For me, France has always evoked a soft, romantic feeling. The amazing nature, the Riviera, the wine and cheese – all pulling up a huge smile on my face. The Paris trip was mine, Tina’s and my mother’s first time ever in the capital of love and fashion. We visited for my mom’s 50th anniversary. We had planned the trip for her from early 2015. We decided to surprise her, chose the location, booked the flights and one of the very few available apartments at a reasonable price with two bedrooms, one of which was not in the bathroom.
Before we continue our story, one very important note about the transfer from the airport to the city. For the less enlightened readers, there are plenty of websites that provide picture material for how to get from the airport to the city. I really don’t think this is acceptable. I read, loaded maps on my phone, took screenshots even, just to make myself a tad bit more comfortable for this transfer. Yet, the fact that we had to change two trains and take the subway to get to Place de la République is a bit disturbing for a city of this size. Overall, the poor UX of the airport is one of the main reasons people don’t fancy Charles de Gaulle much.
It’s pretty normal when you travel with parents to visits the more touristy places and for that reason a bit before we left, we selected some POIs and pre-purchased tickets for them. The Notre-Dame Cathedral, Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were “the mandatory places” we had to see. We couldn’t buy tickets for the Eiffel Tower as they were booked months in advance. Obviously, 3 months in advance was not early enough.
Thanks to our early flight, we could visit most of the “mandatory places” on the same day that we arrived. We took a really nice (and long) stroll from Place de la République to the Eiffel Tower, passing by the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the bigger part of the city center.
Almost immediately we could tell that Paris is a city in which you can get lost, in the good sense, of course. Thousands of tiny little streets, picturesque shops and fashionable pedestrians filling in the central lively neighbourhoods.
As we were tired from the early flight, day one was short – after a bunch of default pics of the Eiffel Tower we jumped on the subway back to our flat, and spent the rest of the evening over a glass of wine, cheese, and chitter-chatter.
We liked the freestyle program from the previous day and decided to do the same for day two. Walks in parks, delicious food and beer at nice places. I can live with that!
If you’re looking for a nice and calm place with young people, Canal Saint Martin is your place. It reminded me of Náplavka in Prague and the perfect place to take some rest for an hour or two, just like we did.
One of the coolest places we visited is the flea market. There are plenty of flea markets in Paris but we only had time for this one. It’s located right here – far away from the city center, in one fairly criminal area, where it’s rather recommended to keep all your belongings close. There were utterly amazing things at this flea market – from the most useless junk to rare collectors pieces. Of course, there was no way to not spend money on something useless and hipster-ish and we did it right away.
The Paris subway is big. Not as long as the Moscow or London one, but it’s the second busiest in Europe. It’s alternative name is Métropolitain. We used it a lot and as I mentioned earlier – it’s a pretty solid experience. Each line has a specific “audience”. There are a lot of shady personas around the train stations and the more touristy places, while in the business areas you can mostly see suited up business folks. It’s the same with the metro stations themselves – some of them are pretty wretched, and others are close to perfect. If one day we get back to Paris, we’ll spare more time for pure wandering around the metro stations.
There are a ton of lines, and yet – we had to change trains a lot. Locals advise to take care of your personal belongings all the time as there are hours of the day in which the subway cars are pretty crowded and I believe no one wants to end up without ID or other documents in a foreign country.
Paris is full of streets full with treats. Welcoming bakeries and chocolate temptations make you jump from a sidewalk to sidewalk just to smell the awesome flavour coming from their open doors. You’ve all heard about the infamous French Croissant – try it! We were lucky enough to have our Airbnb right above one of those typical bakeries and we were pretty happy with it.
Another spot that’s worth spending a couple of hours is La Defense – the heart of the business in the city which also opens a breath-taking view over at the Arc de Triomphe. It symbolizes progress and the transition to the future. There’s even some astronomic symbolism in the whole thing. The pic below, according to a random local, is made from the perfect center, that is also the center of the arc itself.
Actually, you can easily skip La Defense. In reality it’s just a business park, but the great contrast to the rest of the city is worth seeing. Besides, there’s a massive, huge park close to it, which you can visit on the way back, just like we did. It can be a little creepy as it’s pretty gigantic and there’s not many people there, but not too bad. Just don’t be freaked out in case you decide to go there and there’s no one around in a 100 meter radius.
It’s time for the usual recap. First of all, you definitely need more than three days to actually get a good feeling of Paris. What we saw was its different faces – the poor neighbourhoods, the central touristic jungles and the business area. We saw the major sights, the more central parks and a fairly big part of the subway. Next time we’ll probably give a 2nd chance to the gourmet tourism.
Paris is not all roses though. The poor airport and subway UX is relatively minor issue, but the bigger problem was the food and the customer service. Besides the good bakery, we couldn’t really find the right places to eat. Most of the time we were disappointed with the not-so-great-food and the lack of proper service. The most surprising thing was that it was equally bad no matter if you were in the neighbourhood bistro or a relatively upscale restaurant. The ignorant attitude of almost all Parisians we had to deal with was pretty surprising (or not?). The city is also very very touristy and relatively expensive, which may not please everyone.
This is our first trip for which we can’t unanimously cast 100% positive vote. In case you were wondering why we didn’t say a word about the Louvre, given that we had tickets for it, that’s the reason. The Louvre is a giant money-making machine, which I personally think is slightly overrated. Its grand scale is impressive – an indisputable fact. There are thousands of rare pieces of art – an indisputable fact as well. But in the end I am not sure if the hassle with the morally old ticketing system, the long queues and the massive crowds of mindless tourists is worth it. If you don’t have some sort of a bucket list, you can easily skip the most touristy parts and enjoy them from afar. Use the time to enjoy everything else in the city. I think there’s a lot Paris can offer.