Parlez Vous Français?

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”

– Thomas Jefferson 

Paris – the fact of the matter, is that you will either:

A) Be inspired, and with your soul on fire – you will fall all madly in love with her 
B) Countdown the hours until your flight home departs from Charles De Gaulle

There simply is no in between. 

Believe it or not, its level of divisiveness actually has a verified medical condition: “Paris Syndrome”. Symptoms include anxiety, heightened frustration and a feeling of persecution. Essentially – culture shock on steroids, with an overwhelming sense of “this is not what I expected”. 

For oblivious swines much like myself, I envisioned The City Of Light to be one giant orgy of croissants, intellectuals and Chanel. In all fairness, I take full responsibility that this concept was the result of watching reruns of Sex and The City: Season 6. Is there where we can get it so wrong? Do film and television shove a romanticized version of Paris down our throats? Well, most likely. I’m sure it will continue to do so many years from now too. 

In the Spring of 2017, and I had a four day stop Paris planned with my sweetheart, as a part of our four week road trip through France. Driving into our car park in the northern suburb of Saint Denis, we witnessed three things: a street fight between rival gangs, a man injecting himself (with what I suspect to be heroin) in broad daylight, and a village of tents under a bridge that was home to a hundreds of refugees. Needless to say, I felt an immediate urge to continue driving. 

… I’m glad we didn’t. 

With three trips now under my belt, let’s get to the good stuff – what to do, and what not to do – in Paris. 

DO: Have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. 
DON’T: Bother to climb it. 

You’re in Paris, so I assume you’re travelling elsewhere in Europe. You might not know this yet, but it’s going to get expensive if you pay for every tourist attraction, museum and tour that your Lonely Planet tells you to. 

If you ask a Parisian when they last visited the Eiffel Tower, they will laugh at you – as being a part of the skyline, you can essentially see it everywhere. The Eiffel Tower IS Paris. 

Instead, we opted to grab a few baguettes, pastries and cheeses, and had ourselves a picnic on the grass. There’s your first authentic – and cheap – French dining experience ticked off. Bonus points? There’s even “new arrivals” to the city that might not be able to legally work yet. Guess what they’re selling on the cheap? Champagne. You’re welcome. 

DO: Explore the Seine and stroll past Notre Dame.
DON’T: Bother to pay the entrance fee. 

A classic example of “see it, admire it, take a photo, move on”. I’m too much of a Disney nerd to write it off completely (Quasimodo is my spirit animal) – but almost $20 AUD to enter? No thank you. 

However, that didn’t stop us from fetching a coffee and participating in a Parisian ritual – strolling down the Seine. The river cuts right through the heart of the city, and is what the Thames is to London. Exercise regimes, debriefs over coffee, or even reading a book in the sun – surprisingly, this is where you will find the locals. 10/10 for people watching. 

DO: Go shopping. 
DON’T: Shop on the Champs Elysees.  

Arguably the most iconic street in Paris, it is home to the monumental Arch De Triomphe. As a result, the price tags are inflated accordingly to capitalise on the daily flood of unsuspecting tourists. Yes, here you will find Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton – but you will also find $20 AUD cups of coffee, as we discovered the hard way. 

Paris is not the city to rock your pluggers. Being the fashion capital of Europe, it is semi expected that “smart casual” is the benchmark. Pick whatever style you like: but have a style, and own it. 

If you want to spend some hard earned cash on couture to take home, check out the areas of Saint Germain, Le Marais and Rue De Commerce in the 15th Arrondissement.  

DO: Discover the city’s famous history of artists. 
DON’T: Expect to find it in the Louvre. 

If you would like to see the Mona Lisa – I have a hot tip for you. Pull out your phone, and Google it. This method is cheaper, less stressful and you will see the painting clearly and comfortably. 

Needless to say, I’m not a museum girl. Nor am I a crowds girl. A crowded museum? No thank you. 

Instead, put one foot in front of the other. Paris has always been to artists what the Northern Territory was to Steve Irwin. Dali, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse all lived here at some point during their lives, and the memory of them lives on in a number of neighbourhoods. 

My personal favourite of these is the suburb of Belleville, on the outskirts of town between the 19th and 20th Arrondissements – literally translating to “beautiful town”. Facing rapid gentrification, this part of the city has long been an ethnically diverse landing point for immigrants from around the world. Maybe this has something to do with us finding the locals to be extremely friendly and laid back? Here in 21st Century France, artists have swapped their paint brushes for spray cans. 

DO: Explore Montmartre. 
DON’T: Bother with Pigalle. 

Both frankly, are touristy AF. Home to the infamous Moulin Rouge, Pigalle is the closest thing to a Red Light District that Paris has to offer. I found it to be not cheap but still nasty, and honestly not a great choice for a solo female traveller even in the day time. 

Montmartre however, has had my heart even before setting foot in Paris. If you are unfamiliar with 2001’s “Amelie” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and filmed in Montmartre – please take the nearest opportunity to lock yourself away for a cinematic treat. My first foray into the arthouse and foreign film genre, as a sixteen year old in a small country town in Australia – “Amelie” changed my life. 

Still Have Time For More?

  • Luxembourg Gardens, one of the best idyllic picnic spots on offer
  • Have a wine on Canal Saint-Martin – land of the millenial. 
  • Get your hands on some macarons – Pain Pain (yes, that’s the name of the bakery) in Montmartre stole my heart. 
  • Explore the food market halls, there are literally hundreds. 
  • Get comfortable with the RER and Metro trains – they are your vessels to get “off the beaten track”. 

Bonus Points?

Eat: Escargot, foie gras, pastries, bread, cheese, crepes, macaroons and croques. 
Drink: Coffee, absinthe, chambord, champagne. 
Watch: “Midnight In Paris” – 2001, Woody Allen
Read: “Les Miserables” – 1862, Victor Hugo
Listen: “April In Paris” – 1956, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong 

Parisians have a reputation for being rude and arrogant. They’re not – just simply busy more often than not. They are, in fact, generally very polite and expect it in return, to the degree of being over the top – the highest insult in France is to be branded “badly brought up”. Simply learn basic “hello, goodbye, excuse me” in French, smile a lot, don’t be excessively loud or conspicuous – and it will do nothing but enhance your time in Paris. 

Bon Voyage! x 

© All text and images by Angela Wallace


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