My first impression of Paris was not good at all. After being hassled by men at Gare du Nord, and unfortunately watching people lose money to those guys at the station, I felt like I had to be on high alert at all times and not to trust anyone. Not only this, but at a major international train station, if this is not being policed, there should have at least been signs warning tourists to look out for such people (surely the locals know what’s going on?!). As well as this, having one person at the information counter, who left, also didn’t leave a good impression. To be fair, it was a Saturday night, but if there are international trains arriving they should be prepared for people to visit the information desk.
Paris is dirty! The roads and metro stations leave much to be desired, and London is a sparkly, clean city in comparison. In fact, we heard Indians in the lift on the Eiffel Tower complaining about the cleanliness of Paris (to give you some perspective!). The beautiful buildings and landmarks more than make up for this however, and there is plenty to look at rather than the cigarette butt-laden streets. Strangely, the Seine looks very clean. Cleaner than the Thames and definitely cleaner than Brisbane River. Although it is also much smaller than both these two rivers.
I realised that there are helpful people in Paris, you just have to find them (or sometimes they will find you!). When we were lost looking for our apartment, a man helped us find it. Two days later, we were in the local grocery/convenience store (like IGA) and we bumped into him (what are the chances?!). He recognised us and inquired as to whether we found the place okay and how we were doing etc. It took me a few moments to recall who he was, but he recognised us right away! Nice guy. A bit of a disclaimer, after visiting Paris, I think a person’s French language skills are directly proportional to their experience in Paris. The French really appreciate if you make an effort, however they are hesitant and will not converse in English even if they have knowledge of it (a trait unique to them, perhaps?).
Signage around Paris, especially in the Metro, is really confusing. It always takes us a few minutes to figure out which side we need to be on in the metro, as this determines the direction of the train. When we were travelling to the Louvre, there were (quite long) delays and the train was terminating early, which is apparently a common occurrence on the Metro unlike on the Underground. The Metro is also more busy than the Underground, or it has been every time we’ve taken it. Perhaps there are less trains, although the frequency is still high (they come every 4 minutes or so). The best thing about the Metro (and the Underground actually) is that you can take dogs on it (come on Australia, can we do this too?!). Yesterday, a lady with a Jack Russell was standing next to me, and the dog looked right at home and not worried at all. I have also seen a Doberman-type dog waiting on the platform, so it is not limited to small dogs (amazing!). What I hadn’t experienced before is buskers/beggars on the train, where they have an audience who are literally captive, and afterwards ask (usually politely) for money. The first time this happened (I think it was a man playing the saxophone?), I thought we were being treated to a free show, excellent!
The weather has been really good, warm and summery. Actually it is quite cool in the mornings but by mid-late afternoon it gets really hot. The sun doesn’t set until 10pm, so having long days is definitely a nice change from summer in Queensland where the sun sets at 7pm. It is also helpful when you’re trying to do a lot of things in a day!
I can’t really say I was too impressed with the actual city of Paris. It is an extremely dirty city. Cigarette butts, litter, and who knows what else line the streets and metro stations. I literally felt like I was going to get cancer in 4 days from inhaling all the second-hand smoke that fills the air. We heard some Indians complaining about the cleanliness of the city, so that really shows you how bad it is here.
There’s always something that doesn’t seem to work properly in Paris as well. I must have encountered 15 or more escalators that were not working. It wasn’t just in the metro stations either. There were two escalators in the Louvre that I noticed were broken, as well as one in the Charles de Gaulle airport. I also encountered several ticket gates in the metro stations that didn’t work as well. Another annoying thing about the metro were the consistent delays. We also encountered two metro lines that were partially shut down. It seemed to frustrate not just the tourists but the locals as well. One more complaint about the metro system is the really poor signage. Maybe I was just spoiled by the Underground system in London, but my experiences on the Paris metro was far from the best.
I must say the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower lived up to the hype that they get. They were certainly a very redeeming part of Paris. But if I wasn’t a tourist and visiting those sights, I don’t know how I could possibly live here. Also, the food did not disappoint at all. The freshly baked breads and pastries every morning basically melted in your mouth. So good! It really makes me wish that Americans had a more traditional food or cuisine.
Also, I think I was expecting the worst when I arrived in Paris in terms of the helpfulness of Parisians because of all the stories and stereotypes that I had heard about the French. So I was definitely pleasantly surprised when we met some very helpful, nice people who were more than willing to help out some very obvious tourists carrying luggage through the streets of the 3rd arrondissement.