Paris Travelog #1 – Overview

Half of the world knows by now that we returned from an expedition to France. We are shocked & dismayed that fully one half of the world is unaware & ignorant of our exploits. We’re setting our experiences down in this Blog for posterity. Ready or not, here we come – The 1st post in our “France” series. Oh, before I forget – Happy New Year, Bonne Année!

A word of caution for those traveling to France from India: travel agents in India know diddly-squat about the country. Don’t expect any intelligent advice from either Thomas Cook or Cox & Kings. Use these clowns to book your hotel, flight and museum tickets. That’s all they are good for. Expecting anything else from them – such as knowing the sights & attractions of the country – can only filed under “irrational optimism”. You’re better off organizing the tour yourself.

Of course, that’s for people who want to soak in the sights & the culture of Paris. If all you want to do is go on “rubber-neck” tours – sit in a double-decker bus all day, gawk at attractions for a nanosecond as the bus zips by, click a few pictures, see only the Eiffel Tower & the Notre Dame Cathedral – the superficial cuts provided by the travel agents is right up your alley.

But that’s no way to see Paris – La Ville Lumière, the City of Lights. A trip to Paris is expensive. They don’t do “Cheap” in France. You might as well respect the city, plan your trip & do justice to the €€€ you shell out.

If you want to travel to Paris, spend $20 to buy a Fodor’s guide. Use it to learn the layout of the city & prepare your own itinerary. It will at least help you catch the gaffes of the travel agents. The bungling jack-asses in Cox & Kings insisted that we book a car to go the Orsay Museum, which they said was 60 miles from Paris. Its directly opposite the Louvre Museum, in the heart of the city! I felt like flinging them bum first into the Seine.

Paris is divided into 20 arrondisements (districts). The River Seine divides the heart of the city neatly into 2 parts – Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank). The city also has 2 small islands between the banks – Ile de la Cite and Ile St Louis. 37 bridges connect the 2 banks & the isles. Most of the attractions are situated near the banks of the river and on Ile de la Cite.

Paris is a city of distances. It’s a good idea to plan your itinerary around a particular area – such as Montmartre, Montparnasse, Latin Quarter, Le Marais, St Germain etc, so that you don’t spend your time flitting from place to place; Or worse, being stuck in a legendary Parisian traffic jam. Plus, the cabs are rather expensive.

Paris has a superb Metro system. Most tourist attractions are well-connected by Metro & the fares are very reasonable. If you are lucky, you can see the beautiful Art Nouveau iron gates built by architect Hector Guimard flanking some of the Metro entrances. Interestingly, when the Metro project was conceived, the engineers could not dig under the buildings – the land below the buildings belongs to the owners by French law. To avoid bankruptcy, the engineers had to build the railway lines under public property only – namely, the streets. So the Metro lines more or less mirror the streets of Paris.

They say travel expands one’s mind. This trip broke several misconceptions of ours. Many people told us – including our French Stewardess (Air Hostess) – that the French were unfriendly, arrogant, that they refused to parlez in Anglais. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We found the French polite, friendly, helpful & hospitable, like most people in the world. Complete strangers on the streets, on the Metro or in the shops were kind to us, whether they spoke English or not. “Maybe its us” I told Sukumar. “Perhaps they can’t resist our magnetic personalities” 😎

Many Parisians do speak English, after a fashion. After all, tourism is a major money spinner for France. Consider this – Around 8 Million people visit the Louvre Museum every year. It makes a lot of sense for the Parisians to speak some English – after all, it’s the Lingua Franca of the world; Having said that – it’s a good idea to carry a French phrase book & to learn a few words in French. So you’ll know that the waiter isn’t accusing you of being “too late” when he asks “du lait” (with milk) 😉

And sometimes, a rudimentary knowledge of (AKA high school) French isn’t enough. We were aghast to see “Plugs” listed as one of the ingredients in a Pizza. The whole world knows that the French eat funny stuff like Escargot (Snails). And now they eat – plugs? Our amused waiter explained that “plugs” is some part of “pigs”. He tried to explain how “plugs” are “harvested” in graphic detail, but we hastily asked him for some water to – plug -the deluge of information. So unfortunately, I can’t share that nugget of wisdom with you 😉

To our pleasant surprise, getting vegetarian food in Paris is easy. Of course, one must avoid the Cafes and the numerous Charcuteries in the city & patronize the ethnic restaurants instead. Paris has many Chinese, Arabic/Jewish, Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian – and yes, Indian restaurants. The cafes uniformly serve wonderful, strong, aromatic coffee. It is a deadly sin, not having a hot cuppa in a café.

While on the subject of coffee, we found it funny that in France – like Italy – “sitting” coffee costs more than “standing” coffee. If you have your coffee on the bar sitting on a stool, it costs half as much as the same coffee served in a table/chair. Go figure!

The French love dogs. Canines of all shapes, sizes and breeds sauntered around us – much to my glee – even in the biting cold. Most of them had leashes. Some of them wore dainty sweaters. I don’t know what they feed these dogs, but I tell you – they all had excellent digestive systems. If you catch my drift. Even small dogs left a small hillock sized – residue 😉 The pooper-scooper laws are either non-existent or not enforced in France. So, while on the foot-path, you have to watch for mounds of disgusting dog doo. The French love their dogs – but not enough to clean their “fixed deposits” 🙂

As far the sheer beauty of the city – there’s simply no other city like Paris. The French have been very successful in preserving their heritage. Almost every building is a jewel of incomparable architectural beauty. Most of the old buildings, dating back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte are intact. That brings us to Haussmannian Paris. More about that later. Sukumar’s Photo Essay on Paris will be the next post.


Comments

  1. Quote
    Sriram (subscribed) said January 1, 2010, 10:37 am:

    Ha! I expected the worst after seeing your tweet but looks like you guys had a load of fun! Yes, Paris is big and you need more than a day to go around it 🙂 From second hand, hear-say experiences and from Europeans directly, it is a fact that Europeans in general would interact in a far more friendly fashion if you speak their local language. So it does help if you learnt some foren language in school or afterwards 🙂 Waiting for the pictures 🙂

    PS: Will def get in touch when I plan for the summer. Btw, did you guys touch Versailles?

  2. Quote

    Sriram – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, we had loads of fun. We spent 1 week in Paris. And yes, we did go to Versailles. Will cover that in another post.

  3. Quote
    Deepak Prabhu Matti said January 1, 2010, 11:05 am:

    Parlevue Anglais Silvuple? I stayed in Paris for 16 months during 99-2000 when on a project assignment. This blog transported me right back there! The river Seine, metro, lourve, versailles, montmarte, eiffel…….. Merci

  4. Quote

    What you had blogged is 100% true… I heard the same thing about france and its people before reaching there but they all turned out to be false….the french people were absolutely friendly and helpful…they definitely speak back in english when they know that we are foreign nationals…I don’t agree with sriram when he says that they interact with us in a more friendly manner if we speak their language…they were always friendly….

    and the metro trains are amazing…just get a day ticket for a few euros and you can go around the entire city of paris….i also took one of the fastest trains in the world to move from paris to the FT headquarters and it was an amazing experience…just never felt like going at super high speeds but still crossed 600-700 kms in 3 hours time 🙂

  5. Quote

    Nice post Priya. it is dripping with your characteristic humour making me chuckle when i read this. Yes, the french people have seriously altered my view of them significantly with their friendliness.

  6. Quote
    Ganesh Vaideeswaran said January 1, 2010, 11:52 am:

    Priya,

    Your post brings back a lot of good memories about our Europe visit – to Paris, Rome and Venice in 1999.

    Divya and I echo a lot of what you have mentioned in this post about Paris. When we visited Paris, like you, Divya planned our itinerary, booked the hotel and figured out the logistics for our self-guided tour. It helped in 2 ways – Gave us the freedom to spend time on the things/sites we liked and also ended up being cheaper. For example, we spent almost 2 of our 4.5 days trip at the Louvre. And walked up and down Champs-Élysées at our leisure where we had our only luxury meal at one of the fancy restaurants.

    We, like you are vegetarians and found food to be not that big an issue. Pizzas, gyros were available in plenty. And of course, the cafes and their standing coffees were always available. And I can only remember the French being very helpful.

    And YES – Notre Dame and its street market, Eifel tower, Jardin des Tuileries, Louvre, Siene river, Montmartre – all of them bring back wonderful memories. Looking forward to future posts on your Paris travel. Thanks for the nostalgia!!

  7. Quote
    Ganesh Vaideeswaran said January 1, 2010, 11:54 am:

    And here’s wishing everyone who visit this blog a Very Happy 2010.

    Ganesh

  8. Quote

    Deepak – Thanks for your comment & kind words. Merci, Monsieur!

  9. Quote

    Rajesh – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, we found the people friendly even when we didn’t speak a word of French & communicated mostly in English or in sign language.

    We never took the trains. Next time around, we plan to take the Chunnel to London. When we were there, it was closed due to snow.

  10. Quote

    Lets start a http://www.parisiansarenotrude.com, bcoz too many people I know are having positive experiences rather than negative. Nice post.

  11. Quote

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment & kind words, partner.

  12. Quote

    Hi.. Hope you had a good time.. Your travelogue is very good.. It is sparking my imagination of Paris 🙂 Waiting for the next post.

  13. Quote

    Ganesh – Thanks for your comment.

    We mostly drove thru Champs Elysees, since the weather wasn’t great when we visited. Yes, we do plan to blog about the cathedral, Tuileries & Montmartre.

  14. Quote

    RK – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, the French are partly responsible for propagating this myth. But then, Paris is only a small part of France & it has many immigrants. We didn’t travel to the interior parts of France, so we don’t know how easy it is for tourists over there.

  15. Quote

    Ananth – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Yes, we had a great time in France – in spite of our travel agent’s worst laid plans.

  16. Quote
    Vikram (subscribed) said January 1, 2010, 3:40 pm:

    Hi !!
    Very well narrated. I am ROFL !!!
    You reminded me of Cyrus Broacha’s humorous spoofs on “The week that wasn’t” on CNN IBN.
    Looking frward to the next post.!!!

  17. Quote
    Kumaran said January 1, 2010, 3:45 pm:

    Priya,

    Nice one bought me back memories of 1995. I stayed at a YMCA youth hostel run by srilankan tamil.

    Got real street advice in “Tamil”. 🙂 was lucky I guess. But staying in a youth hostel is a real experience. you get to meet cool people.

    Also there was walk-man tour at that time which was pretty handy, not sure if it there. Just hire a walk-man put in your eyes and just keep walking as it instructs you maybe there there a MP3 tour now.

  18. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 1, 2010, 4:56 pm:

    Super! Looks like you guys had a great vacation. BBut why is there no reference to ze *french* wine mademoiselle priya? 😉
    Waiting for sukumar’s photo post!

  19. Quote

    Nice post flavoured with dashes of humour. In general, Europe is destination which has innumerous opportunities for a traveler to explore. There are so many places, countries, people and culture to see, visit and experience that it takes a lifetime. Great to see you all had real fun 🙂

  20. Quote

    Excellent post Priya, lot of informative about Paris. Thanks for sharing…

  21. Quote

    Priya,
    Wonderful post laced with your humor. Thank you.

    Now I added Paris to my bucket list.

  22. Quote
    Tonmoy Goswami said January 2, 2010, 10:53 pm:

    Wow…what a wonderful travel blog post. WOW is the only word i could muster.

    I never had the chance to visit Paris(as a matter of fact i’ve never set my legendary foot outside India till now..(there’s so much to explore in India itself!!(grapes are sour!!)))

    Nevertheless, the writing was so crisp & vibrant, i could almost feel myself strolling around in the streets of Paris, sipping ‘standing’ coffee with my furry dog(while he keep downloading stuff)…with white linen pants and bluish khakhi shirt(with the top button unbuttoned!!).
    Ah..what a sight.

    Thanks for the imaginary trip….looking forward to more such wonderful experiences.
    And yes, waiting for Sukumar’s Pic Blog too!!

  23. Quote

    Hi Priya,
    Superb post. What a mastery of English you possess! Eagerly awaiting part 2

  24. Quote

    Vikram – Thanks for your comment.

    I think you’re too kind, to think of the talented Cyrus Broacha while reading my post. I don’t think I’m anywhere near as talented as him. Will publish the next posts in this series soon.

  25. Quote

    Kumaran – Thanks for your comment.

    Staying in a youth hostel does sound interesting. Walkman tours – wow, sounds like a relic from another era now. I mean, they have audio tours in most tourist sites. Not sure if that’s what you mean.

  26. Quote

    Jassi – Thanks for your comment.

    Monsieur, ze wine goes directly to ze hips. I was on a diet, sadly. We were tempted to buy a bottle of wine from a local vineyard in Montmartre, but we finally didn’t 😐

  27. Quote

    Arunava – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, Europe does take a long time to explore. It has a rich history. In this trip, we only covered Paris, since we didn’t think we’ll be able to do justice to the whole of France in a week.

  28. Quote

    Subba – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

  29. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 3, 2010, 3:31 am:

    Really? Thats surprising! I have never thought of wine as fattening. Hmm. A little googling brings me to this page and it doesnt really seem too fattening. You must be on a really strict diet.

    P.S: Now, this reminds me of your post on ch1 long back. You should probably burn calories instead of reducing calorie intake. You should probably hit the gym. 😛

  30. Quote

    Vamsi – Thanks for your comment.

    >> bucket list << ROFL 😀 Perhaps we should start a meme & blog about our bucket lists!

  31. Quote

    Tonmoy – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    You’re right, there’s a lot to see in India. I’ve never been to Sikkim (though Sukumar lived there for a few years) or even Coorg. Need to plan a trip to travel to the really fascinating parts of India – perhaps in 2010.

    Finish your “standing coffee” soon – We’ll take you on other trips through Paris, furry dog in tow 😉

  32. Quote

    Prakash – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Part-2 will hit the blogosphere tomorrow morning 😉

  33. Quote

    Jassi – See, that’s 150-250 needless calories 😉 BTW, I don’t have aerated & bottled drinks either. I only have club soda or unsweetened fruit juices.

    Aw, gyms. I hate gyms, the treadmill makes me feel like a rat on a running wheel. I prefer muscle training equipments. Usually, I walk at least 3 Km a day in a park – whenever I have time, that is.

  34. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 3, 2010, 2:38 pm:

    Yeah, thats there. The treadmill does really get boring pretty soon. I have felt jogging on a track is much better comparatively. A lot of us don’t seem to realize that the sugar in fruit juices (the average juice vendors seem to think of fruit juice as nothing but a-lot-of-sugar with a bit of fruit added to taste), beverages and aerated drinks adds up to a quite a of calories in a day.

    But none of that is for me. I seem to have high metabolism [*touch wood*] 😛

  35. Quote
    Balajee Sethuraman said January 5, 2010, 12:26 pm:

    Hi Priya.. enjoyed reading your posts. On the whole, English is catching up in Paris, but just barely. It is ofcourse much better in the touristy places. Thankfully. From another perspective, its quite amazing how you tend to look at this city when you live here vs. when you are a tourist. Don’t get me wrong. Its a fantastic place, but what’s really good is the quality of life. Looks like you both were here during the Christmas time, which is perhaps one of the best times to see Paris with all the lights everywhere. Needless to say it is an expensive place!

    I wish I knew you both were here.. it is a missed opportunity to meet.. we would have loved to meet you and give you an insider view of the place to be.. We’ve now been in Paris for just over a year!

  36. Quote

    Great Post with right mix of humor Priya. I’ve already recommended this post to a friend of mine who is travelling to Paris this week. Sukumar, thanks for pointing this blog.

  37. Quote

    Jassi – Yes, jogging is way better than the treadmill. You & your high metabolism! I look at food, correction, I look at someone else eating & put on weight 😐 Such is my metabolism. It has really hit rock bottom 🙁

  38. Quote

    Balajee – Wow, wonderful to see a comment from you – Thanks for your comment. I had no idea you are in Paris. We were there for a week between Dec 15th & 22nd. Too bad, we missed seeing you. Do let us know when you’re in CHN.

    Yes, tourists can hardly grasp the real spirit of a city.

    Europe & Canada seem to score significantly over the US in terms of quality of life – be it healthcare, working hours, social security etc. The govts seem to have more people-friendly policies. Please tell us – What do you think are the differences between France & US, in terms of quality of life?

  39. Quote

    Kumar – Thanks for your comment & kind words. There will be a few more posts in this series, hope they also prove useful to your friend.

  40. Quote
    Balajee Sethuraman said January 6, 2010, 3:31 pm:

    Priya,

    Interesting question.. I will surely respond to that one.. need a day or so though.. 🙂

  41. Quote

    Balajee – Thanks, look FW to hearing from you.

  42. Quote

    Priya,

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. It is hilarious & full of knowledge nuggets pretty useful for someone travelling to Paris.

    Your writing reminds me of Dr Sharu Rangnekar & Erma Bombeck.

    Cheers,
    Ruchi

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