Written by Aria.
Paris: perhaps the most overdone, cliché city in Europe. Rightfully so. Home to some of the most famous examples of art, architecture, history, and culture in the world, there are so many things to do that with the chance to spend three entire days there I got to see…a single landmark and three museums. Not the gargantuan list I was anticipating. The City of Love holds no affection for me and entirely removed my ability to walk for two and a half of those three days.
Getting injured while traveling ranks highly on the list of fears of many GTL students. Tales of overly-enthusiastic skiers stuck immobile have cautioned us all, but I never thought simply walking could debilitate me. A few months back I badly sprained my ankle, and it seems 10+ miles a day of walking on cobblestones in less than wonderful shoes were enough to suddenly, and with great pain, reawaken the injury. Without realizing it, my excited trot down the steps of Napoleon’s tomb would be my last. At least, as I soon learned, there is no better place to be
crippled than Paris.
Immediately following the injury while at Les Invalides, I managed to limp the 1.5 km to Grand Palais, punctuated with stops at a delightful crepe street cart and the gorgeous Pont Alexandre III bridge at sunset. Despite the searing pain, it was one of the most beautiful walks of my life. Once at the Grand Palais, the understanding that I wouldn’t be touring another museum that night set in around the time I pondered the beautiful, and absurdly tall, staircase to the entrance. Instead, I took to the stairs of the metro and suffered back to my Airbnb. Despite a notable lack of escalators or elevators at many stops, the Paris metro system is extensive, and wonderful for minimizing walking.
The next day, as if gearing up for a battle, I planned my routes, eliminated waste, and gritted my teeth for the ultimate journey: a block, downhill, to the McDonald’s (breakfast) and one of the pharmacies that inexplicably appear on every corner. Despite this taking more time than I care to admit, I was equipped with calories and a crutch, ready to enact phase two: reach the bus stop across the street that travels directly to the Louvre. Buses, unlike the metro, require no stairs. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum, and when you want to minimize transfers, few places can match its ability to entertain for a solid two days. With free wheelchairs available, it becomes almost preferable to be crippled when planning to spend so much time in a place with few other chairs.
From the moment I sat in my wheelchair, everything seemed to be right again. The pain abated. Suddenly, convenient hooks for bags and coats were available to rest our shoulders. Perks abounded. In my two experiences now being impaired, I have experienced another perspective. While people often looked away and loudly ignored me, this meant the same beggars I panicked into giving a euro the day before left me entirely alone to berate my companions instead. When attempting to view the Mona Lisa, I was initially too short to see anything through the crowd. Before I could even settle in to wait, kind staff members ushered me all the way through the barriers set up to keep the crowd back. I would gladly trade the ability to walk for the chance to sit, unobstructed, directly in front of the Mona Lisa. People often complain about its small size and unassuming nature, but if you break your legs for the experience, proximity brings it to life.
Of course, there are always mobility issues in wheelchairs. While everything in the Louvre is technically accessible, it is easy to get lost ordinarily, and laughably so when staircases routinely intrude in the middle of hallways with no elevator or direct path around. After exploring the upper levels for the good part of a day, our extreme hunger convinced us to head to the café downstairs. Unfortunately, it took an hour of multi-floor maneuvering, sprinting through Napoleon’s apartments, around staircases, and up, across, and down passages with déjà vu at every turn just to finally reach our access point and find the elevator out of order.
No one should know the Louvre as thoroughly as I do after having only three days is Paris. Regardless, the experience was unique and I always appreciate a good story. I plan to revisit Paris, so missing out on all else it has to offer is not devastating. I have healed considerably since then, but still take my injury into consideration, setting my sights on Frankfurt, known as having some of the best public transportation in. While incredibly distressing when things don’t go according to plan, alternatives always exist to make the experience more memorable than you may have wanted.