Hello again! It’s me, two years older from when I took this incredible trip, I know. But as I sit here with the molecule of free time that I have this morning, I decided that I could not leave this blog unfinished. Especially when I hadn’t even gotten the chance to tell you all about France! First, to fill you in on a little secret, I really didn’t want to like Paris. It seemed too…overrated? Pretentious? Something along those lines. There’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me when a city has become a design style and people all over the world have hat boxes and posters of a place they may or may not have been, but rather just like the idea of what it represents. And I get that, I mean, France is the archetype of a feminine city, in that it’s architecture, cultural values, food, etc. have a more elaborate flair and tend to embrace the more dainty in both look and feel. And not that I hate art, pretty buildings or good food (Lord knows I hate nothing that can be eaten), but to me, Paris was a place I didn’t want to like because I felt it already had enough worshippers. But then I went there.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Paris (it is the City of Love, after all). Although I tried, my attempted dislike of the city melted away sooner that beurre on a perfectly flaky croissant.
Getting from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to my hostel in the Montmarte district of Paris wasn’t alarmingly difficult, but it wasn’t all that easy either. I think with the right attitude and willingness to ask for help or directions, people will generally lend a hand. Such was the case for me, but I’m sure you will hear others tell you not to ask anyone anything unless you can say it in French. Comme si, comme ça, but for the record, I don’t speak French and I did just fine! Of course, this may have had a lot to do with my French friend, Flor. You may or may not remember Flor from my Dublin adventures, but he was a student in Paris at the time of my visit and after parting ways in Ireland, I promised to meet up with him again in Paris. Let me tell you, I am glad I did! It helps to have a Frenchman on your side at a restaurant; though I’m sure he did grow tired of me asking him to translate the menu for me.
On his days off from school or in his spare time, Flor would meet up with me and show me around town. Although he is from Pau in the South of France, you wouldn’t have been able to guess the way he navigated the city for us! I’m sure that I would’ve been able to do it alone, but why turn down an advantage! That being said, there was one thing that Flor had promised he would take me to when we were in Ireland that I would never have been able to do without him: crash his school wine club’s tasting class. That’s right, I said school wine club. Now, I knew going into this that Parisians take their wine very seriously, but to what level I had no idea. Turns out it’s the level of having the last year’s World’s Best Sommelier come and speak to an entire room full of students with a PowerPoint and prepared lecture for the better part of an hour. Not that I had any objections, you got to bring in your own snacks and accoutrements. Flor supplied most of the goods and all that was required of me was to pick up two loaves of pain traditionnel (which as Flor taught me, means French baguettes). Hands down best bread I’ve ever had. Definitely should’ve bought three. But I digress. So here I am, on a French campus, drinking wine and hearing all about the mineral, fruity, and/or acidic tastes, while examining it’s color and best accompaniments. Granted, this was all in French, but Flor (nice guy that he is) made me a cheat sheet with everything translated in English. It was a very fun and unique evening that really gave insight into the level of importance that wine plays in French culture. If there is an opportunity somewhere in the ballpark of this one while you’re in France, definitely do it because every time you drink wine after that, all you’ll be thinking about is what the master pourer would have to say about the piddly glass of $4 wine you’re drinking at happy hour. Of course, then it will also occur to you that you’re getting wine for $4, so you don’t really care much anyhow!
So I spent about 4-5 days in Paris and while I could go through every single one of those days and give you hundreds of recommendations, I believe it to be more prudent for me just to leave you with my French Top 5. Keep it simple, right?
1. Get the Paris Museum Pass
The Museum Pass is almost like every other city pass out there, but way more worth it! It comes in 2-day, 4-day, or 6-day packages and is definitely a lot of bang for a little buck. If you are planning on seeing museums in Paris (DUH!) this is the only way to do it. Paying admission to the two or three you go to will cost you more than paying for the pass (and it gets you into all of them!) The link I posted above will take you to their direct site where you can see all the attractions that are included. I recommend selecting the ones you are definitely going to see, googling the individual price of admittance without the pass, adding those up and seeing if the sum total is greater than the price of a tow or four day pass. I’ll be highly surprised if it is. I mean, this baby gets you into the Louvre, Versailles, the Arc de Triomphe, the Panthèon, the Orsay, the Orangerie; the list goes on and on! It is the best money you will spend in Paris, for sure.
2. Go to the Louvre on a Wednesday or Friday
Not doing your research will get you in a two-hour long line at the Louvre. However, if you follow the aforementioned advice and get the Museum Pass, you should also heed these words of advice: Wednesday and Fridays the Louvre is open until 9:45 pm (almost an extra four hours). So while all the other tourists in the city are waiting in a line 10 kilometers long (that’s right, I used kilometers. It is Europe after all), you can be out enjoying a beautiful day on the town, sipping espresso and eating crepes. Then as the hanger overtakes them around 4 or 5 pm, you saunter up to the front door with no wait and get your turn to see the Mona Lisa. This worked out perfectly for me. I went to Versailles in the morning, came back to Paris around 4:30 or so, went to the Louvre and looked around for a few hours, saw the important things, then went our for dinner. A perfect Parisian day, if I do say so myself.
*Before moving on, I will warn you that in regards to the Mona Lisa specifically, you should keep your wits about ya! While the rest of the Louvre is all but empty and you can take time staring off and being introspective with the art, when you get to the Mona Lisa the best plane of action is get in and get out. Somehow this painting is always surrounded by hoards of people obnoxiously taking a million pictures. Of course, you want some bragging rights just as much as the next guy, but be quick about it because the Mona Lisa is more like the Mona Mosh Pit. You have been warned.
3. Stay in the Montmarte
If possible, try to find something in this area. It’s magical. This is the “Art District” or Paris. Now I know you’re probably thinking “Isn’t all of Paris an art district?” but this is the art district within the art district. Here is where you find budding artists painting canvases in cobblestone squares, surrounded by small hole-in-the-wall cafes while the lull of accordions dances in the alleyways. It’s everything you want from Paris in one arrondissement. For that reason, I’m sure there are some really expensive hotels here, but I managed to find an affordable hostel by accident so I’m sure if you put the time into planning ahead, you can find something that will fit your budget while also putting you exactly where you want to be.
4. Explore the neighborhoods
Obviously people don’t go to Paris for the people-watching. But, that being said, if you do find that you accomplished everything on your “must-see” list and have a few hours or even a day to spare, go exploring! As some of you may or many not know, Paris is divided by arrondissements, or districts in layman’s terms, and each district is pretty unique. You don’t really notice when you leave one arrondissement and enter another, but somewhere in between you notice a change in the air. For instance, during one of my free afternoons, I went and explored Le Marais, “one of Paris’ oldest and coolest districts” (according to U.S. News’ review of Paris). Home to the oldest squares in the city, Place des Vosges, this quaint little neighborhood provides excellent window shopping and people-watching. Of course there are a few museums here and there (because, again, it’s Paris after all) but even if you go there without a euro in your pocket, you can still enjoy yourself just walking around and popping in and out of cute little shops. At least, I did.
5. Try EVERYTHING!
Last, but certainly not least, my final recommendation while in Paris has to do with food. Of course. Because I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t! First of all, let me say that French food is amazing! I had no idea just how good it was until I went there, but I think it might actually be better than Italian, which is hard to admit because, you know, carbs…. But the French really know what they are doing. And it’s not just the bread, I mean the fondue you dip it is is pretty fantastic too. I know a lot of what people think about french cooking is that it is a little intimidating. Who really thinks about eating fish eggs and frog legs? But if you’re open to it, give it a try in France. Because if you don’t like it here, it’s clear you never will; and the reverse is also true, if you love it in France, it will most likely never be the same again anywhere else. This was true for me with foie gras. Now before anyone gets upset, I know exactly what foie gras is and how it’s produced (if you don’t and are feeling brave, click here). That being said, it is probably the most French thing on any menu so I felt a cultural duty to at least give it a try. I feel very guilty about telling you that it’s delicious, but I don’t want to lie to you, whoever you are, vegetarian or not. Foie gras is worth trying, at least once. Same goes for French pate, which isn’t only available in the duck variety, but pork as well if that’s more your style. I will say, it does look a bit like cat food, but I can only assume its much more tasty! In any case, give the French a chance when it comes to their food. Before you got to McDonalds, get some French brie and pain traditionnel. Maybe throw in some pate? And definitely try all the crepes, sweet or savory, because that is something that America just can’t seem to replicate.
I hope you find my French Top 5 helpful as you try to plan your own trip to Paris. Even if you are only able to follow one or two of my directives, you will not be lead astray! And as touristy as some parts of Paris may be, don’t judge the whole city on these malignant parts. Paris is magical; you just need to find which areas are going to be the most enjoyable for you.