There are a lot of reasons that I love Paris, and one is that I always know where I’m going to stay when I’m there (plus I love the fact that I can say ‘when I’m there’, as if I go to Paris all the time… which lately has been true. Using Paris as my arrival/departure city for the Camino has it’s perks! Mostly, it’s that I can spend a few days in Paris pre or post trip, because otherwise Paris is rather far from the starting point of most Camino routes… unless I start walking from Paris… which is possible… but I digress).
I stay in a place called Le MIJE, a network of hostels in the Marais district of Paris. The hostels are in renovated 17th century mansions, breakfast is included in the price (which runs from around 30 euros for a shared room to around 55 euros for a single), and the location is, in my mind, perfect. Two summers ago, I stayed in a single room in Hotel Maubisson, and when I opened my window and sat on the very corner of my bed, I could see the spires of Notre Dame. And then I could exit the hostel and be standing in front of Notre Dame in under 5 minutes.
I first stayed at the MIJE back in the fall of 2000, during my college year abroad. So my affection for these hostels stems from great nostalgia: that very first trip to Paris, sharing a room with 5 of my friends, nights racing through the streets of Paris to make the hostel’s 1am curfew, a spiral staircase that led up to my bed, the heavy red curtains, playing UNO late into the night, endless café crèmes and large hunks of bread for breakfast.
It became my go-to place for future Parisian travels that year: when I was a day early to meet my family, when I spent Easter in Paris with my best friend. And, more recently, on my summer trips in Europe: after my writer’s retreat in southern France, the night before I flew back home after my Camino last year.
So naturally, I tried to book a room at the MIJE following my second Camino this summer, when I’ll have two nights in Paris before I return home. But when I tried to make a reservation, I was told that the hostels were full, that no rooms were available.
And I’m at a complete loss. It’s possible that I’ve tried to book too early, I remember something about a 30-day or 45-day or 60-day policy on making reservations, and I can also get more clarification by actually picking up the phone and making a call, rather than using an online reservation form. So I’m not ruling the MIJE out, not yet.
But it leaves me to consider what it would be like to stay in Paris in some place other than the MIJE- with its uneven stairs, squares of pink toilet paper, scratchy red blankets, lukewarm café crèmes. It’s only a hostel, and I’m sure it’s not even the best by most measures and yet… it’s special to me. It’s like this little safe haven, a small place in a large city where I feel secure and comfortable. The three hostels are located close to each other, and I know the neighborhoods around them. I know the closest metro stops, I know the closest Monoprix where I can buy groceries, I know my favorite café where I can sit outside and drink a coffee or a glass of wine and watch people walk by.
I think it’s also that I love that I can say this about a place in Paris, that I can say this about a place in any city, anywhere in the world. Because I don’t have this anywhere else. I’ve lived outside of Philadelphia for 11 years and except for the art museum, I’m not intimately familiar with any part of the city. There’s not a city in the world that I know as well as Paris (although I’m by no means an expert), but this familiarity relies upon being able to return to the places and streets that I can find without a map. I wonder what I will make of Paris if I need to sleep in a hotel or hostel in a different arrondissement. Will it feel like my Paris? Will it change my connection to the city? Will it encourage me to expand my knowledge of the city, to explore different corners, to form new memories and traditions?
It’s a little funny that this is what I’m focused on, as my second Camino approaches. Not the path of el Norte, not whether I have all of my gear or how heavy my pack will be, not whether I need to book a room in Irun or at the end of my walk in Santiago… but my last days in Paris. Maybe it’s because, after my Camino experience last year, I am prepared to embrace the ‘not knowing’ aspect of a Camino. I learned that I don’t actually need a guidebook, I don’t need to have any reservations, I don’t need to have my daily stages planned out. I can just walk, and figure it out as I go.
So maybe I should embrace this same attitude with my days in Paris. I’ll make a reservation somewhere, but I want to try to trust that wherever I stay is where I should be (but I’m still hoping that the MIJE comes through!!).