Whenever I think about visiting France I almost immediately think about Foux Du FaFa by Flight of the Conchords. I speak very little French and butcher the few words that I do know, but whenever I’m doing anything remotely related to France I get struck with an overwhelming desire to yell out “baguette!”, or other really cliche French words. It’s like a form of country-specific Tourettes. It’s only slightly better than Campbell’s tendency to do that pervy French laugh (kind of like Pepe Le Pew) whenever he talks about France.
This was my second visit to Paris, having already spent a week there with Mich 5 years ago. It was really nice to go back, especially since our apartment was in the same neighbourhood as last time and we could hit the ground running a little bit more as a result. There were some noticeable differences about Paris this time around – the key one being the overwhelming number of armed Police and military personnel. The city was literally crawling with security trying to manage the influx of people for the EU Football World Cup and the annual Paris Pride festivities. Day to day security has also stepped up a notch (as you would expect given recent events) and there are security checks at places you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like major department stores and shopping centres. I was incredibly pleased to see that most Metro stations now have Police in attendance, which went some way to dampen my fear of the crazies who live down there.
Our time in Paris was short given all the things there are to do, but we had both agreed to bypass any museums or galleries which pretty much obliterated TripAdvisor’s “must see” list before we’d even started. We limited our sightseeing to a walking tour of the major central city attractions (the Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Hotel De Ville, Pont Neuf, Notre Dame etc), a walk to the Sacre Couer in Montmarte, a stroll up the Champs Elysees, a trip to the Catacombs and some gawking at the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero. Campbell decided he didn’t want to go up the Tower itself, which was a bit of a surprise but also a welcome relief. When I visited with Mich we not only went up the Tower (which was great), but then also had to take photos of it from every possible vantage point in Paris. I think Mum would have one of the most complete photographic records of the Eiffel Tower, ever (she’ll be outraged that I wrote this, and then realise it’s actually true).
We also managed to tick off a major bucket list item by having lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant – Septime. Septime has one star and just got ranked as being in the top 50 restaurants in the world. It took a bit of planning and a lot of help from our Air BnB host, but we managed to get a reservation for lunch. It was a really lovely experience with great food and service and, thankfully for us, the Prix Fixe menu meant we didn’t blow the budget entirely. The rest of our time in Paris was spent eating cheap pastries, cheese and kebabs from the Lebanese man down these street.
Yesterday we left Paris and caught the train to Provence where we’ll be for close to a week. Our train was supposedly a bullet train, but the experience was more akin to death by a thousand paper cuts. We arrived at the station to find our train was “retardo 15 mins”. We’re relaxed at this point and giggling like school kids at the word “retardo”. We weren’t laughing when our train was retardo 50 mins, and then 75 minutes. After initial delays and then further delays en route, we arrived in Avignon four hours after our scheduled arrival time. We then got off at the wrong train station. We then arrived at the rental car company to find it rammed with angry Texans whose train had also been delayed. We then couldn’t find our carpark and had to do laps of our village until we could finally speak with our Air BnB’s host’s Uncle who could speak to us in English. It was an absolute mare of a day, but we’re here now. Our house is lovely and we have 5 full days to hoon around in our little VW and see the countryside.
Time for another instalment of things we’ve learned on the road:
- What my natural hair colour is: After six months of not dying my hair, I think I can now confirm with certainty that my hair is in fact the same mousey, dishwater brown that prompted my love of dying it in the first place. Sadly, I can also report that there’s a bit of silver in there too. First stop when we get home will be to see Miss Jo at the salon.
- Window shopping sucks: Staying in a neighbourhood with “arguably the best boutique shopping Paris” is a bit of a downer when you actually have no intention of shopping. Campbell said that walking the streets of Paris with me was like walking down a street full of lamp posts with a dog.
- Having a backyard is awesome: Our apartment in Paris was cute and big enough for the two of us for 4 nights, but we could not live like that on a permanent basis. Having space, a backyard and room to move is so under-rated. We don’t realise how good we have it at home sometimes.
- Working isn’t that bad: As much as not working is awesome (and it is), I think I will actually look forward to going back to work. Everyday feels like a Sunday for us at the moment and, unless you plan something or make a conscious effort, it is actually really easy to fritter away hours doing nothing. I also miss the office banter (and gossip!).
- Bigger isn’t always better: Paris was great and we both enjoyed it but, on the whole, we’ve definitely developed a preference for staying in smaller cities and towns. We like places where you can walk pretty much everywhere, that have a bit of charm and character and where even the most directionally challenged individual (i.e. me) can find their way home.