September 25, 2013

Thoughts Après Paris

You know the feeling before a big event – including a highly anticipated one – of excitement mixed with fear?  Though Paris was The Singular Most Desirable Place to Go on Vacation, I grappled a bit with the excitement/fear feeling leading up to the trip.  And I think it's because, traveling – much like life – is the kind of thing where there are a multitude of unknowns, and that can be a little scary.  You can plan something down to the nanosecond, but there are always curveballs – some good, some bad, some in between – that inevitably happen. 

No caption necessary.
Though there were very few negative curveballs that happened during the trip, the couple quasi-"negative" ones that did occur made it all the more interesting.  Ultimately, it was everything I would have expected Paris to be, and then some.  And I don’t mean that in the Paris is so posh and perfect kind of way (because it totally isn’t), but rather that my visit was full-bodied and life-changing, which I think is the case whenever you experience something first-hand.  In these kind of experiences, perspective grows, changes, and evolves, which is what traveling to new places is really all about.  So, herewith are some of my thoughts and photos après Paris:
Cliché as it sounds, the food really is as amazing as they say it is in Paris.  Overwhelmed by all the restaurants there were during the planning process, I left the food planning up to complete spontenaity.  When we landed in Montmartre where our apartment was, however, every restaurant we ate at was a knockout.  From beef bourguignon to banana-and-Nutella-filled crepes, fondue to Vietnamese cuisine (of which Paris is regarded highly for),  French onion soup to croissants and cravette (chocolate pastry), and toasts au saumon fume to cravette, it was all incredible.  None of it was particularly "heart healthy" or "plant based", but partaking it in all was part of the sensorial experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
French Onion Soup (which I had no less than three times during the trip)
In Paris, nearly everyone smokes, no one wears baseball caps (though I did), and people are partial to black.  For a major city, its people are also rather conservative (not a lot of leg and cleavage) on the street, though TV is a different story.  Also, Italian cuisine is akin to Mexican cuisine in the U.S. - widely prevalent and well done.

Clearly I rebelled against the French aesthetic and dressed for comfort (necessary when you're walking 10+ miles per day).
Versailles was probably as crowded as the Louvre though I wouldn't have known that had I not gone.  It was fun to take the train outside the city and see a bit of French suburbia.  And while walking around the inside of the palace along with hundreds of other tourists left something to be desired, the grounds themselves were quite spectacular.  Personally, however, I much preferred the Palace and Jardin du Luxembourg, which we stumbled upon in St. Germain, taking in an outdoor jazz performance. 

Everything in Paris is freaking expensive, except for, ironically, bottled water.  Food, clothing, transportation, even deodorant(!) are all substantially more expensive than in the United States.  And, sales tax is a whopping 19.6%.   But, of course, the shopping is also some of the best in the world, so it's hard not to partake, at least a little bit, especially at the city's abundant perfumeries.  Annick Goutal, Fragonard, and the city's numerous pharmacies (which house some of France's best cosmetics) were complete gems. 
Rue Chappe (street view from apartment)
Parisians are extremely stingy with napkins.  We went to the same café every single morning for breakfast and along with utensils came one tiny napkin tucked in a basket; likewise, at “restaurantes rapide” (such as at the airport) napkins were nowhere to be found. I’m not sure if people wipe their hands on their clothes, but napkins are far from prevalent. Call me a wasteful American, but I like a little napkin action with my meal. 

Raw Beauty (view of Luxembourg in distance)
Attempting to speak French was actually quite fun.  I didn’t experience any rude Parisians, and in fact, the majority of them were quite friendly, even if some of them weren’t entirely fluent in English themselves. Nonetheless, the phrases “Parlez-vous anglais?”, “Je voudrais . . .” at restaurants, and “Bonjour”, “Merci”, and “Au revoir/Bonsoir” went a long way. 

You can reserve these pods along the Seine to have your very own picnic party.  How cool is that?

Paris has an underbelly, just like everywhere (and everything) else. Case in point being the area surrounding southern Montmartre (also coincidentally home of the Red Light District). Unfortunately, this was our entry into the city and therefore the first we saw of Paris when we arrived.  (For the record, there were no hooker sightings, just some grit and grime similar to a second-world country.)  I wish it had been the last sight instead of the first, because I probably would’ve appreciated it more, but in any event, the City of Lights can’t be all perfume and posh fashions.   

Bakery kitty.  (Note: Not taken in Paris's underbelly.)

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