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!”.
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!”.
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.
- 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…