Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What I learned from Paris

I had a post of what I learned in Europe but this is more specific to what I learned in Paris. I won't repeat anything from that post but the advice there still applies to traveling in Paris.
  1. Learn some French: although you could probably get by if you only speak English as all of the main attractions are bilingual. Most of the servers at the restaurants spoke English too but it,s better to learn some French in case you have issues. I saw waiters switch languages all the time even though the customers only spoke English.
  2. Find the bathrooms: Some of the big attractions don't have bathrooms but if you think about it, when they were built in the 13th century (or whenever), were they meant to have bathrooms? Most cafés did have bathrooms though -- just look for the stairs. That's how I did business although there are some places where the bathrooms were really bad like the Louvre or the Petit Trianon in Versailles -- two stalls in the ladies rooms is not enough.
  3. Bathrooms: another note on bathrooms as this was an interesting topic for us. First, most bathrooms are unisex so you will find yourself washing your hands next to men in the next stall. The toilet is in a closed room that locks - and for heavens sake, use that lock. People assume that if the door opens, no one is there. It is a closed room though so you are in total privacy: no one can hear you if you really have to do business. I might have to write an entire post on bathrooms in Paris because I found it so interesting.
  4. Try to blend in: the French are great people but they tend to treat you differently if you are obviously a tourist. We lived in an apartment in France, not a hotel, and we ate the same kind of food that they ate instead of insisting for French fries and asking for -- God forbid -- ketchup.
  5. Walk -- as much as you can: seriously, it is good for you and you will see more. You can walk down crowded little streets and find all kinds of things waiting for you. Walk around your quarter and get used to it. You will feel more at home which is so important when you are traveling. Wear really good shoes -- not necessarily sneakers -- with good insoles too. Check the weather forecast each day before going out and bring an umbrella, scarf, coat, etc. accordingly.
  6. You must take the stairs: the only place where you will find escalators or elevators is in really good, new museums and the metro. Other than that, you will be taking the stairs everywhere you go. For example, we climbed at least 100 stairs to get to Sacre-Coeur, and 84 to get out of the Catacombs. We had 4 dozen stairs to get up to our 5th floor apartment too. 
  7. Spend your money wisely: that also includes getting to know what the money looks like and what kind of value you are getting. If a tiny pat of butter is 5€, you are being swindled. Don't just hold out your change to the cashier and tell them to take what is needed -- I saw tourists doing that.
  8. Take the flash function off of your camera for all museum visits: the camera is usually allowed but your flash is not. There are usually staff sitting in the exhibition rooms watching you and they will catch you if your camera flashes or if you touch something. The only place where cameras where not allowed (that we found on this visit) was the Musée d'Orsay and the temporary exhibit at the Musée de l'Orangerie.
  9. You will not be the only tourist: I mean that as in, North Americans are not the only tourists in Paris. You will meet all sorts of people from Korea, Italy, Russia, Japan, China, and so many more. You will hear so many different languages all at one time, especially at big places like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. Whatever you have planned to see, plan that it will be swarmed at the time that you visit by a sea of tourists all thinking the same thing as you.
  10. You will not eat what you normally eat (or the way that you normally eat): no French fries or chicken nuggets with ketchup, no spaghetti, no lasagna. If you want that kind of thing, find an Italian restaurant or a Macdonalds. No, when you are here, you will most likely eat like the French do. That doesn't meant that the food is full of cream and butter (although the Coquilles Saint-Jacques au beurre blanc at Le Petit Chatelet was out of this world) but you will notice that the food is different. So is the portion size -- they don't stuff you like meals in North America but the portions are just enough.
  11. Buy the guide book (if one is available): every museum and most tourist monuments have a guide book to that site. Seriously -- buy it. Get the version in the language of your choice, it is most likely there (we counted at least 10 languages in the Louvre). You will possibly see everything in that site nor will you remember it for all time. Get the book. It also has better photos then you could ever get without a flash -- refer to point 7. 
  12. People are rude: I don't mean everyone, but some of the everyday people that you meet in France are rude. They bump into you, they step on your feet or they roll their eyes at you. They don't care about your feelings or about special treatment. Most don't say "please" or "thank you" unless they are selling you something. Don't expect them to be as nice as people in North America. 

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