We made it to Croatia! There will be more posts forthcoming on this next leg of our journey; for now, however, let’s take a look back on what was an amazing 24 days in Paris.
Any of you who know me know that I have a ‘top 5’ for just about everything. The problem, say others, is that I don’t keep an active list of what’s in the Top 5, at least not on paper. As you can imagine, this leads to much skepticism from friends and family about whether I even know what’s in the top 5 at any given time, whether I’m aware of what gets demoted when something new enters in, etc etc. (On a somewhat related note I’ve noticed that people feel almost instantly comfortable giving me a hard time, but that’s for another post…)
I will admit that on some level the skepticism is warranted; nonetheless I hold to the notion that you know a ‘top 5’ experience when you see one. And with our 3+ weeks in Paris at an end, I thought it would be most appropriate to close that chapter with a series of Top 5’s – forever etched in the ‘blogosphere’ so no one can question the veracity.
First, a note on our overall experience. Living in Paris for this amount of time was a real stretch for us. We didn’t know anyone in the city, we didn’t know the language, and we didn’t know the neighborhood. Quite frankly, we were a little frightened at the beginning, and the presence of policemen with machine guns around every corner (due to terrorism potential) didn’t really help that situation.
What transpired was nothing short of amazing – we experienced daily small doses of kindness from strangers, we were welcomed by the shopkeepers in the local neighborhood, we successfully criss-crossed our way all over the city and then back again, we actually made friends and recognized people on the street…and finally, on the last day, I learned to love the baguette. What started as walking through the streets with our heads down so as not to attract attention turned in to confidently gazing around, seeing the laughter, and returning the smiles around us. (It’s very possible they were laughing at me, but I digress.)
We came away incredibly impressed by the richness of the French culture, the spirit of the Parisians in the midst of a challenging time, and the ease with which we built camaraderie with so many of them; in fact, many were eager for friendship and connection.
I think it’s too early to define exactly how we are changing as a result of this and other experiences. But I will say that fear, on so many levels, melted away on almost a daily basis as we took an open posture to what life had in store for us each day.
Without further adieu, the top 5’s:
Top 5 Things We Learned
- Not to judge a book by its cover – Not many tourists venture in the 19th arrondissement, I mean, it’s the 19th out of 20 for a reason – it’s way out there! We also had a fair amount of preconceived notions about the ‘City of Light’ with the huge, sweeping views and pristine streets. Well, Belleville is a little different than that. But everyday the places, the people, and our experiences endeared us more and more. By the end I would say that our experience was richer than if we would have planted ourselves in the middle of Paris. When we are planted in a comfortable spot there is no reason to venture outwards. Oh, we just happened to have verifiably the best park in Paris literally a block away from us – Le Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
- For us, house sitting is absolutely the way to go – One of the first posts discusses our foray into house sitting and whether or not we would like it. Well, the results are in, and we are hooked. Of course, it’s pretty amazing to be able to stay for free in Paris for 3+ weeks, but there are many other less obvious benefits we experienced, including: 1) living life as a Parisian would, complete with home-cooked meals, copious amounts of bread, beautiful days and not-so-beautiful days, 2) building a friendship with the couple we were housesitting for, as the house sitting concept in and of itself is based on a give and take from both sides (thanks Adeline and Stephane!), and 3) more time to be able to connect with people who live in the neighborhood. (Of course a key component of #3 was not just the house sitting, but also the length of the house sit itself.)
- Public transport in Paris is its own little world – every day we learned a little more about how to navigate the Metro system, including:
- Understanding that when people get on the Metro and start to loudly speak in French, they are usually homeless people telling their story and asking for help
- The Navigo pass saved us so much money, time, and hassle. It was worth every bit of the challenges of getting it, as you can read about in an earlier post.
- Sundays are weird – almost all of the strange people and sites that we saw underground occurred on Sundays. Avoid Sundays.
- Various fears melted away and were replaced with confidence as we opened ourselves up to more experiences – I’d like to write a blog later on fear in general, but specifically in Paris there is a lot one could be afraid of – from the potential re-emergence of terrorism to getting pick-pocketed to getting run over by a motorcycle (they are crazy!). Fear makes us smaller, however, and as I mentioned above, we found ourselves shedding another fear almost daily as we tackled the adventures and challenges that each day brought.
- We’d like to incorporate a lot of what we learned from Parisians, including but not limited to: a focus on quality and connection with friends and family over burning the candle at both ends, a respect for our impact (both good and bad) on the natural world, being able to consume copious amounts of bread in one sitting (okay maybe not this one). On a related note, living in a city and society where guns are not permitted for civilians to carry was a complete game-changer for us. Whether it was true or not, we felt much safer in the streets of Paris than in comparable streets in US cities.
Top 5 Experiences We Had (outside of Paris)
- Fontainebleau – This one barely edges out #2 (Versailles) based on the fact that we loved it so much that we went twice, including a bike ride to a cute little town called Barbizon
- Versailles – if you go to Versailles you absolutely must see it with the fountains in full effect (thanks Martin and Sue for this tip)
- Loire Valley – unbelievable castles, history, and wine
- Giverny – sitting there with Monet’s gardens in front of us was an unreal feeling
- Champagne Region – seeing what goes into creating a good bottle of champagne gave us a lot more appreciation for it!
Top 5 Experiences We Had (inside Paris)
- Night Cruise on the Seine
- Time spent in the Parc de Buttes Chaumont – enough said about this place already!
- Activities on the shores on the Seine, including watching some lively salsa dancing
- Walking through all the neighborhoods, including walking tours around Notre Dame, Montmartre, St. Germaine, the Louvre, the Opera Garnier, and the Latin Quarter
- Walking everywhere! I think we are averaging 15,000+ steps per day, including 31,000 on our last full day!
Top 5 Eating Experiences (because, well, this is a Joy list)
- Le Comptoir Baulois – so good that we went twice (and about an hour out of our way the 2nd time)
- Pavillon Puebla – really happening place that we discovered in our favorite park in the world (see above)
- Au Port du Salut – home of the infamous snail incident
- L’Heure Bleue – just absolutely fantastic food, and we went twice here as well
- Le Marcory – a North African restaurant that was simply amazing (after getting through quite a bit of communication barriers)
An honorary mention goes to the picnic lunch we had on the grounds of Versailles, the place that I finally fell in love with the baguette.
More posts to come soon as time permits. In case you are interested I’ve added a few pictures below that focus specifically on our adventures during the last few days in Paris.