Two weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit Paris, France, with my husband, Ben, for six days. He was already there with a group of students. So I was traveling there and back by myself to visit him. Now any of my friends and co-workers can tell you that I really don’t like to fly. As I’ve gotten older, my sense of adventure has dwindled. I would rather paddle in a boat across the ocean in a hurricane then fly in an airplane. Facing my fear of flying was the first obstacle to my amazing experience. But thanks to a prescription from the doctor, free wine on international flights and prayers from family and friends, I made it without incident to Charles De Gaulle airport. And there at the baggage claim was Ben waiting to take me on my Parisian vacation.
To get to the apartment where Ben was staying, I had my first ride on the “Metro.” This was a typical underground railroad scenario, similar to those I’ve experienced in other big cities in the U.S. I learned that you had to move really fast on and off the metro – I counted 15 seconds from the time the train stopped to the time it left the station. And I learned that the doors don’t open automatically. If you want off at a station, you must open the door yourself. Luckily, Ben already knew this and showed me how it was done.
Over the course of the next 5 1/2 days, we toured I think every typical tourist thing there is to see and do in the Paris area. We even ventured out of the area to Normandy to see where the D-Day battles happened. Talk about history coming to life! During my European vacation, I made a few observations.
- Everything is smaller in Paris – washing machines, sinks, roads, cars, dogs, dining areas in restaurants and especially cups of coffee. I was amazed what small confines cars could fit into. And I believe the game for restaurants was to see how many people they could pack into the smallest dining area (and then have the fewest waiters in those areas).
- Be prepared to hurry up and wait. People seem to rush and rush to get where they are going and do it effectively. But when you get there, the rush is gone. Customer service in restaurants was almost non-existent. Waiters/waitresses would seat you, come back 20 minutes for your order, come back 30 minutes with your food, come back 30 minutes later with the bill, then come back 20 minutes later to settle up. There was no checking back on you to see if your meal was OK. We quickly learned the routines to getting their attention and how to attempt to minimize our wait times.
- Paris is very American friendly. Honestly, I feel like we could have gotten through our entire stay without saying any French. At every restaurant we went to, the waiters spoke English. And most of the restaurants had separate menus in English that they provided.
- Parisians are friendly to Americans. I had heard that French people in general were very rude to Americans. So I was expecting the worst. There was only one place where I really experienced a rude Parisian and wouldn’t you know it was a McDonald’s employee.
- One size fits all. There’s no “having it your way” in Paris. I wanted a BLT at a Subway shop one day. Because it wasn’t one of the 5 or 6 generic sandwiches they made, I was told I couldn’t get one. One night we were at a restaurant and a friend we were with wanted to have fries instead of the vegetable his dish came with. The waiter was quite displeased.
- Running shorts and shoes are for exercise only. I was warned through a series of “Paris Information Books” I read that Parisians are proud of their fashion. I certainly didn’t see everyone running around with suits and dresses on. However, I believe I was one of the few people around town wearing running shoes. I never saw anyone sporting exercise clothes like I would have worn to any store around Auburn. Jeans and/or khakis along with what I call “retro-Nikes” (looked like what I would have worn in Junior High School) seemed to be the norm. But I had to go for comfort over fashion for this trip and sported my beat-up pair of Brookes. I didn’t seem to get too many glares.
- Lunch begins at noon, and dinner begins at 8 pm. It didn’t get dark there until after 11 pm. I kind of enjoyed staying up “late” and sleeping in late.
Probably my favorite part of the trip was being in Paris on Bastille Day, their Independence Day. We witnessed their parade with lots of French military. But the most amazing part was the fireworks show at the Eiffel Tower that night. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything more beautiful. And oddly enough, the entire show was set to American showtunes. I feel lucky to have gotten to see this.
All-in-all it was a fantastic trip. I felt particularly special being able to experience life in Paris like a true Parisian living in a “normal” apartment rather then staying in a hotel. And the entire trip would not have been possible without my wonderful parents who once again stepped up to take care of 4 crazy grandkids so I could go. Thank you Grammy and Bop Bop! And also thank you to my wonderful husband who experienced Paris with me. It was truly memorable!