Reflecting on our trip to Paris (which was also my first trip to France), I'm thinking back about a few things that surprised me during our time in that lovely city.
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After seeing countless pictures of Paris for, well, my entire life, and studying French language and culture all the way through college (10+ years), I thought I had a fairly good sense of what visiting France would be like, especially Paris, when I finally got to see it. Ironically, Paris wasn't the first major European city I visited, even after all of that learning about it! By way of comparison, before Paris, I visited London twice, Edinburgh, Rome, and Florence, in addition to traveling throughout those countries during my time in each one. But, we finally made it to Paris - and we will certainly be back many, many times!
Even after all of that preparation and all of those travels in other major European cities, I was still very pleasantly surprised by so many different things during our recent trip to Paris.
Let me know if you felt the same! Here we go!
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Surprising fact about Paris: October is the perfect time to visit Paris
With all the talk of "shoulder season" (aka traveling between "high" and "off" times), I can honestly say that I wasn't sure there would be such a thing in Paris. As one of the most visited cities in the world (France as a whole is the most visited country in the world), I assumed - and, frankly, feared- that every, single time of year would be super, duper, over-the-top-awful crowded.
But, nope, I was pleasantly surprised to be very, very wrong! We visited Paris from October 11-21, which was absolutely *perfect.* The weather was amazing - perfect light jacket weather!- and the crowds just simply were not there. We did not have to wait in line to enter Sainte-Chapelle. At all. Although we all did have to stand there while a lovely, older French tour guide spoke to an entire group of us and some Brits in French (asking if we wanted to go on a tour) and no one replied...so I just awkwardly finally said "non...merci beaucoup!" in my most perky voice. That said, when we got back, some family asked us if we had to wait in the "hours long line to get into Sainte-Chapelle" and we hastily changed to subject! Nope - October, friends, October.
At any rate, September -October are often touted as good touring time, which is generally when we hit Europe, though we've done other seasons as well. This was the latest fall trip we've done so far, and I would 100% repeat that time of year, again! If you have the luxury of traveling in the fall, I would definitely strongly consider it.
Surprising fact about Paris: Paris is *huge*
There's just no way around it: Paris is massive. It's the ninth largest city in the EU, so I wasn't expecting quite the number of people, buildings, or beautiful streets, and I've been to several of the larger cities. However, Paris often tops the list of most densely populated cities in the EU, and it squeezes a lot of people in to its beautiful streets! And, as a tourist, when you're visiting the historic city center, a city that densely populated definitely feels huge!
And, in addition to the actual size of Paris is the sheer amount of history focused in one place. I found it could be a bit overwhelming, even though we were fully researched, scheduled, and planned in advance. And that's certainly not to say that the other countries/cities I listed earlier don't have the same feeling; most of them do. But with the dense concentration of sights, sounds, people, history, and beauty, Paris can be a lot!
Another word on beautiful streets. Paris is the second most expensive city in the world. We've all seen the sort of stereotypical posters of "Paris luxury" in whatever craft store we frequented near the house where we grew up (maybe it was just me?) depicting Parisian architecture. And, of course, I had learned in school about Haussmann razing Medieval Paris to make way for his giant, eponymous boulevards. But nothing could have prepared me for the amount of architectural beauty that city holds, even with all the hype. It's not just a few historic streets, full of tourists, surrounded by blocks of boring - Paris is street after street of architectural marvels. Random corners where the trash cans go are more beautiful and historic than what most of us are looking at on a daily basis! Prepare to be amazed. I suppose it goes without saying, but there's a reason Paris has epitomized the artistic and cultural milieu for centuries. It's phenomenal.
Surprising fact about Paris: French are not rude
If you've been following the blog for a while now, you've heard me opine on this quite a bit since we got back from our trip. I hate to say it, but the reason we didn't go to Paris earlier in our European adventures, even with my French language skills and background learning, was because multiple people told me how rude "the French" were and that I would have a horrible experience, as they had had when they visited Paris. I say this not to shame people who had a bad experience, but to offer my experience to give some hope to people looking to visit France, who have been given this erroneous advice.
I did not have a single negative interaction with the French people during my time in France, including in Paris. Not one. Every, single person I dealt with was perfectly polite and actually quite welcoming, particularly for a touristy area.
That said, I of course admit that I do speak French. But, even on that front, I was further surprised at how willing the French were to let me attempt to speak French with them - no one ever switched to English due to my failings (unless I *only* knew a vocabulary word in English, in which case they'd each me to say it in French and then keep going in French) and certainly, no one ever mocked me for erroneous pronunciation. Twice I was informed how to pronounce a word correctly, but that's not rude, that's teaching! And now I say it right :)
I would also advise anyone, French-speaking or not, to check out my Tips to Charm the French, to get all interactions off on the right foot and avoid accidental cultural miscommunications. So many perceptions of rudeness are based in innocent misunderstanding and can be avoided!!
Surprising fact about Paris: France has the most wonderful train systems
It's a bit shocking how easy it is, even for a couple of tourists like us, to get *out* of Paris. The French train system is efficient, fast, and reasonably priced. I was amazed how easy it was just to zip out to a far-flung city on the TGV, and be back in Paris for the afternoon/evening! For more on train travel taking you outside of Paris, check out my full post, France by Train.
Additionally, Paris has the largest Metro in Europe. I'm all about The Tube, and this is absolutely no slight to my first major European metro, but the Paris Metro is incredible. It seems like you never need to wait more than 2 minutes for a train to arrive, so there's really just no need to make a fool of yourself running to get onto a train and inevitably getting your giant backpack stuck in the doors (This happened to someone else on our first ever ride on The Tube and it was super scary. My Husband rescued her.). And, not only do the trains comes incredibly frequently, there are a ton of convenient stops throughout the city and you really will almost always be left incredibly close to the actual sights you want to see! (The same cannot be said for some systems I've dealt with).
Between the Metro and the light-rail suburban trains, public transit will get you most places you want to see on a first visit (and beyond)!
Surprising fact about Paris: It's like watching a fashion show
It's not just the landscapes are incredible in Paris- of course, it's also that famous je ne sais quoi that the French seem to *all* have. From ladies in the omnipresent scarves (tied up in the most fascinating ways) to the chicest children I have ever seen in my life, one of the best parts of a trip to Paris is people watching. It's not just a few random people - it's the vast, vast, vast majority of French people that you spot while you're out and about. You won't be disappointed.
The French bring the style every. single. day.
Thanks for stopping by! What surprised you about Paris? Let me know in the comments!
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