Paris is just a city.
It’s not some inherent source of inescapable romance, and it won’t immediately whisk you away into some fantastical love-induced adventure.
Indifferent to your plights, apathetic of your expectations, and inconsistent with your dramaticized fantasies, Paris becomes not what you want, but all that it is:
Just a city.
And yes, this is meant to destroy those expectations, because the more I succeed and the less you have, the more you will actually enjoy the city.
I spent five intimate days with Paris before I could take no more. I walked its tourist-riddled center, slept in two-floor flats and closet-sized flats, watched the city wet and cold on stone steps, spoke to its people in their own language, and searched its hidden dumpsters for a meal.
But Paris gave nothing to me for free.
For a place to sleep, I paid with anxiety and exhaustion. Finding a Couchsurfing host during tourist season is nearly impossible, but I managed every night, once not until past midnight. Finding transportation that late was another matter of anxiety and luck.
For friendship, I paid with hunger. On Couchsurfing was another traveler homeless in the City of Lights. He found me to befriend and show me dumpsters to check for food.
For romance, I paid with the cold and wind of a night spent outside on the street. We left the party at 1:30 a.m. but the metro closed at 1 a.m., and with it, our ticket to a night spent in a warm bed. Instead, it was spent huddled together for warmth in the wind and rain under an awning and on wet steps.
But, in the end, I did find a bed, and friendship, and romance.
I say these things as if I think Paris is a horrible city, but that’s not what I mean to say. I mean that Paris gave me nothing, I found it all on my own and with help from others like me. Paris simply hosted it all.
I’ve traveled to many cities and towns – this same way – that live in the fantasies of people who’ve never been. Towns in the Swiss Alps, Italian villas in the countryside, cities that float, but out of all of them, Paris was the cruelest to me in my travels.
Don’t go there expecting anything to sweep you off your feet. Go expecting to explore an old, beautiful city with some wonderful people and having to find what makes it such rather than having it handed to you.
I may have explored this city with little money, but the worthwhile of a city shouldn’t be based on the money you spend there, but the splendor of it, and what you find.
In the end, the city is what you make of it — just like any other.