Sunday, July 21, 2013

Paris in July. We did that.

And just in time to leave, I finally mustered the guts to say bold things like "Bonjour!" and "C'est bon?" at the grocery store. We ate more bread than is reasonable and spent just shy of 50€ on cheese. (But, not at a restaurant or anything, rather at markets and delis where it's unbelievably cheap. So I'm saying that's a lot of fucking cheese!) We drank wine by the gross and walked more than we have in a very long time. Paris is a cheese/wine/walking kinda town.

And it's a place perfect for the highly-sensitive, but not the faint of heart. (There's a difference.) Its smells and its noises are frequent, and if you're like me, you'll smell and hear all of them. Thoroughly laced with urine, arguments waft across airshafts and promenades, ambulances and police cars wee-waa casually down wide boulevards as if not in a hurry at all. The sun is hot, but the shade is actually cool. It reminded me that in Toronto, the shade of an oak tree is just a dimmer version of the same humid air. I have to stare at my feet as the pavement turns to cobbles; alleyways of the Marais are actually more treacherous than the ancient temples of Cambodia. Gardens and parks are everywhere, though you need to be choosey if you're looking to spread out on the grass; it's prohibited in most places, the one fussy French thing I could do without.

When I wander the streets I read, in a hushed whisper, every street sign and poster. I've perfected my guttural R's, merci very much, but none of you will ever hear them. I'm much too self-conscious to try them out on anyone who knows me. Instead I'll sheepishly mutter to strangers who work in kiosks on this, our last day in Paris.

(Gustave Eiffel designed the tower, completed as the entrance to the World's Fair in 1889. He had an office built for himself on the upper-deck. Amazing.)


1) Paris is not a large place, at only 105km². Just barely larger than Manhattan and a little smaller than Vancouver. Paris would take up less than 20% of big-city-sprawlers like Toronto and Chicago. Paris is small

2) That said, it's got an impressive network of roadways at over 6000 kilometres. Philip Augustus, the King of France from 1180 until 1223, had the streets paved in the year 1200. Which I have a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around.

3) The Paris Metro system is impressive. There are over 200 kilometres of lines and it seems to go absolutely everywhere. We used it constantly and found it efficient, clean, and convenient. We never waited more than 2 minutes for a train and found transfers and navigation well-marked in English. 

4) Velib, the public bike system, is good/clean/etc. but isn't SO great as a visitor if you don't have a local SIM card or constant access to wifi on your phone. We found ourselves going over the 30 minute free period because we couldn't find stations or the stations were full. It was a bit frustrating. We enjoyed busting around town this way, but the inconveniences eventually made the Metro a better option. 

5) Cabs are pretty reasonable, but very hard to come by. There just aren't enough.

6) I thought there'd be a boulangerie on every corner. There aren't. More than once I found myself stumbling around, desperate for bread, and without a bakery in sight. However, there's no shortage of pharmacies, cafes, and hair salons.

7) Don't step in puddles, it's probably urine. The whole city smells like pee. On many occasions we saw men peeing in very random/public places in the middle of the day. It's weird.

8) We went to the Piscine Josephine Baker, which is a pool on a barge on the Seine near the Bastille. It looked quite beautiful and we always dig a pool day. Their website is bad and we were disappointed to find out that Speedos and bathing caps are a requirement of the facility. Fussy Parisians. While I do recommend going, be prepared for that.

9) Buy tickets for things like museums and the Eiffel Tower in advance online. You can bypass the crazy lines this way.

10) People. smoke. everywhere.

11) Happy Hour is a worthwhile endeavour. Between 4pm and 8pm is a great time of day to sit and people watch, and after walking all day, a perfect time to rest. 

12) Nothing is open on Sundays. Like, regular supermarkets are closed. Infuriating.

13) Early-on we did a bus/boat tour of the city, to get our bearings. L'Open was the company we chose, as there was a stop near our apartment. The Batobus boat portion was fun and nice, but the bus tour was terrible. The commentary was lame and it was really too busy. The bus would stop frequently and dozens of people would be there to board/purchase tickets, etc. Sometimes you'd sit in traffic for 15 minutes waiting for this process. It was the worst. Awful. Terrible.

14) It stays light until 10:30pm! Glorious!

15) Carrefour carries a Sauvignon called La Francette for 1.62€ which is completely palatable. Over the course of 2 weeks we had 10 bottles. Highly-recommended. Carrefour carries a lot of wine, actually, and some of their "more expensive" (still so cheap compared to Toronto) reds are terrific. If you can find Gabriel Meffre Châteauneuf-du-Pape, buy a couple bottles and take them home. It's impossible to get near it for less than $40 at home, and this one was 14€. 

16) If you're looking for a familiar voice, visit Ginger at The Red House. An American-owned watering-hole we quite enjoyed. 

17) Typically we get a sense of tipping culture by the Visa transaction: If it prompts you to enter a tip, we figure we should. But in Paris, they like their tips in cash. 10-15% is good, though watch for restaurants that add a big service charge. You can leave less if the service charge is high.

18) The Eiffel Tower is a beautiful thing. Sadly (and perhaps shockingly?) we didn't go up. Waiting in line was a shitty option (the lines are bananas) and all pre-purchase tickets were booked up every time we went online to buy. I've talked about our anti-schedule strategy, so we were never sure what we'd want to do days in advance. So we never got around to it. Je suis oops. UPDATE: On our last night in Paris, we did it. We had to, and the line looked manageable. It was worth it, though I'd prefer to go up during the day. A beautiful monument.

LOCATION: Paris, France
DATE AND TIME: Sunday, July 21, 2013 6:00PM Central European Summer Time/Sunday, July 21, 2013 12:00PM EST


Location: Paris, France
Accommodation: Cosy One Bedroom Near Montmartre 
Rough would be the wrong word to describe the intersection of Barbès and Rochechourart where this apartment is located. It's a bit chaotic (with a Metro station, people loitering, dudes selling fake sunglasses, etc.) but it doesn't feel unsafe or aggressive. Just kind of . . . colourful. With a Carrefour (supermarket) just up the street, the Metro (the 4, which is super great line, and also walking distance to Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est, if you're making your way out of the city) and lots of other conveniences, what the neighbourhood lacks in calm, it more than makes up for in other ways. For this price, you just can't beat it. And, frankly, it feels like real Paris up here in Montmartre. Off the tourist track, for sure. Minutes to icons like Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, and the Paris-Louxor cinema, there's lots of see without going far. Otherwise it's a quick Metro ride to the major sites/museums in the centre of town. 

The apartment itself is no-frills, but large, and has a washing machine, which is very handy on a protracted visit. Things get quite loud early in the morning. The bathroom is not luxurious, if that's important to you. Small, cramped, bad water pressure, and kind of dank. I'll be glad to upgrade the shower experience in our next stop. The kitchen is not well-stocked (utensils, proper wine glasses, etc.) but serviceable. Again, at this pricepoint, it is as it should be. Pricier rentals will offer more bells and whistles. There's a Tati (discount department store) at the end of the block should you desperately require a spatula.

We ate at two restaurants. First we were sucked into a cute French restaurant in Les Puces called Chez Louisette's. A former dancehall, there's live singing and a frenetic atmosphere. And the food was pretty solid. Then we had an overpriced sandwich at a café on Boulevard Saint-Germaine, which was the jarring end to eating out. Here's what: We love eating, but we can't afford to blow all kinds of euros on sit-down meals, especially when they add a 19% service charge. It's just not worth it. If I can go to a grocery store and snag a bunch of cured meat, several bottles of wine, and a crate of strawberries for a song, why wouldn't I eat in a park? Who needs a table and chairs. Not me

But we did our share of macaron-tasting. Ladurée is classic and failsafe, but Maison Georges Larnicol offered great macarons and a wide array of confections. Some of the best caramels I've ever eaten, plus brittles, pralines, and these little candy-coated egg things that will blow your mind.


1 comment:

  1. Number 7, the pee thing, YES. We saw so much random urinating there, too. Probably because one very annoying thing about Paris is that there are no public restrooms anywhere. Imagine being on the Champs on the last day of le Tour de France for 8 hours with a billion others and no freaking toilets!