Having just gotten home from a two-week trip to France, I’m full of ideas about which to write. Taking advantage of the alliteration provided by TTT, I’ll quickly give you some first reflections.
Paris is a city where its history stands right next to its future. It is as romantic or as razor-sharp as you need it to be. Paris is a classic city and I loved it.
The Normandy villages and countryside provide a delicate contrast to Paris. They are laid-back and drowsy in the summer sun. The English style half-timbered houses alongside traditional French stone chateaus and ancient fortresses tell a story of a region that changed hands many times. It is also a modern district of busy harbors, orchards laden with fruit, and memories of how other countries came to France’s aid in 1944 to rescue her from an occupying monstrous invader. A leisurely river cruise along the Seine was the perfect antidote to the passion of Paris.
- You don’t have to wear all black in Paris. Yes, it doesn’t hurt to have a classic black dress that you can dress up or down with scarves and jewelry, but in July, people are wearing everything. There are tourists everywhere and the streets are full of people in every style of clothing from every country.
- People really do wear scarves all the time in Paris and the countryside. Bring one from home to get you started and then go immediately to the street vendors by Notre Dame Cathedral on the Ile de la Cité and buy three new ones for ten Euros. Parisian style is easy and cheap to come by.
- It’s worth it to climb up to the top of at least one monument. The views of Paris from the top of the Pantheon, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Basilique Sacré-Coeur (the mother of all views) are not to be missed.
- Public transportation is cheap and easy to use. The Metro and RER are well marked and there are always people around who know how to use the machines to help you. Just don’t expect elevators and escalators. There are lots of steps between levels.
- The taxi drivers really do go out on strike. On July 19, 2010, we took a 6:15 AM taxi to Charles de Gaulle for a 12:15 flight in order to avoid a strike, and it’s a good thing our concierge told us about it on Sunday night. We decided it was better to be safe than sorry, so we took a very early cab. Our taxi driver told us that the taxis were going to block all the entrances to CDG at 7:00 AM and they did.
- Hotel rooms in Paris are small; get over it. Since you really can’t get much takeout food to eat in your room and the English speaking television is limited, there isn’t any good reason other than sleeping and “resting” to be in your room. You’re in Paris, for goodness sake! We were very lucky to book room 701 at the Best Western Hotel Folkestone Opera which is a little larger and has a full size tub. It was still small by American standards but met our needs very nicely and was reasonable.
- People in France are generally pleasant to tourists and many speak enough English to help you. Since I live in a big city (Chicago) and have traveled to New York and other big cities, I didn’t find Paris particularly different in its demeanor. Our hotel concierge Virginie and the rest of the staff all spoke enough English to help us and so did most of the waiters in the restaurants. Between my husband’s high school French and my Spanish (with a few gestures thrown in), we didn’t have much trouble being understood and understanding. It was good for our brains!
- If you want to be taken seriously in a serious restaurant, wear something appropriate, speak softly, and don’t order French fries and a hamburger. The food is fabulous; enjoy the experience.
- French women are thinner and have smaller bone structure than Americans; it’s a fact of life and genetics. Unless you are pretty thin and have small shoulders, you probably aren’t going to fit into much in the stores. Even the plus sizes have a smaller upper body structure. Buy something else to bring home as a souvenir of your trip.
- There are ugly Americans everywhere, but you don’t have to be one. Our cruising family included a woman who ordered others around, talked loudly to the ship staff and shopkeepers to get her point across, and was generally annoying. Look around you; figure out what the locals are doing and follow their lead. You won’t be disappointed because you won’t have any need to complain.
I have lots more to tell you and lots of photos to share. Until then, bonne journée!