“Hey I’m a traveller, not a tourist” It’s such a cliched term you hear from most long term travellers including myself, but while I was in Paris, I finally became that person that I once promised never to be. So what happened? Nothing in particularly. It wasn’t a planned move, I was just fed up having to find interesting and unique things to brag about.
For once I just felt like just donning the tourist cap, eavesdropping in on the tour guides with other tour groups and doing what everybody does when they are in Paris. I only had four nights in the city and didn’t feel like stressing about finding things to do. All I had to do was Google “things to do in Paris” and voilà!
First Impression? Bloody beautiful.
The main reason why I’ve previously avoided Paris is that every couple that I’ve known has been there and come back gushing like love struck teenagers; so you can imagine how demotivating it was for me to to even consider going. However, I decided to get over it and give her a visit this time around. Upon arriving, it struck me how perfect looking everything was. From the beautifully restored buildings that line the streets to the manicured parks and monuments and La Sein river that attracts lovers like bees to the honeypot.
The pastries, cheese, wine, crepes etc etc.
Paris is a diabetics nightmare and during my time there I found myself eating countless pastries throughout the long days. Go instore to most patisseries and you’ll find the the cakes, sweets and fresh baguettes presented like art displays. For as long as I can remember I have never been a lover of anything sweet. The reasoning can be traced back to when I was a young kid and being forced by my mother to eat avocados mixed with condensed milk. Until now, I prefer to plunder as many savoury foods that any cuisine can offer, but somehow Paris managed to turn me and I ended up reintroducing our sugary friends back into the repertoire.
Each day, I’d kick start the morning with a pain au chocolate, or croissant and espresso and set my tourist compass to where ever I needed to go to. People always asked me how am I not blowing out like a Michelin Man with so many pastries being consumed. If anything, I’ve lost a couple of pounds, because I was walking walking nearly 10km every day. Paris is so flat that walking is a breeze.
Everything they say about the cheese in France is true. Go into any home and there would always be cheese in the fridge along with some other form of cured sausage and wine of course. Even before I could sit down after a day’s exploration, my hosts would have the cheese and wine out already and like culinary ninjas they’d be slicing and dicing cheese and devising multiple types of canapes.
One of the more surprising meals that I had in Paris was the crepe. I always thought of it as being a breakfast meal but a wafer thin buckwheat pancake when folded into a pocket was more than capable of transporting a savoury mountain of ham, caramelized onions and cheese from plate to stomach. Enough to feed two people, It was a good 18 hours before I had to eat again.
History and culture.
Paris is a culture vulture’s dream with over 50 museums in the region to see. I only made it to The Louvre like most people and that took me the best part of a day to explore about 75% of it. In a sign of of the government’s will to encourage cultural emersion, the museum admission prices are free to locals under 18 years of age, the unemployed and teachers. For most museums, free admission is also offered to all on the first Sunday of each month.
If a measure of a city’s culture and history can be judged by the number of statues they have then Paris would be the cultural epicentre of the world. Throughout the city, it feels as though there’s a statue commemorating a historical person and their great deeds. Whether on a bridge or entering a building of any importance, there would be a welcoming statue. There would be too many to comprehend and not even the locals would know all of the stories behind them. The main point to all of this is that they’re fiercely protective of their culture and history and it’s evident in how well preserved everything is.
The beautiful people.
Dammit! If I knew that Parisians were so damn good looking and always impeccably dressed then I would have made more of an effort in the wardrobe department. With the exception of a shirt I bought in London, I came dressed in the rags that I packed when I left Australian shores fifteen months ago.Their sense of style wasn’t just all about expensive suits or scarves. Even those strutting down the street in a pair of ripped jeans or tracksuits pants would look like beautiful peacocks.
A friend told me that in Paris, it would be considered impolite not to make an effort in making oneself look more aesthetically appealing; because a city as beautiful as Paris deserves just as much in return from the citizens. Whether this is true or not, it’s something that has been in the back of my subconscious since then.
Not just being able to appreciate themselves, the Parisians sure take a liking to each other, especially in public. Every afternoon, by the river it’s not uncommon to find lovers enjoying the sunset as well as each other. Making no effort to hide their affections, a few would be holding hands, others in an intense conversation exchange and the odd few engaged in an exchange of tonsil hockey as though it were their final day on earth together.
Most people have probably heard the stories of how the Parisians are arrogant. At first encounter it may seem that way but what I’ve described above; if you added all that pride in history, art and culture, along with the sense of style and give it a good mix, then of course some will mistake it for ego or arrogance. To me though, this mistaken sense of arrogance is just a lack of understanding that in Paris there is a certain rules of behaviour. Call it etiquette if you wish, but it governs their behaviour way of daily life from how to dress, eat, date and so forth. Ask any Parisian why they do something in a particular way and many would respond with a “that’s how it’s always been done”.
Sure, waiters may be rude or abrupt, but are you looking for a best friend? They won’t go out of their way to have a conversation but when I asked an english speaking person for help in something then then they were more than happy to do so. If they can’t speak english then I just have to deal with it. If I was walking down the main strip in Sydney and had streams of people asking me for directions in a foreign language then I’d be throwing a tanty as well.
Wherever I travel to, I’m alway touched by the generosity of those who encounter. My host who I met in the Galapagos last year invited me to stay in his place and even trusted me with his place while he and his partner went to the countryside for the long weekend. At the end of each day of sightseeing they’d make sure that my wine glass was never in danger of running low on rose or that I was in danger of going hungry. Not many people would do this but this welcoming spirit and my home is your home mentality that I experienced with all of my hosts throughout my time in France was what won me over.
An orderly Bastille Day.
I happened to be in town during the 14th July celebrations that commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. A big deal is made of it which includes a military parade up the Champs-Élysées and pretty much a constant barrage of jets and helicopters flying over the city throughout the day. The day long celebrations concludes with most of Paris turning out for the fireworks show that takes place at the Eiffel Tower and along La Sein river.
Armed with baguette, cheese, pickles, a bottle of Bordeaux and other snacks I found a great location seven hours before the fireworks were due to start. I was dead keen on finding the best location and had spent a few hours online earlier researching where to go.
Of course the location was too good to be true and we were moved on by the police as it was deemed too close for comfort and risked going up in flames due to the close proximity of the fireworks barges. Seven hours later and with an iron will (and bladder), resisting all urges to join in on the drinking festivities, the twenty minute pyrotechnic spectacular illuminated the night sky; mainly with the patriotic red, white and blue colours.
Despite being normally an animated and vocal group of people, I noticed as the fireworks were in progress that the Parisian crowds were well behaved and relatively silent. The person next to me could whisper and I could almost what they were saying; whereas back in Oz, it would be an excuse to become drunk and belligerent and yell a few “YEW”‘s or “WOOHOO!” Long after the fireworks had concluded, couples were still lining the banks of the river making out. Why wasn’t I surprised.
By the end of the four days, I was exhausted and worn out. I’d walked so much that one recently purchased pair of socks had pretty much disintegrated (possibly shonky Asian craftsmanship). It made me realise that sometimes, as much as you want to plan and experience it all, you just won’t enjoy it as much in the end by ticking off a list of things to see and do. Also, we shouldn’t be quick to judge people based on other people’s experiences and assessments and sometimes you will have a bad experiences with people but that can be the same case in your own city.
Pairs certainly delivered the goods and exceeded all my expectations and more. There’s still so much more food I need to try, photos to make and people to meet up with who I didn’t have the chance to. Paris, I’ll be back.
Have you been to Paris and did you immerse yourself into the culture, pastries and people watching?
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