Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paris Post #5: Just for Fun

So, what makes a trip to Paris go smoothly? Here are the things that helped me (this post is especially for JoAnne, who is about to go on her dream trip to Paris for her birthday!)

1. I really enjoyed reading some history about Paris in one of those big coffee table books(as well as a guidebook) beforehand. I got one from the library, and it was full of large photos and clues about the city, explaining the context of museums and monuments, the history of neighborhoods, etc. On the way there, throughout the trip, and on the way home I read a book called "Almost French" by Sarah Turnbull, about her experience living in France for the last six years after moving there from Australia - this also helped give me more angles on the city and more understanding of Parisian culture. Plus, it's very well written and engaging.

2. Lisa and Max gave me a metro map (you could print one from the internet) and it was very handy to have with me. The main thing, when you see a metro station, is to read the sign to see if its your line (each line has a number and a color), then look to the edges of your map to see what the stops on each end of the line are. You want to go on the right line (#/color) but then also you want to pick the doorway in the station with the name of the stop where your train ends. So if you are at Le Marais and you want to go West to Champs Elysees, you go under the doorway that says Le Defense, because that is the last stop to the West. Don't be intimidated by the metro (as I was at first). It helps you look like a local if you wear an ipod - which also helps you feel a little more at home in this necessary but not super pleasant part of the city. Buy a day pass (around 6 euros) every day so you can just hop on the metro at will and speed off to a new neighborhood. Walking between all the parts of the city would be way too tiring. 

3. Dress up a bit and begin every conversation with a service person with a few French words or phrases. This will help you fit in and earn you respect. Without fail, if I started with Sil Vous Plait or Bonjour, the person helping me immediately detected my English accent and switched into English. I've heard if you start in English, you will be perceived as thoughtless and less likely to hear English back. Though Parisians are sometimes labeled as rude, I encountered tons of nice and pleasant people. My cab driver to the train station spoke to me entirely in polite if broken English and asked me how to say "have a nice trip" in English, in exchange for which he taught me to say "goodbye" in Chinese.  

4. I enjoyed wandering the city and seeing the big things from the outside, having experiences like the rollerblading adventure and the picnic on the steps of Sacre Coeur. Though I'm sure the Louvre would be worth a little line and some crowds I enjoyed the Picasso Museum, where there was no line at all, and I didn't pay to go into or on top of any other monuments. Those things didn't matter so much to me, and this way I felt I got much more variety (I saw the Eiffel tower from angles all over its neighborhood as I explored, but didn't spend three hours in line to go up it, etc.) But I did poke into practically every bakery I saw, which I would highly recommend! 

This is my last Paris post. Probably. Maybe. JoAnne, I hope you have a WONDERFUL trip! I loved the city, and I bet you will too.

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