Let's continue the "Ten Things I Learned While In Paris" with Part 2 - Lessons 6-10. Did you miss Part 1? Click here to read lessons 1-5.
Ready? Let's jump right in.
6. See that double decker tourist bus roaming the city? Doooooo it!
Think you'll look like a stereotypical tourist if you ride those double decker hop on/hop off buses roaming almost every major city these days? WHO CARES! I am a huge advocate for riding these buses so you can get transportation to all the major sites, hop on wherever you want and hop off at a destination you are interested in, and get some travel guidance via a recording you can listen to with (usually) provided ear buds or a live guide. In Paris, it was a pre-recorded guide and they gave us ear buds (new ones for the germaphobes wondering out there) and we could select our channel to listen to our language. I know the locals probably cannot stand seeing these buses everywhere but when you are in a major city for the first time, these are available, and the weather is nice - I highly recommend it. When we arrived in Paris, our hotel was not going to be ready for hours so we had some time to kill. Feeling jet lagged we needed an option to allow us to see things while not over exerting ourselves. We wandered to the Eiffel Tower and sat on the grass, amazed we were actually IN PARIS LOOKING AT THE EIFFEL TOWER (yes, I was that excited) and after seeing the buses stop several times we decided to hop on as well. We almost made the entire city loop before my fellow travelers started dropping like flies. The jet lag was getting to us. Outside of that though - I highly recommend it to get your bearings. There are multiple options. The two we saw while there were the Red Tour Buses and Paris L'Open Tourand they typically shared the same hop on/hop off spots.
7. If you want to see the Louvre (or any museum in Paris), get the Museum Pass
I read about it in my travel book, otherwise I never would have heard of the Museum Pass. It made us feel like rock stars because having the Museum Pass allowed us to skip the lines and enter the museums very quickly. I panicked a bit because the book said to buy them ahead of time but I had my fingers crossed they would be available in Paris somewhere and the risk paid off. The first museum we visited, Napoleon's Tomb, had them and I bought a 2 day pass for everyone (after doing my happy museum pass dance). The list of museums included for the pass is LONG and it includes the highly anticipated Louvre Museum. The price is a little high but it is worth its weight in gold. When we walked up to the Louvre entrance the line was miles long and we realized that was just the line to get through security - it didn't even include the entrance! That was an additional line. We saw a little sign to the left and just zipped through with our museum pass and avoided waiting in the blazing hot sun. We did this for every museum we visited. So worth it - especially when the people waiting would ask why we could pass them while they waited (VIP's coming through!).
8. Boulangerie Patiserrie is not the name of the bakery
Every time I read about visiting a bakery in Paris, I had to wipe the drool off my face. I looked forward to eating a beautiful French pastry or bread every day of my trip - and we succeeded. On our first day of wandering, we found this beautiful boulangerie patisserie around the corner from the hotel. We were starving (and jet legged), so we decided to stop in to see what delicious treats they had to offer. We were not disappointed. We all ordered a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and it was definitely the best chocolate croissant of my life. I am not exaggerating. We went back there - every - single - day of our trip. We affectionately called it "pink chairs" for the hot pink chairs sitting out front. I thought the name of it was "Boulangerie Patisserie" but then noticed one day the awning said "Suffren 55" and wondered if that was it's real name. I checked my travel book to discover boulangerie is "a bakery that produces and sells flour-based food baked in an oven" (via Wikipedia) while patisserie is "a bakery which specializes in pastries and sweets. It is a legally controlled title that may only be used by bakeries that employ a licensed master pastry chef" (via Wikipedia). We were enjoying the best of both worlds.
9. Wander around your neighborhood (and learn it's number)
Part of the magic of Paris is how it is divided into neighborhoods or "arrondisements". Everyone has their own opinion on which ones are the best (best food - best attractions - best locations - best people - etc) and we selected our hotel based on how close it was to the Eiffel Tower. This meant we were in the 7th arrondisement which included some of the major tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon's Tomb. We quickly located the bakery (see lesson #8 if you want to drool some more), grocery store, mini grocer, ATM, pharmacist, and a handful of cafes (see lesson #3 of Part 1). All were within a quick and easy walking distance and we found by frequenting them, those who worked there began to greet us a little more warmly. It made us feel less like visitors in a foreign land and more like we had our feet underneath us with our own "spots" to get what we needed. Side note: The pharmacy came in especially handy when one of our travelers came down with a cold - on a Sunday when everything was closed. Other than the tourist sites - almost everything is closed on Sundays, so plan ahead for the "just in case" scenario. The biggest thing to get to know about your neighborhood? The number. Every cab we got into needed both the neighborhood number as well as the hotel address. Giving the arrondisement number helped them to narrow it down quickly to where your hotel was located. Several times, we helped direct the driver to our hotel once we were close enough.
10. Get to know Paris before you go....
It's really sad how many times I told people I was visiting Paris and their response was "Good luck. They are so rude over there". I had to wonder - why this reaction? What is really going on here? I've lived overseas most of my life and understand that part of traveling is realizing things will be different wherever you go and that is part of the magic of travel. Alas, we Americans tend to want the checkmark of visiting somewhere but still want the comforts of home when we get there. You can't have it both ways. So, how do you prepare yourself for this? Nerd it up! READ, read, and read some more about Paris. I picked up several books and also read multiple travel websites on hints, tips, and tricks to know before you go. It helped so much. It's where I learned I should teach myself some French. It's how I discovered the offline apps I recommended. I also discovered the tip on keeping your paws to yourself (and found it to be true). It's also how I knew about the museum pass and arrondisements. You following me? I used the learned information of others and it helped me to feel more comfortable, enjoy myself, and grow a little. As a result, I found Paris to be wonderful and will definitely go again. Here are the books and websites I read. I know there are plenty more out there but hopefully these will help you like they did for me. Rick Steves' Paris 2013 (book) | Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (book) | Stuff Parisians Like (book) | Trip Advisor - Paris (website) | Virtual Tourist - Paris(website) So, I hope these ten lessons learned are helpful for you or gave you a better idea of the small slice of Paris I got the chance the experience. This just scratches the surface of the city and I cannot wait to go there again.....someday.