writer, podcaster, artist, child of God

Throwback to France – Part 1: Home

This year is quite a strange one for everyone across the globe. Our worlds are changing drastically on so many levels: culturally, socially, politically, financially, and most importantly, healthily.

One of the traditions I’ve kept over the years is to travel to a particular place every year. My plans this year have been cancelled, but I decided to be creative: I don’t need to travel physically, but I can travel back in time. As a matter of fact, I thought, why not write about some past trips and take my readers with me?

Why France?

Three years ago, this time of the year, I was in France. This trip is on my top ten favorite trips of my life so far because I traveled solo. My parents offered me this trip as a graduation gift. They wanted me to discover the world on my own and create new experiences before I fully step into adulthood and into the 9 to 5 lifestyle. They also knew I was going through a tough time after my grandma passed away. I can add that I was living a type of crisis as well. It was a mixture of identity crisis and fear of the future. I was finally letting go of toxic friendships no longer serving me. I felt as though I had lost myself because I tried fitting in. I couldn’t find it anymore because I had learned so many lessons in one year and I couldn’t be who I used to with all this new learning. I had to (re)create myself: re-organize my priorities, reconnect with my art, rebuild my relationship with God, figure out my values and boundaries, and find the core essence of who I am.

On June 28th, 2017, I landed in Paris at about 9 a.m. I was feeling thousands of emotions simultaneously. I was excited, a little nervous, tired, hungry, hot… One thing for sure, I couldn’t wait to get out of the airport. Once I did, my adventure started.

Arrival to Paris – Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

How to get around in Paris?

What I did to get around Paris was to get a metro/train/bus card for the month. You don’t visit the city of love by car, or your trip will suck. Walking will make you see every detail, appreciate everything that is around you, and lose a lot of calories because you will walk A LOT. Also, it’s just more practical and cheaper than renting a car, or paying Ubers. Moreover, it allows you to take your time and take all the pictures you want. Public transportation in Paris is really great, easy to use, and it will make you look more of a Parisian than a tourist.😉 I however didn’t use public transportation outside of Paris (ex. Angers, Tours, St-Malo, Cancale, Mont Saint-Michel, Provins, Châteaux de la Loire) because I was with family members who live in France. They also gave me special tours of the city they live in. Other than Paris, I only used the metro in Barcelona (which I will talk about in another blog post).

My favourite coffee shops

The reason I am writing specifically about coffee shops is because they played an important role to me as a writer. It might sound cliché to some people, but I really got a glimpse of what it is like to be a writer/artist in France. I visited houses, cafés, museums, etc. of all the famous authors/artists I read about in school, whether they were French, or lived/exiled in France for years. Visiting these places and going to cafés made me understand why these people would choose France in order to write, create, or simply live their lives the way they wanted it to be: they found freedom. In fact, I was alone 3/4 of the time and I obviously didn’t bump into anyone I knew and that was the best part. Why? Because I felt completely free. Without further ado, here are my top three coffee shops:

  1. Café Hugo

I went more than once there because this café is in Place des Vosges, one of the fanciest squares of Paris, located in a district called Le Marais. Victor Hugo’s house (see more info below) is only a couple of steps away from the café. Place des Vosges is dreamy and inspiring, so I would go to Café Hugo, drink a cappuccino, eat dessert, and read and write for hours. I went there alone many times, and once with a friend who arrived in France by the end of my trip. It was the first time I ate dinner there and we both loved the food.😋

2. Café de la Paix

Café de la Paix & Grand Hôtel – Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

That’s a fancy, but very fancy place. When I went to visit the Opera, I noticed the café facing it. The café is part of the Grand Hôtel. I wasn’t planning on going there, but the name and the look of the café attracted me.😍 After my tour at the Opera, I went to grab a bite. The waiter who greeted me at the door looked at me strangely. I soon realized it was because of the clothes I was wearing: I didn’t look rich, or at least chic, while all the other customers were very well-dressed. I honestly didn’t care. I simply wanted to enjoy my experience eating at a legendary place. According to Air France’s website, “Café de la Paix is a ​​true legend of the capital, occupying part of the ground floor of a luxury Haussmannian building that also houses the Hotel InterContinental Paris le Grand as well.” Plus, “it has served many artists, writers, and businessmen, including Émile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Guy de Maupassant, and Marlene Dietrich.”

Café de l’Arrivée – Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

3. Café de l’Arrivée

This coffee shop holds a special place in my heart because it’s located next to the train station I used to go to every day. I therefore used to stop by that little café and wait for the train if I arrived too early. It’s also at this coffee place that I learned that you don’t pay the tip, it’s already included in your bill! Thinking about it now reminds me that I kind of built a morning routine: getting ready, taking the bus, arriving at the train station, drinking coffee at l’Arrivée, then taking the train. Ah, here I am nostalgic again!😭

Oh, and the name of the café is appropriate because it is called Café de l’Arrivée. Every time I saw the name, it made me feel like I arrived to my destination, or that I arrived to the train station that would lead me to my destination… Just a fun thought.☺️

My favourite museums

Even if you don’t like museums, you can’t go all the way to Paris and not check them out! They preserve precious artworks, objects, and paintings that reflect French history, culture, politics, society, artistic movements, etc. If you want to leave France a little bit more cultured than when you first arrived, you have to pay a visit to at least two museums. Here are my favourite ones in Paris:

  1. Centre Pompidou

It’s such a wonderful and gigantic institution. I found almost all of the contemporary artworks I learned about in my art history class, back in 2011. Seeing these artworks in real life was as though I had met my favourite artists. I got so nostalgic because it felt like I finally understood the purpose of all the art classes I took. It felt like home. I guess home is where the art is. 

2. musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

“From Oceania to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, the permanent collection area presents 3,500 works geographically without partitions. The juxtaposition of these works encourages original dialog between the cultures of four continents.”

The museum is divided in many areas: the museum itself, the garden, the theater, the media library, the living wall greenery, the boutique, the restaurant (on a rooftop 😍), etc. I didn’t get to visit all these areas because I went there late in the afternoon, so I only had time to visit the main exhibition, which took a lot of time (but it was worth it!), and go on the rooftop. Ah, what a view of the Eiffel Tower from there!😯

Centre Pompidou – Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

3. Institut du monde arabe

This is the first museum I visited when I arrived in Paris. As the Centre Pompidou, it also brought me home because I discovered Egyptian artists. The boutique made me a shop addict: there were many gems: books, posters… I couldn’t decide what to choose. I obviously bought books in the end.😁

4. Maison de Victor Hugo (Place des Vosges)

Going to someone’s house without them being there, especially when they’re dead, is strange. It does feel like you’re invading their privacy behind their back, even if their house has been turned into a museum. However, it’s always interesting to get a tiny idea of how your favourite people were living, what kind of furniture they liked, the colour of their house’s walls… When it comes to Victor Hugo, one of the most notable authors of all times, what struck me the most was his desk: it was customized for him to write when standing up and not sitting down. 😯

5. Musée national Picasso-Paris

During my two months in France, I went to Barcelona for five days. There, I saw the Picasso museum. When I came back to Paris, I decided to go to the Picasso museum just so that I could compare it to the one in Barcelona. I preferred the one in Barcelona because it was structured in a way that made you follow the artist’s life from the day he was born until his death. It was like you were visiting every season of his life through his art. The one in Paris was focused on art movements and put aside Picasso’s humanness. Nonetheless, if I had visited the Paris museum before the Barcelona one, I know I would have loved it even more than I do now. Plus, I really enjoyed the architecture of the museum: very classy. Another advantage of the Picasso museum in Paris is that you’re allowed to take pictures (without flash of course). That was unfortunately not the case in Barcelona. 

6. Musée d’Art moderne de Paris

All I’ll say is that you’ll find beautiful, strange, and meaningful contemporary art there. The architecture of the building is different than most places you’ll see in Paris. The stairs and the outside general look almost give an Athenian vibe to it. 

7. Musée de la Vie romantique

That museum is probably internationally underrated. I like to believe that the romantic part of the museum is represented by flowers and plants (through paintings, drawings, graphic art…). There’s a particular exhibition on flowers that makes you want to learn more about all the types of flowers that exist in the world, not just what they are and where they come from, but even when they were brought to France. Therefore, you get to connect with them on a social, cultural, and historical level. 

8. Dalí Paris

This museum is located in Montmartre, not far from the Sacré-Cœur basilica. It’s a must-see because although the museum seems small, it’s full of Dalí’s paintings and sculptures. Like the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, it follows Dalí’s journey and showcases bits of his life that inspired his art. The exhibition emphasizes on Dalí’s genius. I always felt like Dalí was a misunderstood artist, but I think that if he were alive today, he would’ve liked this museum and would have probably felt understood for once. 

Musée de la Vie romantique- Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

The museums below are internationally renown, but I visited them on my first trip to Paris when I was 17. I didn’t re-visit them during this trip because I wanted to check out locally known museums, new stuff to me.

  1. Musée Rodin
  2. Musée du Louvre
  3. Musée d’Orsay

My favourite parks

Paris has many unique parks. People are usually attracted to the architecture of the city, the castles, the great monuments, such as the Arc de Triomphe, etc., but Paris is home to many unusual parks. Below are some of the ones I loved. 

  1. Buttes-Chaumont Park

You’ll do a lot of walking and hiking if you go there, you’ll cross a bridge and see some breathtaking views, see some little falls, and as the park’s name states, see some mound.

2. Monceau Park

It’s like a free entry to a mini outdoor museum. As you walk through the park, you’ll find sculptures and statues of famous people.

Parc Monceau – Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

3. Père-Lachaise Cemetery

This one is quite interesting. I mean, have you ever heard someone tell you they want to visit a cemetery for fun? To go to a cemetery isn’t necessarily fun, but Père-Lachaise is not your typical cemetery. First, it’s humongous! I got lost there and almost decide to leave after a couple of minutes. Plus, I went on a rainy day, which added some gruesomeness to the whole cemetery vibe. Second, you’ll find almost all of your favourite (or not) people’s tombs there: Honoré de Balzac, Molière, Jean de la Fontaine, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde… I got emotional at some point, especially when I saw Molière’s tomb. I might not know him, or all the other people I found, but I read their books and studied them in school. To see their tomb was like holding on to something tangible because in class, you don’t care about the person per se, you only care about their work. Then, you see their tombs, and it’s almost as if you met them, or felt their spirit.

4. La Villette

It’s a cultural park. You can either go there and chill on the grass, or check out an exhibition. For instance, I saw the Imagine Van Gogh exhibition (which I LOVED) before any of my friends did in Montreal in 2019. I don’t mean to brag, just saying.😉

My favourite bookstore

There was only one I wanted to see and that I finally crossed off my bucket list: Shakespeare & Company! You probably heard of it, or you’ve seen it in movies. Anyway, you’ll love how cute and small it is and how it keeps myriads of books. You might have to wait in line for a a little while before you get in, but it’s worth the wait!

Shakespeare & Company – Picture by Maria Magdeleina Lotfi

That’s it for Part 1 of my trip to France. I don’t want you to feel like you’re missing out on travelling, especially when the COVID-19 situation isn’t helping at all. You see, even though Paris will always be home to me, there are other places I call home and that I love more than Paris, for instance, Egypt. I will always feel more at home in Egypt than in Paris because my roots are there, more at home in Paris than in Montreal because Paris is home to the writer in me, and more at home in Montreal than in Ottawa because I was born and raised there. And does Ottawa feel like home? Yes, because Ottawa taught me English at eight years old, because I grew a lot in the past two years working and living there, and because I met some of my favourite people ever there. Home is where your heart finds its core essence, its values, its way of life. It is where it creates memories. It is where it finds peace. You don’t always need to travel to do that. 

P.S. Out of all the cities I’ve visited in the world, cities in the U.S.A never made me feel at home, except for Corpus Christi.🧐

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