What I Learned From This Sojourn: Paris Layover Edition
1. When I was 20 years old, I climbed the 422 steps to the bell tower of the Notre Dame and was drafted by our eccentric elderly guide to “ring”the biggest bell. He had me stand under the massive dome, placed the clapper in my hand, and guided me in gently rubbing it along the inside. The sound it produced was magnificent, and that moment for me has always retained its wonder and delight. When T climbed the same steps the other day, and I asked about the bells, he told me he didn’t see any bells. Apparently, they’ve all been enclosed. This is an understandable necessity considering the massive crowds, but it also highlights the importance of getting your snapshot of the world as it is while you still can. I’m glad I got to hang out with the gargoyles barrier-free, and I’m blessed to have had that Quasimodo moment because these things are impossible now. That first (ill advised) trip to Paris changed my life; ringing that bell gave me my wings.
2. My French comes rushing back when I need to use it, although I spoke it mostly out of politeness. Everyone here speaks English at least conversationally, from Metro and McDonald’s workers on up. They still appreciate the niceties though, like a “Bonjour”, a “S’il vous plait”, a “Merci”, and a “Pardon” if you happen to step on someone’s toe. I find all this global English fluency a little embarrassing for our monolingual (and proud) culture. Speaking more than one language makes us smarter, more empathetic, better writers and communicators, and invariably leads to all kinds of inter-cultural exchange and understanding.
3. It’s super easy to get around Paris by foot, Metro, ferry–you name it. Very, very easy.
4. Next visit, and there are seldom return visits for the roaming Sojourners so Paris must be special, we’re staying in an apartment.
5. There’s a store called Picard that has nothing but aisle after aisle of frozen foods. Yup, feel like having moussaka, fajitas, coq au vin, leg of lamb, ice cream galore, and even frozen herbs and spices? It’s all here and it’s all reported to be quite good. So good in fact that there was a big scandal not too long ago alleging that certain menu items at certain restaurants were simply these same Picard foods, reheated and garnished, so caveat emptor at the sit down spots. For those who knowingly choose it however, this is a cool (blatant and unapologetic pun) dining option for those traveling as a family or on a budget, and adds to the value of staying in an apartment instead of a hotel.
6. If there’s something to get to the top of, my husband will get there by hook or by crook. Thanks to him, we have (many, many) panoramic shots of Paris from the tops of Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the clock window at Musee D’Orsay; the list goes on. Here, a carefully curated set of pictures I like to call “Paris is for The Birds.”
7. By far, the Palace at Versailles is the center ring of the circus that Paris tourism in high season can be. DH really wanted to go, so we went, but we waited in line for an hour to get in despite museum passes that guaranteed we could skip lines. By the end, we couldn’t wait to leave.
8. A huge percentage of tourists are from the BRIC nations: Brazil, Russia, India, and especially China.
9. I know I whined a little in a previous post about how spit-shined Paris seems now in contrast to my freshman visit back in the day, but despite the proliferation of Sephoras, Subways, and Starbucks, the April freshness is a welcome change. Even the Metro smells decent.
10. Speaking of which, there are Metro Police and they do not play. Hang on to your ticket and produce it when requested or face a 30€ fine. We were stopped on our way to Montmartre, but knowing this in advance, we were ready.
11. Paris Plages is the mayor’s attempt to bring the beach and seashore to the banks of the Seine for those who can’t close up shop in August head south. It’s a resounding success and quite a whimsical sight, complete with sand, beach umbrellas, lounge chairs, even potted palm trees.
Some great activities, such as dance lessons, air hockey tournaments, and yoga are also offered at the “beach.” Here I am, soaking up the atmosphere, if not the sun (we’re talking AM temps in the high 50s):