Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ah, Paris!

I don't often go to Paris, and it's a shame.  I am so close by train and there is so much to see.  The last time I went was simply to change trains last summer when I came back from Grenoble visiting Crystal.  But yesterday I returned with Juliette to get her new passport application turned in.

Remi couldn't go this time as it's smack dab in his busy season.  I was slightly apprehensive taking on the subway with my little one, but she was amazingly well-behaved and up for an adventure.  As we got out of the station of Place de la Concorde near the embassy and she saw all the traffic and city buzz, she immediately started saying she loved Paris. I think she's inherited my love of hustle and bustle.

Things went ok at the embassy.  It's frightening to realize 5 years have gone by (in the blink of an eye!) since our little pot-bellied baby with no hair got her first passport.  Now she's a blonde-haired whirling dervish of a girl- unable to sit on her bottom for extended periods of time and full of energy.  The sweet-faced American civil servant asked us both to raise our right hands and pledge all the information we'd submitted about our passports was true.  Juliette couldn't keep her hand up and barely responded when the lady asked her her age and who I was in relation to her (to make sure I wasn't some random person, I suppose). She's still shy with strangers.  Who knows what she'll be like in five years time for the next passport renewal?  All pre-teen 'tude, perhaps?

It's a strange sensation to be in the US embassy.  I've practically stopped trying to guess the nationalities of the people I see.  There are ladies with American features who now dress like chic French ones in high heeled boots and flashy cream slacks.  Or US business men who speak impeccable French.  We expats are all hybrids now, it seems.  Even I find that I carefully prepare what I'm going to wear to convey some image of studied nonchalance- my Old Navy turquoise cords and black and white floral shirt with my grandma's Clark's shoes.  But with my smartish tweed coat and big leather handbag for a little classiness.

After the embassy we had the rest of the day to loll about and enjoy Paris.  I stupidly didn't bring my cell phone, thus camera, because the embassy website scared the daylights out of me saying electronic devices were strictly forbidden!  Turns out I could have checked it at the security area though.  So there are no pictures to memorialize our fun day.  But I tried to burn some of the special images in my mind's eye:
  • Juliette's blond curls bouncing up and down as she tried out the trampolines in Jardin des Tuileries, the gardens next to the Louvre.  
  • Enjoying lunch under the chestnut trees in a café and watching sparrows come to our table.  
  • The digitalis and phlox and irises in tones of blue and pink in the gardens.  
  • Splashing in the fountains near the glass pyramid of the Louvre.  
  • Juliette mastering escalators in the underground shopping mall of Les Halles.
And I had a chance to test some of those Parisian stereotypes.  See if you agree with me.

1. All French people are snotty and Parisians are in a rush.  Faux!  I had several help me out spontaneously when they saw me looking at a map or simply looking lost.  Two or three offered us a seat on the metro when they saw Juliette and I trying to hold on to the poles.

2. The public transportation in Paris is a breeze for tourists.  Yes and no.  It's fairly easy to figure out, just look for the terminus station in the direction you need to go and follow the signs.  Yes, but follow closely because the stations are a maze, especially in major junctions like Les Halles and Gare du Nord.  Sometimes a good street map and walking shoes will do just as well.

3. Nothing is free in Paris.  Faux.  There's a lot you can do without spending a centime.  Like the Jardin des Tuileries, just watching and taking up the scenery.  Visiting the Obelisk at Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower without actually going up top.  There is a multitude of parks and places to soak up architecture.

4. It's an expensive city.  Yeah, food is especially pricey and when you DO go to an exhibit, you'll have to fork out a good amount.  But you don't always have to eat in fancy places and you can find a compromise to stay in your budget.

5. There are pickpockets everywhere.  You certainly have to be careful, but I'd say there are even more visible dangers or rather annoyances to avoid.  Folks trying to get you to sign some survey and give them money or street vendors who'll sell you cheap trinkets.  Recently saw you've got to be careful with "shell game" scams.

6. The waiters are rude.  Well, they are blasé, that's for sure.  Maybe it's because I speak to them in French now and have sort of figured out their secret code, but they are more bearable to me.  They look off in the distance probably thinking about the next customer or when they get off work.  But they are polite enough and will even give you tourist advice.  Just don't expect a big friendly North American smile and "y'all come back now!"

What a city, nevertheless, and I can't wait to go back to explore some more!


Den nation said...

I had so many help me with my heavy luggage when I have used the Paris metro. Every since time, there was always somebody who asked if I needed help.

I think the transport systems in France, Italy, Spain, the UK are much easier than the clip card system they have in Denmark and other northern Europe countries. You never know how many clips to clip, there is no personnel around to ask because there are only machines and the controls are frequent and the fines are steep. So you sit there praying that you have clipped the right amount and that you won't be controlled (is it me, or does this sentence construction sound very French?)

I agree, there are so many things to see in Paris that don't cost a dime! Just marvelling at the beautiful architecture is so enjoyable.

I Say Oui said...

There are trampolines in the Tuileries?? Just for the kids, I'm guessing...

Mil said...

I'm thinking just for kids, I'm afraid ;)

Holly Nelson @ English Girl Canadian Man said...

Second post about Paris this evening - they make me so green eyed! Paris is a beautiful city. I could walk around all day, not going in anywhere, not spending any money, ,just walking.

Lindle said...

I am amazed at how you can navigate around that incredible city, and with Juliette in hand too! I can just imagine her wonderment at all the sights and noises and people. And you, of course, always manage to find her a playground!