When I was in my late teens / early twenties, I visited Paris for the weekend once or twice a year, to buy clothes, mainly. They carried brands that Switzerland didn't, plus back then the Francs Français were favorable towards the Swiss Francs. Today, everyone except us has Euros, so the slightly lower prices don't compensate for the exchange rate.
Anyway. In my mid twenties I discovered North America, and I / we have not traveled in Europe much these past years.
So due to an unfortunate start into the year we kind of missed the moment to make plans and book flights. At some point we just decided to play it by ear and go somewhere close by. That's how we ended up in Paris last week.
I put together aspects that I love about the city - and some I don't like. Here goes.
Can't beat them. Many of them are even within walking distance from each other.
The Eiffel Tower - major, major landmark! A privileged moment to be there, or to spot it from afar, every time! Due to terrorist attacks it has been somewhat fenced in, and you need tickets to get in line for the metal detector to approach the tower. Don't just stand around there either. Groups of street vendors will try and sell you Eiffel Tower miniatures, hats, T-Shirts, you name it. They won't go away.
There is no absolute need to actually go up, though. There are better, cheaper and quicker ways to get an overview of the city! Like going up the Montparnasse Tower. From there you can even view the Eiffel Tower!
Sacré Coeur Basilica just as the sun was ready to set.
Notre Dame, looking good, even after the fire.
It is truly exceptional! That coming from me, a motorist, has to count for something,
We arrived by TGV, the Train à grande Vitesse, high speed train. Hubby downloaded an app to measure the speed. I think we reached up to 300 km = 186 miles per hour, so that's pretty fast! Outside France, you may travel by TGV from UK, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. (And Switzerland, duh.) We were stunned about the price, though. Going green and using the train was more than twice the price of a flight!
Of course, right? We've all heard about the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. In my humble opinion you don't have to spend your time and money on that visit, though. The original Da Vinci painting is rather small (30 by 21 inches) and housed behind bulletproof glass, which makes it a pain to photograph. This, plus the estimated million visitors blocking your view.
Just buy a T-Shirt and be done ;-)
However, you still need to go to the Louvre for the pyramids...
...and hopefully a performing bubble artist!
If you still want to go to a museum to see paintings, and if you like (post) impressionists, visit Musée d'Orsay instead. It's housed in a former train station, very cool.
I liked the (free of charge) outdoor art at La Défense, the modern business district situated about six miles outside the city center. Sculptures by César, Miro, Moretti and many more are exhibited there.
Another great spot to experience art without standing in line and paying a lot of money is to visit the Stravinsky Fountain just outside the Beaubourg aka Centre Georges Pompidou. Pieces by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely are placed in a fountain for everybody to enjoy.
Another, yet different way to educate yourself is a free visit to the CSI - it's not what you think, though. Located in Parc de la Villette, Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie hosts different exhibitions, a planetarium, a submarine and an IMAX theatre, la Géode, below. It's currently being renovated, but even looking at it from the outside is pretty cool!
If you're into music and ballet, you may want to experience the Opera. If you don't, just stop for a quick photo.
Macarons, Pain au Chocolat, Crêpes, Croissants, Baguettes,... A trip to Paris is not the time to eat carrot sticks. Enjoy now - exercise later!
History / Tradition
Did you know the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge are the same age? Both are celebrating 130 years this year. Pretty amazing. We missed the Moulin Rouge's fireworks by a few hours because we were on the train back home when it happened.
The Arc de Triomphe honoring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Note that I managed to snap a picture with only one motorbike.
Usually this is what it looks like, traffic wise! And this is light traffic, even.
The Obelisk at Place de la Concorde - the result of a gift swap between the French and the Egyptians. Yes, really! The French had to deliver a mechanical watch, and the Egyptians sent over the Luxor Obelisk. Heck, us Swiss could have shipped tons of watches!!
Paris = Fashion, hello? If you bring the necessary pocket money, you may shop till you drop in Paris. High end stores at the Champs Elysées...
If you don't mind the wait... Entrance is around the corner...
Or the mainstream mall experience, the choice is yours.
I was quite shocked about the Americanization that has happened in Paris, though. And you know that I love America. In America.
Back when I first came to the city, I experienced that the French actively refused to even use English terms. It was not fast food, it was le menu rapid, McD was frowned upon (even though one might think they'd approve of the French Fry?!) It wasn't a walkman, it had to be called balladeur, you get the picture.
Today it looks as if Westfield acquired all the major shopping malls. Also food wise some chains settled - and may I say, thank God! Colin and I had to argue with the hubs who claimed "we did not come to France for American fast food". More about it in the next chapter. For now, just enjoy this juicy burger at Five Guys
Or this chicken bowl at Chipotle
So this - and this is my very own, personal opinion - is not a reason to come to Paris for. Of course there may be expensive fine cuisine restaurants, but frankly where you go as a tourist, the French restaurants are not to my personal liking. I don't eat calf's sweetbread, goose liver, sauerkraut, snails or frogs, and I don't appreciate chauvinist, snotty waiters.
Hubby was happy with his Alsatian plate, though.
The next night when we ended up at a place called Joe Allen I knew this was not going to be your average poor French experience, otherwise it would have been called Chez Joseph or something. The waiter spoke French with almost no accent. He could have fooled me, but pretty quickly we identified him to be American, from Sacramento, CA, to be precise. He was attentive, friendly, made us laugh and feel good. What a difference!
Although it does not deserve a chapter, I just want to mention it. It falls under the category "don't come to Paris if you place importance on it." The average sales person does not feel it's their job to accommodate your needs, but rather the other way round. Do you know the feeling of disturbing the peace? People have the nicest chat, and then you - a potentially paying customer - arrive and need an information or help? Definitely spoiling the sales people's great moment.
"Excuse me, does this jean come in a size M as well?" I asked. Politely. In fluent French. "What you see is what we have", the girl answered. "I'm not sure where I got it. I tried on different models that I took from different racks." Why they are scattered all over the store is beyond me. Can't there just be a jeans aisle? She glanced at the pair of pants I showed her. "They're over there" she made a general gesture that pretty much included the entire floor. "Madame, would you mind showing me, since you are employed here (not sure she was also actually worked), you know your way around here better than me, thank you so very much..!" She grabbed her radio and ordered a colleague to come over and help someone. The colleague was actually nice enough to produce a size M jeans, I tried it on and purchased it. Happy end after all, but I was boiling inside.
I live in Switzerland and complain about public smoking, but this is nothing compared to Paris where literally everybody smokes everywhere - except where it's forbidden. Every restaurant has a huge outdoor seating area, most are equipped with heaters and blankets - to accommodate the numerous smoking guests all year round. The door leading to the inside of the restaurant, where a few non smokers would like to enjoy their meal, is open. I get it, the waiters need to be able to run back and forth. But it means that all the yucky smoke comes right inside. Ewww.
That was it for me. Hope you liked exploring Paris. Thanks for travelling with me. Cheers!