Fact or Fiction – A rundown on Parisian preconceptions

Paris.

Reams and reams have been written on all this city has to offer. Before I left for Paris I heard a lot of mixed reviews. People seemed to either love or hate Paris.

For some reason Paris had never been on my radar. Maybe it was all the reports from good friends or maybe it is the anti-romantic in me. I knew I would visit Paris someday but it languished somewhere at the bottom of my priority list.

Our goal for these past Eid holidays was to get to Amsterdam. But our plans changed spontaneously when we found relatively cheap tickets to Paris.  Before I knew it, we somehow settled on 4 nights in Paris, a night in Brussels and 3 nights in Amsterdam before returning to Paris to fly back home.

Those close to me will remember my utter dread, yes dread! at the thought of visiting Paris. The internet was flooded with accounts of massive crowds and 2 hour long queues at attractions. To make matters worse we were visiting in high season during the Euro 2016 finals week! I resigned myself to the fact that we would spend all our time waiting in queues in a messy, crowded, old city.

But Paris took me completely by surprise.

We took the train from CDG airport and made our way to Gare de L’Est where our hotel, the Holiday Inn, was located. I distinctly remember that first moment emerging from the station and setting foot on the actual streets of Paris. I remember the cool breeze tickling my skin, the sun peeping through the clouds and the lift of my heart as I whispered to myself, “We are in Paris!”.

Gare De L'Est, Paris
Emerging from the Gare De L’Est onto the streets of Paris

I was unabashedly swept away by a wave of wonder as I gazed up at the beautiful facades around me. I remember the couple embracing under the tree in front of the station as if to say “Go on! Why not? After all, this is the City of Love!”.

Gare De L'Est, Paris
Our hotel, the Holiday Inn, mere steps away from Gare De L’Est

Over the course of the next few days I got to experience the city for myself. I formed my own opinions and sifted the wheat from the chaff so to speak. Here are some common Parisian preconceptions I came across before my trip and my personal opinion as to whether these are fact or fiction.

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  • Paris is the city of lights

Perhaps so but not at nearly 11 pm when we visited the top of the Eiffel Tower on our first night in Paris. It appeared the city was deep in slumber and many lights were turned off. If you must go at night, go at dusk or earlier in the evening when the city is still up and about. You may not be able to make out major landmarks in the dark but at least you will get to see a carpet of glittering lights laid out at your feet.

Oh, and dress warm! It gets really chilly up there. While Hubster bravely ventured forth for pictures of the view, I resorted to darting from strut to strut in vain hope of shelter from the biting wind. Let’s just say it took some time for me to thaw out on the ride down in the elevator.

  • The Paris Museum Pass is a must during peak hours

After reading endless articles and blog posts about the long queues we decided we needed to invest in the Paris Museum Pass to skip the lines. We were frustrated to learn that the Pass doesn’t really guarantee you can skip lines at all the attractions. At the Palace of Versailles, for example, you still need to wait in a LONG security line along with non-pass holders and as far as we could tell the separate line for buying tickets wasn’t too long either. Likewise the pass does not guarantee a skip-the-line entry at Notre Dame.

It did, however, come in handy at Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre and the Pantheon where there were long lines we could skip. The Pass ultimately was worth the money for us as we were strapped for time and every minute spent waiting in line was a minute whittled away from our limited time there.

Just pick and choose your attractions carefully. Weigh the individual entry fees against the combined pass cost before you purchase it. And read the fine print to see if skip-the-line is offered at your chosen attractions. If we had stayed in Paris for a longer time, I probably would not have opted for the Pass as the queues really didn’t seem to be as bad as I anticipated. Also having the Pass meant I exerted undue pressure on myself to ‘see as much as possible’ to justify the purchase. I’d much rather go for slow and immersive sightseeing over a mad rush from one attraction to the next.

  • The French are rude

I can unequivocally say that this is untrue. I have met far ruder people in other countries both within and outside Europe. The French were warm and welcoming. On entering a restaurant, we would be greeted with a bright and cheery “Bonjour!” and as we walked out after our meal we would be sent off with a “Bonne journée!” The only exception were a couple of people we met on our last day at the Departures terminal of CDG Airport. But this was more a case of aloofness rather than rudeness and it really did not mar our impression of the rest of the Parisians we met on our trip.

  • Paris is filthy

This part, I will admit, lived up to my worst expectations. Parts of the city are so filthy I felt compelled to hold up my ankle length skirt as we trudged past. I saw blood stains on the streets, condoms on stairs, chewing gum stuck on metro hand rails, a man peeing in a metro tunnel and assorted trash littering the streets. The one paid toilet we saw in one of the tunnels was out of order. Sadly public toilets seem to be few and far between and apparently this leads people to believe that it is okay to answer the call of nature at a spot of your convenience.

But be aware that this lack of general hygiene is not the case everywhere in Paris. Above ground the city is, for the most part, clean and well kept. The worst areas we found were generally the subterranean tunnels. The city is old and those tunnels are the proverbial wrinkled hands that give away a woman’s true age.

  • The metro is not disabled-friendly

Paris is very well connected by a vast network of public transport options. Unfortunately most of the underground metro lines we used did not have escalators or elevators but stairs. And lots of them! We felt the pinch as soon as we reached Paris and had to lug our suitcases up flights of stairs to get to ground level. We were lucky that a few of our stops had escalators going up. But it did leave us wondering how the disabled managed to navigate the system.

  • Escargots? Ewwww!

You cannot visit Paris and leave without trying escargots. We took the plunge at dinner one night and wound up wishing for more. I expected something slimy and sticky but was pleasantly surprised at the taste and texture. It was fun learning to use the ‘implements’ and I almost felt like a surgeon as I carefully extricated the little creature from its shell. We definitely enjoyed escargots and will not shy away from it in future.

Have you ever had any misconceptions about a city that were dispelled when you visited in person? Have you been to Paris? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts. Chime in using the comment section below, won’t you?

Until next time…

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62 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction – A rundown on Parisian preconceptions

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂 The way I see it there’s no reason to not state the good, the bad and the ugly of any place. People are bound to experience it themselves when they visit so what is the point in glossing it over? 🙂 And maybe this way they can make more informed travel decisions and prepare themselves for what they will find at their destination 🙂

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  1. Great article and I too love the image of the wrinkled hands of the city!
    I have to be honest, as an English person the only negative thing we say about Paris is the food, ie the snails! And their inability to queue properly. But then, the entire world has an inability to queue like we do! Maybe the “hole in the ground toilets” too. But most of us have a love affair with the idea of Paris.
    I found everyone very polite and happy to chat, they did tend to talk to me in French first but apparently I “look French” according to my English friends who get spoken to in excellent English with that beautiful accent!

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    1. Thank you Jo! Glad you liked the write-up 🙂

      The snails were sooo yummyyy! Even my hubby (who can be pickier than a 2 year old when it comes to food) wanted to order a second plate 🙂

      We didn’t see any hole in the ground toilets but we did wonder why France of all places didn’t have bidets! 😀

      And you’re absolutely right about everyone being polite 🙂 We got deluged in French conversation too until the blank looks on our faces gave us away as clueless tourists 🙂 And that accent… sighhhhh….

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    1. My pleasure hon 🙂 Cities like these are something you have to experience for yourself. I know plenty of people who are still unswayed by my glowing reports 😉

      But it does help to be prepared by reading up on some honest reviews so that you are not disappointed when you eventually get there 🙂 Fingers crossed you find your way there soon 🙂

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  2. Beautiful write-up. That must have one busy trip. You just pulled my reminiscing heart with the photo of Gare de L’Est. Somehow, I was always commuting through there either heading to Amsterdam, UK, Strasbourg, Geneva and the environs. I actually love Paris.

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    1. Personally the good far, far outweighed the bad in Paris. I think a lot of people get disillusioned with the city because we read and hear so much about it that the real thing fails to live up to our lofty expectations. I’m hoping more posts like these will help people manage their expectations and thus ensure they have a wonderful experience in Paris 🙂

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    1. Thank you hon! 🙂 I make it a point to write my honest opinions about a city or experience. There are enough sponsored posts out there singing the praises of anything and everything 🙂

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  3. “The city is old and those tunnels are the proverbial wrinkled hands that give away a woman’s true age.” — What a fabulous line and great metaphor! I have never been to Paris, but hope to make in the next few years. My cat has flown through that beautiful city, but alas, I have not. What is up with that? 😉 As for the misconception of rude people, I find that is applicable all over the world. Wherever you are, there will be uninterested, even rude people, but on the whole people tend to respond with the same smile you give them. Escargot — ah, I still remember the first time I had them! My friend did not tell me what they were until after I had declared them delicious!

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    1. Thank you Wendy 🙂

      Man… that is one well traveled cat you have there 😛

      And you’re right about the rude people. In a week or so of travel you are bound to bump into at least one person who is having an off day 🙂

      And I like your friend who tricked you into the escargots! We do the same with newbies to sushi. Their first taste of wasabi always has us rolling on the floor in laughter (evil chuckle)

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    1. Oh no! Please don’t let that part of the post put you off visiting Paris. It just helps to be prepared so you are not taken aback when you get there 🙂

      Paris is a common favorite for a reason. I’m sure you will find something you love if you were ever to visit.

      In fact I would say it’s worth visiting for their croissants alone! 😀 I never knew what a croissant was supposed to taste like until we had breakfast in Paris! 😛

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    1. Eeeps! Please don’t be frightened off by my post. It really isn’t as bad as you might think. Bear in mind these are all things we saw over the course of 4 or 5 days so we had time to recover after each incident 😛

      Sighhh… I would happily move to Paris if I could live on their croissants for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lucky you!

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  4. I was in Paris many years ago and must admit I loved it. I didn’t find the French rude but I did try and speak the language and I think that makes a difference. I agree with you about the dirt but it didn’t detract from a wonderful experience. Beautiful post and lovely photos. I love the way you write. xo

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    1. Thank you so much Miriam!

      I felt exactly the same way. Perhaps I was enthralled because my expectations were very low 😉 I MAY have been disappointed if I had been fantasizing about the city for years based on what I saw in movies and read in books 🙂

      At the end of the day I loved my time there in spite of a rather massive goof-up on our last day. And given the opportunity we would be happy to plan a second trip there 🙂

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              1. Absolutely. Our friend’s son and daughter were in Nice only a few days before it happened … so scary how close they were. And for you too, it really does hit home.

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  5. What a great adventure you had! I’m so happy you got to experience something that turned out to be so fun for you. 🙂

    I’ve never been to Paris, and probably never will, but I love hearing about your journeys. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much! Hehe… I wasn’t hit by how old the city really was until we descended into those tunnels 🙂

      And with a lovely blog name like that you know I’ll be paying you a visit soon! 🙂

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        1. There is so much to do in Paris. We felt like we barely scratched the surface and I would have loved to spend more time just relaxing in street side cafes sipping coffee and munching croissants 😀 I hope you manage to get back there soon 🙂

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  6. Paris is a great city if you’re not in a rush and over the years I’ve learned to just visit a bar if I want a toilet!
    Paris is never really on top of my list of places to visit . yet whenever I do I find myself enchanted all over again.

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  7. I’ve never travelled outside India, YET! But I have a very long bucket list and Paris is in it! As for misconceptions, the best way is to go find out for yourself! Even in India, various misconceptions are prevalent among the people about the other states but as I have travelled a lot in the country, I find most of it to be just stories far from reality.

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    1. Very true Arti. That being said these are my own personal opinions. Some of my friends still swear by their statements that Paris was a let down. But for some reason the place just worked its magic on me 🙂 I do hope you manage to get there some day. I’m sure you will love it 🙂

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