Paris is a funny place. Most people love it and by love it, I mean looooooooooove it. But there are definitely plenty of people who don’t understand how anyone would love Paris that much and, in fact, despise it.
Over time, I have migrated from the “Hate” camp into the “Love” camp.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a decent amount of time in Paris over the last 10 years or so. My first exposure to the city was when I studied abroad in Nantes, France, which is about 2 and half hours southwest of Paris in the summer of 2002.
To go anywhere in Europe by train from Nantes, we had to go through Paris. Therefore, every trip involved taking the Metro line 4 from Gare Montparnasse to Gare du Nord where the inter-country trains departed from.
Riding Line 4 in the middle of the summer was a dreaded 40 minute trip on a crowded, smelly, sweaty, and thief-stricken train, with the occasional accordion player that made it slightly bearable…until they asked for money. That was my first impression of the City of Light. Less than stellar.
Once or twice we had a bit of a layover between trains, so we were able to grab a quick glance of the Eiffel Tower or eat a sandwich outside the train station as opposed to inside the station. These mini-excursions made my opinion of Paris improve just slightly.
When our study abroad program ended, my friend Emily and I, who were college and study abroad roommates, took a two week non-stop, crazy European trip.
This was my first foray into trip planning abroad and I clearly was an amateur. We took the approach that “We’re in Europe! We may never go back, so let’s squeeze as much as possible into these two weeks!”
We proceeded to cram Athens, Ios, back to Athens, boat trip from Patras, Greece to Bari, Italy (which included sleeping on the deck), Rome, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Venice, and finally back to Paris in 14 days.
Clearly, by the time we reached Paris, we were church-ed out, museum-ed out, and even restaurant-ed out.
But we did the things we felt we needed to do:
- Went to the Louvre, saw the Mona Lisa – check
- Went to the Eiffel Tower – check
- Saw Notre Dame – check
None of it was exciting; at that point we were just going through the motions and counting down the hours to our flight home. That was the longest either of us had been away from home, so we were ready for the comforts of the English language and good ol’ American food, music, and TV. Little did we know, we missed the phenomenon of American Idol starting that summer…I still never managed to get into it…
Fast forward a few years and I did in fact make it back to Paris for work. But the wonderful thing is that I’d already seen the “must-sees” and done the “must-dos,” so I simply took an afternoon to stroll through neighborhoods, taking in the fashion, everyday life of the people, and beautiful architecture Paris has to offer. Then I sat down at a café to enjoy a glass of wine along with the fabulous breads and cheeses France has to offer. I proceeded to people watch the hours away that day.
THAT’S when I fell in love with Paris. Maybe not the looooove/obsession that some people have for the city, but it was a fundamental shift on my outlook of the city. It turned my scowl when thinking of Paris, into a smile.
I spent a couple weekends in Paris while living in Rome and made a few friends through Couchsurfing, so they shared some unique, local favorites with me like a Crepe bistro/piano bar in Montemartre, an antique market, and a several local restaurants with amazing French food. I also discovered the wonder of melted raclette cheese.
These experiences, not checking off the Louvre or Eiffel Tower from my list, deepened my love for the city.
My next project for work brought me to the suburbs of Paris near Disneyland Paris for a month, which gave me a different perspective of typical life for the Parisians who aren’t city dwellers. It was beautiful and peaceful out there, very far from the noise and hubbub of the city center.
I took the local bus to work, mostly with school children and fellow commuters. When I needed a city fix, I took the RER train into Paris. I was very fortunate that I had a friend Joanne who was also working in Paris and had a gorgeous apartment with a view of Notre Dame in the trendy Saint-Germain-dux-Pres neighborhood. She was gracious enough to let me crash with her during the weekends.
I had the best of both worlds for those few weeks – place in the ‘burbs and in the city! C’est magnifique!
Although my stay was still too short to feel like a true Parisian, I did feel a bit like a local and embraced the simple pleasures of Paris, which are best experienced at a slow pace.
If you are like me and just didn’t see what the fuss is about after your first trip that consisted most likely of running around the city trying to see everything possible, give Paris another shot. But this time, make sure to throw your checklist out the window and just experience La Belle Vie!