I flew a kite on my 20th birthday in Paris. I dug up an excerpt from my diary when I was abroad that shows how it all happened...enjoy!
Two weeks ago, my Australian friends and I started planning a trip for our free weekend in March. My birthday fell smack dab in the middle, so we were excited to get out of Strasbourg to celebrate. We had originally planned to go to Bordeaux. Who wouldn't want to spend a weekend with girlfriends vineyard hopping? Unfortunately, expensive train tickets and long travel times made the trip seem less appealing, so we started to look into option two: the exploring the castles of the Loire Valley. The three girls and I were sitting in the cafeteria of IECS with our Lonely Planets when our friend, Andi, comes up and asks us what we were doing. We explained, and then invited him to come along. “Sure,” he said, “but why are you looking at train times…I’ve got a car.” Done deal--we'd leave for Tours (great home base for exploring the castles) on Friday, see as much as we could and then trail back late Sunday night. To give us more flexibility, and because it was the down season, we nixed the idea of booking a hostel, deciding to wing it. Worst case scenario was that we'd split a hotel room five ways and sleep like sardines.
Friday morning I had a seminar from 8-noon, so we met in Lauren’s apartment afterwards to pack sandwiches/snacks, load the car and get out of dodge. We were five:
Zo was the mother hen of the group. But I mean mother hen in the absolutely coolest way possible. She’s a little older than the rest of us, and I am amazed by how much she's experienced. She seems to have traveled the world...you name a city and she's got a story to go with it. She decided a couple of years ago that she wanted to earn her degree, so she enrolled at Bond University in Australia, and came to Strasbourg this semester on exchange. She's a great story teller--my favorites being about falling in love in Italy, living in Paris, and her escapades driving around Europe in a van.
Lauren, lives above me in our apartment complex, Les Laureades. At the beginning of the semester, she had a party in her apartment, where I met the other two girls. She has the most beautiful red hair, and is the most well mannered person I know. She always looks impeccable, and gives great advice about etiquette and fashion. She also knows how to laugh and make sure everyone has a good time. One time, she made me try Vegemite, even though I told her that she was only perpetuating the stereotype :)
Heidi has a lot in common with me--she is having a hard time balancing her exchange life and the life she misses back home with her boyfriend, Andrew. Over Valentine's day, she put together a dinner for some exchange friends that featured heart shaped cheese and "love potion soup" :) She is always up for an afternoon in L'Orangerie, or chatting over some tea. She's a great cook, has an upbeat spirit, and loves to explore.
Andi, the only boy of the group, is a little on the quiet side - at least I thought he was when I met him. We joke that Andi is of undetermined nationality from the amount of times he's moved--Lauren calls him the European mutt :) Anyways, Andi is just one of those people who makes a good time an absolute blast. And I have to give him props to putting up with us four girls over the weekend!
We were running a little late because we set out around 3pm, and the car was really crowded, but none of this seemed to matter because we were all joking around and blasting music during the drive. Plus Lauren and I had burger rings...
Since we started driving so late, we decided not to do the whole trip in one day. Paris was a good stopping point, at about 5 hours away. Zo, having lived in Paris for 2 years, still has a really good friend who lives and works in Paris with his girlfriend. His name is Nick, and since his father is from the UK but his mother is French, he speaks English like an Englishman and French like a Frenchman. Zo gave him a call when we were about halfway there, and he agreed to meet us at this Italian restaurant off the Champs-Elysees called Fuxia. He used to be the manager of the restaurant when Zo lived in Paris, so they told us what was good, and what wine would go well with our food. Even though Zo and Nick hadn’t seen each other in a while and were catching up, they shared all their inside stories and jokes with us, and had us all laughing up a storm by the end of dinner. After dinner we realized that we didn’t have place to stay that night (wine makes you forget tiny details). Nick lived in a studio with his girlfriend, Cindy, so there wasn’t enough room for five more people. He helped us find a hotel, though, that was close by, and persuaded the the concierge to offer us a deal, since it was 1 AM and they still hadn’t filled the room for the night. The place right off the Champs-Elysees and had a balcony with a view of the Eiffel Tower! We ended up getting two rooms for five people, and stayed up to talk some, but honestly were so tired that we passed out pretty fast.
We slept in until about 10 and then met at the Starbucks around the corner (I know it’s not so “French”, but we all wanted BIG coffees, not the dinky espressos that the cafes sell. Those are good once in a while, but when you’re really tired, one espresso just doesn’t cut it. You need a medium black coffee from the Buck). I’m not really sure how we arrived at this conclusion, but we decided that we really didn't want to go to Tours at all..we'd rather stay in Paris and have Zo show us the what we normally would overlook as tourists. With that decision made, we set out to find a new hotel. Even though we got a deal on the first hotel, was still quite expensive. Nick helped us find a place again, this time right behind l’Arc de Triomphe. Afterward, he invited us back to their studio for lunch and to watch the England/France rugby tournament. Nick’s hobby was cooking, and he made toasted sandwiches with this relish that he stocks up on when he goes to back to England. By this point, everyone in the group was pretty much loving the fact that Zo knew such a cool guy, so you can imagine our surprise at what happened next.
We told Nick we decided to ditch Tours and stay in Paris for the rest of the weekend. He got really excited and told us that he knew the DJ who was going to spin that night at one of the most prestigious clubs in Paris. He could get us on the VIP list if we wanted. He hadn't said anything originally, because we all were pretty stoked about castles. But come on? How could you say no to that? How often is it that you are in Paris as an American tourist and get invited to a Parisian nightclub on the VIP invitee list? For me, it probably never would have happened.
There was just one small problem. VIP clubs in Paris have no problem turning you away if you are not dressed properly. Since we all had packed for hiking through castles, no one had any high heels or dresses, and Andi had brought only sneakers and tattered shirts. Cindy offered to take us to her favorite shopping street, where we spent the afternoon trying on different outfits and getting excited to go out that night.
Zo suggested this restaurant on the Champs-Elysees called La Maison D’Alsace for my birthday dinner. After an amazing dinner and a few bottles of wine, we met up with Nick, and walked down the Champs to this place called Sir Winston, before going to the club where his friend was spinning. They sung Happy Birthday to me all while we were walking, and some tourists still shopping on the Champs joined in. How cool?! I’ll always remember it as long as I live.
After Sir Winston, we split a cab to the club, where we danced our hearts out until…5:30 in the morning. I’ve never stayed out that late, and as we walked out of the club, there were hints of daylight. Being a little drunk, we got burgers from the Quick (think McDonalds) on the Champs-Elysees at 6 am, and walked back to our hotel. By the time we laid down, it was sunny out and 7:30 am. We had to be out of our hotel at noon, so we really only took a nap until 10:30, when we got up, showered, and loaded up Andi’s car.
It was rainy out, but still pretty warm. Even though we had burgers like 4 hours prior, everyone was ravenous, and we rationalized that breakfast at Hagen Daas was a damn good birthday breakfast :) After the “breakfast” we walked around Paris, and Zo showed us some of the things that aren’t too touristy. We walked over underpass where Princess Diana had crashed, and saw all the notes of remembrance on the concrete.
Nick called, and invited us to fly his kite in la Jardin Tulieres, so we met up with him and spent the afternoon flying kites and getting muddy in the park.
Nick and Cindy cooked us lunch (again! I guess Zo is a really special friend of theirs, and thus we were friends by association), and we ended up leaving at like 6 pm from Paris. The drive home was as good as the drive up—lots of talking, bonding, and cranking good music.
I was so happy, I couldn't even see straight. I've never had such a memorable birthday in my entire life, and I know for a fact that I will always be telling stories of the time I brought in my 20th on the Champs-Elysees. What a great start to the next decade!