Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gripes and Worth-the-Hypes for the American Tourist in Paris

Worth-the-hype: Renting someone's flat in Paris while they were away. It was in a central location, cheaper than a hotel, and had a kitchen with dishes, a fridge, and a stove. It kinda felt like we lived in Paris for real.

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Worth-the-hype: Church, within walking distance. It was kinda funny listening to everyone in the English-speaking room trying to sing the hymns in French.

Worth-the-hype: A Sunday afternoon stroll through Luxembourg gardens. Very beautiful, and totally free (except the bathroom, should you need it).

Gripe: Arc de Triomphe-- Look, it's a really big, beautiful arch thing but there are no bathrooms there. Way to ruin an emperor's triumph, if you know what I mean. We found a bathroom in a subway station nearby, but it was out of order. Found another subway bathroom, but you needed to buy a subway ticket to use it...

Worth-the-hype: McDonald's. *angelic music* FREE bathroom.

Worth-the-hype: Walking along the Seine River, even in the rain. Bonus if the rain stops for a little while and a double rainbow comes out.

Worth-the-hype: Parisian bridges completely covered with locks to symbolize people in love. Josh even witnessed the life-changing moment when a couple threw their keys into the river so their love could last forever.

Gripe: Night program at Notre Dame cathedral: most of the cathedral was too dark to see, and the prerecorded music and images projected onto a screen really weren't worth it. The cathedral sure is beautiful, though.

Worth-the-hype: The Eiffel Tower! Soooo huge. Used to wonder what the big deal was, until I saw how enormous it is in real life. Worth waiting in line. And they packed us in like sardines at the restaurant there but hey, at least I got pasta with bacon in it.

Gripe: Finding the entrance to the Louvre in the pouring rain. Next time, scout out the entrance in advance because the building is like as big as San Jose.

Worth-the-hype: The Louvre. Some pretty cool art. Mona Lisa is kinda tiny but I mean, I do look just like her... Okay, you're right. My smile needs a little work.

Worth-the-hype: The subway system and a five-day pass. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Gripe: French restaurant food... unless you're in the mood for snails or calf's head. At Cafe Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris, I finally gave up and ordered the one thing on the menu that I could translate and that didn't make me want to gag. Onion soup. It was... oniony. Josh got duck, of course.

Worth-the-hype: Crepes... well, according to Josh. I ate a couple of bites and was satisfied. He ate the rest of the bites and was in heaven.

Gripe: Hiking up to Sacré-Cœur through some kinda sketchy neighborhoods. Look, maybe I didn't take a picture because I was scared for my life. I did get a picture of the Moulin Rouge later, though. Did you know moulin means windmill?

Worth-the-hype: Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Sacred Heart), very beautiful, free to tour, beautiful view from its steps.

Worth-the-hype: Hanging out all morning with a Parisian named Delphine who gave us a tour of the Montmartre streets, where artists like Van Gogh and Picasso used to hang out.

Worth-the-hype: Buying a painting from a street artist lady who had been painting in that same spot for 46 years. She was cheerful and sunny, just like her artwork. The painting is still drying in its box or I would totally show it to you.

Worth-the-hype: Leaving the city for a second Disneyland honeymoon just outside of Paris, where Josh's business conference was going to be.

Gripe: I lost pathetically, again, on the Buzz Lightyear ride. Why do I even try??!?

Worth-the-hype: The fireworks show over the castle. Of course it was.

Worth-the-hype: Taking the subway BY MYSELF IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY for a couple of hours down to Versailles. Only getting lost once or twice on the way there.

Gripe: Versailles, the glamorous, fabulous, famousness palace of palaces was CLOSED because of a national worker's strike. Just closed. At least now I know what it feels like to be shut out of a luxurious castle. You know, like the peasants and stuff. After wandering around the town for an hour or so, back onto the train I went.

Worth-the-hype: The Musee d'Orsay (museum)-- Van Gogh is incredible in real life. Sure, his art looks cool in pictures, but I never quite understood the hype until I could see the texture and layers upon layers of paint in his pictures. I also saw some Manet, Monet, and Renoir, but the Van Gogh exhibit was my favey fave.

Worth-the-hype: Taking the train to Paris by myself again and exploring the catacombs. Six million people's bones dug up from cemeteries, hauled out, and arranged in neat little piles under the city to make more room for the breathing people who are crammed above in every square inch of space. Creepy.

Gripe: GETTING ATTACKED BY A BATHROOM. I found a free public bathroom on the street. I know, too good to be true. I should have run when I had the chance. Instead, I waited patiently for my turn, then entered. Then I finally figured out which button to push to close the door. Or so I thought. After the door closed, the toilet slowly folded into the wall and started rinsing itself out. Huh, a self-cleaning bathroom. That's a nice idea, innit? Suddenly, bucketloads of water began to shoot across the floor and fill up the bathroom. It was like one of those movies where the water is filling up the cave and the hero has only seconds left. I thought I was a goner for sure. Finally, I got the door open. But... I still hadn't used the bathroom. And the floor-washing had stopped. And I'm a pretty brave person, if not the brightest in the country. So, with soaking wet feet squishing in my shoes, I walked back inside again, closed the door, and hung up my backpack. And then a siren started screaming and wailing and the doors opened again all on their own. The unintelligible bathroom voice was saying something that a lady waiting outside translated for me: Out of order. I tried so hard not to look like a terrified, totally clueless American tourist as I bolted, but sometimes you just are what you are. Luckily, I escaped with my life. And don't worry, for the fourth time, I was saved by a McDonald's a little farther down the street.

Worth-the-hype: Reading a book in Luxembourg gardens while waiting for the love of your life to meet you at the end of his conference.

Gripe: If you're thinking you and your hubby are about to have a romantic dinner together on your last night in Paris, but there are three chairs at your table, the restaurant will seat a completely random person in that third chair with whom you can share your romantic dinner. Even if there are empty tables around you on all sides. Luckily, Michael was a friendly, English-speaking Canadian and even had a wife named Adele who was 4'11". Coincidence? Couldn't be.

Worth-the-hype: Ice cream at Berthillon. The only ice cream I had in Paris that could hold its own. Is it just me, or do we have the world's best desserts here in the U.S.A.?

Gripe: Going down the stairs to the subway for the last time and saying goodbye to Paris.

Worth-the-hype: The restrooms in the airport. So this is where they put all the fancy stuff! Can you see how the floor sparkles? And guess what, they're free. Well, you do have to buy a plane ticket. Pretty sure it's worth it.

So I know what you're thinking now, at the end of all this: Please, Mrs. American Tourist, if you could list the 12 absolute most important things to know about Paris? Gladly, my dear.

1. BYOTP. Bring your own toilet paper. Just trust me on this one.
2. Parisians are lovely, helpful people, and it might surprise you how many of them speak English.
3. But they don't put top sheets on beds.
4. There are no bathrooms. Anywhere.
5. There are no free bathrooms. Anywhere. If you find one, it will probably attack you.
6. Bring a book for waiting in touristy lines.
7. Churches are usually free to tour, museums cost    (this is the reverse of London).
8. At this time of year, it doesn't get dark until between 9 and 10 pm in Paris so it feels like your day stretches on with endless possibilities.
9. Navigating the cramped streets and subways of Paris with even one small child would be A NIGHTMARE.
10. The street signs are hidden on the walls of the buildings, not on poles on corners. The ones on the poles only point the way to random things like the post office.
11. It's possible to not starve to death, get lost, or die of no-bathrooms alone in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.
12. Paris is beautiful.


Wondering about the do's and don't's for the American tourist in London? Look no further.