Over the last few months, almost everyone I met who was also backpacking through Europe had either been to Paris or was going to Paris. Despite the popularity, there are mixed reviews for the city, and I’ve even had several French citizens tell me they don’t like Paris or Parisians. I kind of wondered if I should skip it, but for me, it was one of those bucket list cities I really wanted to visit in Europe. Paris was also special because the day I arrived marked five months on the road. It’s true that it’s an extremely touristy city… the most visited in the world in fact. My expectations had been lowered after talking with so many people about Paris that I believe that is what led to me having an amazing time. My visit destroyed a lot of horrible myths that I had come to believe which was very cool. So here’s how I spent my week in Paris.
On the flight from Bucharest, we flew over the Swiss Alps which was seriously amazing. They stretched for as far as the eye could see. Most scenic view I’ve ever had from a plane.
So one of the first myths about Paris is that people are rude and even if they can speak English, they don’t want to. While I was recovering from my accident in Bucharest, I spent several days learning some basic French words and phrases. My goal was for every interaction with someone to always start in French, and see how far I could get. I learned how to exchange pleasantries and goodbyes for different times of the day and evening. I also learned how to say “Can I have” so I could order food or a coffee without having to just point. I also learned the numbers from 1-20 and some other simple traveler phrases. This incredibly tiny amount of French which I learned with a $2.00 iPhone app I believe helped immensely. Most of the time, this was enough to get by, and on the occasion where I had to give myself up and admit I didn’t know the language, “Je ne parle pas français”, I never encountered any rudeness. Honestly, most people in Paris seemed to be able to speak basic English. I even had a great conversation with a girl in an art shop who had lived in Minneapolis for a number of years. The French are very proud of their culture and language and that kind of self respect usually leads to others having more respect for you. So I’m not exactly sure why we perceive that pride as rudeness or snobby behavior. Of course, one week is not enough to explore the entire city. Not even close, so maybe I’m being naive. It’s possible I just got lucky, but I had a very positive experience with Parisians.
So my first few days in Paris were basically a marathon session of seeing all the touristy stuff… first, the Eiffel Tower. Climbing the stairs out of the subway station and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time impressed me more than I thought it would. I felt a little banged up after Romania, but here I was, five months into the trip and still going. I was in this incredibly famous city at its most famous landmark and all was well. I spent a couple hours gazing and taking photos from all angles.
Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s free to enter, but there’s a charge to take an elevator to the top. I stuck with photos of the free part.The Champs-Élysées. Main street in Paris filled with high end shopping and at this time of year, an awesome Christmas market. It was the largest Christmas market I’ve ever seen. Easily half a mile long on both sides of the street.
The Louvre. I finally made it to the Louvre on my third day in Paris. The museum arguably has some of the most famous works of art in the world… The Mona Lisa, Venus De Milo, works by Michaelangelo, the Code of Hamarabi, and many more. I got there kind of early to avoid a long line at the door, but also because I was prepared to spend an entire day there. The first thing that strikes you is just how enormous the museum is. It would take a few days to see everything as there are three main sections that would each easily occupy an entire day. One review of the museum I read recommended getting the audio guide. I normally don’t, but the one at the Louvre is unlike any other one I’ve seen. It’s actually a Nintendo DS and allows for an incredibly interactive experience. Almost none of the exhibit labels in the museum are in English. They are only in French, so at five euros, the audio guide was well worth it. It must of used GPS or sensors in each room because it always knew where you were in the museum and would autoplay commentaries as you entered new sections. You could even select a work of art and get turn-by-turn navigation to guide you there.
I guess if you write a blog post about going to the Louvre, you should include photos of all those famous works of art. Yes, I did take pictures, but I’ve resisted posting anything like that in prior blog updates. Honestly, it’s kind of crazy to see how people act in the Mona Lisa room. The majority of tourists don’t even look at the art. They have their backs turned to it and spend more time looking at their friend taking a photo of them with the painting in the background. In the same room as the Mona Lisa is this huge painting called the Wedding Feast at Cana which depicts a scene from the bible. It’s so overlooked, but a really awesome piece.Napoleon’s Coronation. Ok, so this is one of those famous works, but I spent a lot of time looking at it, and enjoyed hearing the commentary on it. Napoleon’s mother didn’t like her son’s decision to call himself “emperor”, and refused to attend the event depicted in the artwork below. Napoleon had her painted in right in the middle of the work on an elevated platform.Some statues in one of the halls. Greek warrior in actionThe museum itself is filled with these rooms that just blow you away. It was really an experience just walking around the Louvre.Turn the corner, and you find yourself in another another cool hall.This hall had a glass ceiling which created the feeling of being in the courtyard of a palace.
After six hours in the Louvre, I was starting to get pretty tired and was ready to go. However, I still wanted to see the Napoleon Apartments. These were actual rooms used by Napoleon III (nephew to Napoleon Bonaparte) when the Louvre was a palace. I used the turn by turn navigation on my audio guide to help me find them since I was kind of lost in the museum at that point.
The Louvre was everything it’s hyped to be. It may sound lame, but seeing the Mona Lisa in person was an enjoyable experience. I’ll always remember my visit. I also made it to the Musee d’Orsay which houses some of the best impressionistic paintings from all over the world. They had a lot of famous Monet’s and Van Gogh paintings. Photos were not allowed, so unfortunately, nothing to share. As with the Louvre, it’s totally worth the visit. The museum itself used to be a train station and the huge open space makes for a great exhibit area.
After exploring most of the main tourist attractions to Paris, I set my sights on some of the other things France is best known for… its food and wine. I decided prior to arriving that I would relax my usual budget constraints. I was doing well on my spending after a month and half in Central and Eastern Europe, so felt I earned it. Fortunately, there were other foodies at the hostel, and we teamed up to buy food to bring back to the hostel. I did go out one night to this restaurant in Montmartre near the hostel and had a couple glasses of wine and a proper meal. We found shops near the hostel selling everything from cheeses, baguettes, croissants, terrines, wine, veggie dishes and rotiserrie chickens.
And of course, we enjoyed plenty of French wine. You can get really good wine in France for about $5 a bottle, even stuff from the Bordeaux region. The hostel only had those shitty plastic cups, but hey, it’s about the content not the container. Looking back, I really didn’t spend that much more money Paris than I thought I would. This chocolatier shop had a great selection of chocolate blocks sold in bulk.A group of us from the hostel went this street market on Saturday and found some good bakeries, fromageries (cheese) and produce markets. We also found this crepe place. I mainly had dessert crepes, but the savory one I had here was my favorite. I liked being able to watch her make them too. She cooked the eggs on top of the crepe pastry.
One of the other myths about Paris is that there are no good hostels. Utter nonsense. I found this place called Le Village that had great facilities, helpful staff, and other friendly travelers. They had crossoints for breakfast every morning, and a lady in the kitchen greeting everyone every morning, “Bon jour. C’est va?”.
After extending my stay once, I tried to extend it another two days and found the hostel to be completely booked. I was on the verge of having to find another hostel when the manager offered me a bed in a studio in a nearby building for only 25 euros a night. I’m still dumbfounded at why it was offered to me at such a ridiculously low rate. I just slept there any way and never hung out. I was either out exploring or stuffing my face in the common room.The highlight of the hostel had to be its location… right in the middle of Montmartre. This is a very old neighborhood in Paris that is supposed to represent the city well. My friend Natacha from France recommended seeing this area, and so when I found a hostel with decent ratings was located here, it was an easy decision. The neighborhood was filled with plenty of scenic backdrops from which to take photos.
One of the main attractions of Montmartre is the Sacear Couer, a basillica.More photos from walking around during the day…Hmmm… hot wine, or “vin chaud” in French.The other famous attraction in Montmartre… Le Moulon Rouge. I wanted to see a show, but there were a couple catches. For one, it’s around 100 euros and people get dressed up for it. Also, no one I met was interested in going, or they had already been. I didn’t want to go by myself, or really spend so much for just a 90 minute show. So, it will have to be something I do next time.So that’s my Paris story. As I was saying, I had some low expectations for Paris coming in, but I was genuinely surprised. I think I’d like to learn more French and come back someday so I can do a deeper dive. Even though it was early December, the city was still filled with tourists, so I’d hate to be there in the summer. Stick with late Fall or very early Spring to avoid too many crowds if you’re planning a visit.