Mass at Notre Dame de Paris © Emily Koopman
Madagascar is one of those places you only read about. In fact, when I told people I was going there, the most common response was, “Oh, like the Disney movie?” It’s not a Disney movie, but yeah. In North America, nobody really knows much about it, which I think is one of the reasons I was so drawn to it. With everyone I knew going to Europe or Asia, I almost felt as if I had been to many of those places already, and honestly knew I could likely never afford to go to a place like Madagascar on my own dime.
When I graduated from film school, my grandma told me she wanted to take me on a vacation. She said I could pick anywhere in the world. Now as you’re probably aware, my bucket list is not a short one. There’s Jordan, Romania, Latvia, Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nicaragua… I could go on for hours about all of the different places I hope to experience in my lifetime. Madagascar is somewhere that took me by surprise. I grew up obsessed with the PBS show, “Zoboomafoo”, and I was determined to visit Animal Junction one day in hopes of hanging out with the rambunctious namesake. Of course, back then, even with big dreams, I never thought I’d actually travel to the exact opposite side of the globe and see hundreds of Zoboomafoos jumping from tree to tree in the humid rainforests of Madagascar.
After finally deciding where I wanted to go and discussing it further with my grandmother, we booked the trip around January 2017, and were scheduled to depart in mid-May of that year. I hiked and worked hard to ensure maximum endurance on excursions because I didn’t plan on missing a second.
On May 16th, after a sleepless 9-hour plane ride from Vancouver, we arrived in Paris to a somewhat rude awakening. I contacted our shuttle at the (rude) information centre at Charles de Gaulle, where we proceeded to wait… and wait… and wait. What was supposed to be a 40 minute hang fire due to traffic (hey, it’s Paris), turned into nearly 2 hours. I went back to the (now a different worker, quite polite) info centre and called the shuttle company again. They apologized profusely and said they were having computer troubles. We were assured our ride would be there to pick us up within 10 minutes. We had run into a couple from Nebraska who had also been waiting a long time, so I asked for them too.
When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were greeted by an incredibly friendly and helpful young man (who after the response to my TripAdvisor review, I now know was actually the manager).
We got settled in our room, though neither of us had slept in over 24 hours, we eventually made our way to the Eiffel Tower (which we could see from our room) and hopped on the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus to take us to the boarding area for our Seine River cruise. That day was also the day I faced the strange and bewildering truth that the Eiffel Tower is NOT silver, but rather a rusty bronze. Witchcraft.
Anyway, on our bus ride to the cruise, I sat up top and enjoyed many of the iconic Paris sights, including the Louvre, the Palais-Royal, the Opera, and Hôtel des Invalides, among others. We disembarked at Notre Dame and boarded the cruise (which departed just across the river). By the end of it all, we were exhausted and somehow easily convinced to jump in the back of a bicycle cart being peddled by a Romanian fellow (unfortunately not the Sweet Romanian Prince I’m looking for, though friendly, he was no Sebastian Stan) who took us to the intersection nearest our hotel. We walked down the street a little ways and found a small hole-in-the-wall bar/restaurant called Les Prolongations, where I had a very messy and very rare burger with an egg on it. That’s a thing apparently. It was better than expected (albeit I had asked for the patty well done). After that, we headed back to our tragically AC-less hotel room, where we both slept sans couvertures and the window wide open. Thankfully, though exhausted, neither of us were jetlagged thanks to a magic pill from the naturopath.
Luckily, we had some time before our flight the next day. We decided to get back on the bus and do some more exploring (not before the world’s most expensive breakfast at the hotel).
First, we explored Notre Dame, which has free entry, but I thought (at the small museum inside, which cost 5 euros) I would be able to go upstairs and see the gargoyles close up. It turned out just to be a bunch of religious artifacts, which didn’t mean much to me. Pays to ask, I guess.
After that, we got on the Orange Line which took us to les Catacombes. I went into a flower shop and asked the girl working there which direction the entrance was in; she pointed to a massive lion statue and said, “derrière le chaton”, which translates to “behind the kitten”. Nice.
We did les Catacombes in such a rush that it didn’t 100% sink in that I was surrounded by millions of decomposed bodies underneath a bustling city. The lady working there wanted exact change which was very annoying and she was pretty rude about it.
We were too sweaty and tired to walk to the bus stop, ride for an hour, and then walk back to the hotel, so we took a cab.
I showered for the second time and we headed to the Orly Airport to catch our flight to la Réunion.