Hello from sunny Tuscany. Despite my body continuing across the European continent my blogging is still stuck in Paris.
Paris was one of those cities that I was fed much information and some misinformation before visiting. I try my best to start in a new place without any preconceived notions about what to expect. With Paris, I couldn’t help but have people share their impressions with me once they know I was visiting. This is my attempt at setting some of those straight and also shedding light on some others.
Take these to heart so you don’t end up like this guy…
1 – Parisians are rude
I found Parisians to be very open and kind. I know little to no French. In fact, it’s shameful. I committed a few simple common phrases to memory and did by best to form a proper pronunciation of the most import word: bonjour. My efforts were honestly in vain as the second they heard my accent almost all Parisians switched to English if they knew it. None of that grimace and “stupid foreigner” roll of the eyes. Just kindness. Where there was a complete lack of French on my side and lack of English on theirs we went to hand signals and it just worked.
However, I did observe many examples typical idiot tourist behavior towards Parisians. Tourists literally standing in the path of someone and saying in their best midwest twang. “Where is the Eiffel Tower”. It’s those idiots I imagine get the cold shoulder. In my opinion, they deserve it. It’s not your country, it’s theirs. Politeness and a little effort went a long way for me and can for them as well.
2 – Paris is ridiculously expensive
I’d like to clarify that Paris has the ability to be VERY expensive. But so can Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you like fancy hotels, fine dining, shopping, and expensive private tours then Paris can absolutely cost a fortune. They also boast some of the finest examples of luxury I’ve seen so far in Europe. So, if that’s your thing, go nuts!
However, traveling as a backpacker I found accomodation quite reasonable. A shared 6 person dorm in the Montmartre area (a great location btw) runs between €20-30 a night depending on day of the week. . Pretty much on par with most other cities I’ve been in in Europe. In comparison, Amsterdam was about €40 to be city center at a hostel.
Food was reasonable. I don’t typically cook at hostels but I found many grocery stores had a vast selection of fresh prepared food at very reasonable prices. My body was relieved to be back eating salad. Liquor, especially wine, was probably on par with America (maybe a little less) and a bargain compared to Australia. I did go for one quintessential French bistro dinner. I had to. It was a small bistro in the Montmartre only 2-3 blocks form the massively toursited Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur. Shared dinner including escargot, bone marrow, beef Bourginon, bread, and wine came to under €30 each. Not cheap, but barely budget busting for a nice night out that lasted 2 1/2 hours and left us filled to the brim.
You can easily spend in excess of €100 for a guided day tour. I opted for one of the many free city walking tours. It lasted 3 hours, allowed me to meet some great like-minded backpackers, and like all of the free walking tours are run by a donation at the end. So, total expense for seeing the major sights, getting tips on ways to “hack” the lines that Paris is notorious for came to €10. Recommended tips are €5-20. Most gave somewhere between nothing to some pocket change to €20 for a family of 4. Well, well, well, worth the very modest expense. Can’t recommend Sandemans enough.
3 – Parisians don’t pick up their dog shit
Watch out for land mines! Many don’t and suffer the consequence. This is worse in the neighborhoods but honestly wasn’t as common as I was led to believe.
4 – Don’t visit Paris in August – everything is closed
I visited in late August and found most places open for business and operating more or less normal hours. Sure, some were closed but it’s not like the city shuts down or anything.
5 – Paris is a tourist nightmare and nothing but long lines
If you show up midday to the major attractions (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Catacombs) then be prepared to wait. It’s best to narrow down what you want to do and make that your first item of the day and get there in advance of it opening. Here are a few hacks:
Eiffel Tower: If you want to take the elevator to the top. Well, you can reserve in advance and be at least in the shorter line. If you just show up – and at midday, be prepared to wait several hours.
Hack: Go to the much shorter line where you walk up the tower leg to the middle level. I think its something like 700 steps – so not for the faint of heart. Once on that level, the line for the top tends to be much shorter and rarely over an hour. If you do this in the morning you will probably be leaving while others are still waiting at the base.
So many people…
Notre Dame: The inside is free but a line develops my midday. Go early and walk straight in. Plus, it’s free. Going to the top is a paid attraction and that line can get manic. Simply arrive early. (a recurring theme)
Arc de Triomphe: Similar to ND above. Free to see, charge to go to the top.
Sacre Coeur: Same as ND and AdT
Louvre: This line can be horrific. Many tours or museum passes advertise that you get to skip the line. This is somewhat true. You get to wait in a shorter line of other people that want to skip the line as well. The long line is for the truly unprepared.
Hack: So…guess what. The Louvre has three entrances to the public! Not just the main pyramid entrance that gets mobbed by tourists. The lions gate tends to be the least busy of the three but also has the most sporadic hours. Check the Louvre website first to see if it’s open. Remember, the Louvre has over 33,000 items on display. Not just that one with the kinda ugly chick.
The best entrance is NOT this one…
Catacombs: Easily can be 3+ hours even if you get there when it opens at 10am.
Hack: Like the others – line up by about 8am and you should be one of the first or second groups in once it opens at 10am. Even better if you can go in inclement weather. They strictly limit the people inside at one time so you enter usually in groups. PS – don’t try to steal bones. They will figure it out and then you get to meet a pissed off Parisian.
Others: The major sights all had their moments of massive lines. Narrow your scope, pick one major thing a day and do it first. Paris has so many museums. The modern art museums I focused on I didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes no matter what time I arrived.
6 – You will be scammed
Ruling: Completely possible but easy to avoid
Generally, if anyone is trying to sell you anything, get you to donate to anything, trying to put a bracelet on you, or sell you “express” tickets tell them to go stick whatever their pushing at you where the sun don’t shine. Or simply call them what they are – thieves.
I only saw the scammers in the major areas and they aren’t that creative because it’s the same scam everywhere.
Typically gypsy looking women dressed casually and holding a clipboard with a single piece of paper. The “can you sign this ladies” were very annoying. The scam is they get you to sign, show you some fake logo saying tis a charity and ask for a donation. ITS NOT A CHARITY, scam.
“Sign this” ladies getting kicked out of the park by security
Good luck bracelet people
These guys were the most aggressive. Typically at major attractions try to wrap a string bracelet on your arm then make you pay them. I had a confrontation with a group of two of them at Sacre Coeur. One grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go. I simply told him “ if you don’t fucking get your hand off me I will start screaming police”. That did the job.
Special tickets – subway or attractions
Simply say no. They are at best already used. Usually just fake. Buy tickets from authorised ticket offices.
Typically operate or (at minimum) park illegally. The police were always shoo-ing them away. Like anything I’m sure there are legit vendors. Best thing to do is find one that looks more legit than the others. I hate to say it but non ethnic drivers are probably a safer bet. Negotiate in advance on where you’re going, duration, and cost. Not dangerous per-se, just scammy.
Ultimately, a little planning ahead will save you dearly in the City of Lights. As long as you are smart about what you are doing you can pretty much avoid making what should be an enjoyable experience a negative one. I found that with many of the prime attractions that seeing it was enough for me and it freed up my day to do other things I enjoyed much more (like renting a city bike and just riding around the exterior neighborhoods). I’ll cover some of that in a later post.
That’s all for now, ciao! Off to gelato.
If you have any questions about things to do in Paris feel free to drop me a line.
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