Paris is just okay

I was going to do a follow up post to my London one, but got busy while being in Paris, so I’m going to first write about Paris since it’s more fresh, then probably just write about all the cities I’ve been to when I’m done.

For context, I’m currently traveling across Europe, and have been to London and Paris. I’m on the train headed to Brussels right now, then I’ve got Bologna and Amsterdam left to visit.

I’m going to do a similar format to my London post, and just highlight key things I found notable in Paris.

  1. Accessibility? Try taking the stairs looking for the stairs.

    Paris has definitely felt like one of the most inaccessible places I’ve been to. Most metros I’ve seen have elevators / ramps all over the place, and the roads are generally smooth, enabling wheeled transport everywhere. In Paris, most metros are only accessible by stairs, cutting out disabled people everywhere from being able to get around.

    The roads here are incredibly bumpy (likely a relic of the old town’s streets), and I don’t really remember seeing many ramps. Contrast to London, where (1) escalators were in most metros (escalators » stairs) and (2) elevators were in most metros, and I saw the accessibility sign everywhere). I’ll admit this isn’t an issue I used to notice as much, but after seeing close friends deal with trying to find an accessible way to get around, I grew a ton more appreciative of the US, and especially the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s the clearest example of why government does need to step in sometimes to ensure that everyone is accounted for.

  2. Let them eat cake

    Anyone who’s studied even a bit of French history knows that they love their revolutions. It’s a popular joke at this point, as the French are currently on their fifth republic. Many of these revolutions happened due to people not being able to get food and necessities, and this is something it seems is addressed in the regulation of “La Baguette Spéciale”. This baguette’s price used to be regulated by the government, and now it’s done by consumer expectations. With inflation, I never paid more than 2 euros (euro to dollar is a near 1:1 exchange rate now) for a full baguette.

    This proved to be really nice, as I could this baguette to make a sandwich or a meal fairly easily.

    I will say however, it’s got nothing on London’s ‘meal deal’, which gives a full meal for just £3.50 at any grocery store. But I’m definitely going to miss the proliferation of baguettes.

  3. “Oui oui baguette”

    This was a (mildly offensive) phrase I heard a lot from friends growing up in the US when we’d pretend to speak French - probably a reason most Parisians have a strong distaste for American tourists.

    Jokes aside, I’d never experienced a language barrier like I have here. I was traveling alone, which meant for the first time I couldn’t tug at my mom’s arm to explain the sign in Gujarati. In Paris, while you can see English on a lot of signs and many people who live here do (kinda) understand it, it feels very much how Spanish is in the US (well, much better than that). Most people here can recognize some key words, but don’t really speak it. This makes ordinary things like ordering food, taking the metro, or just shopping way more difficult. In my London post I touched a little how I felt conscious about my American accent; here, it’s not even close how awkward I do feel.

    Parisians hate tourists This is a common stereotype, and one I mentioned earlier (treating it like a fact). I’d like to say this isn’t entirely true; A more accurate statement would be that Parisians want to talk to other Parisians. This doesn’t mean they actively berate tourists, but it does mean that you’re going to get the cold shoulder more often than not, and that you aren’t going to be a priority.

    I’ll talk a little more about this in #5, but the biggest issue with not knowing French is losing out on key attractions; I wasn’t really able to get much out of the Louvre at all (despite having a special exhibitions ticket), since most of the writing was only in French.

  4. Annoying payment methods for transit » dysfunctional transit

    Paris has a metro, which is nice - you can get around (mostly) anywhere, and it’s generally pretty cheap (only €1.90 one way). However, unlike the Tube (london), the Subway (NYC), the Metro (DC), and Bart (Bay Area), there’s no support for contactless payment. Additionally, fares are the same, which means that traveling short distances costs the same as traveling long distances. This means that (1) you’ll ‘overpay’ for traveling within Zone 1 (tourist central) and you’ve got to buy tickets in # of rides, not in fare amount.

    It’s definitely cheaper though than London - but also more inconvenient. The train for where I lived stopped running around 11 PM, leaving me with no option aside a bus more than once, vs with London I’d been able to Tube until midnight.

    For paying, your options are either a contactless card (which you can only get from a staff member at a window, for some reason these cannot be retrieved from a machine, which makes ZERO sense (all other systems I’ve tried give the card at the machine), or to get a paper ticket that lets you go one way. I cannot express how much I hate these paper tickets, so if you’re coming to Paris, my recommendation is to get a physical card and load on it transit passes.

  5. Ranking Tourist Attractions

    Since my flight was cancelled, I had 1-2 less days in Paris than expected (and an extra day in London). This proved to work to my advantage (I liked London far more than Paris), but as such I was really only able to do the ‘touristy’ things here. This bullet is called ‘ranking tourist attractions’, but I’m just going to rank all the things I’ve done here.

  6. Walking Tour of the Main City

    Did this with SANDEMANs Walking Tours, and this was absolutely amazing. Highly recommend doing this (you can do an English or Spanish tour), and you get to see all the main attractions + get a feel for the city a bit. Your guide also knows a ton of what the fun things to do are, and it’s overall amazing. I also was able to meet + make a friend on the tour, so that was also awesome. These tours are free, but it’s recommended to leave a tip after if you enjoyed it - I personally tipped €7, no idea what the standard is, but for mine it was easily better than many paid tours, so it was 100% worth the €7.

  7. Eiffel Tower (or Tour Eiffel)

    This is the cliche, the most famous thing to do in Paris, and let me tell you, it’s so worth. It’s only €11 to go to top most floor, and if you book your ticket in advance, there’s not really much of a line, and you’re able to easily go floor by floor and see everything. I took many pictures (people here are quite tourist friendly, a blessing for solo travelers in need of someone to take their photo), and it’s quite nice.

    There’s also food in the Tower, and I had easily some of the best food of my life (yes, that good) on the first floor at Madame Brasserie. Easily some of the best food I’ve ever had (the vegetarian option was really good), and it was the first place I had hot chocolate (or chocolat chaud) in a fancy restaurant, and that’s something I will be sad to lose.

  8. Eating Falafel + Lebanese Food

    Whereas the US gained most of its cultural diversity from a mix of slavery (our worst legacy), immigration (the “american dream”), and some colonization (we did control the Philippines for a while), Europe predominately gained it’s diversity via colonization. As you might have learned in European History in high school Europe colonized most of the world, and as such some people from those colonized countries came to their oppressor’s homeland.

    All this is to explain why each European country has very specific types of cultural food, and in France this is seen in it’s great variety of Lebanese food. Note - I’m in no way trying to sugarcoat colonization or say it was good; I’m just trying to give context as to why each European country has it’s own specific variety of non-national food.

    At any rate, the lebanese food in France is quite good, and there’s Lebanese ‘delis’ everywhere. Late night falafel is a staple (similar to Kebabs in London), and I’m a fan.

  9. Exploring Bars + the 2nd Arrondissement

    With one of my friends in Paris, we were able to walk around and check out cool bars. One of the coolest was a place called “Reset”, which another friend actually texted me about (while I was inside it, craziest coincidence), where you can play all kinds of videogames while getting a drink. Overall, one of the nicest things about eating out + bars in Paris is that you’re never rushed for the check. I’m told this is a European thing in general - but I’ve never been asked if I want to check; I’ve always had to ask for it myself when I want to leave. This makes for much nicer conversations and it feels nice.

  10. Reading by the Seine

    Nothing much to explain here - in general when I’ve been traveling, I bring my Kindle everywhere, and like to find places to read - the Seine, especially by the Trocadero with a view of the Eiffel Tower, is a great place to read.

  11. Exploring the Palace of Versailles + the Gardens

    A TON of walking, and just a ton of bougieness, I can see why France got rid of their monarchs. The gardens are beautiful, but the flies are everywhere. While better than the Louvre, a lot of the exhibits don’t have english, which makes exploring the palace a lot less fun.

  12. Arc de Triomphe

    It’s just an Arc - you can pay to go in (huge line); I just avoided it by walking around it. Pro tip for anyone visiting - you get there by walking through an underground tunnel. Don’t be like me and walk around the roundabout in circles - go find a tunnel.

  13. Visiting the Louvre

    This ranks at the bottom because of how disappointed I was. Not in the Mona Lisa - I knew that was overhyped + just a portrait - but in the lack of accommodation towards English speakers. I can’t honestly get that mad - in London, most exhibits were in only English, with some Chinese/French/Spanish at times, but it was still quite frustrating. Not many places will top the Roman Baths, which had an audioguide in 4 different languages, but alas I wasn’t able to really enjoy the Louvre at all.

    I had also gotten tickets for the Egyptian exhibition, which turned out to be a total bust, as I couldn’t really see anything. I really wished that they had Google Translate tablets available - my phone was on low battery so I didn’t want to use it - but that would have made it just a little easier to enjoy the experience.

Overall, I enjoyed Paris, but I wouldn’t really say it was that great as a non French speaker. definitely worth visiting for a few days though!