In my teleological view of life, I have to be I’m convinced I’m at the best I’ve been yet: I love looking back and connecting the dots that led me to where I’m now, to understand how I got here in the first place.
It’s fun to see how I changed over the last decade, and how my travel style changed accordingly. And it’s even more fun to look at old photos and visually notice the changes — especially since many of those moments are well-documented on this blog.
When I returned to Paris for the fifth time in January of 2018, revisiting so many places I had fallen in love with over the years, I couldn’t help but wonder how many things changed about me and my perception of the world.
I started going through my old photos — the ones I took in Paris more than a decade ago — and thought it would be fun to compare them to my most recent trip (or see if that’s even possible).
Mostly, this blog post will probably turn into a fascinating study about how my eyebrows changed over the years, but other than that I really like to see how my Paris memories also somehow show my coming-of-age.
Let’s start with —
2006: The trip that started it all
Month: June My age: 18 Why I went: It was a school field trip for all students studying art or French. Why I actually went: To bring the Amélie movie to life, of course. How I got there: On a bus rented by my school. Where I stayed: I don’t exactly remember, it was a weird hotel with fluffy red carpet on the walls, somewhere close to Gare de l’Est.
The real Amélie cafe!
And this would be what the famous toilet in the Amélie café looks like…
I took this sneaky shot inside the Amélie café and thought it was a masterpiece. Well.
What surprised me about Paris: The cultural clashes, the diversity, how big the Louvre really is. What shocked me about Paris: The poverty, squat toilets, how big the Louvre really is. Favorite sights: Musée d’Orsay, Saint-Denis, Montmartre, and basically everything you do on your first trip to Paris. What made me fall in love with Paris: Stumbling into an art gallery in Montmartre and getting a spontaneous private tour. Drinking cheap wine on river banks of the Seine watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance. Picnicking on Champ de Mars.
I didn’t even know what a stencil was then, but I loved seeing Miss.Tic’s work all over Montmartre
My first real-life Renoir experience
Biggest take away: Although this was a trip organized by my school, we were basically free to do whatever we wanted — it was my first time navigating through the public transport of a mega city without speaking the language sufficiently.
I learned so many important lessons about subway systems, good travel shoes, and the art of sightseeing.
My eyebrows and my selfie-taking skills were very much on point in 2006. (Did the word selfie even exist back then?!)
And the excursion to Saint-Denis changed my life: I fell so hard for Gothic architecture, for the Gothic period and medieval art. I’m convinced this revelation led me to where I’m today.
My terrible point-and-shoot photos don’t do Saint-Denis justice — it is the most magical place
2012: The chill return trip
Month: November My age: 25 Why I went: To visit my friend Janina during her semester abroad. Why I actually went: I had just moved back in with my parents to finish my Master’s dissertation in my personal writer’s exile; I was procrastinating and desperate to get out of that German village in the middle of nowhere where I felt suffocated and lost. How I got there: On the night bus from Cologne. Where I stayed: Janina was staying with a French family in an old apartment near Pigalle, she let me crash on the guest mattress.
Happy art history grad inside stunning Stainte-Chapelle
The Louvre after a November storm
I may or may not be carrying a bottle of cheap rosé in this picture (that Janina and I may have sneaked into a McDonald’s #classy)
Tuileries park is stunning in the fall!
A Miss.Tic stencil five years later
What surprised me about Paris: It’s gorgeous in November! What shocked me about Paris: Somehow, we ended up finding several random toilets on the street. And speaking of toilets: Janina’s temporary apartment had its toilet literally inside the kitchen with no sink to wash your hand nearby, it was quite gross. Favorite sights: Cimetière de Montmartre, Musée Cluny, Sainte-Chapelle, Jardin des Plantes. What made me fall in love with Paris: Discovering so much amazing street art. My first falafel at L’As du Falafel and my first tea at the Grande Mosquée. All of the fall gloominess and foliage.
Visiting Musée Cluny was another nerdy dream come true!
What’s the deal with all the toilets, Paris?
Biggest take away: Paris is so much better the second time around, especially after several years of studying art history! And it certainly is the perfect destination for (aspiring) medievalists.
2013: The solo blogger trip
Month: June My age: (still) 25 Why I went: To visit all of the museums and sights for free shortly before my 26th birthday (seriously, young Europeans: go to Paris before you turn 26!) Why I actually went: To find content for my new travel blog and to prove to myself that I could to this solo travel thing that was all the rage in the blogosphere at the time. How I got there: On the night bus from Cologne. Where I stayed: In a small hostel on the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th.
Still very thankful that Edna waited for what felt like hours to get this shot of me!
Blending into a Rodin sculpture? Not touristy at all.
Musée Rodin photo fun with Edna
What surprised me about Paris: How affordable it can be! What shocked me about Paris: I saw a cockroach in the hostel and so many rats all over town. Favorite sights: Musée Rodin Gardens, Place de Vosges, Sainte-Chapelle (again!), the Marais in general. What made me fall in love with Paris: All of the third wave coffee, street art, picnicking in all of the parks.
Biggest take away: Solo travel is doable when you have tons of people to meet up with. And Paris remained to be my favorite place for food revelations: I had my first ever ramen, macaron, gold leaf, and so many other great things.
2015: The spontaneous runaway trip
Month: August My age: 28 Why I went: To visit my friend Kathi who was doing a summer internship in Paris. Why I actually went: To cure my itchy feet that actually were anxiety (guess what, you can’t run from what’s going on inside of you). How I got there: On the night bus from Frankfurt. Where I stayed: At Kathi’s place in the 12th which was amazing because the apartment’s owner wasn’t home, it was huge (I even got my own guest room!), and it had a beautiful balcony.
Favorite activity: Getting lost in the Marais
One of the few speciality coffee shops that wasn’t closed for les vacances
Seine-gazing from Pont Alexandre III
What surprised me about Paris: How seriously the French actually take their vacances — so many cafés, bakeries, and supermarkets were closed! What shocked me about Paris: Creepy stalker ruining my day of solo reading by the Canal, how seriously the French actually take their vacances. Favorite sights: The view from Institute du Monde Arabe, Paris Plages, Rue Crémieux (because did you really go to Paris in 2015 if you didn’t Instagram Rue Crémieux?). What made me fall in love with Paris: The most spectacular sunset seen from Tour Montparnasse. Summer slowness, the city was just so chill.
Biggest take away: I’m too old for night bus adventures — my back hurt for days when I returned.
And well, you can’t find happiness through traveling: 2015 was an amazing travel year for me and I got to see so many great places, but in retrospect, my mind really wasn’t at a great place at all.
2018: The grown-up trip (?)
Month: January My age: 30 Why I went: To make use of the holidays after New Year’s, and to hunt down some ivory artifacts in the Louvre for work. Why I actually went: To make the husband fall in love with Paris, too. How I got there: On the train for a change (which is actually so much more comfy than the night bus, who would have thought). Where I stayed: An international hotel chain location on the Canal Saint-Martin.
Paris does hipster burger joints, too
Still hunting down street art in the Marais
Outdoor café au lait and heater reflections
What surprised me about Paris: Sitting outside in January is possible at every café and bar! What shocked me about Paris: The flooded river banks, the visibly increased poverty, the effects of the 2015 terror attacks. We also watched pickpocketing happen literally next to us on the metro — we knew something was wrong, but it went so fast, we only realized what had happened when the empty wallet of the Italian dad standing next to us flew through the closing doors of the train. We also assume we were nearly mugged on Canal Saint-Martin one night when 6 or 7 guys suddenly started following us as we were about to enter a poorly lit parking lot. Steffen luckily understood the situation and quickly made us cross over the other side of the canal with more light and people around. Favorite sights: The Catacombes, Rue Montorgeuil at night. What made me fall in love with Paris: Life en terrasse in January. The medieval section in the Louvre. Seeing a service in Notre-Dame. Finally watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle with the husband after years of coming to Paris without him (#cheesy).
Almost French cuisine?
Mona Lisa madness
Still taking mirror selfies in museum corridors
Best abs in 130 BC: Venus de Milo
Gloriously creepy Catacombes
The insane emoji-Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayette
The pistachio escargot from Du Pain et Des Idées actually deserves the hype
Steffen and me with our very best we-don’t-mind-this-January-drizzle-faces
Biggest take away: Paris is amazing year-round.
But you can’t deny that it’s better in the summer: Even Christmas lights and festive decorations can only charm away drizzle and darkness for so long. And picnicking in front of the Eiffel Tower is a little more fun than watching it while standing in a puddle of mud in the dark.
But: We made up for it with a ridiculous amount of food and drinks and tried so many delicious new things that I was at least able to convince Steffen to return one day to eat more good things (aka udon).
Have you revisited a destination several times? Did your perception of it change over the years?