homelessness so ignored?  Why had I made it to 17 (the age at which most of us have already been accepted to university) and had NEVER been exposed to this type of poverty?

That was five years ago and the issue just seems to get more complicated. Obviously. (I just don’t know how else to put it.) Right now I don’t see any other semi- kinda sorta- “solution” other than to educate myself. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to come up with that may give me some sort of direction. Some sort of path to follow towards the route that may lead to a more just world, a safer place to call home for everyone. This path will most likely lead me to a great deal of dead ends before it leads me anywhere of greater significance. But thats important too.

Most days I just feel really small. The more I learn the more poverty and the issue of homelessness just becomes more convoluted and intertwined. So wrapped up into the way our societies function that I can’t even begin to fathom an end point. That’s not to say I don’t believe in the power of humanity.  I really think we have the opportunity to make a difference.  I just don’t feel like I have any sort of answer and the problem is a whole lot more catastrophic than when I was 14 and thought you could change the world with a middle school fundraiser raffle draw.

I recently attended a talk by Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese who founded “Save the Mothers” . Her advice to those embarking on a journey of global health was to build yourself the biggest toolkit possible. Become an expert and learn everything there is to know about your field of study.  So I’m just going to keep pushing, keep learning, keep observing and searching for the right direction to take. Because right now I am small, but maybe one day, if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to do something with the small amount of knowledge that I’ve had the privilege to acquire.

Paris is awe inspiring and wonderful in all it’s glory. But it is also tear jerking and heartbreaking and a shocking reminder that poverty exists even in the most beautiful places. I don’t think that should be ignored.

I wanted to write about this because it’s all in the way you see it. Recently I changed the heading to my blog. It reads, “This is the way I see the world, and the way I don’t”.

I saw a dad return to his wife and daughter to set up shop for the night. Their bed a small patchwork blanket laid out on a concrete bridge.
I heard a mother rock her baby to sleep while busy tourists chatter and clamber past.
I was walking down a street filled with men, showering in the street fountain because they had. nothing. else.
I passed by the mattresses and piles of clothing. The attempts at making a home out of the streets.

Paris, this is what I saw.

With love,

Kolina

Two little feet and a bunch of Parisian streets (An Amateurs’s Guide to walking the City)

I’m quickly learning that the best way to discover these European cities is on my own two feet. For this post I recommend you pack some water, a good pair of running shoes folks, and as Kelsey would call them “Emergency Granola Bars”.

I went on a free walking tour throughout the city with Sandeman Walking Tours . These run 3x a day everyday and you tip your tour guide at the end rather than paying up front. Generally speaking these types of tours are better. You avoid the 70 year old guide that has recited the same information so often they can’t be bothered to care anymore. Instead you get someone in their 20s with real love for meeting people, starting conversation and providing historical and CURRENT information about the city & people that live within it. 

If you’re looking to wander around the city for a bit, a good place to start is St. Michel Fountain. This is right near île de la Cité which is the 1st arrondissement  (so very central). In the area near the fountain you will find a ton of food. If you’re facing St. Michel cross the street to your left. If you continue down the side street there are vendors from everywhere, not just parisien food. If you walk away from the fountain (so facing the other way) and turn right you can head towards île de la Cité and there you’ll find Notre Dame. The line up is always huge so don’t be discouraged. It’s free to go inside, it’s just a security check and moves relatively quickly. 


If you’re facing Notre Dame and take the side street to your left in your opposite direction you will pass Paris’s oldest hospital (on right once you’re walking) and then once you continue you will come across a massive flower market. It runs everyday, except on Saturdays it is pet market. With the market on your right you are also facing St.Chapelle chapel which is the church with the most extensive collection of stained glass windows. It is said to be very beautiful inside. 

If you walk through the flower market and turn left you will be headed down a street that will take you towards Point Neuf and then you can follow it this way to the Louvre. Behind the Louvre there are massive gardens and if you walk through those and turn right you will come to a carnival area and turning right through there will take you to the art institute which is a very busy and populated area of Paris you might like to walk around in. 


If you are looking for a different feel, I suggest you take the metro out to the Montmartre district. This is your classic French city with winding cobblestone streets, quaint little cafes, artists set up in the square and music playing. Go there and plan to spend the day. From there you can take all the steps up to sacre coeur for the most beautiful view of paris you will ever see. Again, the line up to enter the basilica looks long. But it’s free to enter and you don’t actually wait that long. You can easily spend plenty of time wandering through this district, checking out the art and little shops and galleries that line the streets. At the base of Montmartre there is a wall called “Le mur des je t’aime” meaning “The Wall of Love” where “I love you” is written in 250+ languages. Sit there for a while and watch families, lovers, old married couples hug and kiss each other while the pose for a picture. It’s absolutely beautiful. 



With Love,

Kolina 

Paris Sunsets 

I’ve made it quite the mission on this trip to watch as many sunsets in as many places as I can.  There’s just really nothing that makes me happier. 

Here are some of the sunsets I chased while in this beautiful city. 

Montparnasse 

The second tallest building in Paris save for Sacre- Coeur. Parisens all hate it, and I can see why.  It sticks out like a sore thumb and looks nothing like the beautiful limestone that makes up the rest of the city. To get to Montparnasse you need to take the metro stop that includes Montparnasse in the name. Seems obvious right? However if you put the directions into google maps it will take you elsewhere and you will walk an hour in the opposite direction direction like we did.. perhaps arriving at the sunset destination a little less excited than you were when you set off. When you see the view though you’ll realize it was all worth it.


Bridges – The River Siene 

Paris is covered in bridges crossing the river Siene all over the city. My favourite place was at a bridge right outside of Musee D’Orsay. It’s strictly a walking bridge, so you don’t need to worry about the rush of traffic while you’re there. There are steps along the entire river that you can sit on as well.


Parc Buttes – Chaumont 

I learned about this park by talking to a tour guide who had moved to Paris from London to work in Disneyland after falling in love with the city. I’m starting to get the vibe that I’m not the only person who’s been completely enamoured by its beauty and rich history. I told him I had some time to kill and wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t covered in tourists (the irony.. a tourist trying to escape tourists) . He recommended a park called “Parc Buttes- Chaumont” and it was the best recommendation I’d yet received from someone residing in the city. It’s huge  and I sat on the hills admiring the trees and the view for two hours before I got up and walked around. You can make your way up across a tight rope bridge to a small pavilion on the very top of a hill overlooking a river and the city. From there you can watch the sun silhouette a good portion of Paris (including sacre- coeur ahhhhh) in pink and orange hues. 


Notre Dame 

I did not get the chance to watch a sunset here but there are many blogs and resources that recommend checking out a sunset by Notre Dame. This makes sense as it’s on Paris’ little island. Not far from there is Ponte Neuf, one of Paris’s famous bridges and it would be lovely to watch from there as well. 

Regardless of what you’re looking for, you need to find your little niche, sit, and enjoy. It’s absolutely stunning. 

Hope your day is sunshiny,

With Love,

Kolina 

Museums on Museums 

Two museums were visited during our stay in Paris. Quite obviously the Louvre (how can you not) and Musee D’Orsay. The best advice a tour guide gave me while I was in Paris was to give yourself a time limit while at the Louvre. It would literally take you over a year to look at every single piece in the museum. Decide what you want to see most (I suggest getting the Mona Lisa out of the way first) and then just understand that you’re not going to see everything. 

I personally found the Louvre overwhelming. It. Is. Just. So. So. So. Big. I had no idea where I needed to be. I had no idea WHAT I wanted to see. My family started with the Mona Lisa and then went our separate ways. I have heard from many people that the Mona Lisa is underwhelming. I will admit that she is small – you will have to push your way through probably 80 people to see her- she is the only painting on an absolutely massive wall- but I STILL thought she was quite something. I’m going to call the feeling “enchanting in a quiet sort of way”. I couldn’t help but be captivated by her for a brief moment. Then I got elbowed in the back by a tourist with a selfie stick and the moment was over. I do encourage you to check out the other paintings in this room as they are quite magnificent. Specifically the painting across from her- so big I couldn’t fit the entire thing into a photograph. 


I spent the rest of my time wandering through Egyptian artifacts. I saw the tombs of Egyptian gods, an actual Egyptian sphinx ,the statue of Osiris!!! There were coffins upon coffins decorated in an unimaginable fashion. It took me 45 minutes to sorta kinda get close to the “Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas” area at which point a museum worker informed me I was still too far away and would not make it before the museum closed in 25 minutes. I did however find the Islamic art section which was filled with beautiful artifacts. 



Musee D’Orsay was beautiful. A museum built in on old train station gave the building such a cool modern open concept. The highlights of this museum for me were works by Van Gogh and Claude Monet. I’m a big fan of Impressionism and neoimpressionism and this Museum has many pieces of that style to offer. Kelsey and I had a great time wandering through the various rooms. There was an exhibition that aimed to show artists who had extraordinary talent for drawing connection between space, nighttime and our world that we live in. 

Outside the door to the exhibition were the words “For those searching for the interna in the external” which I believe is a quote by Kandinsky.

A highlight of this exhibit were some Canadian pieces including Emily Carr and Tom Thomson. 
I hope your night is as dreamy & as starry as this exhibition was! 

With love,

Kolina 

Venturing through the catacombs 

One of the coolest features Paris has to offer is the Catacombs beneath the city. I had no idea that these famous tunnels rumoured to hold the bones of millions actually spread throughout the entire city. In fact every property in Paris has a “cave” assigned to it. Many shops or restaurants will use it as a cold cellar, or bars will use it for their dancing area. These catacombs are a result of the beautiful architecture that gives Paris its harmonious vibe- Limestone excavation. One of the highest paying jobs at the time… because if you were mining limestone you didn’t live very long. These tunnels bury deep into the city where you will find a black line along the ceiling and dates on the walls. These dates signify when the tunnels were originally deemed “safe” by the inspector. The black line was his Hans and Gretal way of ensuring he did not get lost in the depths of these damp halls. These dates go back hundreds and hundreds of years. 

As you make your way through the catacombs the air becomes much cooler and the walls become damp, you can feel the depth as you descend deeper. There are areas that contain water running through them. Deep lakes that carve their way through the tunnels. There is only one legal entry to the catacombs and specific tunnels you are allowed to enter. However many have been known to enter them through the sewers and entrances by the abandoned train yard (“the little belt” for anyone who’s interested). Thrill seekers will come scuba diving through these waters in hopes of making new discoveries and exploring the caves. The school of geology actually does a baptism for their graduates in a special pool used during their graduation ceremony. (Which is totally rad and I’m wondering if I chose the wrong major). There have been raves of up to 2000 people in various caverns. Project X actually paid to rent out a lake in the catacombs one year fully stocked with Gondolas from Italy for their guests. A secret society was discovered fully decked with a functioning movie theatre. Authorities stumbled upon it one day and when they returned the next there was a sign on the door which stated “Do not try to find us”. When the leader of this group was interviewed on the news there was mention of the closing of his theatre and his reply was “This is not a concern, we have many more”. Those who enter, enter at their own risk and call themselves “catophiles”. Police search the tunnels daily, looking for those who have gotten lost sneaking through. It sounds crazy, that something like this could exist beneath an entire city but I looked it up and I’m convinced it’s real. My tour guide admitted that he’s entered quite a few times without the badge and I’m officially convinced that I need to make good friends with some catophiles in Paris so I can come back for my own adventure. 

In one part of the catacombs that we explored there was an area named Quatier de Carzene that belonged to a man named Francois Décure. When his shift was over he did not return above ground like the others. He chose to live down below and carve into the stone. His creations are absolutely breathtaking. Here are some photos:


The year that Décure opened his creations to the public in the hopes of sending the money to his family, there was a collapse and sadly his life was lost along with much of his work. I felt honoured to be able to witness what he quite literally dedicated his life to. 


And so of course the part that everyone is waiting for.. we entered the area of the catacombs that holds the bones. Above the door is written “Arrete! C’est ici L’empire de la Mort” which translated means “Stop! Here lies the Empire of the Dead”. Experts say that more than 6 million bodies are buried in the tombs of Paris and I can tell you that it is mindblowing. There are stacks of bones, many of then femurs lining the walls, with skulls placed throughout. Many of these extend so far back that you run out of light before the catacomb runs out of bones. It is one of the most unfathomable things I have ever, EVER, seen in my entire life. Now I feel like in tourist situations such as these it’s easy to desensitize, but I want to acknowledge that although this occurred years and years ago, these were still people and their lives still had value. 

Years ago air bnb had a contest where you could enter for a nights stay with a plus one in this graveyard- said to be one of the scariest places on earth. It’s safe to say this fellow did not last the night before he called it off and wanted to be taken out. In his defence, right above the bed they provided him, “Si vous avez vu quelque fois mourir up homme, considérez toujours que Le meme sort vous attend”, is carved into the wall. This means “If you have seen that some men die, consider that the same fate awaits you as well.”


You’re probably asking yourself why all of these bodies ended up here in the first place. Paris had a cemetery called Cimetiere des Innocents and as you’re probably aware this city went through some terrible times in regards to overpopulation, disease and famin. People were constantly dying the the cemetery was overflowing with bodies. One year there was absolute flooding there the stink and smell overwhelmed the entire city, complete with bodies washing up into people’s cellars. So finally the decision was made that there must be somewhere to store the bodies and that is how they were placed into the catacombs. 


I left that tour completely wonderstruck and absolutely fascinated with the city below this city. I feel like I have so much to learn. If you’re planning on touring the catacombs in the future I have two suggestions for you. 

1) book a tour. Not only will you not have to wait in the 3 hour line up, but you will gather so much more knowledge from someone who currently lives in this city rather than a droning audio guide.

 2) If you can, choose to do this on a hot day. It was 35 degrees outside (46 with the humidex) and we were so thankful to spend a few hours underground with the damp, cool air. 

That’s all for now!

With Love,

Kolina 

Bienvenue au Paris 

We arrived in Paris swiftly via Chunnel. Another method of Europe’s vast transportation system that continuously blows my mind. If you are planning on heading to France from London in the future I’d highly recommend taking this train over flying. It’s also a great way to see the country side before heading into the city. 

We stepped off the train and were immediately hit with 35 degree weather. Paris was in a heat wave and the temperature was a whole 10 degrees hotter than it had been in London. By the time we got to our flat for the week my family was quite tired and so we grocery shopped and I set out on my own for some sunset exploring. 

 I set out on foot towards Hotel de Ville, which I knew was somewhere in the general direction of Norte Dame. For those of you that don’t know me well, my sense of direction isn’t great but google maps has been my bff these past two weeks and we only get into the occasional argument. After walking a few kilometres in that general direction I came to the square and saw this:

(My apologies for the awful picture I was too excited to take another one) 

I looked at this building and gradually my jaw actually hit the hard Paris ground. I walked around in circles, neck cranked back, smile plastered on my face in awe of the city that so many describe as romantic. Is it romantic? It must be as I was so enamoured.  The architecture of each building so perfectly chosen and meticulous – every curve of limestone melting so seamlessly into the next- the way the light was bouncing off of the stone- the way people gathered with wine by the river enjoying each other’s company- I loved it already and I hadn’t even been there 2 hours. 


I caught site of the Eiffel Tower for the first time in the distance and knew quite certainly that someone should have warned my heart about paris.


With Love, 

Kolina