I have a confession to make! I don't LOVE Paris! Gasp! Shock! Horror! I do like Paris though, and it is a breathtakingly beautiful city. The only problem is that once you've oohed and aahed and oh-la-laed over all the prettiness, and you've battled the crowds and the queues to see all the big things (Lourve, d'Orsay, Pompidou, that tower - you know the one), and eaten your body weight (maybe more) in the best bread and cheese in the world, nae!, in the universe...well, once you've done all that, I'm not sure there's much more.
This was my third visit to Paris. It was as beautiful as ever, but it's kind of conservative. And I can't seem to find it's heart, it's soul. Not like Rome or Tokyo or Hong Kong, or even Barcelona, which I could visit again and again and again and constantly feel the bubble of life, the evolutions and revolutions.
Can you believe I'm writing this? About Paris? Do you feel like slapping me? Just a little? Maybe if I had the chance to stay there for a month or three, maybe then I'd feel differently, maybe? I do think Paris is a must visit, at least once in your life time, kind of city. And I do think I could most definitely live there (oh YES! I could!). But I'm not sure I'd rush back there again for another visit as a fleeting tourist.
But, if you are going to Paris (and I know you'd love it if you do go) here's some things:
- If you don't like the smell of cigarette smoke, be prepared to not like lots of Paris. Everyone smokes, everywhere.
- Walking is my favourite way to explore a city, but with it's grand buildings and wide avenues Paris is not an easy city to walk. I tried it the first day and very nearly broke myself. The second day I combined walking with the metro system and it was perfect. The metro is super easy to get the hang of and as an added bonus you'll feel like a bit of a champion for having conquered it!
- Having said that, le Marais (3eme & 4eme) is a wonderful area to go a-wandering.
- As is the Jardines de Tuleries, especially if you like to take a photo or two (see below).
- Motorists actually take notice of pedestrian crossings. After being in Asia this came as quite a shock (in Seoul drivers will toot their horn at you if you try and use a zebra crossing in the way in which the road rules dictate).
- Parisians still don't clean up after their dogs. Watch your step.
- Women in Paris actually are all thin and immaculately put together in a style-is-eternal kind of way (sometimes cliches exist for a reason). At aperitif time, pull up a cane chair at a cafe and spend a lovely hour or so watching them pass by.
- This trip I stayed in the Champs Elysees area (8eme) and it was my favourite area I've stayed in so far. Everything and everyone was fabulously beautiful. Note: I may be biased as I had a bad experience last time I was in Paris on my own (my hotel was in the 3eme, or maybe the 11eme); it was the only time I've ever felt unsafe traveling solo. But this time, staying near the always busy Champs Elysees, I never felt unsafe - even walking around alone at night.
- If you want to do the big museums, expect to queue or plan ahead and buy your tickets on-line. Also, there is a secret entrance to the Lourve if you pre-purchase your tickets; it's in the shopping centre underneath the museum.
- Be prepared to see extremes of unbelievable wealth and heart breaking poverty. There were a fair few beggars out on the streets in all the areas I visited. Not too far from the famous shopping area around the Galeries Lafayette I saw a whole family living on the street - the kids had a tent and the parents had a mattress. Might put a dampener on your shopping...
- Lots of bits of Paris are basically London, but with better food. I may get hunted down and shot for saying that, but the truth must come out.
- Have I mentioned the best bread EVER? Oh, and the pastries! The cheese! The omelettes! etcetera!
- Breathtaking beauty seems to equate to breathtakingly expensive hotels. It took me a lot of research to find a hotel that was reasonable, in a good location and that looked ok. I stayed at the Hotel Mayflower which was friendly and nice. The room was basic but it was a palace compared to the shoeboxes I normally expect to get in Europe.
- If you're planning on doing a weekend trip just outside of Paris book early, otherwise you'll find that everything is already booked out, and you'll end up staying at the Ibis like we did.
- Get your hands on the Michelin Red Guide. It's all in French but you can figure most of it out. My husband swears by it. After testing it's inclusions and exclusions out over a number of years, I can now say it is the most reliable guide for hotels and restaurants that I know of.
- And the shopping? Well, that deserves it's own post - don't you think?