Lessons learned

Paris Travel Blog

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Alexandre III bridge

Arriving in Paris felt surreal. Surrounded by French language, food, people and attitudes, it was everything that I had hoped it would be. I spent the first day alone, wandering the streets near our hotel and visiting little cafés in the surrounding Montparnasse neighborhood (which are more common than ants at a picnic.) Cafés are as much a part of the French culture as the language of French itself. One cannot truly experience the culture, or understand its people, unless you spend a few hours meandering in a café, sipping espressos and casually watching the pedestrians and tourists (which are as obvious as the camera-toting, Japanese fans of Mickey Mouse at Disney World.)Lesson #1: In Paris, a café is not a place to grab a quick bite to eat or a caffeine shot. It is a way of life.

Lesson #2: There’s no such thing as fast food in 99% of Paris.

Alexandre III bridge
After a few hours of walking around, I was famished and decided to grab some dinner. I visited a few of the restaurants, but quickly realized that: a) I would feel extremely out of place dining alone and, b) unless I wanted to pay the equivalent of roughly $30 US, I would have to improvise. I easily found a meat shop, wine shop, bread shop and cheese shop and voila! Le dîner. This is where my French-speaking skills were first put to the test! I must confess that I panicked for a moment…It had been 3 weeks since my last French class! Would I remember the correct verb tense, preposition placement and sentence structure?! Before I knew it, I had passed the first language test with flying colors and was on my way back to the hotel for a lovely little dinner and to await Leah’s arrival.

Lesson #3: Everything in Paris is small. It’s no surprise to many of you that I am just a tad bit larger than your average, size 2 model. ;-) Our hotel room was only slightly larger than a pantry but we made it work.

The bathroom was another story. There was enough room for one person to sit and pee. (Yes!! First obstacle overcome!) The shower however was…comically small. My first shower experience felt more like a scene from the Three Stooges than a shower. The shower was about 2 ft by 2 ft. It was tucked into a corner of the bathroom and completely tiled in. There was a 12 inch opening in which I could squeeze myself into the shower. I was beginning to feel like the master of my little domain when I dropped the shampoo bottle. I bent over to pick it up, bumped the water handle with my butt, turned off the water, couldn’t reach the bottle, had to get out of the shower (soap in hair), pick up the shampoo bottle, turn on the water and finally squeeze back into the shower. This happened more times than I care to count. Although by the 3rd day, I was getting pretty good at balancing my shampoo and washing my hair while remaining nearly stationary. (Now that takes talent!)

Lesson #4: The Louvre is no ordinary art museum. If you’re looking for a quiet place to reflect on the great masterpieces, avoid the Louvre at all costs! There are so many great museums in Paris. One of the things that I realized was that many of the people who visit Paris want to hit all the major tourist attractions but often neglect to really soak in the atmosphere emitted by each special place.

With over 35,000 pieces of art spread throughout 4, palace floors (of which could be considered its own miniature city), the Louvre is bursting with amazing pieces of art such as the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Napoleon’s Crowning. If you dare face the crowds, cameras and clatter of thousands of tourists in a rush to get somewhere, you will find some of the most awe inspiring pieces of fine art in the world. However, take your Zanax before entering because even if you’re not claustrophobic, the constant pushing, talking and camera flashes will ruin your mood. If you do manage to ignore the crowds, I can guarantee that you’ll be blown away. Floor to ceiling art coupled with entire ceilings of gold, paintings and statues give the Louvre a truly exclusive, grand feel. You’ll feel like royalty.

Lesson #5: No longer a wonder of the world, the Eiffel tower is still a world of wonder. I was still trying to get over the shock of actually being IN Paris, when we went to see the Eiffel tower. Words cease to explain how I felt when I was there.

I took about a hundred pictures. Snap, click, flash…and as I was looking at a picture I had just taken on the 2 inch screen of my camera, it hit me. I’m actually in Paris, standing in front of the Eiffel tower. It’s not just a picture that I’m looking at. It’s right in front of me. Ahhh!! Yeah, I freaked out for a moment. J The architecture, the angles, the details…it was amazing. Pictures cannot do this monument justice. I’m not quite sure why it’s considered to be a romantic destination but it was definitely an awesome experience.

Discovering more of the history behind the Eiffel tower made me appreciate it even more. Here are a few facts:

1. 1.

It stands over 1060 feet tall.

2. 2. When it was built, it was twice as tall as the tallest building on earth

3. 3. When digging started on the foundation, more than 300 prominent Parisians signed a petition protesting the tower. (They feared that tourists would be attracted to Paris for a monument and miss the true beauty of the city.)

Lesson #6: Religion has become a tourist attraction. Notre Dame was a site that I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing. It was a Catholic church.

I have visited numerous historical Catholic churches during my travels. However, this one…this one left me speechless. It’s SO big. Standing in front of it felt a bit like standing on a cliff of the Grand Canyon. The sheer size is nearly impossible to grasp. (I’m so glad that Leah dragged me there!) :) Hundreds of people relaxed in the court yard and wandered around the gigantic building, taking pictures and finding shelter from the hot sun. As I sat there, I began to reflect on the spiritual state of Paris. Many parts of Europe consider themselves “post-Christianity,” Paris being one of them. What exactly does it mean to be “post-Christianity?” Does it mean that religion no longer has a place in every day society? Isn’t self-reliance a sign that we need God more now than ever before? God help us.

Lesson #7: Warning: stay away from the old men! Ok, so I should have learned a lesson from the kind, old man in Malta who tried to kiss me.

Old men should not be underestimated! However, I was in Paris…and I was lost. Leah and I only separated for a day, but apparently a day was all that was needed for my naivety to teach me another lesson. I was looking for my bus stop in a populated area of Paris, not far from Notre Dame, when 3 older French men asked to look at my map. I obliged and asked them where the bus stop was. It didn’t take long to realize that they had been enjoying their French wine a bit too much that day. In my best and most polite French, I made small talk. After all, that was the way to get to know the people, right? One of the French men kissed my hand. You know those French. They love to kiss cheeks and hands. I figured, “no biggy.” I kindly withdrew my hand from his and reached for my map. Boob graze. Wait…what?! Yep, apparently I was too nice and too foreign. They thought they could take advantage of me. Uh, no. I turned toward him, defiantly said “Non!” and walked away. I am still in shock about the whole situation. What is it about me that old men find so attractive?!

Lesson #8: Make an effort to see beyond the attractions.

I found my outlet in Montmartre, also known as the artist district. I quickly realized that Paris is flooded with tourists. (I never expected to meet so many Americans in Paris!!) This area is north of most of the major tourist attractions and sits on a hill, the highest point in Paris. Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso and numerous other artists have been inspired by its atmosphere. It’s also the only area of Paris that has maintained its tiny, twisting European streets. It’s a hidden treasure in Paris. At its peak sits the Sacre Coeur, a 19th century, unpolluted-white, church which was built to call the citizens of Paris back to the Lord after the Prussian War. (hint, hint.) Sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur, overlooking the city and its smog, is priceless. Here one can escape the busyness of tourism and the hustle and bustle of a major European city. Here, I found quiet. All the other tourist attractions seemed to fade away amidst the corner cafés and contemplative artists. This was the Paris that I was looking for…

To view more pictures from my Paris expedition, visit here --> http://www.
emmllerg says:
Enjoy your next vacation to Paris
Posted on: Jun 02, 2013
Tinavoyage says:
Thanks for sharing this entertaining & still interesting blog! Lovely pictures as well :-)
Posted on: Jan 13, 2011
Sweetski says:
Wonderful blog! You describe my fave city so well. Great lessons too; Lesson #1 is the main reason I yearly return to this gorgeous city.

Lesson #3 made me laugh out loud. My 'problem' is not my size, but length. I (proudly) stand nearly 6.6ft tall, which means I have an equally wide span with my arms. I SOOO recognise the smallness of things in Paris. How about those wobbly terrace chairs and tiny tables? :D

Excellent and gorgeous photos, BTW!
Posted on: Jun 27, 2009
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Alexandre III bridge
Alexandre III bridge
Alexandre III bridge
Alexandre III bridge
Alexandre III bridge
Alexandre III bridge
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Montmartre, a gem amidst the hustle and bustle of Paris
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photo by: Sweetski