If I were to compare Paris with Bordeaux, I would say that Paris is an audacious beauty whereas Bordeaux is an elegant beauty. Three months in Bordeaux, and my impression of it hasn’t changed from the beginning – it is still as elegant as ever. Paris, shouldering the responsibility of representing the entire nation of France, tends to be bold and splendid, flashing its grandiosity as if saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m Paris!” Bordeaux, while beautiful, hides in a corner and radiates its own delicate style.
Of course, they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I’m biased towards Bordeaux because I live here, and so I am able to immerse myself within this city more finely and appreciate the little exquisite details of a Bordelais life.
During the trip to Paris, I started a list of “DO’s” and “DON’Ts” throughout my travel. Now, the list may very well be specific to Paris, because it’s the only city I’ve visited in Europe so far. I will review this list once I get a chance to go around a bit more. Anyway, here I present 3 top “DO’s” and “DON’Ts” of being in Paris by myself for the first time.
Research before traveling. Even though I was almost sure that I was going with plan “no plan” during my visit, it was still nice to know where I would have liked to visit and what to look out for. For example, there was no way I would have known that Trocadéro is THE place to go to see the Tour Eiffel, unless I looked it up beforehand. I didn’t have a set itinerary, so my schedule was quite spontaneous. However, I definitely took some time to familiarize myself with the metro system before venturing out and prepared myself for facing some scam/pickpocketing attempts – it was well worth the effort, because I did encounter some rather sketchy folks in Paris. Know what you’re doing so you’re not caught off guard by unpleasant surprises.
Observe people. There’s no fun rushing and constantly being on the go from one place to the next. Sometimes I love spending time sitting on a bench and just watch people for a few moments. The way they speak, the way they walk, the way the act – so diverse, especially in a city of tourists. I also enjoyed glancing at passengers on the train and trying to differentiate between visitors and locals of the city.
Be aware of your surroundings. Self-explanatory. Not being colourblind definitely helps in metro stations, because sometimes colours say more than numbers or words – no offense intended for those of you who ARE colourblind. Being in a completely new environment, no one is going to accommodate you, so you will have to adapt to find your way around. Read signs fast and avoid looking like you’re lost – even if you are lost – and becoming the next target for pickpocketing.
Don’t put on your headphones. Paris is a large city, and a large tourist city. One thing I liked about it was that you could hear a myriad of foreign languages wherever you go. Also, there are often random musicians that would hop on the metro, play music, and ask for money (of course you don’t have to give). I ditched my headphones for 4 days and immersed myself not only visually, but also in an audio experience. Sometimes it’s just fun to hear a conversation spoken neither in English nor French, and contemplate the types of people that came from all over the world to just pass by each other in this city. Quite a thought.
Don’t be afraid. I’ve been told countless horror stories about pickpocketing in Paris and the messed up gangs and random acts of violence in public. As a solo traveler for the first time, I was a little intimidated at first, but that fear was quickly overcome by the desire to explore and the excitement of discovery. Paris wasn’t all that scary, and while you may indeed encounter some sketchy people, as long as you are cautious and use some common sense, the experience should be in general a positive and very pleasant one.
Don’t be a fool. This goes without saying, and it ties in with some of my previous points. If some random lady comes up to you on les Champs-Élysées and asks you to help her buy a limited edition LV bag to bring back to China for her friends because she couldn’t buy more than one (yes, she will offer you the money too), you ignore – or if you’re nice, politely tell her no – and walk away. Think (quickly, as is required sometimes) before you act and frankly, just try not to do something too stupid that could get you in a whole lot of trouble.
Anyway, that’s already quite a lot of words. This post took long enough to put up, a lot longer than I had anticipated due to being busy and exhausted the previous week. I do apologize for the delay. Here’s your weekly dose of photo spam, though next week it should revert back to the normal Bordeaux scenes. As with the previous entry, mouseover each photo for a brief description and click on it for a larger version.
Musée du Louvre
Official Louvre pyramid shot.
A closer look at the famous pyramid.
People inside, people outside.
Anyone wanna line up with me next time?
I sat here just watching people come and go for a good 20 minutes or so, strangely relaxing.
The pyramid in a prison?
The famous Musée du Louvre was my first stop on day 3. I originally intended to go in and drown myself in art and culture for a full day, and I was even ready to pay, though I would have had a chance at getting free admission for being a EU “citizen” under 25. However, when I saw the line-up in front of the pyramid, I gave it a second thought. Then I walked slowly from the beginning to the end of the line and that itself took me 10 minutes – perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like it. I estimated that getting in would have taken 2 to 3 hours of time, and immediately I discarded the idea of joining the line. A date with Mona Lisa will have to wait till next time, when there is someone to line up with me.
Cassandre se met sous la protection de Pallas, by Aimé Millet.
The birds got front row seats to see the wrestling match between the centaur and the nymph.
The lady has a nice new crown.
Theseus and the Minotaur, by Jules Ramey.
This is one of those places that I didn’t think I was interested in visiting, but ended up going because it was right next to the Louvre. I didn’t even know I was at the Tuileries Garden until…well, I don’t know. It sort of just struck me that this MUST be the Tuileries.
Yes, the sculptures were nice and all, but I happened to find myself there on a day where a large number of birds were flocking the garden. Now, the birds interested me more than the sculptures. Call me an art noob or whatnot, but I was more content observing life than dead objects, and so the birds amused me more than these pieces of art. As if birds weren’t enough, ducks decided to join the party too. Read on.
Why hello there. You two seem like you’re having a grand ol’ time.
Hey, there’s something in your feather.
Cruisin’ along, just relaxin’ and havin’ fun.
We had pigeon-watching on day 1, and here we have duck-watching on day 3. I can’t decide whether the pigeons or ducks claimed more of my time, but the whole time I was by the pond, my eyes were glued to these two ducks, as if the pond was a free stage for them to perform. I took pictures of these two ducks like crazy, but really, only a few turned out alright. I liked that duck in the last picture. It sure knew how to seek attention.
Opéra and Nearby
Palais Garnier, more commonly the Paris Opéra, rather crowded that night.
Galeries Lafayette, a department store with stunning lights. Kind of lame that the ‘FA’ weren’t lit though…
A street near Palais Garnier. People here, people there, people everywhere.
Walking along the street, all you see are people and vibrant colours…
…and more vibrant colours further down the street.
Place de la Concorde up ahead.
I was told there was good food around the Opera area, so I dropped by during the night on a food hunt mission. Little did I know that I would find myself in a massive sea of people near Galeries Lafayette, situated on Boulevard Haussman close to the Paris Opera House, Palais Garnier. When I saw the department store, my initial reaction was, “What is this place?” The lights were quite dazzling and the photos greatly undermine the lavishness of this place.
For some reason, Boulevard Haussman reminds me a bit of Beijing Road in Guangzhou, though Haussmann is definitely not a pedestrian road. I can only imagine how crowded this place becomes during official soldes in France…
Trains in Paris
RER Line C, with trains that have an upper and lower deck. I liked this line. The trains had amusing 4-letter code names like LARA, JILL, and MONA.
Waiting for the train. I forgot which station this was at, but I think it was St. Michel – Notre-Dame.
Going up to La Motte-Picquet – Grenelle metro station on line 8.
Heading for Antony, which connects to ORLY airport via RER Line B. As it was rush hour, most people were very fast-paced and even running.
Here comes the train from RER Line B that would take me to Luxembourg station, near Jardin Luxembourg.
Inside a train on RER Line B, quite empty as it was somewhat late at night.
I’m not sure if I have ever mentioned my love for trains and rail transport. If return tickets from Bordeaux to Paris were cheaper, I would definitely choose to travel by train over airplane. Unfortunately when I was booking my tickets, cheap train tickets have already been raided and as a result, traveling with Air France was more economic than going with SNCF. So, no TGV for me this time.
While there’s a metro system in Paris, it is also connected to the RER (Réseau Express Régional), which serves the Parisien suburbs as well as the city center. After experiencing public transit in Paris, I still say I prefer the trams in Bordeaux, one major reason being it is always outside and never underground. It makes traveling so much more pleasurable when you can see more than darkness outside the window.
Let Petit Palais, a museum near les Champs-Élysées.
A statue of Charles de Gaulle, a French general during WWII after which one of the airports in Paris is named.
Léon de Bruxelles, famous for its moule frites, or mussels with fries. I really wanted to try it, but the line was long and I had lunch right before. It’s on the list for the next visit.
Pyramids near the Paris Hôtel de Ville, or City Hall.
Skating at the Hôtel de Ville. Watching the skaters glide so freely made me wish I could skate. Some of the guys in the rink were really cute…^_^
A nice little café where I sat and just read and wrote for two hours with two extremely tasty cups of ‘grand crème’. Yup, it was so good I ordered a second cup.
A final look at the Seine before I headed for the airport.
ORLY airport. Good-bye Paris, hello Bordeaux!
On the last day in Paris, I lounged around several spots of interest, include a 2-hour coffee break right before my flight. It was just what I had always wanted to do – sit by myself next to a window, have a cup of coffee or two, read a book, and write. When all has been said and done, I made my way to ORLY and ended my adventures in Paris.
Well, this concludes the recount of my 4 days in the City of Lights. Looking forward, I would like my next destination to be either Rome or Barcelona, but as I am heading over to Belgium in about two months, I highly suspect that the next trip outside of a “headquarter” would be somewhere closer to Belgium. Keukenhof is a MUST, and a visit to London is also mandatory before my dear friend finishes her studies there. We shall wait and see.