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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Live and Learn: Paris 9.28.11

It's called the City of Lights and also The Most Romantic City in the World. I'm talking about Paris. While these things can certainly be true, there is also much to be learned in the city, which is not always romantic or bright. Regardless, the city is an amazing one to visit and experience culture. We only had three days there, but we still ended up learning quite a few things – some good, some bad – which were useful and easy to help us change our trips for the future. And here I am passing them on to you, so you won't make my same mistakes.

Plan ahead to get around town – The RER (Metro) can be a fantastic way to get around, but if you are used to the ease of the Underground or haven't mapped out your route, it can be kinda hard to get where you want to go. There are fewer stations, so you do need to plan ahead when you first get there (or before), so you don't get lost and end up somewhere totally far from where you meant to go.

Not all food is good food – I know. I rarely say this, but it's true. Since everyone told me that I would find such delicious food in Paris, I didn't research restaurants before leaving home. I really regretted this after the first day, because I ended up having McDonald's and pizza for two meals and the other times we ate were also disappointing. In fact, the one meal that we really loved was a ham and brie baguette that we picked up at a street vendor. Amazingly, it was also much more affordable than everything else we ate as well.

Jet lag is a thing – Get your body used to "local time", otherwise you'll end up losing most of a day like I did. Two days into our trip I crashed and burned and got up for breakfast and went right back to the room and passed out. Even though I missed half a day of vacation, when I woke up, Eric had sightseeing plans mapped out for us, which was pretty awesome. Not as awesome as going to Disneyland Paris, but I probably would have missed out on some of those cool things he planned if I hadn't been jet lagged. At least we made the best of it and it worked out well.

Parisians will snicker at you, even if you attempt the language – It's true. Unless you are fluent in the language, the French think it's "cute" that you are failing, even a little bit. I've never encountered this anywhere, but I have heard stories of other travelers say this is the norm. I think next time I will pretend to be British. My most irritating travel memory is from France....getting off the train, we headed to the ticket booth to ask for directions. I asked the lady if she spoke English, to which she replied "no". So, after butchering some French to ask where I could get a taxi, where I received a blank stare all the way through, the lady points toward the door and tells me in perfect English that there was a taxi stand down the street on the left. For real? I mean, I was tired and cranky and that lady is lucky there was a wall of glass between the two of us. 

There’s no such thing as free refills – I'm probably used to the American way of restaurants where you can have as much beverage as you want/need. Europe is really not like that. In fact, you're lucky if you get more than 3 cubes of ice in a drink. If you want refills, you have to pay for them, at full price. Your best bet is to just order a bottle of still water (non-carbonated), which is usually the biggest thing on the beverage menu and about the same price as a soda. Maybe they are just used to people ordering wine.

Coffee costs a fortune – Remember how I just said there were no refills? Imagine paying more for a cappuccino at a restaurant as you would for a Venti Frappaccino at Starbucks...and then having to pay the same for a refill or even something else to quench your thirst. 

You have no personal space – Do you like your personal space? Well, you better let go of that before going to France, because people there don't believe in such a thing. More than once you'll have someone pressed up against you in a line and realize you don't actually know them. Worse is when you feel their breath on you, too. Not that I have an issue with people being within close proximity to me, but unless I know you well, I don't really want to spoon you. So, that's something I (and probably you) will have to get over next time I travel there. Also, don't resort to dirty looks, because they don't care. Just make sure your bags and everything are not accessible to them, in case there are thieves among the crowd.

The Eiffel Tower is crowded – I think if you don't care about seeing the city at night, then  going as soon as the Tower opens is your best bet for beating long lines. If you do care, then expect to stand in line for at least an hour with a bunch of people who have no regard for your personal space and 

So, there you have it. My short break in Paris taught me some valuable lessons for when I return. I'll do much more research, so I will be able to see more, get more rest and also eat delicious food. Of course, if I has to subside on those yummy baguettes, that wouldn't be the end of the world. It will just be good that I walk around the city so much, to combat all the carbs and cheese.

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