Paris, France (excluding major tourist attractions)
First Impression: It is hard to have a first impression of such a famous city that isn’t skewed by expectation and prior knowledge. I had a nasty head cold and wasn’t able to check in to my hotel until 4pm-I’d arrived at 7am; it was cold and rainy so I spent much of the day wandering around Pigalle and Montmartre.
Where I stayed: Hostel Le Regent Montmartre. I originally booked a dorm room but because I wasn’t feeling well I switched to a private (90euro/night). The front desk lady felt sorry for me I think and so booked me into a room on the top floor with the best view of Sacre Coeur. I fell asleep around 5pm and woke up in the middle of the night to the Basilica all lit up. The room was small and basic but clean and there was a little balcony to sit on for afternoon wine.
What to wear: Wear whatever you want; of course Paris is fashionable but as a tourist, walking 10-20 km a day, you want to be comfortable. I wore good walking shoes and leggings with a casual dress during the day, and smart casual (jeans and shirt) for evenings out. Coming from 40/50 degree heat in the Middle East, I found Paris chilly and kept a sweater with me day and night.
What I did: Context-Coming from the UAE, I had been stuck inside for about 2 ½ months due to the heat so I was excited to be outside and did not want to stand in lines to spend time inside museums. For 5 days I pretty much just walked, I would pick an area and wander for hours, ducking into shops, cafes, restaurants, sitting in the parks, and taking photographs. I did go into the Erotic Art Museum one day because it was raining and there were no lines. I rented a bike for a day and with my paper map, explored the city and the tourist zone (Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs D’Elysees, and La Seine). The worst meal I had was in this area; it was like a gas station sandwich but cost 15 euro. I did eat it in the park with my sketchbook though so…
- Don’t eat in the tourist area but also don’t be bothered with famous restaurants as every single meal I had outside the tourist zone was awesome!
- Buy a bottle of wine and hang out next to Canal Saint Martin. Go on a street art tour (self guided or otherwise)
- Check out the vintage and 2ndhand shops near Bastille. Exact location unknown-but I know that I was walking east of Place Bastille through streets of chain stores when I found a few Consignment shops.
- Buy cheese, fresh produce, and baguettes, at a market and make your own lunch in the park or at your hotel.
- Walk and bike as much as possible.
- We randomly checked meetup.com and found a pub crawl one night-we joined and met a bunch of Parisian expats as well as locals.
- Do realize that the French are generally a reserved culture and that is why they are not overly friendly and can come off as rude (same thing in most of Quebec). I speak French fluently so I did not experience any of the ‘rudeness’ Parisians are famous for.
Off the beaten path: Wander through La Goutte D’Or Area (next to Pigalle/Montmartre). It is the African Hub of Paris and has an open air market, Marche DeJean. There are also some great bars and cafes in the area and a lively vibe for a fun walkabout.
Last Impression/Wishes for “next time”: No regrets on not going to any of the museums but next time I will make a genuine effort to go to Versailles, the Louvre, and perhaps a few other places.