So this past weekend (June 21) my boyfriend Chris—who’s been with me throughout this whole adventure—and I spent our weekend in Paris, France. With this trip we culminate what we call our “international” getaways while already being away.
Where we stayed
We arrived at Beauvais Tille Airport, an hour drive away from the city center, and took a direct bus to Paris. The bus stop was at Porte Maillot, close to L’Arc de Triomphe. We stayed at a small hotel that was just a little outside of the main sites of attractions. Nevertheless, there was a metro (subway) line literally across from the hotel that connected us directly to places like la Tour Eiffel. The hotel was very affordable for Paris (I booked it about a month and a half in advance) and clean (very clean, actually). It was small, especially the room they gave us—the attic—but we were only in the city for three days and were barely in the room, so it served the purpose.
Speaking of the metro, the first day arriving at Porte Maillot and connecting to Charles de Gaulle, I was shocked/surprised/frightened by the amount of people getting on those trains. I thought, If this is how all subways are going to be, I think I’ll walk. It got so crowded that it was scary.
This Paris metro station had those nice platform screen doors, which I had seen on TV before at several Asian subway systems, but did not know exactly how they worked. The gates open and close automatically when the trains arrive and what they do is prevent passengers from falling off the platforms. Perhaps The United States should invest in some platform screen doors, especially New York? Like all automatic things, it looks like they could be a lot of work though as I’m sure it requires a lot of maintenance to keep those gates functioning properly. But could be useful.
Also, in comparison with Spain or The US, the French system is way stricter; it looks impossible to hop over the gates when entering the subway. They’re double-gated and one door is depending of the other. There is an attendant at an information window at all times. I was impressed. Everything seems so much more organized—or maybe I’ve just been living in Spain far too long by now, where everything is anything but? 😀
I could see the difference at the airport, as well. Nowadays, I try to fly as comfortable as possible to avoid being searched because it delays the process, so I wore some tights and a shirt. Tights had become my favorite travel attire because they stretch and it also makes it sort of obvious that I’m trafficking nothing underneath; however, it didn’t go as expected in France. On the way back, for example, I “beeped” going through the security gate. Apparently, my sandals, which never beeped in the previous four times I traveled with them, were the ones causing the commotion. And so a lady padded me down…from all angles. Ha-ha. Crazy.
And that reminds me of yet another story. We bought a bottle opener in Paris for about 5.00€ and, obviously, I didn’t just want to throw it away. Thus I had this small debate with Chris about whether or not it was going to go unnoticed (because these kinds of things have before). The opener also had a little knife… Yeah, now I wonder what I was thinking. But I’m glad I took my boyfriend’s advice and got rid of it because, if my shoes alarmed them to the point of inspection, what would they have done to me if they found a knife in my purse? OMG! I don’t even want to know. But, it felt like I was back in the US for a moment there. I didn’t even think France was this strict.
Back to our Paris adventure, we got in pretty late because Port Maillot is about 26 or 27 stops from our hotel on the metro.
Ouch! But at least it was accessible. After checking in and settling in, we went back out to check out the little neighborhood. It is not bad. We stayed in the district of Picpus. There are a lot of restaurants and bars in the area—perhaps there was much more than we were able to see. The same night we arrived, there were some festivals going on. As I was researching, I found this:
Everywhere you go around Paris on June 21 you will be able to find exceptional musical entertainment. The Fete de la Musique is a day celebrated all around the city, with large performances held in major venues and even more musicians on every street corner.
So this Fete de la Musique (Music Festival) happens exactly on the day we chose to go to Paris. Wonderful! Now I understand why every hotel was unbook-able.
Anyway, these street performances were nice. I just saw the bars were very crowded and was wondering what was going on. The performances I heard sounded more like amateurs trying to get their music out there. It was cool.
I liked the feel of the area because it was less touristy, but I didn’t like the fact that they closed restaurants earlier than what we’ve been used to. I mean, it was only eleven when we went out for dinner! 🙂 We walked a couple of blocks and there was a strip of restaurants that were still open though, so nobody was starved.
Sightseeing and eating out
The food was quite tasty and, may I add, fatty! It wasn’t necessarily greasy, just…thick-textured food. I don’t even know how to explain it. There was mayonnaise and mustard every time. Lots of it. And CHAMPAGNE! Spain doesn’t really have a variety of champagne, just for Cava, so I’ve been itching to have some French or Italian bubbles. 🙂 En fin, the food we had was great and so was the wine. We ate too much, but we also walked a lot—A LOT—on Friday and somewhat on Saturday, so hopefully (fingers crossed) that will keep any excess weight off!
We visited most of the usual famous French spots and monuments, including Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and—though we didn’t go in for the exhibitions—we visited Musée d’Orsay and Louvre.
The thing with museums is that they take a while to tour in order for you to appreciate the art and all, and we were there for only two more days at that point (you need a minimum of a week to see Paris!) so we just didn’t go in. We did, however, go up to the Eiffel Tower (I always wanted to), but only for the first and second floors. We got the tickets online for first and second floor. Actually, what I would have liked to do was going all the way to the tippy-top, but 1) Tickets for the third floor were sold out online and waiting in line for two hours to get a ticket was not an option; and 2) One of us seems to be terrified of heights. Mmhmm…
Another place I’m glad we visited was the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) of Paris. Apparently the name of this neighborhood is a result of the university students in the area speaking only Latin as it was the “the international language of learning” during the Mediaeval period. Meanwhile, here I was thinking “Woohoo, I’m about to get my Latino fix!” We’re so accustomed to associating Latin to Latinos from Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas that even a “Latino” can get mixed up in the facts.
Paris Latin Quarter is a lot of fun. There are tons of bars, restaurants, and shops on the historical little streets. It’s a very cute neighborhood, for which unfortunately we lacked enough time to see it all.
It was also fun to be around while everybody watched the game: Spain vs France. (Ironic.) Spain went on winning the fútbol game, 2-0, knocking France out of any chance of winning the Euro Cup 2012. It looked like the French took it well. I am not choosing any team, but it would have been cool if France won while we were there just to see how crazy it gets. 🙂
The French language
A family member asked me: is it possible to survive in France with limited or no knowledge of the language at all? Look, I think it is possible to survive anywhere with limited knowledge of the culture and/or language. BUT! I do think not knowing the language makes it a little more difficult. My answer to him was that it would help to at least know the basics or be able to read some French (if he wanted to get the most out of it).
It’s great fun being able to understand different languages; your ear sort of makes that switch automatically when you hear a language you’re familiar with and then realize how glad you are that you understand, or—as in my case in France and Switzerland—you suddenly realize that you understand more than you thought you did. I’m familiar with French and, even though almost everybody speaks English in Paris, “the basics” definitely came in handy for me. I purchased a pocket-book back home, which I intended to use to refresh my memory and help me learn new vocabulary, and it also came in handy. We did okay.
Beware of Pickpockets
Finally, the best story for last: I was targeted by a pickpocket! I always bring back stories, it’s what I do. It’s funny because I hear stories all the time from other Auxiliares being pickpocketed here in Spain and I just shake my head in disbelief thinking, what are you, numb? You never think it could happen to you until it happens. Some say I’m the most skeptical person ever, always bracing myself for the “worst case scenario.” But it appears that not even my skepticism prepared me enough. No, the thief didn’t get away with anything, but he was VERY close.
It was so early in the morning—on a Sunday—that I didn’t think a thief would be lurking among the few of us at the metro station so early. We were heading for the airport and I was barely awake and rushing, almost running behind Chris, who was probably 20 feet ahead of me. I had one of those bags that hang diagonally across your body (recommended on How to Avoid Being Pickpocketed) that I use here for the same reason. We had just gotten off a train and were looking for the way out to the street.
Suddenly, I felt some kind of pressure on my bag, as if someone had touched it. I turned my head, checked my left side where my purse was hanging, but saw nothing. I moved the strap so that my purse fell on the front. I kept walking fast and I guess the purse moved, and once again, felt some slightly stronger pressure on my purse. I quickly turned my head to the left, looked down and the zipper on the purse was open. Almost immediately, I looked up and came face to face with a man walking a bit TOO close behind me, holding a scarf to his mouth. A loud “Excuse me!” is all that came out of my mouth as I realized that I had possibly just been robbed. But I quickly looked in my bag to make sure my passport and wallet was still in there—and it was.
The man was well dressed, probably in his late 20’s to early 30’s, did not look like the usual suspect, you would’ve never guessed. When he realized he got caught, he started talking tome in French (I was too worked up to interpret), but by his body language it seemed that he was trying to act like he just happened to be behind me, as if he was asking if everything was okay. That’s when a woman walked by and seemed to have said an affirmative statement against his actions, in French, as she kept walking. Again, by their facial expression and body language (they exchanged a quick word of disagreement, possibly insult), the man was most likely denying it. I turned my head around searching for Chris because I wanted to alert the authorities, but by the time I looked back the man was gone. It all happened very, very quickly. I can’t believe how “professional” they are at what they do. I’m just glad he didn’t get away with it.
I should have known just how popular pickpocketing is in Paris by looking at a few signs, like that one at the Eiffel Tower, warning people to be aware of them.
Well, the thing we enjoyed the most was walking around the cute streets in Paris and definitely the food. It was a good time. Paris is a fascinating city with a lot to offer, lots of places to visit; you can’t conquer it in just three days. But again, it is better than no day at all.