Paris Wrap-Up

You know how no matter how great your vacation was; it’s always nice to get back home to your familiar stuff? Well, I totally do NOT feel that way. We spent the first 4 days or so frantically seeing and doing the tourist stuff, but then mellowed out over the last 3 days and just wandered around — shopping, browsing, eating and soaking up the city. Those last few days were the best part for me.

I’m going to try and make this the last Paris post because I know how tiresome it can be when people go on and on about their vacation like they’re the first people ever to have gone anywhere. I know I’ll be yammering about this to everyone I see in real life for a while anyway and if anyone is going to Paris soon and has specific questions, I may have some answers or tips (send me an email).

And, I’ve posted a collection of our trip photos on Facebook for those who are FB friends and want to see them.  There are a few at the end of this post, too, but to me the photos don’t really capture the reality. XUP Jr. is the photographer in the family. I just took a notebook.

What I Loved

People kept asking me if we’d been to a certain museum or taken in a certain gallery and while we did go to a few, the weather was so spectacular we really wanted to spend most of our time outdoors. And really, my definitive statement about Paris is that the entire city is a museum and gallery of art. The architecture literally made me weep. I don’t think I saw a single structure that was simply thrown up for the sake of housing an office or a shop or to cram as many apartments into a space for as cheaply as possible. No. It’s all created to be beautiful first, functional second and then they might worry about the cost.

Grime

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about how dirty Paris is – how beat up and grimy it all looks. And yes, it’s not a shiny, new showroom place that’s for sure. But it’s a lived-in looking place and I think that’s what makes a city alive. Paris is not a city that rolls up the sidewalks once the work day is over. People live in this city. Every shop, restaurant and office is just the ground floor of an apartment building. And these are very expensive apartments. Those with money live in the city. Those without money live outside the city in the suburbs.

So, the city is in full use 24 hours a day – like the home of a big, boisterous family. And they don’t seem to be overly concerned about keeping everything sterile and pristine.

The Metro

Including the Metro. XUP Jr. and I got the Navigo pass for tourists. For 17 euros we had unlimited travel by subway, bus, train, funicular or boat for the entire week. It took us exactly 24 hours to figure out the system and we were soon moving around the city like pros. There are 14 subway lines and 4 rapid train lines that zip around the city. We never had to bother even figuring out the buses. We never had to wait for more than 2 minutes for a train.

Each subway station seems to have a theme. There is one in the original Art Deco; one is a tropical jungle with a greenhouse running up one wall up to the outside; one is Greek with sculptures in recesses along the walls; one is all in copper with portholes, etc.

And everybody rides the Metro. The young, the old, the rich, the poor, business people, crazy people, mothers with strollers large and small, dogs, people with giant blank canvasses on their way to be painted or giant painted canvasses on their way to their new homes;  and, lot of musicians ride the subway — with their instruments. Once an entire band (accordion, trumpet, drum, guitar) got on at a stop, played a few tunes, collected a few coins and got off to catch and play the next train. Usually, it’s just one accordion player though entertaining the riders.

Or sometimes young men with important messages got on the train and delivered  heated speeches about something or other which I didn’t understand. People listened politely but didn’t seem too concerned about whatever they had to say.

Shop Workers

I loved the fact that not once did I go into a shop or restaurant where I had to deal with a gum cracking, insolent teenager. Restaurant service staff are all paid a good salary with full benefits, so service fees are included in the price of your meal – no tipping. These people, as well as shop sales people are professionals. This is their career for the most part. You are always greeting with a “bonjour” or “bon soir” and are expected to return the greeting. They are extremely knowledgeable about their products. I saw one young sales assistant talk a woman out of purchasing a shirt because she told her it did not flatter her figure and went to fetch her a few other options she said would suit her better.

The Traffic

I even loved the chaotic traffic. Most of the streets are only wide enough for one small car at a time. I know everyone has talked about the drivers in Paris and it’s all true. Traffic lights and signs seem to just be suggestions. If there isn’t actually something in the way, cars will just keep going. Parking or getting out of a parking spot always seems to entail ramming several cars in front and behind you. I don’t think there’s a dent-free vehicle in the city.

And then there are the scooters and motorcycles who seem to have no rules at all to follow. They’ll use the sidewalks, the bike lanes, cut across parks – whatever it takes.

And then there are the velos – bicycles who get their very own bike lane complete with curbs so that while foolhardy scooters might jump them, cars certainly can’t. Racks and rack of velos are available for short term rentals all over the city and most people seem to use them rather than their own bicycles.

And then there are the pedestrians. I love how fast Parisians walk. They’re all in a big rush. They’re impatient. They run up and down escalators. There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a huge throng of black-suited Parisians barreling down one of those moving sidewalks they have at some Metro stations.

 What’s the Rush?

Where are they all going in such a hurry? Well, I think they want to get the business of getting from one place to another over with as quickly as possible so they’ll have more time to enjoy their leisure. And they love their leisure. They get more vacation days than almost every other country. Everything is closed on Sundays. A lot of things are closed on Mondays. Some things are even closed on Tuesdays. And Fridays? Everyone stops work early because it’s been a long week.

Most people get a 2-hour lunch and then work until six or even seven. From noon until at least two, the bistros and cafes are crammed with office workers and shop workers enjoying a meal, impassioned conversation, a bottle of wine, a dozen or so cigarettes and a coffee.

Restaurants don’t even open for supper until 7:30. And then the sidewalks get really lively with music and drinking and always, everywhere, a blue haze of Le Smoking.

Le Smoking

They haven’t quite got the hang of this smoking-ban-in-public-places yet. The restaurant door is open between the large, sheltered outdoor café part for the smokers and the tiny indoor part for the non-smokers. The staff room, which is usually just off the dining room and also has an open door, is thick with smoking staff. And the ban doesn’t seem to apply to people making deliveries or doing maintenance or any other sort of work indoors.

Eats

They also haven’t gotten the hang of vegetarianism. Probably they have no intention of ever doing so. We did find a couple of vegetarian restaurants. Le Potager du Marias which was recommended by some of the guidebooks as well as online veggie sites  was excellent. The other one, Lemoni, which was also recommended, was horrible. There were also no Parisians in the vegetarian places (just Brits and other tourists), so we gave the rest of the places on our list a miss and ate in the places the locals ate.

I had a lot of warm, goat cheese salads which were fabulous enough that I could actually live on them forever. We also had lots of Japanese food. There are Japanese restaurants everywhere. And we had falafels at L’As du Falafel, which is supposed to have the best falafels in Paris and which always seems to have a long line in front of it. I think it was the best falafel I’ve ever had in my life.

 We also found one place called Indiana Café (I think there are several in the city), which actually has about half a dozen vegetarian items on their menu including a veggie burger.

And, of course, we had a lot of gorgeous bread and wine. In the supermarkets you can get a very good bottle of wine for 2 euros (about 3 bucks). In some restaurants you can get a half carafe of wine with lunch for 2 euros. A glass of juice or pop by comparison is 4 euros. A large bottle of water automatically accompanies every meal.

Espresso

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m not a coffee drinker. I’d like to be because I love the smell of it, but whenever I’ve had coffee it actually makes me feel ill. I was told by two different people, who are also not coffee drinkers, that I should try the coffee in Paris because it’s a completely different experience. So, our first night there, our friends took us out for supper and as a matter of course, ordered cafes all around after the meal. When you order a café in Paris, you get an espresso in a very tiny cup with a little tube of sugar and a square of chocolate.

I drank it and was instantly addicted. I had an espresso every day. I brought back a big bag of espresso beans and am now committed to finding myself an espresso maker and some tiny cups. So, now when people visit I won’t have to offer them lame old tea anymore.

 Yay! Paris made a grown-up out of me.

Some Photos

 (Click to embiggen and/or scroll over for a description)

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40 responses to “Paris Wrap-Up

  1. i agree with zoom. you need to find a travel writing gig. i want to go to paris and drink espresso and eat find good vegitarian food and be served by people your couldn’t be my children. and i don’t drink coffee or am vegetarian. you’re just that good!

  2. Welcome back… Oh, I love BHV…

    But I still hate coffee. I guess I’ll bring my own tea in May. From Espritthé – it beats coffee any day – even Parisian coffee.

  3. Welcome home. It’s good to have you back in north America. I was with you on the coffee until you caved and drank that devil’s brew called espresso.

  4. As much as I enjoy dumping on Paris – given an unlimited budget there is no other place in the world I would rather live. Regarding the grime of the city – it isn’t so bad anymore. Used to be that if you went out in the AM in a white shirt you’d be changing out of a grey shirt mid-afternoon. I could spend the rest of my life sitting in a cafe drinking my espresso and making fun of “les touristes” (Last time I was in Paris I over heard a group of Americans complaining about capers and fried eggs on their pizza – I pointed out to them that just up the street was a “pizza hut” and why would you go to Paris to have a PIZZA? How about trying some of the “wierd food” that was available! )
    Glad you had a wonderful time! Welcome home!

  5. Wonderful, succint description of your time in Paris. The photos look great too! I particularly like the one of you in front of the Eiffel Tower. Très chic! 🙂

  6. Zoom – Perhaps there’s a retirement career in there somewhere for me. And a great way to explore the globe whilst earning a few bucks. I’d definitely get some of those camera sunglasses though because it’s so difficult to take notes AND fish around for your camera.

    Smothermother – Good to know. Now if I ate meat, I’m sure I could do a whole rapturous post on the bizarre animal bits they prepare so wonderfully.

    Jazz – There are plenty of tea shops, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

    Dr. Monkey – I think it depends where you get it. Even as a brand-spanking new drinker of espresso I could tell there was some that was really, really good and some that was extremely yucky.

    Lebowski – It’s so good to hear you say that. We sat in cafes and made fun of tourists, too. Who would walk around Paris in sweat pants, running shoes, pink or orange parkas, sun visors and fanny packs? We did meet tourists who made an effort to blend in and speak some French and eat with the locals, but I’m afraid there are still plenty of American and Canadian tourists who stand out like a sore and pustulent thumb. Those who were noticeably British at least were ironically tacky.

    Pauline – Thanks. We tried our best to dress Parisan. Fortunately, it was pretty much how we normally dress anyway.

    LGS – I could do a few months of the quieter days. The tourist stuff was wearying. The Louvre, which I had been looking forward to, was horrendous. There must have been a zillion people in there, most of them school tours. Everyone was snapping flash photos and yelling at the top of their lungs – it was like being in a strobe light pub or something. And oh so hot. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

  7. sounds amazing. welcome home. what were the men like? jo (husband) said when he lived there they were kind of little and annoying (they probably found him really big and annoying).

  8. Don’t worry, when we move to our villa, I’ll take the photos and you can do the write up.

    Now, if only the TTC could be more like the metro – a tourist attraction and fun place to be…

  9. sigh. I am SO glad you had SUCH a good time. I would go back in a second.

    When we decided we wanted an espresso machine, Peter did his usual research til you drop routine and we ended up buying the Saeco Vienna Deluxe and have never regretted it. It is expensive (compared to some) but we have had it for quite a few years now, so we are rationalizing the cost by amortizing it. I know you can get a fully manual espresso maker but you also have to get a really good grinder for the beans, so factor that in, if you want to tamp your coffee pucks yourself. Ours is fully automatic so I get the same great espresso, every time I make one. If you want, you can even come over and try ours! And I may be wrong, but GC might have a machine too and if he does, we can try his at the same time. Some weekend when it’s sunny out and we can sit on the patio. Seriously.

    Browse around the rest of this site as well:
    http://coffeegeek.com/reviews/consumer/saeco_vienna_deluxe/Alex_B

  10. Cedar – I’m actually have kind of a melancholy day back. I think for our next trip I’ll have to take Jr. to Germany though.

    Meanie – Men huh? I mainly noticed the ones that reminded me of Inspector Clouseau and the young handsome waiters who were respectfully flirty and the gendarmes who were armoured to the hilt. Everyone seemed a little shorter than people on this side of the world, but I didn’t notice anyone being particularly annoying.

    Violetsky – Well, the Metro wasn’t exactly “fun”. It was fast and efficient and often had live entertainment. But, if you caught it during rush hour it was so jam-packed that people were literally crammed in there with their faces squished against the window. And a lot of beggars and homeless people hang around down there in the station, too, so you can often get quite a whiff of urine and other stuff. If TTC did some decorating down there and added a dozen more lines, it might be the same.

    Julia – Oh goody! That sounds like a good afternoon. I’ll have to bring some small squares of chocolate to go along with the espresso. I think the coffee I brought back is already prepped for the machines — it says so on the package but I haven’t looked.

  11. Wonderful travelogue! I so love “visiting” places through blogger buddies. Now I can add Paris to the places I’ve been. I love the pics and noticed that you forgot your pants that one day. And I know exactly what you mean about not being glad to be home. We feel the same way when we return from the beach cottage. I’m glad you had such a great trip. You deserved it.

  12. Yeah! She’s a coffee drinker now. I know a place where they make the real stuff. We will go soon … Oh, and welcome back!

  13. I’m glad you got to try that falafal. I love that stuff. And I’m glad you had a good time. I think it’s hard to beat Paris.

  14. Geewits – Ha ha. I did NOT forget my pants. Leggings or skinny jeans with tunic-type tops are all the rage in Paris and coincidentally have been quite popular in my closet for some time too. In summary – I am wearing pants. They’re just very leg-adhering pants.

    Gokalie – I know. It seems like I was there forever we packed so much into the week. It’s very difficult being back.

    Woodsy – You’re on. Can we go now? Please?

    Linda – The entire falafel place was great. We sat next to a couple from the US who travel a lot because of his job – he’s a wine importer and they were on their way to a wine show in Germany. They stop in Paris many times just for that falafel. Oddly enough, he was drinking carrot juice with his meal…

  15. Hi XUP. Delurking to welcome you back and to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading about your Paris adventures! It is one of my favourite cities! We love to walk and discover different neighbourhoods and sample the delicious yogurts and cheeses. I’d highly recommend VRBO if you go again. We have used it to find apartments in Paris and Montreal and have been very pleased.

  16. XUP – just a quick note to let you know that I’ve been really enjoying these Paris updates! Thank you so much! (And I’m thrilled that you now appreciate what a GOOD coffee can offer! Long live expresso!)

  17. WIHL – Thanks and welcome to the blogosphere!

    Eileen – Well thanks for delurking! What part of the world do you live in? I was really happy with our hotel-apartment in Paris. I’d recommend it to anyone heading that way. I believe it’s a worldwide chain.

    Julie – You’re welcome. I don’t think I’m going to be a real coffee drinker ever. One of those teeny cups of espresso is just enough. I had to laugh at the Americans walking around with their giant Starbucks cups in the mornings while the French sat and sipped their teeny cafes.

    Monica – There’s nothing worse than Paris Envy, is there. I’ve been there all my life until last week and now it’s bowling me over.

  18. Sounds like a lot of fun. Espresso rocks, I recommend getting a stove top espresso maker over an electric one – you’ll get a better flavor.

  19. Great review XUP! Definitely some useful info there in planning my trip. Glad to hear you had a good trip – would love to know more about your accommodations.

  20. MM – A little square of dark chocolate all nicely wrapped up. Travel writing would be fun. Can I go now?

    Sean – Someone else has recommended that. I’ll look into it over the weekend maybe.

    Paul – The accommodations were perfect. Unless you are looking for something very luxurious where you’re waited on hand and foot or something very Parisan charming, I don’t think you can do wrong with the Citadine. They have properties all over the world – several in Paris and of varying quality from what I understand. Our hotel was in Bastille Marais area and very convenient to everything. It was clean, comfortable with a full kitchen and bathroom and a very good size – especially for Paris. There were staff on duty 24 hours. Having the kitchen was great as it gets pretty expensive to eat 3 meals a day in restaurants. Groceries are a fraction of the cost of eating out. A baguette is usually around 1 euro; wine is from 2 euros a bottle and up in grocery stores (and it’s all good wine). There’s a market right across from the hotel on Sundays and Thursdays and a grocery store right around the corner. There are all sorts of cafes and restaurants in the vicinity as well. And the Metro station is in the same block. I would only suggest getting a room on the 2nd or 3rd floor so you’ll have good water pressure for the shower. We were on the 5th floor and it wasn’t great – the people on the 3rd floor said theirs was fine. Aside from that the closet was really tiny and awkward, but there were plenty of shelves and things to stow stuff. Send me an email if you want to know anything else.

  21. You look so “Parisian”! in your Eiffel Tower pick. I think you should quit your job and be a travel writer. This will be very helpful if I’m ever lucky enough to travel to Paris.

  22. Lola – Where the heck have you been? You disappear for ages and now you’re back with a vengence. Did I miss something? Thanks for your comments. I try to inject some chic into my day. As much as I’d love to quit my job and travel the globe writing about it, I don’t think that would be very responsible right now with a kiddie to get through university. Maybe in a few years when she’s done and I can retire. Let me know WHEN you’re going to Paris and I’ll send you some more tips.

  23. Linsey – I hope so too. I’ve already heard from one postcard recipient that his has been recieved, so it shouldn’t be too much longer. It’s just a postcard though — please bear that in mind

  24. HA! I love it that Paris addicted you to espresso! That happened to me in Italy and I didn’t have an “excellent” cup until I went to France. Sometimes it sucks to be home!

  25. Loved your impressions of Paris. I also felt the “rush” that everyone seemed to be under during my last visit. It felt strange. I’m also happy you made it to L’As du Falafel! Love that place. Small, very cosy and the food to die for.

    I could go on and on about the city. I love it with all my heart and can’t wait to go back next year.

  26. Charlene – I’ve been scouring Ottawa for good espresso and I think I’m going to have to learn to make it myself.

    Sylvie – Lucky you to have that to look forward to.

  27. I love Paris through your eyes, it’s beautiful and informative 🙂

    I think it would be kind of cool to travel around and report back about places like this. Not just the awesome stuff but the real world stuff that a traveler would endure.

    Very cool and the pics are amazing!

  28. Thanks for bringing back the memories of Paris for me. You’ve pretty much hit it on the head with everything. We didn’t get a chance to hit up L’As du Falafel and am now regretting it everyday! I guess that’s a good excuse to go back!