Friday, November 2, 2012

Paris Diary: What To Remember On A Four-Day Stay


Barbara: Well, we did it! We went to Paris for what was essentially four days of fun—because the last day was pure travel—and we proved (I think) that it can be done.

I don’t know about you, but I never would have imagined it worthwhile to go to Europe from North America for such a short stay. I mean, there’s the jet-lag, the seeming lack of enough quality time, the possible travel anxiety (why do we get more anxious when we’re traveling to Europe than, say, to the next county?), and the, did I mention this already?, jet-lag!

I’ve always been affected by travel, really feeling the time difference and any lack of sleep. But this time, there must’ve been a major attitude shift because I really felt great. I tried—and succeeded—to sleep on the plane over. To do this, I had a glass of wine with my meal, didn’t eat too much, didn't wake up for "breakfast", and wore a sleep-mask. I got about 3½ hours of sleep, which I consider triumphant. Then I got another 2 hours in the hotel (if you can’t check in early, try having lunch first, then check in and have a later nap. Should work.) I stayed up pretty late (1:30-2:30am) every night and got up around 9am (most things don’t open until 10 or 11 anyway). Walking around outside most of the day helps adjust you—even though there wasn’t much sun when we went. To prepare for the homecoming, I stayed up late and got up early for our flight, which made me nice and sleepy. This way I could sleep on the plane for a couple of hours (afternoon nap) and was able to stay up back at home the first night until 11pm. Believe it or not, I managed to stay in bed until 7am EST! I have my mother here for the weekend, so I plan on doing a lot of outdoor walking back here—which will hopefully help adjust again. I think the occasional nap might be beneficial too.

Ah, what more to say about Paris?

Well, first off, I have to say that I have always naively believed Europeans to be very fluent in English. Not so (necessarily). In fact, I met some who couldn’t speak or understand a word. It’s a mistake to assume that these countries/cities revolve around tourism and so everyone will accommodate a lack of fluency. It’s true that many people DO speak English (and all the main tourist attractions will have material in English), but don’t believe that people are rude or uncaring if they don’t or can’t communicate with you. I think it’s up to you to make sure you remember you’re a visitor in someone else’s home—and they might not have made the bed up for you. People will be as nice, kind, sweet and/or helpful as the individual inherently is (and will also reflect back to you what you might be conveying to them). A great example: a friend wanted directions in Paris recently and approached a police officer. The friend asked for the directions, the police officer said, “Bonjour.” The friend repeated the request for directions, the P.O. said, “Bonjour.” This went back and forth in the same way a few times until the friend finally realized that the P.O. was insisting on a simple greeting of “Bonjour” first. Cheeky? Yes. Point taken? Also, yes.

Yes, the waiters here are known for their snark and ‘tude (which I believe they nurture), but, man, did we have fun with them.

Taxis and subways are very handy and not very expensive. A cab from the airport to the city is the highest cost—50Euros. But your other option is the Cars Air France—a clean bus that stops at every terminal in both airports and takes you to two central locations in the city for 28Euros round-trip. The subway and inner-city cabs are well organized. If you want to take a cab, 17Euros will get you pretty much everywhere. Keep in mind that, if you do choose to cab-it, you should wait at a taxi stand where they come every few minutes. If you order a cab, you will automatically pay 10Euros more! In the subways, please stay aware of which stop, direction, and exit you want. When you get off the subway, there is a very convoluted but well-marked exit system in the labyrinthine tunnels under the city. Watch where you’re going. And watch for pickpockets.

Yes, restaurants and cafés can be expensive. But keep in mind that the $8 coffee is delicious and also buys you as much time as you want on that café terrace. They will never ever clear your dishes until you leave, allowing you to linger—and people-watch—as long as you want. Wine, however, is comparatively cheap everywhere.

How to eat cheaply in Paris? Buy food and wine at one of the ubiquitous markets or grocery stores and bring it to a park or square and eat and drink openly. Also, food other than French is often way cheaper (must be the expensive ingredients—all that butter…). However, portions are enormous!

Your hotel may not have free wifi, and may charge a fortune for it. But most cafés—even the old-school kind—offer it, fyi. If you want to ask for it in French, it’s pronounced “wee-fee”. Not kidding. Then ask for the password. And here's a link for cheaper accommodations in Paris (thanks, Tannis!).

Stefanie pointed out that it is usual for Parisians to openly stare at you. This isn’t (necessarily) lascivious. I mean, don’t expect them to openly stare at you, or be insulted if they don’t (like here, people are also plenty preoccupied), but if you meet their unwavering gaze, or if you are “caught” staring openly at them, it’s not considered rude. In fact, embrace it as your one chance to truly and effectively “people watch”.

The funniest example of this happened one night when we were on the subway going home and a group of drunken Spanish teenagers piled on. They were all dressed up for Halloween and basically sang and danced in the middle of the car while everyone either smiled or rolled their eyes. An older woman sitting nearest to them was looking them up and down intently, eyeing their outfits, and finally (unable, I guess, to resist) reached her hand out and touched one girl’s dress, openly feeling the texture of the fake blood spatters. When she was satisfied, she pulled her hand back and went back to staring idly out the window.

Traveler’s stomach can get you anywhere, even in Paris. We didn’t suffer from it, but Stefanie has. This could be due to anything from food poisoning to the different bacteria in the water and food to germs from the plane trip over. Buy digestible Peppermint Oil at a health food store and take it twice a day according to instructions (or if you feel unwell). It is absolutely miraculous—if you are a bit nauseous, I swear you will feel better in about 10minutes!

Lineups at the galleries go quite fast.
Parisians support their arts!
Bring a rain hat (fedora or something), which is easier and more convenient than an umbrella if it’s rainy.

Your hair in Paris? Uh, my hair is the bane of my wannabe well-styled existence. I have made some kind of peace with it in Toronto. Most places I go have softer water—and while it’s better for my hair and skin, usually I hate the greasy, flat, sad, limp results. Paris? Wow! I washed and blow-dried only and suddenly there was all this body and hold. Felt like a frickin’ Breck girl, I did. Paris is my hair’s new BFF.

Reminder tip (also applies to your hotel room floors): main floors here are “0”, next floor up is “1”, next up is “2”, and so on. Looking for the ground floor on the elevator buttons? Press “0”.

Paris is absolutely a romantic, sexy, stylin’, lovely, magical city. Drink it in. Don’t judge it by some other standard. It is completely itself. It doesn’t give a shit what you think, but it will draw the hem of its silky lingerie seductively upward and show you as much as it thinks you can handle. Succumb. You won’t regret it.
Rain hat in action.

Amongst the old buildings, this re-imagined approach. Love it or hate it, it is unique and audacious. 

Rental electric cars! Red light, still charging, green light, ready to use. Like the VeLib'--very cheap rental bikes available throughout the city--these are alternative travel options. Ingenious.

Old square, new sport.

Just like it.

We didn't go in, but man, were we charmed!

Random art installation

Posted so you can memorize this butter (the round capsule in the middle). It comes with most bread baskets in Paris. This butter is the most sublime dairy product ever produced by man.
Romantic! Happy.
And one more thing: it may seem decadent to go to Paris for only a few days (it certainly did to me), but in the end, you're actually saving a lot of money on hotels and restaurants. In fact, it might be more frugal than you realize. Permission granted. 
xo

PS Love and thanks to a very accommodating Phil who took most of these shots. And all with his iPhone!

33 comments:

  1. Happy you are home safe and sound. Also, happy you had such a wonderful trip to Paris. Sometimes one has to just do it and go for it 5 days or not. What a lovely adventure and from your words and photos I got to go with you. Thanks Barbara.

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    1. Thanks, Madge, I loved sharing it with you guys.

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  2. Sounds like it was an absolute blast. Glad your short stay was such a resounding succes and that you got home safe.

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  3. Glad you had such a wounderful time and safe travles.

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  4. Yes! Phil told me about the Iphone...Love the clarity of the pictures!! I HONESTLY thought it was the DSLR.

    OMG and Paris is in my travel list. In fact my friend (Who's moving to Toronto with me) and I have planned to save up and travel whenever we can. I have this plan. I'm gonna get a HUGE WORLD MAP, lots of bulletin board pins and a camera. Then I'll click a pic in every place I go to and pin it on the map!!! So I can keep score ;)

    And this is PERFECT! Whenever I decide to go to Paris...I'm gonna come here and re-read this post....and send you tons of emails for MORE MORE MORE!! :D

    And I'm soooo happy that you had a great time. I'm like you traveling so far for sucha short amount of time is something I wouldnt choose unless I REALLLY wanted to go. And Ofcourse you had a great time... You were in one of the most romantic places on earth And You got see Stefanie! So Great! :)

    P.S. Last pic of you and Phil!!! One of the most beautiful pics Ive seen! You guys look gorgeous! xoxo

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    1. I know, I couldn't quite believe how great the phone pics turned out. I totally love the idea of hanging the map and tracking your travels! What a keepsake that'll be for you. I would definitely travel for a short period of time to a faraway place again (well, maybe not Asia -- need some jet-lag recoup time for that much difference). Thanks, sweetie!

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    2. Ofcourse not Asia...If you are coming to India...you're coming for a solid MONTH!!! your remember that...I wont let you go anyway :D And we'll ask Deb to come too...and HAVE SOOO MUCH FUN!!!!!!

      And....come when I'm IN India an not there :D

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  5. Glad that you had fun in Paris :)
    Also, I'm sorry i didn't respond to the last two as they came out... I kind of just read all three today :)

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    1. Sometimes that's the best way to catch up, Garrett!

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  6. Sounds amazing but I can't imagine a 5 day holiday to another country- Perth is the most isolated city in the world so it takes a long long time to get anywhere. Once when I was flying home from Chicago it took me 3 and a half days to get home because of flight delays/missed connections. I was so sick of airport food by the end of it!
    Loved the food pics btw, Im going to have to go to a french patisserie this weekend for a baguette with lots of butter!

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    1. Oy yoy yoy, Samara! That's the worst in travel nightmares! Enjoy your baguette!

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    2. 3 and a half days?!?!?!? Yikes!!! You're a hero...I would jump off the flight by the end of the second day!

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  7. thank you Barbara, I feel like I got an inside tip for our trip in December.

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  8. Oh how beautiful and sounds so fun! I love your practical advice...and since I completely agree about hair having its own "mind" depending on where you are..its nice to know it will be attractive in Paris!!! : )
    Melody

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    1. Oh, yeah, baby, greeeeaaat Paris hair :)

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  9. Ohhhhhhh Barb...now I want to go back to the UK/EUROPE EVEN MORE!!! lol. Beyond beautiful!

    When I was in London I saw electric rental cars too. I didn't know what they were (I ended up asking my teacher). I was like THAT IS SO COOL! Great advice, too! :)

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    1. I know, huh, Holly -- nothing like those European cities for beauty and history... Thanks!

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  10. Love the insite and travel tips : ) I am looking into studying abroad next fall and I am so keeping these tips in mind!! :) I'm also amazed these photos came from a phone! They all look so great!!
    Glad you guys enjoyed your trip and got home safely. : )

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  11. I love the travel tips - many of them apply to travels anywhere in the world! (Greet people before you expect them to help you, for example.)
    I'm glad you had such an amazing time in Paris - it sounds like it was a wonderful trip! I've done short trips before - four days in Cambodia, but that was a side trip from Thailand, and it was exhausting but worth it - and I once had to fly home from Korea for a wedding in BC - 17 hour time change, 14 hours on the flight, 36 hours with my family for the wedding, and then the trip back. You're right that you can get a lot done in a short trip, but it's best not to go somewhere too far where jetlag will get you.
    Glad you're home safe and sound!

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  12. Oh, JetLag! Thy arn't my friend. I'll be flying to Manitoba next week. I'll have to leave from my sister's a day before my flight leaves and then travel pretty much 24h before arriving there. There would have been shorter flights, but I don't want to risk it with unfamiliar terminals. Coming home (5 days later :P) is just an hour shorter + train back to north. So I could almost say that I am going to stay there as long as I am going to be travelling. Now I just need to plan if I want to do anything in Amsterdam as I have 6,5 hours to spend there before my flight leaves. Luckily I don't need to organize anything when I get to my destination. Just follow the time table that they have given me.

    I enjoyed the tips and pics equally. Can't wait to organize a trip there in maybe few years. :) Glad to hear you made it home.

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  13. So happy you got to go to Paris! Qu'elle bonne chance!

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  14. I'll never get to Paris myself, so I really enjoyed getting to see it from your perspective. Glad you had had so much fun, Barb!

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  15. Great post Barb. It was amazing to enjoy being with you guys in our favourite city. I just want to tell you that the Great Canadian Pub is an amazing place and we often went there when we needed a little Canadian fix. They have the best nachos ever and they play the hockey games - feels like home. We loved it. That was one of our best visits and I hope we can do it again. xoxo

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    1. Josee, it was awesome seeing you! Magical, as we kept saying. So funny that the pub served as a comfort stop. I guess if you're living there, it's pretty handy! xoxo

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  16. :) I think that especially French don't really like to speak any other language than French. =)

    But yeah...since I live in a non-English country...not everybody can speak English, but I think we try. :)

    And it's the same here in Germany with 0 - main floor... 1 - first floor!

    Loved your entries and the beautiful pictures (well done, Phil!). Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Becki. Interesting about the floors thing. Is all of Europe like this?

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    2. Nope, here in Finland the ground floor is number 1. If I remember correctly Bulgaria was the same, but can't be sure. I would like to say that there is the same trend in all nordic countries but I haven't yet gone up that many floors in all the nordic countries. :)

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  17. Thanks for sharing. I imagine many people making use of it in their own ways. I'm using it during my stay at Appi Hotel Paris

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