This March (2015) we went on a short Eurotrip. You can love or either hate Paris. And the border between those too is really thin. Something like that Max told us. Jiří’s French colleague. Well, after just a few days in Paris I have to say, I’m not really in love with Paris. But I don’t hate it either.
We flew from Prague (Václav Havel Airport) to Paris (Charles de Gaulle) on Wednesday. We arrived a bit late and decided to stay in a hotel near the airport. It was the best decision we could make – there was no stress and that’s how you should spend your vacation, right? Jiří said “let’s walk, it’s close”. But it turned out it wasn’t; so we took a taxi.
In the morning on the next day, we took a hotel shuttle bus back to CDG and took RER from there to the city – Gare du Nord. We couldn’t hope for a warmer welcome to this lovely city! Do you know how Parisian metro (tube) works? You buy a ticket – of course – validate it in a huge tourniquet which would suck your ticket in, stamp it and spit it out. On the way out of the Gare du Nord station, the machine didn’t suck my ticket in, rather it got jammed at the entrance (a real devil hole). I couldn’t get it out neither in. I was a bit nervous ’cause Jiří had gone through. I tailgated some guy as I thought this is the exit and I wouldn’t need my ticket anymore. Well, I was wrong. Really wrong. It was a change station with a long corridor between multi-leveled platforms. And kids, this is the story, how I met a Parisian ticket inspector. Do you know, how much is a fine for a travel without a ticket? 50 euros. But only 33 euros for tourists! Lovely, isn’t it? I’ll make it short: That lovely lady could speak English. A bit. She didn’t care I had my ticket stuck in the tourniquet. Thanks to other lady – apparently some tourist-friendlier-ticket-inspector and thanks to Jiří who got back to rescue and validate my ticket (yeah! it was still there and stopped the machine) those ladies rip apart my already filled fine and we could leave. Thank you!
After that we went to Sacré-Cœur. As we took a tourist map in a hotel we stayed in, finding it was pretty easy. Until we got to the stairs. So many stairs. Catching our breath (Jiří had a 13kg backpack) we conquered that holy place with a beautiful outlook. I guess, we didn’t see much because of the air pollution. (We were so lucky we came to Paris when there was the worst air pollution at all. It was so bad the public transport went for free for the whole weekend!) Sacré-Cœur is a piece-of-art from outside and inside. But no “wow” at all. It’s maybe because I’ve already seen too many Christian churches in my not so long life or I’m stolid. But you should visit it. Definitely!
We went on. Had a crocque-monsieur (a nice ham and cheese sandwich) and saw a lot of shell games. We decided it’s time to see the opposite of that holy place – Moulin Rouge. It was much smaller than I expected. And the mill wasn’t working. And it must be just so cool in the evening with all the lights and mill spinning… (Oh, I realised I must sound pretty disapointed by now, but it wasn’t that bad!) Well, it was time to go somewhere else. To some patisserie! We had a spinach quiche and two beignets (small doughnuts) – a chocolate and a caramel one. In Rue Blanche we had a coffee in a small bistro. I love coffee but not coffee in Paris.
What else did we see that day: Opéra Garnier, Louvre and Carrousel du Louvre (and the Apple Store), Obélisque de la Concorde and a shade of the Tour Eiffel. (Remeber the air pollution!) Pierre Hermé in Avenue de l’Opéra had some really nice macarons so we tried three of them – chocolate, rose and jasmin flavours. We had the first of many baguettes for a dinner and finally went “home”.
We stayed with Max who was really nice and bought us a baguettes for breakfast every day. I have to admit I was looking forward to go to another country without this delicious but indigestible pastry. Well the next day we went to see the Eiffel Tower. First, we stopped by majestic Notre-Dame to see its beautiful vitrages. Local organist played really nicely and it gave the cathedral another kind of atmosphere. We went by Musée d’Orsay (I want to visit it one day, there’re huge and cool mechanical clocks in the café.) and stopped for a lunch nearby. I had a boeuf bourguignon; Jiří had a hachis parmentier (a French version of a cottage pie).
We tried to make our sightseeing easier by trying to hire a cycle. It’s a bit like in London and the service is called Vélib’. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. For more than a week they blocked 150 euros from my bank account and the freaking machine probably didn’t have a paper so it didn’t give me a ticket with a number you need to hire a cycle AND the call center spoke only in French (so I really do not know what the dial office told me) and didn’t work either. Next time, we better register online in order to get the customer’s unique number for releasing a bike, says Jiří. I can understand now what people mean by the worst service ever. We went on foot. Also we had the worst of all the coffees in Paris. It cost about 2 euros and it was actually an instant coffee. Coffee hell, really. I want to cry over this spilt water even now.
Well the Eiffel Tower! It’s really nice! I liked it. And it doesn’t look anything like Petřín! On our way to this very very high tower we bought a chocolate éclair and a raspberry duchesse. Oh my god! That was much better than anything else I’d had in Paris! I loved Paris in that moment, I did. The not so pleasant thing about this place (and not only this one, all touristic places) are the eiffel-tower-sellers. Their “one euro, one euro, good price” is a bit annoying. After the sweet snack we crossed the river to Palais de Challiot, found a supermarket, bought some baguette and cheese for a dinner and came to Champs Élysées. It’s so huge! Like sooooooo huge! Five car lanes for every direction and the pavements of the same width. We were really sad they didn’t have an Olaf pillow in the Disney shop so we went to H&M to buy me a really nice pair of shoes (yeah, I could buy them at home, but…). After a pretty long time we stand in front of Arc de Triomph.
Did you know the admission is for free when you’re under 25 and EU citizen? Cool, ha? The view is just amazing! You can see the Eiffel Tower (you should realised you can’t take a pic of the tower when you’re on it) and Champs Élysées with all those crazy cars.
We took a free tour on Saturday. It’s not really free, you should give something to your guide as it’s their job, right? It’s up to you how much you give them (5-10 euros per person are usual). The tour took almost 3 hours: St Michel square, Notre-Dame, Pont Neuf, Louvre, Place de la Concorde and Obélisque.
Paris is expensive. So after all the local food we had we went to Pret a Manger for a late lunch. It was half of the price we would have paid in a restaurant.
We left Paris on Sunday. And on that day we saw that romantic side of it. Rue Montmartre and Rue Montorgueil are the streets you should visit. There was a local market with fish, mussels, fresh fruit and vegetable, pastry, cheese, meat, sausages, crepes! We bought our last baguettes and a crepe with a jam and found Stohrer patisserie. Don’t go there! There are so many yummy things you don’t want in your life! We bought another éclair (with a salted caramel), candied maroon and oh-so-good orange mimosa (a little moist cake). It wasn’t cheap at all but so good.
Unfortunately we had just few more hours in that Paris that was so different. We had to take a bus to Ghent.
Why I didn’t fall in love with Paris? It’s messy (I wouldn’t expect so many garbage in a Western European city), expensive (like a lot), and smells bad (really, can’t you just use a toilet somewhere inside?). I would say it’s kind of a mixture of London and Prague… But I wouldn’t like to live in Paris.
People in France don’t want to speak English I know that. When I said, “Bonjour, I’m sorry, do you speak English?” They usually answered “little”, “small”, or “short”. That was sufficient to buy a stamp or something to eat. Some people say when you’re rude to French, they would be nice to you. I won’t try it but you can (and let me know).
- You’re a poor student and have no spare money to spend:
- Are you younger than 25 and EU citizen? Visit museums and some sightseeing for free!
- Are you adventurous? Do you have extra 150 euros on your bank account? Try Vélib’. You have an unlimited amount of rides up tp 30 minutes for a 3 euro flat rate.
- Take a shopping windows spree on Champs Élysées.
- Try couchsurfing (or find friends)!
- Or wait for a really bad air pollution situation and a free public transport.
- Take a free tour. (And give your guide at least a warm hug. Like Olaf.)
- You’re not so poor and have at least one 5€ bill. Congrats! You can:
- Buy two not so good coffees.
- Have 5 croissants for a breakfast. (And a heart attack later.)
- Enjoy a crepe or a gallete.
- Have 5 fresh baguettes or one and a half baguette sandwich.
- Buy yourself two luxurious macarons.
- Travel somewhere close by a public transport (it costs at least 1,80€)
- Buy a lot of Evian water.
- Have a baguette and some cheese (from a supermarket) for a nice dinner.
- It looks like you found a 10€ bill in your pocket. Wow!
- Buy anything from the previous list twice!
- Take RER from the CDG airport to the city. (One way only, sorry.)
- Buy a bottle of wine. (At least you’ll be warm at night.)
- Get on top of the Eiffel Tower.
- Buy someone (and yourself) a nice dessert.
- 15€? Oh-la-la!
- Have a lunch in a decent restaurant.
- Or buy 15 baguettes!
- Your piggybank is broken:
- Stay in a hotel at the airport (about 45€ / night / room).
- Buy a one-, two-, even three-day pass for public transport.
- Try some fancy restaurant and let me know how you liked it!